Youth Passageways | The Need for New Rites of Initiation

by Youth Passageways Cross-Cultural Protocols Working Group: Ramon Parish, Darcy Ottey, Pat McCabe, Sharon Shay Sloan, Sobey Wing, Mark Robinson

YOUTH PASSAGEWAYS is an evolving network of individuals, organizations, and communities supporting the healthy passage of today’s young people into mature adulthood during a time of global transition.

Rite of passage ceremonies are both old and new, and can be learned, inherited, gifted, created and experienced, in many contexts. It has been the experience of many in this network and beyond that there is tremendous gift and beauty in this, and also that disputes can arise in the construction, use, and sharing of ritual practices and language.rite3

Many of these disputes have their roots in the centuries of violence, genocide, intentional cultural destruction. Continued inequities reinforce deep wounds within and between cultures. These dynamics occur between indigenous and settler cultures, and diasporic communities and “dominant” cultures. In unique ways, each of these groups has suffered from uprooting and historical trauma.  The circumstances by which each of us have lost or been ripped from our indigeneity constitutes a specific history and carries specific wounds and responsibilities. Because of the complex fabric of history we may play the roles of both colonizers and colonized, the under/over privileged, depending on the context. All of these factors influence what is possible and what is challenging in the delivery of rite of passage ceremonies and processes.

by Joshua GormanJG

Like so many young people today, I came of age at a time when the art and practice of initiation has largely been forgotten. I grew up in a fragmented and materialistic culture, one that did not recognize the transformational process I was going through as an adolescent, and that failed to call forth my deeper gifts. There were no mentors, elders, or community members that came to meet me at the threshold of adulthood, or to welcome me into the great chain of being and the vast mysteries of life. I felt lost, alone, and abandoned as I attempted to navigate the stormy seas and overwhelming crises of our modern world.

As I began to wake up and spread my wings in the archetypal ways that humans do, I discovered the books of Herman Hesse and Jack Kerouac, and the soul-searching protagonists of their epic tales helped to awaken my own call to adventure. At a time when my peers were heading off to prestigious universities, I made the courageous decision to leave my prescribed place in society, and to embark upon a hero’s journey in search of greater purpose and meaning. I spent the following years traveling and exploring, expanding my horizons and sense of self, and questing deep into who I was and what Life was calling for in a time of societal transition that eco-philosopher Joanna Macy has called the Great Turning. With grace and good fortune, I survived the ordeals of my coming-of-age adventures, and I found the gifts at the core of my being to bring back into the heart of my culture which is embodied today in the youth-serving organization I run called Generation Waking Up.

It was only after I had completed my hero’s journey and returned to the mainstream society I had grown up in that I learned there were such things as rites of passage and initiation processes for young people. It was so clear and obvious in hindsight, and I found myself having a deep “aha moment” in realizing that initiation – the process of consciously helping a young person transition from adolescence into adulthood – was what I had been missing and what my soul had been longing for. It was out of that realization that I found myself being deeply called and committed to join the community of people, organizations, and traditions who are working to restore the practices of initiation once again, and that commitment has remained strong ever since.

Joshua Gorman is YPW Stewardship Council, Chair and the Founder of Generation Waking Up

The contemporary rites of passage movement stands indebted to many cultural traditions which have in best-case scenarios gifted practices and in many cases suffered theft or appropriation.  Particularly important to acknowledge are indigenous societies for their centuries- and millennia-long cultural practices in human development.  They have provided a formative influence on contemporary movements theoretically, aesthetically, and in terms of actual ritual practices. We also recognize that human beings, regardless of cultural background or connection to tradition, have painstakingly fought to reclaim lost cultural traditions, and by direct communion, inspiration, and intuition, have created new forms of initiation and other cultural rituals and ceremonies that have validity for their communities and beyond. The intersection of these truths needs particular care and attention, especially for a national youth rites of passage network.  With discernment, we respect both established and emergent practices with all of the attendant complexities that this entails.

Our movement exists because the “THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!”, and our young people are in a state of desperation on an international/global scale. Working through and learning from the inter-cultural conflicts in our movement and building toward reparations and restoration is an integral part of creating the ceremonial processes that allow communities to be renewed by the fires of transformation crossed by their youth. It is also an integral part of the world of justice, peace, purpose, mystery and abundance into which we seek to initiate our youth. Many well intentioned people do unintended harm when they mean to do good. Our hope is that through learning from one another and through practice, our intentions, actions, and effects as a movement can be aligned.

Our goal is not to offer an exhaustive document or settle issues once and for all, but to provide context, background, starting points for consideration, and a deepening and softening into the issues and questions. We recognize what we propose to do here is many lives’ work and we enter with humility and desire to learn.  May these principles and questions draw on the wisdom of our ancestors and teachers, serve as a next unfolding and point of reference, and support future generations.

Assume Goodwill

We enter with a spirit of goodwill.  We strive to trust that others are doing the same.  

Historical Context, Healing & Reconciliation

We acknowledge historical context and historical relationships of peoples and place, recognizing that  many cultures have been subjected, and continue to be subjected, to deep violations. This context affects access to power and justice and are embedded in relationships between peoples. We strive to educate ourselves and others about these dynamics, open ourselves to the pain, help sensitize others to it, and contribute to healing and reconciliation.

The Right to Earth and Spirit

We recognize the rights of all people to deep relationship with Earth and Spirit, and that we all have the right and innate ability to receive information from the more-than-human world.

Cultural Competence

We commit to a practice of cultural competence and cultural self-awareness. We take responsibility to deepen our understanding of our own cultural and ancestral practices and ritual forms, and those of others. When we share teachings/artifacts from cultures other than our own, we do so with discernment, and provide context.  We strive to become aware of and name the lenses through which we see the world, and recognize that others may see things differently.  We ask rather than assume as much as possible.

Relationship to PlaceRite2

Both in our home communities and when entering into a new place, we strive to educate ourselves about the land, the historical and contemporary and political context of the peoples of that land, build relationships with the people of that place, and follow local protocols as best we can.  This includes seeking permission to conduct ceremony or other activities in that location.

Addressing and Growing through Conflict

We are committed to ongoing Cross-Cultural relationships, and strive to develop and support mechanisms and processes for working with conflict, reconciliation and forgiveness. We believe that justice and healing are central to each undertaking, rather than secondary benefits or distractions.

Different Perspectives/Perceptions of Time

We strive to become sensitized to different perceptions of time within and between different cultures.  We recognize that ceremonial time differs from linear time and our work and schedules are designed with that awareness. We strive to set and keep to agreements of time and space, including agreements that at times, time will be fluid and processes will last as long as required.  We commit to holding a long view of time, which holds in our awareness many generations of ancestors as well as future generations to come.  

Legal Considerations and Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)

We recognize that many aspects of culture, including dress, symbols, ritual and language, may be subject to intellectual property laws. Additionally, some indigenous peoples have their own norms, customs or legal systems associated with the use of their cultural ways. We strive to become aware and abide by these norms, customs and laws and practice Free Prior and Informed Consent.

Exchange of Money/Commodification of Rites of Passage

Many issues exist around the commodification of spiritual traditions and cultural symbols of indigenous and diasporic peoples. We strive to educate ourselves on these issues, and to act with consciousness and transparency around the exchange of our money in our work. We support practitioners having sustainable means as they assist communities and pursue right livelihood in these transition times. We strive to make initiatory work accessible and equitable for all that need it.


We honor our teachers and seek blessing to operate alongside of our mentors, teachers and elders in the use of ceremonial and ritual processes. Our work is inherently inter-generational, therefore we seek out participation from all generations. We are accountable to future generations for what we model by what we teach and how we teach it – today.

Gratitude, Generosity, and Celebration

We celebrate, acknowledge, and give thanks for every step toward right relationship. It takes courage to face these conversations directly; even having them is cause for celebration. We water the good along the way.

Special thanks to Sharon BearComesOut, Orland Bishop, Miakoda Collins, Khepe-Ra Maat Het-Heru, Lyla June Johnston, Joshua Gorman, The Ojai Foundation, Kalliopeia Foundation, and Kailo Fund.