Initiatory Ordeals

It always struck me as a bit odd when I’d see interviews with survivors of accidents, natural disasters, violent encounters, etc., and they’d talk about how – now that they’d faced death or grave injury – they realized life is short and they shouldn’t waste it, and they should appreciate all they have and pursue their dreams and all of that. As a Dionysian, these revelations seem rather obvious. I have always been acutely aware of the limits of my lifespan and eager to live each moment to the fullest. I wondered if perhaps this mindset of other people was indicative of our screwed up culture that encourages them to be mindless, consuming drones (because if you know the value of life and want to do something significant with it, you may not be interested in working 60-hour weeks or spending all your money on useless junk). In other words, it takes a life-threatening disaster to wake them up.

But then it finally occurred to me that it was not only the pervasive cultural somnambulism to blame, but more specifically the lack of traditional initiation rituals, especially the sort that are physically and/or mentally challenging in the extreme.  When – in order to enter adulthood or become a full member of your group – you have to go through an ordeal, then you have already had something terrible happen to you and survived. You come to that same place, where you know your purpose and don’t take things for granted, and you come to it much earlier in life and with the full support of your community.

Some spirit-workers refer to ordeal rituals as a “hunt for power” because of the mojo you gain from facing your fears, facing physical pain, and getting through it to the other side. Well, better to go out hunting for it than to have it knock you upside the head and destroy your whole world-view! And better to do it early than live half your life without really having lived it. Just some food for thought.

~ by Dver on July 4, 2012.

7 Responses to “Initiatory Ordeals”

  1. Your words are sadly true for most people. Letting life go by, year after year, doing the same things in a routinue schedule. We need to be awakened, like the rituals & pratices our ancestors knew.
    But, its never too late, to shake off the day after day boredom. Sometimes, it takes an accident or brush with death to realize life is too brief. Its why the song, “Dust in the wind” makes people cry.
    Take a page from the Gods & Goddesses themselves. Without receiving love & joy, all can fade in the distant. We, in the now, have redicovered them. And they hear the songs, praises & laughter of their children on earth. They are renewed & we with them!

  2. I think you are on to something there.
    The average western life flows from childhood to an extended youth (I mean seriously, you are mostly considered as almost still a kid in your late 20s). Plus the idea that we all have a spare life in the trunk. Don’t ask me where this notion comes from, but it’s obviously there.
    There are a lot factors, our (compared to earlier times) über-safe life, no fear of dangers and if we fear things, we tend to fear the unlikely stuff, plus that we can get strawberries in December, all of this gives us the illusion that everything is possible and those idols in movies and TV… 30 yo actors play the parents of 20 yo ‘teenagers’, 60 yo action actors make the umpteenth sequel of their once badass film series…
    So many things acting together to lull people into a false security.

  3. […] Dver’s Initiatory Ordeals […]

  4. Thanks for this. I completely agree that the lack of traditional initiatory rituals/ordeals is a terrible loss for our contemporary society. And the few activities that some youth unconsciously seek to substitute for that void, be they gang initiations or military boot camp or frat “hazings,” are (for the most part) often quite needlessly destructive and far removed from the purpose of cultivating self-knowledge or a spiritual understanding.

  5. I never considered this concept before. As someone who has had a young brush with death and childhood struggles I have always valued life, but I like to say it would have happened anyway, but there is no way to be sure on this. However, there is such a thing as learned helplessness when someone goes through a trial and fails and this could have the exact opposite effect. Instead of uplifting the individual they learn to become doormats to what others feed them. Enriching youth’s personal power through support is becoming more popular in school systems currently. Hopefully this will eventually make a difference. However, rites of passages and initiatory trials would be a wonderful addition to support youth in enhancing their personal power and authentic capabilities to live out an appreciated life. Great points you have made!

  6. Very interesting thoughts…..and I think you have a good point here. Certainly our (UK) Government actively encourages the kind of somnambulism you’re referring to, and there’s an overwhelming impression that soap operas and tabloid news are the new opiates of the people here (if religion ever was….).

    Mrs P and I have long felt that the lack of a proper rite of passage into adulthood is also to blame for the large amount of youth crime and general misbehaviour – young people just don’t have any markers for what it *means* to be an adult, when one can legitimately classify oneself as such. Maybe a return to initiatory rites (if such a thing were possible) would bring some clarity…..

  7. Excellent food for thought, thank you. I have been through my version of such a thing and it did have such effects, although I would argue that so does parenthood.

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