In 1983, when I was in my teens, my best friend came out to me as gay. The world was very different back then: no same-sex marriage, no civil partnerships, no Internet, no mobile phones, no sat-nav, and obviously no social media either; not even digital cameras.
A rite of passage is a ritual or ceremony to celebrate and mark the passage from one phase of life to the next. Rites of passage ease us over the threshold into the next phase, and help us to understand and embrace our new status.
Most cultures have some kind of naming ceremony for babies, and Pagans do too. Pagans generally believe that children should be able to choose whether and which religion to follow when they are old enough, so Pagan naming ceremonies do not include a pledge to bring the child up Pagan – though they may include a desire to instil Pagan values into the child.
Coming of Age
Western culture generally lacks a single unified coming of age ritual. Judaism has one in the form of the Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah. Many Pagans celebrate the first menstruation of their daughters (as long as the daughters want to celebrate it). Many indigenous cultures have rites of passage into adulthood, in the form of a vision quest in the wilderness.
Coming out as LGBT is definitely a rite of passage, and usually a very liberating and empowering experience as the person who comes out feels more authentic as a result. I have written a Pagan coming-out ritual exploring some of the themes around coming out.
Several Pagan and other religious traditions have initiation ceremonies, in which the initiate becomes more fully part of the tradition into which they are being initiated, is given a new and sacred name, and has some of the tenets of the tradition imparted to them, usually in the form of ritual drama and ordeal.
There is sometimes controversy among Pagans as to the value of initiation, and whether self-initiation is the same thing as initiation into a coven or other group.
There are several different aspects of initiation, some of which are conferred by either form of initiation (encounter with the gods, inner transformation, encountering the Mysteries), and some of which can only be conferred as part of a group initiation (being given the secrets of the initiating group, joining the group mind of the initiating group; and the joining of the lineage or tradition of which the coven is part).
A Pagan wedding is called a handfasting, and can be contracted for a year and a day, for a lifetime, or for all lifetimes to come (the last of these seems a bit reckless to me). Pagans recognise both same-sex and opposite-sex weddings. Quite a few Pagans are polyamorous.
Pagan weddings have legal validity in the USA and Canada if the celebrant is registered with a recognised religious body, in Scotland if you are a registered celebrant, but not in England and Wales.
A handfasting is a wedding ceremony which involves wrapping cords around the couple’s clasped hands and tying a knot, symbolically binding them together in their declaration of unity. The contemporary handfasting ceremony is a revival of the handfastings of the past. The act of handfasting was originally part of a formal betrothal ceremony (the forerunner of today’s engagement) perhaps going as far back as ancient Celtic Scotland, and surviving up to the 16th century. During the betrothal ceremony, in which a couple agreed to marry each other in the future, there was a formal handshake to seal the deal. This was called the handfæstung, meaning, a pledge by the giving of the hand. To illustrate the imagery and importance of the handshake, the knotting of cords around the hands was eventually incorporated, possibly by contemporary Pagans.
Pagans have always been liberal about divorce, and the fact that a handfasting allows a trial marriage shows that Pagans are aware of the possibility that a relationship may change for the worse, and therefore divorce may become necessary. Of course, marriage should provide security and be a commitment to work at the relationship and treat one’s partner with integrity – but that does not preclude divorce, as that is sometimes the only way of dealing with a marriage that’s not working any more. Paganism lacks a ritual for divorce, but individual Pagans may have crafted divorce rituals.
Croning is a ritual for recognising the menopause, when a woman ceases to menstruate and becomes a “crone”. Pagans have reclaimed the word crone to signify a wise older woman.
In early cultures, the female elder was considered a wise woman. She was the healer, the teacher, the imparter of knowledge. She mediated disputes, she had influence over tribal leaders, and she cared for the dying as they took their final breaths. For many women in Wicca and other Pagan religions, reaching the status of Crone is a major milestone. These women are reclaiming the name of Crone in a positive way, and see it as a time to joyfully welcome one’s position as an elder within the community.
Pagan funerals generally focus on celebrating the life of the person who has died. There are some beautiful pieces of liturgy for Pagan funerals, and many of them can be found in the excellent book, A Pagan Book of Living and Dying, by the Reclaiming Collective.
This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’ link at the foot of the blogpost.
The Pagan Channel has a page dedicated to posts about Rites of Passage. You can find out more information about handfastings, baby namings, Pagan funerals, and other rites of passage.
The other day, someone asked, why isn’t there a Pagan coming-out ritual? When do straight people come out as straight? Maybe one day in the future, when people don’t assume that you are straight by default, there will be either be coming-out rituals for everyone, or no need of a coming-out ritual. There ought to be a coming-of-age ritual, though.
There have been criticisms of the notion of coming-out, both in terms of the notion of “out” — perhaps we’re coming IN to being visible, instead of OUT of being hidden — and in terms of the notion of a closet, in that being closeted as a way to avoid stigma is becoming unnecessary in most social contexts.
A coming-out ritual, by Yvonne Aburrow
The circle or sacred space is opened in the appropriate manner for the tradition celebrating. If quarters are called, then they are addressed in a non-gender-binary way, e.g. Mighty Ones of the [direction], Powers of the [element]. All those gathered to celebrate bring a scarf. Preferably red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The one who has recently come out as LGBTQIA wears a cloak and a veil.
Celebrant 1: Today we have gathered to celebrate the coming out of [name] as [identity]. (1)
He/she/ze (2) has been hidden,
like a bulb hidden in the earth, waiting to put forth the first green shoots in Spring.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
like a bud waiting for the first rays of the Sun to open.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
Like a shy animal in their burrow,
Waiting for the dusk to emerge and explore.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
Like a butterfly in the chrysalis,
Waiting for the right time to emerge.
Celebrant 2: But now [name] has come out,
And emerges into the world like a bulb putting forth a green shoot,
Like a flower opening to the sun,
Like an animal emerging from the burrow,
Like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis!
Come out, [name], and be welcome in your full glory.
All: Come out! Come out! Come out!
(The outcomer now emerges from the cloak and the veil, and steps forward)
All: Hail and welcome!
(Each person now steps forward and places a coloured scarf around the outcomer’s neck, either offering their own personal blessing, or saying “I welcome you in your full glory as a [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] (3) person, and celebrate your unique beauty and strength”)
Celebrant 1: By coming out of the closet, you have come IN to the queer community.
All: Welcome in!
Celebrant 2: By coming out of the closet, you have come IN to the Pagan (4) community. Paganism encourages us to find our true and authentic self, and to be that to the best of our ability. By coming out as [identity], you have revealed more of your true self, both to yourself and to others.
[The outcomer now gets to encounter the ten queer spiritual roles]
Celebrant 1: There are as many ways to be queer as there are queer people, but we now present to you ten queer archetypes (5), who may help you and guide you on your way.
The Catalyst: I am the catalytic transformer. (Lights a flame)
I bring change.
I hunger and thirst for social justice.
I light the fire in the human heart,
The fire that rages against injustice,
The flame that burns bright to herald a new dawn.
The Mirror: I am a mirror, presenting an inverted image to society. (Holds up a mirror)
I am the Molly and the Drag Queen.
I am the one who queers everything.
I comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
I overthrow power structures with my parodies.
The Shaman: I am the queer shaman, (beats drum)
The consciousness scout.
I find the way between the worlds,
I travel the roads of the dead.
I am a child of the Moon,
A devotee of her mysteries.
The Trickster: I am the Trickster, (presents the outcomer with a flower)
The eternally playful one.
I am Peter Pan, always youthful.
My tricks expand your consciousness,
My dreams bring sparkle to the world.
The Beautiful One: I am the keeper and maker of beauty, (sprinkles glitter)
Making music, and art, and sacred drama.
I am the queer eye, discerning beauty wherever it roves.
I am the one who makes all things beautiful.
The Caregiver: I am the one who cares, (Caresses the outcomer)
For the suffering, the lost, and the outcast.
I bring joy to those who are on the edge,
Lost in the liminal spaces.
The Mystic: I am the mystic one, (holds wand/thyrsis/caduceus)
The in-between one,
The shaman, the traveller between the worlds.
I travel between the seen and the unseen,
I mediate between the worlds of flesh and spirit.
The Consecrated One: My sexuality is holy, (sprinkles blessed water or mead)
My being is holy, and I stand before the divine ones,
And lead the people towards the union of matter and spirit.
The Androgyne: I am the Divine Androgyne, (holds wand and chalice in each hand)
Including and transcending all genders.
I am change, and I am growth.
I am space and time.
I am spirit and matter.
I am the inbreath and the outbreath.
The Gatekeeper: I am the gatekeeper, (makes gesture of opening doors)
Who stands at the door of the sacred realm,
Welcoming all who come to enter the portal,
The door to the unseen realms.
I welcome you to the place between the worlds.
All: Hail and welcome, [name of outcomer]
(The ritual is concluded with cakes & wine, mead, an eisteddfod, or whatever the closing appropriate to the tradition.)
CC-BY-SA 3.0. Yvonne Aburrow is the author of this ritual.
You may reuse it under the terms of the following Creative Commons licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
(1) replace with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender as appropriate
(2) use the preferred pronoun of the outcomer here
(3) use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender as appropriate
(4) use Heathen, Druid, Wiccan, polytheist, Feri, etc if preferred