Coming of age rituals in many forms have been celebrated by people the world over since ancient times, though in our increasingly secular society they seem to have gradually received less attention. I’ve written before here about my belief that humans have a need for ritual and story in our lives, to build connection with ourselves, each other, and the earth, and I feel this is especially true when dealing with the transition from one part of our lives to another…
For example, my first moon-blood was an overwhelmingly difficult and unpleasant experience that I certainly perceived as shameful and embarrassing, despite having been told what to expect. In contrast, when my daughter first experienced her moon-blood she rang me immediately from her Grandmother’s house, bursting with pride and excitement. The difference? She knew this meant it was time for her first-moon ritual, which she’d been looking forward to for years.
In my family the girls were traditionally given a signet ring on their fourteenth birthday (I guess a nod to ‘coming of age’, though less explicit). But my daughter chose her signet ring, then we put it away, to be given to her at her ceremony when the much-anticipated time came. The ritual itself was simple with just the two of us present – I guided her in a meditation to cross the threshold to becoming a maiden rather than a child, anointed her forehead, hands and feet with essential oil and blessings for the path ahead, and she was given her signet ring. Afterwards, a few close female friends of her choice joined us and we sat around eating chocolate with each woman passing on the advice we wished we’d had when we were her age. It was simple, jolly, and gave her the sense of being joyfully welcomed to adulthood.
I’ve read that some research suggests that teenagers who are given some type of ‘welcome to adulthood’ ritual are less likely to rebel. Perhaps this is because they feel they’ve been acknowledged in their changing status, and so feel less need to obviously push boundaries to prove to those around them that they’re no longer a child. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s certainly true that my daughter never had a difficult phase as an adolescent. Now I may have just been really fortunate, but I think consciously acknowledging changes in life phase can be very powerful for all those involved.
And the threshold from child to maiden isn’t the only change in a woman’s life. Traditionally the three acknowledged stages are those of the triple Goddess – maiden, mother and crone. However, more recently many traditions, including the Glastonbury Goddess Tradition in which I was trained, have started to put forward the idea that in modern times there are more phases to a woman’s life than this. It is no longer the case that women become mothers almost as soon as they are physically able, and obviously modern life expectancy has increased beyond our ancestor’s dreams. In acknowledgement of this some people propose that a more modern map might be: maiden – pathfinder – mother – queen (or enchantress) – crone. Some traditionalists might object to these additions, but I can certainly see the usefulness of these additional archetypes in our lives. (There’s an interesting article about this here)
And so I find myself once more planning a coming of age ritual for my daughter, this time as a pathfinder going off to university. This was her invitation…
The Pathfinder time of life is an exploration, she is the way-finder, a seeker of truth and her unique way. She is the bowstring of the Goddess, pulled backwards only to be launched forwards in time to something wonderful. You have outgrown the maiden, but have not yet reached the time to nurture others as the mother, it is time to nurture yourself as you explore and experiment to find out who you are and where your path may lie… It is a time of seeking, both inward and outward. Who are you called to be? What will you need for the road ahead? Others may hold your hand when you need it, but it is your path to scout. And the process can’t be rushed, better to enjoy this time of wondering and infinite possibility, your path will change and evolve over time. You may take side paths, and that’s okay too. No time understanding yourself better is ever wasted. If you feel ready to step forwards and explore your purpose and your unique gifts, if you feel it’s time to discover and wonder and probably surprise yourself, you may want to initiate into the pathfinder stage of life.
Later in life, the threshold from maiden to mother hardly needs more of a dramatic threshold event than the birth itself, but I feel some sort of ritual celebrating the crossing of a woman into motherhood is something that could provide more of an honouring of the amazing, sacred act of giving life to another than the traditional ‘baby shower’ usually does.
It is also becoming increasingly popular for older women to step into their power with a ‘queening’ ceremony, and much later a more traditional ‘croning’ ceremony. These ceremonies are a beautiful celebration of a woman’s life and acknowledge the increased wisdom and personal power that comes with age, so important in a media led world that often denies the value of older people, and older women in particular.
The ceremonies I lead are Goddess centred, but I think what’s wonderful about rituals like this is that they can be anything you want them to be, the important thing is the celebration of the individual crossing a threshold. I think we need these moments in our lives as markers, to take stock, look at how far we’ve come and enjoy where we are, before stepping consciously onto the road ahead.