Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Marking Life's Milestones

In a discussion of haikujaguar's fiction, I remarked:

"Our culture has sadly lost most of its recognition of life's milestones. One thing I do a lot of, as a Pagan priestess and writer, is help people rediscover the thresholds that are important to them in their journey, and find ways to honor those in community."

anamacha then said:

"and how do you do that, as described in your last paragraph? I have been lost for some time, seeking inspiration, and the best I've been able to come up with is "let go and let it happen." This makes me feel lost. I place you under no obligation to help me, I feel I should point out. I am merely a Seeker."

This seems like an excellent topic for discussion, which other people may find useful. So, here are some of the things I do:

1) I read a lot about life stages, human psychology, anthropology, rites of passage, ritual design, and so forth. Some favorite books include Prometheus Rising, Pagan Rites of Passage, and Ritual Craft.

2) I talk with other people who are involved in milestone observation and trail-marking. We compare what milestones we've observed in our own and other lives, and how, and whether those things worked or didn't, and why.

3) I pay attention to the cycles and thresholds in my own life, and other people's lives. I search with my senses for moments and points which are significant. I trust my intuition when it indicates a significant milestone, even if that is not recognized as such by the surrounding culture. Particularly in dealing with other people in my community, I listen to them and try to suss out what they consider important, even if they do not recognize it themselves.

4) I encourage people to celebrate their milestones, both individually and collectively. If an elder wants to make a big fuss over her own birthday, let her. I'll bake a cake or something. Becoming a parent, buying a house, publishing a book, getting a new job, entering college, retiring -- there are all kinds of thresholds in life that are worthy of recognition and mostly don't get it nowadays. That can be fixed. I am unwilling to let something important stay broken if I can figure out how to fix it.

5) I use my knowledge to help people assemble meaningful rituals, simple or complex. I know of, or can quickly look up, numerous options for things like symbolic colors and plants, actions representing transformation, ways of showing honor for someone, techniques for raising energy in circle, crafts that make good keepsakes, and so forth. I know how various cultures recognize various milestones. It's kind of like having a gigantic set of magic legos; I can build just about anything with it. Exactly how the finished project looks will depend on the individual person and the occasion. For someone of Native American heritage, I'll probably use sets of 4; European background, sets of three. If they love animals, I might work in a totem reference; if they love cars, I might use metal correspondences.

6) I participate in various rites of passage, public and private. Some of them are fun. Some of them are not. As with writing, everything is research. This way I learn more about what works and what doesn't, and why. I can use that in planning other rites.

7) I ask for feedback after a ritual. Sometimes I get tired and forget, other times people just scatter. But usually at least one or two people talk about it and I can glean more data from them that will make the next ritual even better. If it's a really great ritual, everyone will be talking about it, and they'll keep doing that long-term. A few of our very best rituals are still talked about several years later. Also I observe people for effects they might not mention out loud. That can also indicate how well a ritual worked; a good rite of passage sort of "sets" the transformation firmly and helps the person do better in their new phase.

8) I write about rites of passage and the need for them. It is a human need so deep, ubiquitous, and powerful that people will make up rites of passage if the old ones have been wiped away; they'll reinvent many of the same activities and mark many of the same points, but often not as safely or effectively as the time-tested traditions. So it's important to discuss the need for rites of passage, some safe and effective techniques of observing them, some mistakes to avoid, and so forth.

9) I teach about rites of passage, ritual design, self-knowledge, personal mythology, etc. in various classes and workshops. The more people who know how to do this stuff for themselves and others, the better.

For anyone interested in doing more to celebrate the milestones in your life, I suggest that you: read books on the topic, attend rites of passage from different traditions, discuss threshold activities with other people, and let folks know about your interest. Celebrate by yourself if you have to, with friends and family if possible. Do what feels meaningful to you, even if other people say it's silly. You'll get better with practice, and it will feel good to mark your progress. Finally, it's a splendid way to tighten family and community bonds.
Tags: life lessons, paganism

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