Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Coming of Age

Coming of age is a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood. The age at which this transition takes place varies in society, as does the nature of the transition.  It can be a simple legal convention or can be part of a ritual, as practiced by many societies.  In the past and in some societies today, such a change is associated with the age of sexual maturity (early adolescence); in others, it is associated with an age of religious responsibility.
Particularly in western societies, modern legal conventions which stipulate points in late adolescence or early adulthood (most commonly 16-21 years old when adolescents are generally no longer considered minors and are granted the full rights of an adult) are the focus of the transition.  In either case, many cultures retain ceremonies to confirm the coming of age and significant benefits come with the change.

In Ancient Greek, the process of coming of age usually began right at child birth. The child would receive gifts, riddles and symbols of adulthood. In certain states in Ancient Greece, such as Sparta and Crete, adolescent boys were expected to enter into a mentoring relationship with an adult man, in which they would be taught skills pertaining to adult life, such as hunting, martial arts and fine arts.

Today, in the United States and in Canada, when a child reaches the age of 17 he or she is allowed to drive and sometimes receives the responsibility of owning their own car.  Girls' 16th birthdays are traditionally called Sweet Sixteen.  Depending on the family's religion or family background, there may be a ceremony signifying their coming of age.  A person 21 years of age is considered an adult in Canada and in the United States.

As children grow older, those of the old spirituality are reclaiming ceremonies that acknowledge and celebrate the children's growth towards adulthood. This is an area fraught with indecision for some parents, however.  How do you celebrate a Wiccan ritual for a child coming of age?

For girls, the coming of age comes at their first menstruation. For some that could be as early as 9 or as late as 15.  But during the old days, this was a celebration of life. Today and when I was young, it was something to be hidden, spoken about in hushed tones giving a young girl a feeling of shame.  Many Pagan mothers are trying to bring back some of the old customs which celebrate this coming into womanhood. The daughter is taken to dinner, thrown a party or given a special piece of jewelry to commemorate the occasion.

With boys, the timing of celebrating sexual maturity is less defined. It can be at the time of a boy's first wet dream, of the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics like beard and pubic hair or his conscious assuming the responsibilities of a man such as hunting or protecting.

Rites in Nordic cultures to prove one was finally a man were just as important as the naming rites.  A known coming of age ceremony was the slaying of the auroch, a primitive buffalo-like beast that roamed ancient Europe.  A lone individual would be required to slay this beast and bring back its horns as a token of his victory.  Sometimes, these horns might be attached to a special helm for ritual use.  A trophy of sorts to remind others that this person is a man. 

The children today are entering puberty at earlier and earlier ages. For example, it's not unusual to find a girl beginning to menstruate at 8 or 9 years old. Children barely into their early teen years, are having children of their own. The physical development our children's bodies have raced light years ahead of their emotional development.  Some of the old tribal ways don't work in today's modern society.

One common coming of age is 13 years old.  To some it represents the '1' individual person stepping onto the divine path of the '3' Goddesses.  The child should be told that every year, from now till 17, on their birthday, they will be given both new privileges and new responsibilities.  Each privilege, each responsibility, will train and define them as adults. At 18, they will be a legal adult -- all responsibilities, all privileges theirs.  But it won't be until the 20th birthday that there will be a ritual to officially end the journey as a child.  They will now be expected to act like an adult. 

Types of privileges and responsibilities might include: getting the child their own phone line or give them their own clothing budget.  A responsibility might be for you to tell them that from now on, they're responsible for doing their own laundry or, when they're older, for paying their own bills (including the phone bill).  Every year build on their adult like responsibilities of cleaning, budgeting, cooking, driving or other items.  It could also be a spiritual duty such as a pagan name, joining a coven or exploring other paths and religions.  And as you give them these privileges and responsibilities, treat them a little differently, more like an adult; to be respected, considered an equal, consulted in family matters, etc.

The journey could be started with some alone time to reflex on this path.  There should be an adult nearby, but otherwise the child should be on their own for the night, either camping out in the wilderness or alone in the house.  If necessary, you can put the them out in a tent in the back yard for the night or in a room at someone else's house.
Tell the child, some weeks in advance, that they're going to spend a night alone. Encourage them to have a theme or a focus.  On the night of their 13th birthday, have them take with them any and all items they want to their alone area.  In some traditions the first Full Moon after the girl's first period or the boy's wet dream is also an appropriate time for the ritual.  They could have a journal, a box of crafts, music, blanket or a book.  Modern electronics and other items such as smart phones, computer, flashy photos, outside noises and TV should be removed from the area.

Tell them that they will also, this night, search for their spirit guide, totem, guardian angel, whatever; a force, spirit or deity to help them on their journey.  You should gift the child with the tools that their Goddess-Mother, God-Father made for them at their naming ritual; these are for their use now, so that they can use them in the ritual they will do tonight.

You should have a brief sending off ritual with parents, family, friends and the child’s Goddess-Mother and God-Father.  Ask the Gods to bless the child and help them on the first step of their journey!  Say good night and leave them to find themselves!  Have a vigil going nearby, so that if any trouble develops, he or she can call out.

In the morning, go get them.  Celebrate at breakfast and give the child their first new privileges or new responsibilities.  Answer any questions they developed.  You should encourage your child to set up their own altar in their own room or change their altar now that they have new tools and a new guardian.  Help them find other tools to compliment the two new ones and a figure or symbol to represent their new found spiritual guide, deity or totem.  They can have a birthday party that following weekend to celebrate socially. 

Similar rituals can be done at 16, 20 or 21 years old depending on your path and culture.  There are many ways to honor a child coming of age into adulthood.  Today, celebrating this coming of age can change an awkward, scary or unpleasant experience into a joyous event that makes a young person feel special.  Include the child into what they would like to do.  Mix in what you or your parents had for a ritual.  It can be a group or individual ritual.  Or it can be a general social party.  Or even a mix of events, like a weeklong trip somewhere.  Don't worry about a small detail that does not go exactly right.  Just recognize the changes and celebrate your child growing up.


Though now I am an adult,
I am still your child.
No matter where I go
and no matter who I become
I will always be your child.
I will not forget what I have learned here.



Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

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