Root to Rise

Reclaiming a lost tradition

Patricia Petmecky guides girls into womanhood through unique rites of passage. Along with Root to Rise cofounder Lydia Marolda, she is leading a special program for young teen girls this summer in the Hill Country. Patricia joins us on the blog to explain why rites of passage are important, now more than ever.

Throughout time, cultures around the world have honored rites of passage. It was commonplace for both males and females coming of age to participate in a series of rites that prepared them for stepping into new identities as adults. The ceremonies all involved a deep challenge and a passing of wisdom from the elders in the community to the individuals in transition.

In Brazilian Amazonian cultures, 13-year-old boys wear gloves filled with bullet ants to prove their strength and will. In Vanuatu boys come of age by jumping off a 98-foot-tall tower with nothing but a bungee-like vine strapped to their ankles. In a boy’s first dive his mother will hold an item from his childhood, and after the jump the item is thrown away, symbolizing the end of childhood. During the Apache Sunrise Ceremony, girls dance for four days and nights to songs and prayers and run toward the four directions. During this time they also participate in and conduct sacred rituals, receiving and giving both gifts and blessings and experiencing their own capacity to heal. Most Apache women who have experienced the Sunrise Ceremony say afterward that it significantly increased their self-esteem and confidence.

In our current culture it has become a rarity to provide young individuals with the tools to transition safely from childhood to adulthood. Adolescents inherently have a strong desire to take big risks to “prove” their new identities as emerging adults. When they are not offered a safe and constructive environment in which to do this, they often create dangerous situations in which they can test limits in unconscious and often physically harmful ways. Seen in this context, it is not a surprise that reckless sexual activity, drinking and driving, gang violence, dangerous drug use, and other harmful behaviors meet these young adults’ deeper needs.

Communities must work together to provide safe parameters for young teens to meet their psychological need for stepping forward powerfully. If we are not there to support them, they will unconsciously create their own “rites of passage” that can be harmful to themselves and the community at large. A young teen once told me, in response to a conversation about rites of passage, “All we get is our parents handing us keys to a car.” She went on to express her feelings of loss and dissatisfaction in the lack of structure in her own coming of age.

As more parents and other concerned adults realize the loss they themselves experienced in not having their own formal rites of passage, we are starting to see programs develop worldwide. Educators and facilitators are now offering some amazing modern rites of passage for both boys and girls in Australia through the Pathways Foundation and for girls in New Zealand through the Tides program. There are even a few in the United States scattered up and down the West Coast.

In 2011 while working with Central Texas high school youth at the Inside Outside School, we (Lydia Marolda and I) saw a need to bring a rites of passage program to the Texas Hill Country. Thus Root to Rise was born. We had our first initiation weekend in the winter of 2011, and it was magical.

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