Rites of Passage
Most major religions have ceremonies to mark the important rites of passage you undergo during your life. While your culture might not recognize all of these important moments, your religion should. The most common rites of passage honored by Pagans are birth, puberty, marriage, and death.
Births are celebrated in most cultures, and most religions do so with a special ceremony. Neo-Paganism is no different. The birth or naming ceremony is usually held within the first year of the child's life. Wiccans sometimes call the naming ceremony a Wiccaning.
During a naming ceremony, the child is officially introduced to the gods and given a name. Godparents, sometimes called the godfather and goddessmother, are also announced. The guests offer the child blessings, and the gods are also asked for blessings.
The naming ceremony is usually held at your home, a friend's home, or a traditional ritual space for your group. The ceremony should be presided over by your teacher, elder, or another Pagan friend. Whether or not you include non-Pagan family and friends in the ceremony is up to you. People may bring gifts, but it's not required. The ceremony is followed by a party.
Aside from Jewish and Native American traditions, most people in the United States don't undergo any form of a formal celebration or ritual at the onset of puberty. Most Pagans feel this is unfortunate and have developed rituals to honor the transition from child to adult. The ceremonies aren't set in stone, and each parent and teen decides how best to conduct the rite if their working group doesn't have a traditional ritual. The womanhood ceremony is held when a girl has her first period. It's a little more difficult to pinpoint the change for a boy, but some people hold the manhood ceremony when a boy's voice changes or his pubic, chest, or facial hair first appears.
It is traditional for adulthood ceremonies to be unisex. For a girl, her mother, her Pagan friends who have also reached puberty, her mother's female friends or members of her working group, and possibly female relatives hold a ceremony to welcome the new woman into the sisterhood. It is a joyous occasion featuring discussions of what it means to be a woman, celebrations of women's roles and power, a ritual welcoming the girl to womanhood, and lots of comfort food like chocolate and other sweets. The girl receives gifts appropriate to her new role.
For a boy, his father, his Pagan friends who have also reached puberty, his father's male friends or members of his working group, and possibly male relatives hold a ceremony to welcome the new man into the brotherhood. Men usually take a more “masculine” approach to the ceremony and make it a camping trip complete with feasting, toasting, and drumming. The boy also receives gifts appropriate to his new role.
The ceremonies don't necessarily have to be unisex, but many young teens find that it's the most comfortable way for them to begin to understand the changes their bodies are undergoing. Puberty rituals also make the whole process seem less scary and isolating. Most are excited to receive special rituals honoring this major shift in their lives and should be included in the planning, but if he or she doesn't want a fuss made, that's okay, too.
Marriages are honored with celebrations and feasts in nearly every culture that engages in the practice, and Pagans are no different. Pagan attitudes toward marriage are discussed in Chapter 18, but those who do get married usually hold some kind of a feast or ceremony to honor the occasion.
Whether it's your first or your fourth, a marriage is a long-term, formal commitment to another person and it should be celebrated as a major change in your life. Very few other changes alter every aspect of your life as dramatically as marriage. Your marriage also has an impact on the lives of your friends, family members, and children, if you have them, and everyone will want a chance to share your joy.
Whether you get married in an elaborate ceremony or in a Las Vegas chapel, the rite of marriage has a small ceremony built in, and that alone honors the change and the powerful commitment you have just made. You might also want to hold a party to commemorate your choice and start your new life with joy and merriment that will hopefully continue through the rest of your married life.
For most Pagans, death is a transition to a new stage of life rather than the end of the soul's cycle. Most Pagans believe in some form of reincarnation. After death, your soul goes to the Summerlands, or another spirit plane, to process the lessons of your previous life. When your soul is ready, it will reincarnate in a new body. Some people believe that babies hold memories of their previous lives, but those memories are soon pushed out by all the new information they must assimilate. Even though you forget your past life, your soul retains the lessons it's learned so far. This is why some people are called “old souls”; they seem to have a great deal of wisdom and knowledge that can only have been gained through several lifetimes on earth.
Are Pagans buried or cremated?
Most Pagans prefer to be cremated, for several reasons. First, there isn't enough room on earth to bury everyone. Second, ashes can be scattered at a favorite natural location, which allows the person to become a part of nature. Third, Pagans believe that the body is just a vessel, and it won't be needed again.
Most Pagans don't fear death, but it's still not an easy process, especially when it involves a great deal of suffering. If you are terminally ill, you could hold a releasing ceremony to honor your willingness to sever your current ties to the earthly plane. If you are well, but approaching an age when death becomes likely at any time, you could hold a ceremony to celebrate everything you have accomplished in your life.
Although they focus on the deceased, funerals and memorials are not about death, they are about life. Funerals allow your friends and family members to celebrate your life. They also help your survivors cope with your loss and how it impacts their lives. While you should leave instructions for your memorial and burial, allow room in the plans for your friends and family members to meet their own spiritual needs.