Rites of Passage
When an individual experiences movement, or a change from an affixed position in society to another position, that individual can easily describe their change as a passage into a new realm of living. A new realm of living is the way in which the individual and society views, acknowledges, and proceeds with their life. Their changes are monumental not only for the individual, but for his/her society as well. Many changes take place during the span of a persons life. They become rites of passage and rituals of initiation-which are more than just simple changes. A plethora of come with these rites and are found in all corners of the globe. Going on vision quests, by the plains Indians of North America, to circumcision by certain Australian cultures, rites of passage present a vast table of religious comparisons(Eliade, p. 287-88).
This essay will examine two rites of initiation, by comparing and contrasting their importance to each culture, and discussing how that importance affects that particular individual as well as their society. Finally, the essay will explore possible reasons as to why these initiation rites hold a deep meaning in their respective societies.
The Kurnai of Australia have an initiation rite for the sons of married men in their perspective villages. Within a section by A. W. Howitt, in Eliade's book, From Primitives to Zen: A thematic Sourcebook of the History of Religions , a ceremony known as the "Showing the Grandfather" is described(Eliade, p. 288) In this initiation the Kurnai have a formal way of bringing a man's son into the highest, and most secret realm of their religion. By incorporating the use of the father and son relationship, this particular ritual involves the revelation of the central meaning, or "mystery" of their religion. The men and women are separated. Secrecy is one the most important traditions in this initiation. The initiation is not revealed to the women, or anyone else not of their society. The sons, or "novices" as Howitt calls them, are taught the proper religious traditions that they need to know for the ceremony, and for the rest of their lives, as this initiation will conclude their step into religious righteousness, and manhood. This all takes place the day before the ceremony, while other men, who have already been through the ceremony, prepare by hunting for food and arranging a site, not too far from the village, where the initiation will take place. The next morning, a new day at hand, the novices are taken to the site at which time the ceremony commences. Howitt continues in writing of his recollection of the ritual by inferring that after many ritual movements (gestures of offering towards their god, etc.) and instrumental songs such as the "Tundun", "the Kurnai have two bull-roarers, a larger one called Tundun, or Ô the man', and a smaller one called ÔRukat-Tundun,' the woman, or wife of Tundun." . After this the novices' are instructed of the importance of the secrecy factor, and the laws by which they can be punished if they reveal anything to their mothers, sisters, or anyone other than the men of that society. Howitt even points out horror stories that are told to the novices about the punishment of man, a burning world, because he revealed the ceremony to women back in the village after being initiated. He writes that these stories exist in the Kurnai to scare the novices into not telling anyone the ritual. The ceremony even used to have a part where the men took spears, cocked them back over their shoulders, and pointed them at the Novices. Such a hostile act was used to instill the feeling they would have if they ever revealed the secrets of the initiation, not to mention a cold rush of intense fear. From there the ritual is ended and the novices play the Tundun.
Unlike the secret nature of the Kurnai ceremony the Shashoni's of Central-Western Wyoming offer a more open and artistic ceremony for their...
Cited: 1. Earhart, H. Byron, ed., Religious Traditions of the World: A Journey through
Africa, North America, Mesoamerica, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism,
Buddhism, China, and Japan. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993., xx
2. Extracts from Eliade, ed., From Primitives to Zen: A thematic Sourcebook of
the History of Religions. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1967.), xx 142-45
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