Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage


When an individual experiences movement, or a change from an affixed
position in society to another position, that individual can easily describe
their change as a passage into a new realm of living. A new realm of living is
the way in which the individual and society views, acknowledges, and proceeds
with their life. Their changes are monumental not only for the individual, but
for his/her society as well. Many changes take place during the span of a
persons life. They become rites of passage and rituals of initiation-which are
more than just simple changes. A plethora of come with these rites and are found
in all corners of the globe. Going on vision quests, by the plains Indians of
North America, to circumcision by certain Australian cultures, rites of passage
present a vast table of religious comparisons(Eliade, p. 287-88).
This essay will examine two rites of initiation, by comparing and
contrasting their importance to each culture, and discussing how that
importance affects that particular individual as well as their society. Finally,
the essay will explore possible reasons as to why these initiation rites hold a
deep meaning in their respective societies.
The Kurnai of Australia have an initiation rite for the sons of married
men in their perspective villages. Within a section by A. W. Howitt, in Eliade's
book, From Primitives to Zen: A thematic Sourcebook of the History of Religions ,
a ceremony known as the "Showing the Grandfather" is described(Eliade, p. 288)
In this initiation the Kurnai have a formal way of bringing a man's son into the
highest, and most secret realm of their religion. By incorporating the use of
the father and son relationship, this particular ritual involves the revelation
of the central meaning, or "mystery" of their religion. The men and women are
separated. Secrecy is one the most important traditions in this initiation. The
initiation is not revealed to the women, or anyone else not of their society.
The sons, or "novices" as Howitt calls them, are taught the proper religious
traditions that they need to know for the ceremony, and for the rest of their
lives, as this initiation will conclude their step into religious righteousness,
and manhood. This all takes place the day before the ceremony, while other men,
who have already been through the ceremony, prepare by hunting for food and
arranging a site, not too far from the village, where the initiation will take
place. The next morning, a new day at hand, the novices are taken to the site
at which time the ceremony commences. Howitt continues in writing of his
recollection of the ritual by inferring that after many ritual movements
(gestures of offering towards their god, etc.) and instrumental songs such as
the "Tundun", "the Kurnai have two bull-roarers, a larger one called Tundun, or ?
the man', and a smaller one called ?Rukat-Tundun,' the woman, or wife of Tundun."
. After this the novices' are instructed of the importance of the secrecy
factor, and the laws by which they can be punished if they reveal anything to
their mothers, sisters, or anyone other than the men of that society. Howitt
even points out horror stories that are told to the novices about the punishment
of man, a burning world, because he revealed the ceremony to women back in the
village after being initiated. He writes that these stories exist in the Kurnai
to scare the novices into not telling anyone the ritual. The ceremony even used
to have a part where the men took spears, cocked them back over their shoulders,
and pointed them at the Novices. Such a hostile act was used to instill the
feeling they would have if they ever revealed the secrets of the initiation, not
to mention a cold rush of intense fear. From there the ritual is ended and the
novices play the Tundun.
Unlike the secret nature of the Kurnai ceremony the Shashoni's of
Central-Western Wyoming offer a more open and artistic ceremony for their
initiations. During puberty, the boys, by their own motives, participate in the
traditional "Sun Dance", as pointed out in a section by Ake Hultkrantz in Byron
Earhart's book Religious Traditions of the World, the boys...participate in
the Sun Dance, usually on their own initiative. However their motives today
are mainly social:

to show other youths their strength and endurance and of
course to impress the girls. In a way their present
participation in the Sun Dance takes place of the vision quest
as a mark of the attainment of adulthood(Earhart, p. 306).

The girls also have rites of initiation. One that is much more involved
and detailed, and has many more "taboos"