Rites of Passage
In the beginning of this story on affirming boys in manhood, it was just a group of men going to the mountains with their sons. Immediately, I knew there was something important about that. My Dad didn’t take me hunting in the mountains with him when I was a boy. It may have been because I didn’t like hunting! Maybe I wasn’t such good company? I think we both missed out. But, in any event, and for whatever reason, I knew that mountain trips with other men and boys were important in my life and the life of my boys. I’ve mentioned before that after that first gathering, we didn’t miss another for twenty years. My boys went away with me (at least) once a year to be with a group of men sharing in competitions, fellowship, and fun.
But the whole thing lacked intention. In my spirit, I knew that there was more. It didn’t really need to be much more, but there was more that could be done than just eating, competing, and meeting! There was more than just a worship service too. So, early in the process, I introduced the idea of ritual or ceremony to mark a boy’s journey into manhood. Initially, it was just one ceremony. It was for boys who were 18 that year, and it was a ceremony filled with symbolism, expressions of affirmation, and celebration. Although I crafted the ceremony from pieces and parts of scripture and general ideas of manhood, it wasn’t perfect. And yet, it was perfect. The stories of the widow’s mite in Mark 12 or of Elisha and the jar of oil in 2 Kings 4 come to mind as I think of what God can do with little. I watched father after father and son after son, weep together as stories were shared, character traits affirmed, and blessings were spoken over boys who ‘became’ men that night. I honestly think that most of those boys still have a token or a memento from that night. I’m sure they carry with them the memory of that event.
The thing I found even more impressive was how the younger boys would sit and watch as each young man went through the ceremony year after year. It was usually frigid, and dark, and the acoustics weren’t always great. But the younger ones sat enamored at what they were seeing and hearing. It inspired them in a way they didn’t even understand because it’s a longing in every boy. That is the power of a RITE OF PASSAGE.
Since this idea is central to our mission, it deserves a bit of attention toward greater understanding. Let’s start with a history of these ceremonies.
Peoples and cultures from prehistoric times onward created rites of passage to initiate boys into manhood. The primary reasons for these ceremonies were the survival of the culture. The men were tasked to protect, provide and preside over people groups. A boy’s ability to hunt, fight, and lead the tribe were not just good for the boy, but necessary for the tribe to survive, succeed and thrive. Historically, all journeys towards manhood consisted of common elements:
Separation: During this phase an initiate is separated in some way from his former life.. During the separation phase, part of the old self is extinguished as the initiate prepares to create a new identity.
Transition: During this phase, the initiate is between worlds-no longer part of his old life but not yet fully inducted into his new one. He is taught the knowledge needed to become a full-fledged member of that group. And he is called upon to pass tests that show he is ready for the leap. In tribal societies, the elders would impart to the initiate what it meant to be a man and how the boy was to conduct himself once he had become one. The initiate would then participate in ritual ceremonies which often involved pain and endurance.
Re-incorporation. In this phase, the initiate, having passed the tests necessary and proving himself worthy, is re-introduced into his community, which recognizes and honors his new status within the group. For tribal societies, this meant a village-wide feast and celebration. The boy would now be recognized by all tribe members as a man and allowed to participate in the activities and responsibilities that status conferred. During the all phases of the process, the men who have gone through the ritual themselves guide the young initiate on his journey. By controlling the rite of passage, the men decide when a boy becomes a man.
More common examples of this process include the path to knighthood for young men in medieval times. At age 7 boys were separated from their families and sent to, hopefully, a more influential home of means, where they would learn chivalry, manners and the ways of society. They would perform many chores associated with the keeping of the household. At age 14, they would be apprenticed to a knight and serve him as a squire. Through this age-old approach to learning, boys would glean everything they needed to know about the role of a knight. Somewhere around age 18-21, they would be ‘dubbed’ into knighthood and be considered part of the larger community that served in that capacity. From boyhood to manhood, the way was designed and marked to help the boy become a thriving member of that culture for the sake of the boy and the group.
Jews still practice the Bar-Mitsvah, which is one of the many reasons that Jewish culture has existed through millennia despite wide-spread persecution and diaspora.
This immersion in the way of the culture for both boys and girls has perpetuated the race.
Other more primitive and remote cultures still practice these ‘marking’ ceremonies. Some are brutal and some more genteel but, generally, the notion of leading and guiding a boy into manhood has been lost. This could be due to many factors like suspicion of rituals, degradation of masculinity and the subsequent demoralization of boys, globalism and the resulting lack of sovereign communities, and the changing nature or war. But without these experiences to ground manhood, young men are left to be buffeted by the anti-manhood mantra of media and fringe groups. Deconstructionists are building an all-out assault on the encouraging, adventurous, masculine spirit. They want to squash male ambition and put a stranglehold on what they consider they tyranny of patriarchy.
And so our young men become irresponsible instead of stepping into roles of responsibility and lose their sense of confidence, competence, and purposes. It’s the perfect recipe for nihilism. Their urges and innate desires become destructive because these natural tendencies and desires are channeled improperly.
Given the dearth of culturally embedded rites of passages in our time, some men are creating their own “DIY” ceremonies. But, ultimately, the responsibility for these paths is most effectively accomplished by the company of men. It’s the tribe or group that needs to lead.
Like all the great novels of masculine adventure, the transformation into manhood happens in the fellowship or community of men. So, these two things; the company of men and the rites of passage that effectively mark a boy’s journey into manhood, are central to our mission.
We at Treign Up believe in an integrated approach to guiding this journey in today’s western culture. It includes three ceremonies:
“Ceremony of the Scroll”
A brief synopsis of each follows:
The Elevatio: This is latin for the word ‘raising up’. It is a dedication and commitment ceremony for the father or mentor and the company of men. It formally declares their commitment to the process of affirming this boy in manhood and consists of some ritual, vows, and the ‘lifting up’ of the boy onto the shoulders of the company of men. This was a Roman tradition that has extended into our culture through sports and story. Comparatively, it is the giving of son to the family of a knight as a page in medieval times.
Ceremony of the Scroll: This ceremony is where the boy begins to take a more active role in his own quest for manhood. It consists of ritual, imagery, and the sealing of scroll with vows taken by the boy during the ceremony. These vows are then held by the boy until his manhood ceremony when the seal is broken and the vows reviewed and then burned. It is the place of ‘leaving behind childish things and starting to think like a man.” Comparatively, it is the phase of knighthood equivalent of becoming a squire.
Manhood Ceremony: This is the pinnacle of the rites of passage ceremonies. With all that has been accomplished, the journey is recognized as being completed, and there is a formal acceptance into the company of men. This ceremony is accompanied by testimonies, gifts, and rituals.
These three ceremonies together recognize and affirm the journey every boy must take to be accepted into manhood. All curriculum, tribe gatherings, retreats, and other programming in Treign UP work towards this end and coincide with the age-specific ceremonies. A boy that goes through this journey with Treign Up will forever be changed by the process and its indelible impact on them.
At Treign Up, we believe that these significant markers on the pathway to manhood must be restored to provide direction for our lost boys on this journey. As Jordan Peterson said in his “Message to the Christian Churches”, it is time for us to ‘invite the young men back’ and create an environment that nourishes their souls and brings them back into the responsibilities they’ve been called up to.
Don’t agree with us? Let’s see what the newest technology on the block, ChatGPT, has to say about it:
In 2018, I interviewed one of the foremost experts on this topic, James Hollis on the importance of Rites of Passage. You can click here to listen to a more in-depth discussion on what all cultures have in common when initiating their men.
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Check out our website by clicking here and learning more about what we have planned in 2023. The biggest things are:
Our Tabernacle Father-Son retreat will be on the weekend of March 31st. If you’re in the Richmond area, please feel free to join us! Just reach out to us and let us know. We’ll have a formal sign up process by the end of the month.
Let your church know about us! We’d love to talk with them about starting up Titans teams in their church.