Rites of passage

Rites of Passage1

Rites of passage are common to every culture.

It’s a term used for the ceremonies and rituals we use to mark and celebrate stages in life: from starting and leaving school, loosing teeth to fairies and learning to drive to other markers of independence and coming-of-age: 18th and 21st birthdays, leaving home. There’s hardly a milestone in life that we don’t celebrate with a card or a toast – from passing exams and tests to marriage and partnering, divorce, having children, death and loss.

Rites of passage can be an important part of the dying process itself and the term covers the rituals we carry out after a death: a funeral, service, ceremony, life celebration, memorial or other event.

Ceremonies can take many shapes and forms but tend to have elements in common:

  • setting: dramatic or spiritual setting, time of day: dawn, dusk, light, dark
  • music: communal singing, soloists, songs, hymns, recordings, live music, storytelling
  • words: speeches, tributes, eulogies, readings, poetry, chanting, prayers
  • ritual: meeting and greeting, entrances and exits, procession, candle lighting, blessings, joining hands, actions: like throwing earth or flowers onto coffin, casting ashes to the wind, participation and invitation to others eg step forward, stand, sit, raise glasses
  • food: feasting and fasting, toasting, sharing and offering food
  • decoration: dress, robes, garlands, veils, flowers, ribbons, bunting, flags
  • souvenirs: photographs, tokens, take-aways to remind you of the day.

See creating a ceremony and ideas to help with thinking. You can get help from our celebratory artists

See workshops for a course in Rites of Passage.

See death rituals to appreciate how varied our rites of passage around end of life are across the globe.

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