Coming-of-age ceremonies are held when a child or youth becomes recognized as an adult
for the first time.
These rituals were and are found in almost all aboriginal societies. In
modern times, the transition into adulthood often happens without a formal,
The Rites of Passage Institute of
Cleveland, OH notes that: "The final entrance into adulthood has been
provided from time immemorial by the 'coming of age' ceremony. Like the other
major life chronicle ceremonies accompanying birth, marriage and death, the
coming of age ceremony located the individual anew within the surrounding
community and indeed with the universe as a whole. It was a critical moment of
expansion, the entrance into larger responsibilities, larger privileges, larger
secrets, larger institutions, and larger understandings. It amounted to a second
birth, entry not into physical life but into higher life of culture and the
spirit. Accordingly, it called for the society to display itself to full effect,
giving presence to its myths and traditions, physical expression to its
animating beliefs." 10
These rituals take many forms among different religions and
Religiously or culturally-based observances:
Ancient Heathenism: This is a form of Paganism. It is being reconstructed from the beliefs and practices of various
ancient societies which occupied a large area of Northern Europe from Russia to
Iceland. They recognize Frey, Freya, Frigg, Odin, Thor, Tyr and others
as deities. One Heathen website describes a coming of age ceremony,
which is typically performed on the child's birthday or on a seasonal
celebration. It may involve posing a riddle, listing the child's
talents, optionally choosing a new name, receiving a symbol of
adulthood, welcoming the child as a new adult into the Kindred
(congregation), and a giving of gifts. 4
Apache Tribe: The Apaches are one
of about 500 aboriginal societies who once occupied North America. They
have a four-day rite of puberty -- the Apache Sunrise Ceremony, called "na'ii'ees."
It "...is one of the most important events in an Apache female's
life." In an act of unusual bigotry and religious intolerance, the
U.S. government banned this and other ceremonies in the early 1900s. It was only
decriminalized in 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was signed into law. The ritual "...is intended to imbue the girls
with the spirit and characteristics of White Painted Woman, the Apache
culture's first woman - also called Esdzanadehe or Changing Woman. The
girls' skin is painted and covered with a sacred mixture of pollen and
clay, which they must not wash off during the entire ceremony." The
ritual itself is physically demanding. The girls have to pray, dance for
hours, sit with their backs straight, and perform other physically
draining activities. They are given instruction in sexuality,
self-esteem, dignity, confidence, and healing ability. They are told to
pray towards the east at dawn and in the four cardinal directions, which
represent the four stages of life. 12
Roman Catholics: Catholics believe
that Confirmation "...completes the process
of initiation into the Christian community, and it matures the soul
for the work ahead....During Confirmation, God the Holy Spirit comes
upon the person, accompanied by God the Father and God the Son, just
as he did at Pentecost." Sometimes, those who have been
confirmed are called "Soldiers of Christ." This
refers to their spiritual duty to fight evil, darkness and Satan. 5
Ethical Culture: There are about 25
ethics-centered religious communities in the U.S., who are members of the American Ethical Union (AEU). The AEU is a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. The Ethical Society of St. Louis, MO is one such community. Their entire
eighth grade of Sunday School class is structured as a coming-of-age
transition from childhood to adolescence. They study:
"Who am I and what do I believe?" They
discuss key issues like the existence of God, the fact of death, the
reality of suffering, etc.
"Where do we begin?" A joint effort between
the student and their opposite-sex parent in community building and
"What is happening to me?" A parent-teen
negotiation workshop; a workshop on dating and sexual responsibility;
Coming-of-age rituals in other major
"How can I make a difference?" Group
participation in service to the community.
"Culmination:" An opportunity for each
student to address the congregation.
After having completed the course and having
reached the age of 14, they can join the Society as a full member. 8
Igbo tribe: This tribe in Nigeria
once had a traditional coming-of-age ritual for both boys and girls.
Colonialism and oppression by the Christian church almost destroyed it.
An Igbo group of African-Americans, the Otu Umunne Cultural Organization,
has attempted to reconstruct the ritual in the U.S. The "...male
initiates spent the night with the Otu Umunne fathers at a designated
location, while the female initiates did the same with the Otu Umunne
mothers" elsewhere. The children are taught teamwork, leadership,
values, responsibilities, moral decisions, freedom, and valuing their
heritage. Candles are lit, and prayers recited. The children pledge to
conduct themselves in a manner that gives glory to God and that
will command respect for them, their families abroad, in the ancestral land of
the Igbo tribe --
Nigeria -- and to the American community where they live. 14
Interfaith: The Interfaith
Families Project is composed of families from the Washington DC area
which follow two religious traditions. They celebrate the passage of
their children "into young adulthood and to embrace their emerging
identities as adolescents." It is held during the children's 8th grade year of religious education. 3
Judaism: Girls reach the status of Bat Mitzvah on their 12th birthday. Boys achieve Bar Mitzvah on their 13th
birthday. They are then recognized as adults and are
personally responsible to follow the Jewish commandments and laws. Males are allowed to
lead a religious service. They are counted in a "minyan" -- a quota of men
necessary to perform certain parts of religious services. Following their
Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah they can sign contracts and testify in religious courts.
In theory, they can marry, although the Talmud
recommends 18 to 24 as the optimum age range for marriage.
Kenya: Female circumcision (a.k.a.
female genital mutilation, female genital cutting, and FGM) is widely
practiced in the Northern and Western parts of Africa. It is an invasive
and painful surgical procedure that is usually performed without
anesthetic on girls before puberty. Their clitoris is partially or
completely removed. This inhibits or terminates sexual feelings. FGM has
been a social custom in parts of Africa for many centuries. Many people
incorrectly link FGM with the religion of Islam.
Actually, it is a social custom that is practiced by Animists, Christians, and
Muslims in those countries where FGM is common. There are many Muslim countries
in which the mutilation is unknown. It is currently performed as a
rite-of-passage in most of the districts of Kenya. A nongovernmental
agency, Maendeleo Ya Wanawake (MYWO) has been encouraging the
public to abandon FGM. They have
introduced an "alternative rite" (AR) in which girls are
taken to a secluded location and given
family life education, including information on human sexuality. This is followed by a public graduation ceremony in which
they are recognized as having become adults. 13
Pagan: Laura Bryannan has created
a type of coming-of-age ceremony for a group of adult women who have
survived incest or sexual abuse as a child. The ritual is based on the
belief that such abuse freezes some emotional aspects of a person at a
young age. They may benefit from a ritual in which they can "seek a
healing of our development into womanhood..." The ritual starts
invocation, consecration of a circle, and invocation of the Goddess. Using
the symbolism of a caterpillar and butterfly, each participant
acknowledges the death of themselves as children and their quickening "...from outworn childhood modes of being into the consciousness of
confident, serene, intelligent and loving women." 6
Universalist: This is a unusual religion. It is composed of
seekers. The purpose of the minister is not to tell the congregation
what to believe and how to behave. Her or his main task is to help the
membership in their own quest for truth. The Unitarian Universalist
Church of Haverhill, MA has a coming of age program which is offered
to the ninth grade students in their religious education courses. Each
student is teamed with a mentor who is an adult volunteer from the congregation.
Students learn about world religions including a detailed study of their own
religion. They discuss their personal beliefs with their family, their
mentor and fellow students. They are expected to spend at least five
hours working on a service project. Finally, each student writes their
own statement of beliefs as they currently exist. The program ends with
their participation "...in a Sunday service that will honor their
Coming of Age."
Wiccan: LadyHakwe personally wrote a coming-of-age ceremony for her
daughter. It consists of a circle casting; lighting of a "childhood"
candle; a series of questions committing the child to justice,
inclusiveness, and caring; and lighting of an "adult" candle. The
ritual appears below.
Australia, New Zealand and many other countries: A a party
called "The Twenty First" is often held to celebrate a youth
having come of age. It is held on their 21st birthday.
Japan: Since 1948, people who will have their 20th birthday
during a given year celebrate the Coming of Age day on the
second Monday in January. It is a national holiday. The male Samurai
warriors once had a similar celebration called Genpuku, which was
observed between the ages of about 12 to 18. 1
Korea: The Confucian coming-of-age ceremony is called Gwallye and is held for both boys and girls aged 15 to 20. 2
Designing your own coming-of-age ritual:
The Rites of Passage Institute notes that the educational system
rarely provides a significant passage ritual. Many families are now creating their
own. The Institute suggests that it incorporate a number of elements:
Contact with the natural environment: One or more days spent in
nature, experiencing isolation, beauty and grandeur.
Ordeal: A test of strength, self-discipline, and endurance: a
fast, an all night vigil, a difficult task.
Solitude: A complete physical withdrawal from the pressures of
Public recognition: An "...announcement, ceremony or gathering
with family and friends..." to acknowledge the person's new status.
Symbolic representations: Some object that symbolizes the
person's new status: a totem, ring, etc. 10
There are very few Wiccan coming-of-age ceremonies
available on the Internet. The following is one by LadyHawke. She posted it on the
Yahoo! group for ChristianWitches. 9 This is a temporary posting. The author allows free use by anyone. We
show it below in a slightly modified form. It should be more accessible on a permanent basis
LadyHakwe, asked her 11 year-old daughter if she would like a coming-of-age
ceremony. She said that she wanted one held at the Midsummer Sabbat (seasonal
day of celebration).
Materials needed (in addition to the usual Wiccan ritual tools):
One large white candle
Two small candles. The colors are chosen by the child. One is chosen to
symbolize childhood; the other adulthood.
Three candle holders.
Bowl of blessed water, rose petals, and rose oil
A present symbolizing her coming of age.
Sometime before ceremony the child asks the God or Goddess to reveal her magical name to her.
Cast circle. This is a the first part of a standard Wiccan ritual. The
child is in the center.
Present child, saying: "Creator of
All in this sacred place, we present to you <the child's legal name.> We ask for
Your Presence and Blessings for this ceremony celebrating her transition from
child to young adulthood."
The child lights the candle that symbolizes childhood.
The mother asks of the child:
"Are you ready to dedicate yourself to the Three-in-One, and to use the
you have been given wisely?" (The "gifts" are presumably knowledge
and ability to perform rituals and magic).
"Will you be careful of what you do, since we live in a world of cause and
"Will you be careful of who you trust so you do not cause confusion or fear?"
"Will you not use the Gift to hurt others, except when pursuing true Justice, for
what is sent is returned?"
"Will you not use the Gift against someone else who has the Gift, except when
pursuing true Justice, for the Gift comes from the same Source?"
"Will you only use the Gift when you feel it in your heart and know it in your
"Are you willing to treat every man as your brother and every woman as your sister
for they are by the Creator's hand?"
If she answers affirmatively to all that is asked of her, she lights the candle
that symbolizes adulthood.
She is anointed with the blessed water which contains rose
petals and rose oil.
She is given the present.
The Mother says: "Through your mouth and this rite you have proclaimed that you
are spirituality ready to be an adult. Welcome to the 'Journey for Greater
Knowledge'. Henceforth, you shall be called <new magical name>."
The large white candle is placed as a center piece for the celebration meal.
It is lit.
After the meal, the circle is banished.
The white candle should be allowed to burn for at least an hour.
Paul L Allen, "Coming of age: Apache twins Fayreen and Farren Holden are welcomed
into adulthood in a four-day tribal ceremony," Tucson Citizen,
2001-JUL-26, at: http://www.tucsoncitizen.com
"Kenya Female Genital Cutting: Community
sensitization must precede alternate coming-of-age rite," Population
Council, 2002-MAY, at: http://www.popcouncil.org. You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:
Victoria Nneka Agu, "The 'Rite of Passage' Celebration or 'Coming of
Age' in Igbo land," (2002), at: http://www.chiamaka.com/
Richard Bock, "Coming of Age Novels," El Alma de la Raza Series,
Page 19, at: http://www.dpsk12.org You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from: