Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

23 March 2011

A contemplation on the need for rites of passage


I wake up every morning to the news on the radio,
and today, the local story that pulled me out of my sleep
was this:

Over the past month, there have been two deaths
from heroin overdose, and a potential third recent death
seems also to have been caused by this same substance.
In addition, there have been
42 non-fatal opiate based overdoses
at one hospital in a short period of time,
all of this is leading the police to conclude
that someone out there is selling some pretty nasty stuff,
laced with something that humans should not be ingesting.
The story was a warning, both to the users
and the sellers, who will be tried for murder
when and if they get caught.

So, there I was, struggling into consciousness
and struggling to understand
why so many people
are using this stuff,
so many people 
in a town blighted
with poverty
and unemployment.

And they're young people,
 very young people.

There's another story in this town
that makes me cry
whenever I think about it--
a couple years ago,
someone found a young woman
folded in half, naked,
and dead,
in a garbage bag
in a dumpster.
A beautiful young woman who
became increasingly involved in drugs, then
prostitution to support her drugs
when she was in her late teens.
The last person to see her alive
was someone who dropped her off
at a house where she was going to exchange
sex for drugs.
The police declared hers
an accidental death,
and put the file away.
Well, that's bull shit;
accidentally falls,
naked and bloody,
into a garbage bag, 
in a dumpster.
Somebody did that to her.
But who is to blame?


So back to waking up this morning:
I thought I heard something else in the heroin story,
but it may have been another story
blurring into it:
it said:
this sort of behavior develops in cultures
where they have no initiation rituals,
no rites of passage.

And my mind went to stories of young men
in Papua New Guinea,
or Tanzania,
or somewhere like that,
fearing and anticipating that certain age when they know
they will have to take some mind altering drug
then go out and sit out in the wilderness
with wild animals
for a night or two or more
and wrestle with their own demons
and with nature
before they can return to their family
and home, and be called a man.
Some of them don't survive it,
I imagine.
But those that do
know the power
and the danger
of taking risks;
they are very familiar
with their own
dark side.

I thought as I lay there in bed,
with these stories blurring in my head:
cultures with rites of passage seem to acknowledge
that at a certain point in every person's life
(generally some time after the hormones start pumping)
that person is bound to be drawn
to risky behavior.
So, we have a choice
as a "society":
we can either let our children
take their risks on their own,
illicitly, and illegally,
and let them kill 
or other people
in the process;
we can ritualize
that behavior,
and make the risk
and the substance
that heightens the
thrill of the risk
a sacrament.

It seems to me that the latter
of those two option
actually ends up empowering
the fledgling risk-taker
as well as the adult
who seeks to teach
the fledgling risk-taker
After all, in a culture
that includes such
rites of passage
it is a foregone conclusion
that everyone who has survived
to adulthood, has passed through
the threshold of no return,
and returned, wiser for it.

( bbc )

Our society has departed
so far
from a culture wherein
we acknowledge
the risky threhshold
between childhood and adulthood --
almost as much as we have departed
from acknowledging the threshold
between fertile adulthood and old age,
and between life and death.

Many young people today
get older, with little
awareness or instruction
in the notion of the sacred,
and no ritualized behavior
to guide them on their way,
except, perhaps
the ritual of going to a movie
or a high-school prom.
Those rituals do not recongize
that life's changes include
risks, and potential dangers;
they do not acknowledge
the presence of the dark side
in each of us; if anything
that dark side is treated
as a forbidden, sinful thing.
Rites-of-passage acknowledge
and embrace
that forbidden, shameful, even sinful thing
as a necessary part
of everybody's life.

( tvtropes )

So where am I going with this?

Well, soon enough I will be going off to bed;
I need to sleep fast,
so I can wake up again,
to the dulcet tones
of the highlights of life on earth
in 2011,
but for now, 
I will end this meandering entry with a 
meager thought--

as I mused over this sobering story
some 18 hours ago,
I began to think a thought
I often think --
I feel a bit like humanity is regressing,
back to a wildness that is savage.
I fear for the upcoming generation
especially in the U.S.A.,
because all they value is the superficial,
and (as I say above)
they have no sense of ritual.
Humanity could, potentially,
go through some very dark times.

And if we survive,
we may need to return to the wisdom of the tribal,
a wisdom that is intimately aware
and respectful of
 the earth and the seasons
and the changes of the human body itself,
and perhaps then we will return
to recognizing the dangers implicit
in those threshold ages --
the teen-aged years,
the menopausal years (for both men & women),
and the years of death.
And perhaps once we recognize the dangers
of those times,
we will honor that, by turning those ages
into ritual years, 
and in doing that, too,
we would restore respect to 
all of the ages of men and women.

But for now,
we leave our children
to encounter
their demons alone.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

I think the difference is not the ritual or lack of it, per se, but what the ritual represents -- a sense of belonging and community. Without that sense, people are much more susceptible to the false and easy promises of escape offered by addiction.

Makropoulos said...

Yes, I agree, Debra. This is all part of a communal structure, where there is an actual system that helps individuals through all of life's changes! And it also ends up respecting every age along the way, including and especially old age.
Thanks for the thoughts!