Rites of Passage
Rites of passage are rituals that mark important moments in the wheel of human life. The birth of a child, coming of age, the death of a loved one, marriage, and eldership are five rites of passage that immediately come to mind. At the birth of a child, Wiccans welcome his spirit into the world. This process often includes an introduction to all the elements and a blessing.
When that child comes of age, he has the right to become a fully recognized adult member of the community and begin participating fully in ritual (if he so wishes). The coming-of-age ceremonies vary from culture to culture but generally include elements of learning, initiation, and social affirmation. At this time, magickal tools are often presented as gifts and he is now expected to be responsible for them.
The marriage (or handfasting) ceremony allows the community to witness and support the adult's choice of a life partner and links two spirits into a harmonious one (in which neither individual is lost). A magickal marriage often includes jumping over a broomstick or sword at the end of the ritual. This rite marks passage into a new life together and also fosters fertility.
Eldership honors a person's wisdom and contributions to the community. Croning ceremonies are usually celebrated when the witch has completed her second Saturn Return (at the age of about fifty-eight to sixty). Some things do get better with age, and magick is certainly one of them. The Neo-Pagan community does not view old age as a detriment; it is respected and the insights that old witches offer are gratefully accepted.
At the end of a witch's life, her spirit is ushered on to its next form of existence. This ritual is typically called a Summerland rite. At this gathering, people open the circle for the spirit of that individual to join them in one last dance and song, and to say their farewells. In this way, the circle provides peace and closure, trusting that everyone will meet again in another life.