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Coming-of-age rituals
In many faiths & countries

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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, public celebration.

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 countries:

bulletReligiously or culturally-based observances:
bulletAncient 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
bulletApache 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 " 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 " 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
bullet 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
bulletEthical 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:
bullet "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.
bullet "Where do we begin?" A joint effort between the student and their opposite-sex parent in community building and cooperation.
bullet "What is happening to me?" A parent-teen negotiation workshop; a workshop on dating and sexual responsibility;
bullet Coming-of-age rituals in other major religions.
bullet "How can I make a difference?" Group participation in service to the community.
bullet "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

bulletIgbo 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
bulletInterfaith: 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
bulletJudaism: 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.
bulletKenya: 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
bulletPagan: 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 with an 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
bulletUnitarian 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 " a Sunday service that will honor their Coming of Age."
bulletWiccan: 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
bulletSecular-based observances:
bullet 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.
bullet 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
bullet Korea: The Confucian coming-of-age ceremony is called Gwallye and is held for both boys and girls aged 15 to 20. 2

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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:

bullet Contact with the natural environment: One or more days spent in nature, experiencing isolation, beauty and grandeur.
bullet Ordeal: A test of strength, self-discipline, and endurance: a fast, an all night vigil, a difficult task.
bullet Solitude: A complete physical withdrawal from the pressures of life.
bullet Public recognition: An "...announcement, ceremony or gathering with family and friends..." to acknowledge the person's new status.
bullet Symbolic representations: Some object that symbolizes the person's new status: a totem, ring, etc. 10

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A Wiccan coming-of-age ceremony:

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 here.

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):

bullet One large white candle
bullet Two small candles. The colors are chosen by the child. One is chosen to symbolize childhood; the other adulthood.
bullet Three candle holders.
bullet Candle sniffer.
bullet Bowl of blessed water, rose petals, and rose oil
bullet A present symbolizing her coming of age.

Sometime before ceremony the child asks the God or Goddess to reveal her magical name  to her.

The ritual:

bulletCast circle. This is a the first part of a standard Wiccan ritual. The child is in the center.
bulletPresent 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."
bulletThe child lights the candle that symbolizes childhood.
bulletThe mother asks of the child:
bullet "Are you ready to dedicate yourself to the Three-in-One, and to use the gifts you have been given wisely?" (The "gifts" are presumably knowledge and ability to perform rituals and magic).
bullet "Will you be careful of what you do, since we live in a world of cause and effect?"
bullet "Will you be careful of who you trust so you do not cause confusion or fear?"
bullet "Will you not use the Gift to hurt others, except when pursuing true Justice, for what is sent is returned?"
bullet "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?"
bullet "Will you only use the Gift when you feel it in your heart and know it in your mind?"
bullet "Are you willing to treat every man as your brother and every woman as your sister for they are by the Creator's hand?"
bulletIf she answers affirmatively to all that is asked of her, she lights the candle that symbolizes adulthood.
bulletShe is anointed with the blessed water which contains rose petals and rose oil.
bulletShe is given the present.
bulletThe 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>."
bulletThe large white candle is placed as a center piece for the celebration meal. It is lit.
bulletAfter the meal, the circle is banished.
bulletThe white candle should be allowed to burn for at least an hour.

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References used:

  1. "Coming of Age," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, at:
  2. "Coming -of-Age Ceremony," National Folk Museum of Korea, at:
  3. "Interfaith Families Project Coming of Age Program," Interfaith Families Project of the Greater Washington DC Area, at:
  4. Thorskegga Thorn, "Coming of age ceremony (Thorshof)," Milgard's Web, at:
  5. "Coming of Age: Confirmation," Derived from the book by John Trigilio & Kenneth Brighenti, "Catholicism for Dummies," For Dummies, (2003). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  6. Laura Bryannan, "Woman Ritual," Chapter 21 from "Dancing in the Shadows," unpublished.
  7. The Ethical Society of St. Louis has a web site at: The American Ethical Union (AEU) has a web site at: The International Humanist and Ethical Union has a web site at: .
  8. "Coming of Age in the Ethical Society Sunday School," The Ethical Society of St. Louis, at:
  9. LadyHakwe (S. Michelle Koon), "Girl's/Young Woman's Coming of Age," ChristianWitches Yahoo! group, 2004-JUN-3, at:
  10. "Growing up modern - Coming of age," Rites of Passage Institute, at:
  11. "Coming of Age," Unitarian Universalist Church of Haverhill, MA, at:
  12. 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:
  13. "Kenya Female Genital Cutting: Community sensitization must precede alternate coming-of-age rite," Population Council, 2002-MAY, at: You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:
  14. Victoria Nneka Agu, "The 'Rite of Passage' Celebration or 'Coming of Age' in Igbo land," (2002), at:

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Other resources:

bullet Richard Bock, "Coming of Age Novels," El Alma de la Raza Series, Page 19, at: You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:

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Copyright © 2004 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-JUN-06
Latest update: 2006-MAR-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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