Coming of age (male) by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies...
The elders of the tribe stood in front of the hut and beckoned for the young man to come out and begin the festivities of the special day. The young man had barely slept the night before, anxiously anticipating the tests he would soon be called to endure. As he rose to meet the elder, he was aware of the great gnawing in his stomach; he had nothing to eat for the last three days as he purged his body of impurities.
The ceremony soon began. The elders of the tribe pierced his chest, shoulder and back muscles with large wooden splints. Ropes which extended from the roof of the hut were then attached to the splints, and the young man was winched up into the air, his whole body weight suspended from the ropes. Agonising pain course through his body, but he gritted his teeth and tried not to cry out. While hanging in the air, more splints were hammered through his arms and legs. Skulls of his dead grandfather and other ancestors were placed on the ends of some of the splints. All the while, the young man cried aloud to the Great Spirit for courage to endure. Eventually, the young man fainted from loss of blood and the sheer pain of the torture. When the elders were sure he was unconscious, he was lowered down and the ropes were removed. Yet the splints were left in place. When the young man recovered his consciousness, he offered his left pinky to the tribal elders to be sacrificed. He placed his finer on a block and had it swiftly chopped off. This was a gift to the gods and would enable the young man to become a powerful hunter. Finally, the young man ran inside a ring where his fellow villagers had gathered. As he ran, the villagers reaches out and grabbed the still embedded splints, ripping them free. The splints weren’t allowed to the pulled out the way they were hammered in, but had to be torn out in the opposite direction, causing the young man even greater pain and worse wounds. This concluded the day’s ceremony.
The young man was exhausted and bloodied but euphoric. He had been beyond glad to participate in the ritual. This was the greatest day of his life; today he was a man.
While the coming of age ceremony of the Mandan tribe is a particularly gruesome example, peoples and cultures from prehistoric times onward created rites of passage to initiate boys into manhood. Today, such rites of passage are almost extinct. Boys lack clear markers on their journey to becoming a man. If you ask them when the transition occurs, you will get a variety of answers: “when you get a car,” “when you graduate,” “when you get a real job,” “when you lose your virginity,” “when you get married,” “when you have children” and so on. The problem with many of these traditional rites of passage is that they have been put off further ad further in a young mans life. 50 years ago the average age a man started a family was 22. Today, men (for ill or good) are getting married and having children later in life.
Sociologists have identified three phases that constitute a proper rite of passage: separation, transition and re-incorporation.
Separation: during this phase an initiate is separated in some way from his former life. During the separation phase, part of the old self is extinguished as the initiate prepared to create a new identity.
Transition: during this phase, the initiate is between worlds, no longer part of his old life but not yet fully inducted into his new one. He is taught the knowledge needed to become a full-fledged member of the group, he is called upon to pass tests that show he is ready for the leap.
Re-incorporation: in this phase, the initiate, having passed the tests necessary and proving himself worthy, is reintroduced into his community, which recognises and honours his new status within the group. He is now able to participate in activities and responsibilities that this status confers.
The life of a young boy in Greece was very different to the girls, it seems his legitimacy was questioned not once but twice, we mentioned Apatouria above but the rite happens again at the age of sixteen. If one of the kin contested the legitimacy of the child they would take away the fathers animal, it would have been a really serious act and quite distressing for the young men. But when the kin ruled in the fathers favour the animal was returned and the son could become a full member.
At sixteen, a boy was considered a young man, and he entered one or two years of public service, either to mature, or to show he had matured enough to take part. This was called his ‘ephebeia’, which literally means ‘young man’. On completion of this public service, a young man could enter the military and become a voting member of the city, he became a citizen! Although young men were now considered adults, he only truly became an adult at the age of thirty, when he could serve in the boule (council) and get married. Young men swore an oath upon completion of their ephebia which unsurprisingly has largely been preserved.
"I will not bring shame upon these sacred weapons nor will I abandon my comrade-in-arms wherever I stand in the ranks. I will defend both the holy and profane things. I will not hand on the fatherland smaller than I received it, but larger and better, so far as it lies in my power with the assistance of all the other citizens. I will obey the officials who govern wisely and the laws, both those which are already established and those which are wisely established in the future. If anyone attempts to destroy them, I will not allow it, so far as it lies in my power with the assistance of all the other citizens. I will hold in honor the ancestral sanctuaries. The following gods are witnesses: Aglauros, Hestia, Enyo, Enyalios, Ares and Athena Areia, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone, Heracles, the territory of the fatherland, the wheat, barley, vines, olive trees, and fig trees."
With this oath the world opened up for young men’ they would now be held divinely accountable for any trespassing upon the law and common sense. Political life would become important for men, as well as military service. They had roughly ten year to dedicate to these before he took a wife, so young men tended to fulfil much of their obligation to the city in these ten year. After his marriage, he became the one who presented sons to the kin, and he got to experience the entire proceedings from the spot his father once held. This – most likely – created strong familial ties that continued through family lines for centuries.