rites of passage


A rite of passage is a
ceremony A ceremony (, ) is a unified ritual A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gesture A gesture is a form of non-verbal communication or non-vocal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is t ...

ritual A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence. Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community. Rituals are characterized, ...

of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. In
cultural anthropology Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairle ...
the term is the Anglicisation of ''rite de passage'', a French term innovated by the
ethnographer Ethnography (from Greek language, Greek ''ethnos'' "folk, people, nation" and ''grapho'' "I write") is a branch of anthropology and the systematic study of individual cultures. Ethnography explores cultural phenomena from the point of view o ...

Arnold van Gennep Arnold van Gennep, in full Charles-Arnold Kurr van Gennep (23 April 1873 – 7 May 1957) was a Dutch Dutch commonly refers to: * Something of, from, or related to the Netherlands * Dutch people () * Dutch language () *Dutch language , spoken in Be ...

Arnold van Gennep
in his work ''Les rites de passage'', ''The Rites of Passage''. The term is now fully adopted into anthropology as well as into the literature and popular cultures of many modern languages.

Original conception

In English, Van Gennep's first sentence of his first chapter begins:
"Each larger society contains within it several distinctly separate groupings. ... In addition, all these groups break down into still smaller societies in subgroups."
The population of a society belongs to multiple groups, some more important to the individual than others. Van Gennep uses the metaphor, "as a kind of house divided into rooms and corridors." A passage occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another; in the metaphor, he changes rooms. Van Gennep further distinguishes between "the secular" and "the sacred sphere." Theorizing that civilizations are arranged on a scale, implying that the lower levels represent "the simplest level of development," he hypothesizes that "
social groups Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This interaction is considered social whether they are aware of it or not, and whether the exchange is voluntary/involuntary. Etymology The word "Social" derives fr ...
in such a society likewise have magico-religious foundations." Many groups in modern industrial society practice customs that can be traced to an earlier sacred phase. Passage between these groups requires a
ceremony A ceremony (, ) is a unified ritual A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gesture A gesture is a form of non-verbal communication or non-vocal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is t ...

, or ritual rite of passage. The rest of Van Gennep's book presents a description of rites of passage and an organization into types, although in the end he despairs of ever capturing them all: "It is but a rough sketch of an immense picture ...." He is able to find some universals, mainly two: "the sexual separation between men and women, and the magico-religious separation between the profane and the sacred." (Earlier the translators used secular for profane.) He refuses credit for being the first to recognize type of rites. In the work he concentrates on groups and rites individuals might normally encounter progressively: pregnancy, childbirth, initiation, betrothal, marriage, funerals and the like. He mentions some others, such as the territorial passage, a crossing of borders into a culturally different region, such as one where a different religion prevails.


Rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation, as van Gennep described. "I propose to call the rites of separation from a previous world, ''preliminal rites'', those executed during the transitional stage ''liminal (or threshold) rites'', and the ceremonies of incorporation into the new world ''postliminal rites''." In the first phase, people withdraw from their current status and prepare to move from one place or status to another. "The first phase (of separation) comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group ... from an earlier fixed point in the social structure." There is often a detachment or "cutting away" from the former self in this phase, which is signified in symbolic actions and rituals. For example, the cutting of the hair for a person who has just joined the army. He or she is "cutting away" the former self: the civilian. The transition (liminal) phase is the period between stages, during which one has left one place or state but has not yet entered or joined the next. "The attributes of liminality or of liminal ''personae'' ("threshold people") are necessarily ambiguous." In the third phase (reaggregation or incorporation) the passage is consummated [by] the ritual subject." Having completed the rite and assumed their "new" identity, one re-enters society with one's new status. Re-incorporation is characterized by elaborate rituals and ceremonies, like debutant balls and college graduation, and by outward symbols of new ties: thus "in rites of incorporation there is widespread use of the 'sacred bond', the 'sacred cord', the knot, and of analogous forms such as the belt, the ring, the bracelet and the crown."

Psychological effects

Laboratory experiments have shown that severe initiations produce cognitive dissonance. It is theorized that such dissonance heightens Interpersonal attraction, group attraction among initiates after the experience, arising from internal justification of the effort used. Reward system, Rewards during initiations have important consequences in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity. As well as group attraction, initiations can also produce conformity among new members. Psychology experiments have also shown that initiations increase feelings of Need for affiliation, affiliation.


Initiation rites are seen as fundamental to human growth and development as well as socialization in many African communities. These rites function by ritually marking the transition of someone to full group membership. It also links individuals to the community and the community to the broader and more potent spiritual world. Initiation rites are "a natural and necessary part of a community, just as arms and legs are natural and necessary extension of the human body". These rites are linked to individual and community development. Dr. Manu Ampim identifies five stages; rite to birth, rite to adulthood, rite to marriage, rite to eldership and rite to ancestorship. In Zulu culture entering womanhood is celebrated by the Umhlanga (ceremony), Umhlanga.

Types and examples

Rites of passage are diverse, and are found throughout many cultures around the world. Many western societal rituals may look like rites of passage but miss some of the important structural and functional components. However, in many Native and African-American communities, traditional rites of passage programs are conducted by community-based organizations such as ''Man Up Global''. Typically the missing piece is the societal recognition and reincorporation phase. Adventure education programs, such as Outward Bound, have often been described as potential rites of passage. Pamela Cushing researched the rites of passage impact upon adolescent youth at the Canadian Outward Bound School and found the rite of passage impact was lessened by the missing reincorporation phase.Cushing 1998. Bell (2003) presented more evidence of this lacking third stage and described the "Contemporary Adventure Model of a Rites of Passage" as a modern and weaker version of the rites of passage typically used by outdoor adventure programs.

Coming of age

In various Tribe, tribal and Developed society, developed societies, entry into an age grade—generally gender-separated—(unlike an age set) is marked by an initiation, initiation rite, which may be the crowning of a long and complex preparation, sometimes in retreat.



* Recruit training, Boot Camp and Officer Candidate School are rites of passage from civilian to military life. In the United States Navy's Officer Candidate School and the United States Marine Corps, Drill Instructors manufacture stress as a form of training. * Blood wings * Line-crossing ceremony * ''Krypteia'', a rite involving young Spartiate, Spartans, part of the ''agoge'' regime of Spartan education. * Ephebeia, a training period for young Athenians * Wetting-down. In the U.S. Navy and Royal Navy, is a ceremony in which a naval officer throws a party for his shipmates upon receiving a promotion.


* The first day of school, whether the first overall or the first in a specific phase prior to postsecondary education * Graduation * Matura Some academic circles such as dorms, fraternities, teams and other clubs practice hazing, ragging and fagging. ''Szecskáztatás'', a mild form of hazing (usually without physical and sexual abuse), is practiced in some Hungarian secondary schools. First-year junior students are publicly humiliated through embarrassing clothing and senior students human branding, branding their faces with marker pens; it is sometimes also a contest, with the winners usually earning the right to organize the next event. Fraternities and sororities, like other private societies, often have codified initiation ceremonies as ritual separating candidates from members.


* White coat ceremony in medicine and pharmacy. * The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, also known as the Iron Ring Ceremony * Florida International University School of Architecture#Walk on Water, Walk on Water: Second-year students must pass the competition to continue in the school of architecture at Florida International University in the United States * A student pilot successfully completing a First solo flight#Traditions, First solo flight traditionally gets drenched with water and has his or her shirt tail cut off.


* ''Batizados'' in Capoeira * Black belt (martial arts), Black belt in martial arts * Blooding in fox hunting * A National Hockey League player's first goal (The puck used to score said goal may be retrieved, labeled, and given to the player as a keepsake.)


* Castration in some sects and special castes * Dental evulsion, among various cultures of Africa, Asia and Oceania. * Earlier seasons of the television series ''Survivor (U.S. TV series), Survivor'' typically include a rite of passage prior to the final immunity challenge. Though the specifics of this rite of passage vary based on the customs and traditions of the host country, most rites of passage include a lengthy walk to the final challenge along which the remaining castaways pass the torches of every eliminated contestant from that season. There have been variations on this walk, such as seasons in which the remaining contestants paddle a boat to the final challenge and drop the torches into the ocean along the way.

See also

* Pilgrimage *Seclusion of girls at puberty



* Aronson, E. & Mills, J. (1959) "The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group." ''Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology', pp. 177–181. * * * * * * * * * * * ** **

Further reading

* Hatzopoulos, Miltiades B., "Macedonian Cults" (as "Cultes et rites de passage en Macédoine"), Athens & Paris, 1994 * Devine, A.M.
"Review: Macedonian Cults"
''The Classical Review'', New Series, Vol. 46, No. 2 (1996), pp. 279–281, Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association * Padilla, Mark William (editor)
"Rites of Passage in Ancient Greece: Literature, Religion, Society"
Bucknell University Press, 1999.

External links

Dictionary.com: Rites of Passage
* {{DEFAULTSORT:Rite Of Passage Ceremonies Rites of passage, Anthropology of religion