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Pagan Rites of Passage - worldofwonder



Pagan Rites of Passage
Pagan Rites of Passage - wicca
Pagan Rites of Passage
By Lady Damorea

Birthing/Wiccaning/Paganing:
This ritual does not commit a child to any religious path, not even Wicca or Paganism. It is an affirmation of the parents' and the group's commitment to the child. That commitment is for love, teaching, freedom to explore other paths and ways of life, and caring (and much more). The High Priest should preside for a girl; the High Priestess for a boy. The age of the child at the time of the ritual is for the parents to decide. The parents typically choose a "secret name" for the child and usually also name a "Faerie God Mother and God Father" for the child. The Faerie God Parents agree to raise and/or teach the child if, for some reason, the parents cannot. The Goddess and the God are asked to "bless, protect & prepare" the child for her/his childhood & to "make clear" the proper path for this particular child. Gifts are also presented to the child at the end of the ritual. During most Wiccaning/Paganing rituals the child is introduced to the elements by walking with the child around the Circle & finally to the center to introduce the child to the gods.

Coming of Age:
For boys, this ritual is usually done after 12 solar cycles or 13 years of age. (Some wait for boys to get their first pubic hair.) For girls, within the first lunar cycle the onset of menses. Because this is a celebration of sexual maturity, fertility gifts are generally given at this ritual (painted eggs, pine cones, etc.) Watches & birthstone rings & cameos are also appropriate. This ritual also acknowledges the changing relationship between parent and child. The father/mother/child relationship is growing to an adult relationship that is more friendship than the younger child parent relationship. The young woman or man who has gone through this ritual is generally treated as an adult by member of the coven. Generally, there is also some type of ordeal that the child must do prior to the ritual. Generally, this ritual is done by the mother (for a girl) or the father (for a boy) and three or four same-sex friends of the family. Girls generally pass through a "birth tunnel." The women spread their legs and the girl crawls through. She is lightly spanked as she passes through and the women moan as if in childbirth. A boy, however, receives body painting of symbols that have been chosen by his father. After the ritual, there's a feast, wine and other drink, gifts, stories of gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, etc.

Initiations:
Initiation does not always "make a witch." Sometimes, it is merely a two-way acknowledgment of one who has been a witch for many lifetimes. Initiation can also be used to "light a fire" under a sincere seeker who is "slow at the gates." A well-conducted initiation will spur even a hard worker into a "leap" in psychic and emotional growth. A good initiator will do everything to make that "leap" happen. Every initiation, regardless of religion or society, follows the same general pattern of symbolic death, the gaining of new knowledge/wisdom and rebirth to a new self/life. It is undergone with a conscious understanding of this process by all who are involved. In Witchcraft, death includes a period of isolation, binding and blindfolding (to symbolize the womb); rebirth involves the challenge & acceptance of an ordeal, the removal of binding and blindfolding, and anointing for a new life. The gaining of new knowledge/wisdom occurs during the isolation time, which is preceded by a brief conversation with the High Priestess and includes a period of meditation and fasting. Knowledge/wisdom is also passed on during the ritual. Generally, the High Priestess initiates males and the High Priest, females. In some traditions, there is only one initiation that occurs after a year-and-a-day. In other tradition, there are as any as eighteen initiations or degrees. For these traditions, every rite of passage is considered an initiation. Most traditions, including Gardnerian, Alexandrian and some Family Traditions have three initiations or degrees. At least a year-and-a-day must pass between the onset of training and the first initiation, which makes/acknowledges the individual as a "witch." In some traditions, this initiation also makes the witch a priest or priestess. In most traditions, however, this is not the case. For example, in Alexandrian, the second initiation or degree makes the witch a member of the priesthood. At this time, a newly made priestess may choose to "hive off" or form her own coven. In general, this 2nd initiation is done a least a year-and-a-day after the 1st. The 3rd degree initiation makes the individual completely independent and answerable only to the gods & her/his own conscience. Her/his coven is no longer subject to the guidance of the "mother" coven's High Priestess. This individual, however, may remain with the mother coven. If she/he chooses to remain, then she/he is acknowledged as an elder of the coven. There are differences between the rituals. In 1st degree, the initiate is bound and blindfolded. In 2nd, the initiate must show full knowledge of the working tools and show an ability to properly use magick. In 3rd, the ritual is primarily that of the Great Rite in either its symbolic or actual form. The initiate must be able to explain the aspects of the Great Rite & how it can be either low or high magick. Other requirements must also be met before and during the initiation rituals.

Handfasting:
This is the same as a wedding. The Wiccan Sabbat, Beltaine, is the traditional feast of the Sacred Marriage, the celebration of the union of Goddess and God, of male and female, of spirit and matter, and of light and dark. In ancient times, on the night before Beltaine, young couples would go into the woods to "conjure summer in." Many used sex magick to do their conjuring. Some of these young ladies would soon discover that they were pregnant. Weddings were planned as a result of this pregnancy; hence the saying "June Brides." Handfasting may not have anything to do with the woman's virginity. In ancient times, it is very possible that when a girl came of age that her virginity was removed for her by the tribal priest, who, having called the God down upon himself, acted as and for that God. Such a priest would have been, most likely, a highly skilled lover, making the event a pleasurable and positive experience for the girl, who was already prepared for it intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Of course, a young man's first experience in such a culture was probably with a priestess to the Goddess of Fertility. And so, the traditional white wedding dress represents not a state of physical virginity, but her identity with the Goddess in her aspect as the Maiden, Goddess of Love, Beauty and Fertility, and the Goddess of the Moon, who by ever renewing herself remains the eternal virgin. The groom is the resurrected Son of Nature, the God of the Waxing Sun; as he is the Sky Father, she is the Earth Mother. They complement each other, and make each other whole. Magick at the wedding works in many ways. Children at the wedding ensures children born in the marriage. Flowers at the wedding ensures the fertility of the flowers in the fields and if the fields are able to produce flowers then they can also produce healthy, abundant crops. The wedding feast is thought to ensure an abundant harvest. In many cultures, grooms sprinkled their brides with water. The meaning to this is obvious. Plants must have water/rain to be fertile; so must people. The wedding ring, a perfect circle, symbolized the Goddess, is placed on the ring finger because it was believed that an artery ran from the ring finger directly to the heart, which was believed to be the seat of love and affection. The wedding procession once began at the home of the bride, through the village from house to house, ending at the site where the ceremony was to be held. Gifts were bestowed upon her at this time. These gifts may have become part of her "dowry." The Great Rite performed on their wedding night was believed to have a powerful effect on the fertility of crops and animals. The Love Knot is also tied as part of the Handfasting. If the couple pull on the bow, it strengthens. If the couple pulls on the loose ends, it releases. In Wiccan handfastings, the couple vows to remain together "for as long as the love shall last." In some handfastings, the bride and groom greet each other with "Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again." This occurs because some couples have been together through many lives. The couple is introduced to the elements, the Gods and all "who are present." As soon as this is done, the couple kiss, then walk to the Eastern Quarter and with arms around each other's waist, jump the broom. After this, whatever struggles lie ahead, they are no longer faced entirely alone.

Midlife:
It's hard to know precisely when midlife occurs, because the aging process is a gradual one, and very few know how long his/her life is going to be. For Pagans/Wiccans, midlife is generally thought to be 3 times 13 years (the coming of age time), or the age of 39. This applies to both men and women. At this time, most people begin to view their lives, in all its various areas. Many Wiccans/Pagans are encouraged at this time to write about their lives, a legend of bumper crops (fertility, in many forms), pretty vistas, wonder filled journeys, monsters defeated (illnesses), demons overcome (depression or bad crops), etc. Most will find that they write about a lot more good things than bad. This can be very helpful for overcoming the demon called Midlife Crisis. A traditional birthday party is usually thrown at this time as a reminder of the Child Within. This party generally includes the traditional cake, with festive decorations, and the tradition birthday "spanking" which symbolizes rebirth ("life begins at forty.") For women, menopause occurs near this time. It is not, however, a bad sign; it's a very good one. Free from the possibility of becoming pregnant, she no longer has to worry about the problems and challenges of pregnancy and childbirth. She and her husband are free to enjoy each other at any time. She also doesn't have to worry about leaving her husband and already living children should she die in childbirth. Some women enter this ritual time when she has not had a period for a year-and-a-day. (Other traditions do a Midlife ritual at 39 and a Croning Ritual at a year-and-a-day after menses has ceased. For some traditions, there is a minimum of 20 years between these rituals.) At this time attention is turned more toward the Self. The woman's midlife ritual is usually conducted in a circle of female friends. The man's within a circle of male friends. However, this need not always be the case. Generally, the person's children are coming into their own adulthood, and parents are retiring & enjoying the rewards of their labors. The purpose of this rite is to acknowledge the positive aspects of this transition so that this period of life can be enjoyed. Ideally, the rite would be followed by an old-fashioned surprise birthday party.

Elderhood:
The transition from midlife to old age, for both men and women, is a gradual one. For women, the physical process called menopause will have been completed, and for a man this is a time when, had he been born a herd animal rather than human, he might be driven from the herd, denied the right to mate and breed by a younger member of the flock, in all likelihood one of his own sons. Or, he may have been killed by the younger male in the battle for dominance. When we are children, we learned many things from our grandparents. This passage celebrates the end of the time that our energies are turned outward toward physical activities, and marks the beginning of the time that we turn our energies inward, toward more spiritual activities. It is a time too, when our physical growth slows down, cells are not replaced as quickly, and gradually, our physical bodies begin to separate from our spiritual bodies. There are two aspects of Elderhood. One is retirement; the other is to become an elder within one's coven. Some have obtained the "title" of "Elder" without having reached the age for normally attaining "Elderhood." Some traditions require that certain goals be obtained, such as a journey or pilgrimage. Others require that a heroic deed be done. Elderhood is obtained through service to the community or the Old Gods. Generally, the person has earned the title of Elder, regardless of age. In my tradition, I am considered an Elder in my Mother Coven, but not to those without that coven. I do not consider myself to be an Elder. I don't know enough (I don't think I ever will know enough.) The ritual for becoming an Elder is generally a long one that takes many nights. Places of pilgrimages are reconstructed, one each night, and the ritual takes place within the reconstructed site. Stonehenge is very popular; the Isle of Mann is another. A part of the ritual is given over to meditation on what the site means, and to one's own divinity (to one's place within the "All" -- Mother, Father, God, Goddess, All that has been, All that is and All that ever shall be.) Women and men who have gone through Elderhood Ritual (Croning for women and Saging for men) are treated with great respect for the length of their lives and for the knowledge and wisdom gained in that life. It is, however, understood that growing old alone does not guarantee wisdom. Therefore, this ritual is not just done because of the person's age. A woman is called a Crone and a man a Sage. Both names indicate wisdom and knowledge gained that can then be shared. In some traditions, such as that of Laurie Cabot, the tradition Crooked Staff is a symbol of Elderhood. Regardless of its shape, the staff is the symbolic Tree of Life and is the symbol of an accomplished Shaman. The basic cloak of the Elder is a black one, expressing the association with the aged aspect of the sun and moon. At this time the greater portion of life lies in the past, the Elder may begin preparing a place for him/herself in the next life, in the Summerland. Elder's have magickal tools of which to dispose. Some may be passed on to descendants or to kindred spirits, more or less heirs within the Craft. I've known two elders who chose instead to "deconsecrate" them and allow them to retire as the Elder did years before. Any object that contains a familiar spirit is usually destroyed to release the spirit contained within. Traditionally, a Witch's Book of Shadows is destroyed upon her/his death, but it might also remain in the Witch's family. There is an old rede which states that no Witch can die until he/she has passed on her/his knowledge to at least one. The biggest task for the Elder is to prepare one's family and loved ones for the Elder's eventual death. This may take many years and is one of the hardest tasks that a person faces in a lifetime. In the ritual, which takes place on the Full Moon nearest the celebrant's 65th birthday, there's the giving of the cape, the staff, and usually an enchanted spindle. Generally, a different (usually more dignified) name is chosen by the Elder. The Elder is toasted and is given some type of amulet to mark the passage. There is usually a great feast that follows this ritual, with much celebration. The feast includes stories told by the Elder.

Crossing the River:
This is the final passage in this life. Because the Old Religion believes in reincarnation, the spirits of those who have "Crossed Over" haven't died. (Only the body dies.) Upon death, it is believed that there are three options: going to the Summerland and stay (becoming one with the "All"), going to the Summerland to grow young and await rebirth or remaining on Earth until someone who was extremely loved Crosses Over and the two go to the Summerland together. Many cultures leave gifts for the departed. Most leave flowers at the graveside. Some leave food, jewelry, drink, etc. In the ritual, the person is remembered as they were in this life. The person is honored. The ritual is recognized as being primarily for those who were left behind. It is a time of painful transition. We honor them in the ritual, and talked of the Summerland and the options after death. We spoke of their working and accomplishments in this lifetime. During the cakes-n-ale portion of the ritual, we told stories about personal things that happened between each of us and one or both of them. There were tears and some laughter. The important thing is that the more memories one has, the easier it is to let the person go and get on with living. One of the hardest things I ever had to do was this Crossing Ritual. There are no secret words or magick rituals that can take away the grief or pain of the loss of a loved one. Therefore, this is not a time to be strong and brave and to hide our grief. It is a time to mourn and weep and be totally self-indulgent, and then to be done with it so that our loved one can move on. (Many of my coveners had never seen me cry until David and Danny's Crossing Ritual.) This rite should ideally be performed as soon after the third day after the death as possible. A Waning Moon would be preferable, but not necessary. Generally, gifts are given not only to the one who has passed on, but to any children who remain behind. A portion of the ritual used to acknowledge the Turning of the Wheel and the return of the body to the Earth. The last thing said in the ritual is "Merry meet, Merry Part and Merry meet again!" This recognizes that the spirit of the person shall be met again.



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