The Lost Art of Adulthood: Reviving Our Rites of Passage

We’ve lost something critical to our mental, physical, and societal health: the rite of passage.

In this episode, Keith and Luke Entrup discuss the necessity of reintroducing formal rites of passage for our children, not as a fun thing to do with your kid but as something vital for their development – a piece most of us missed and have had to make up for throughout our lives.

Structured rites not only mark the transition to adulthood ceremonially, but also require young individuals to demonstrate maturity and readiness for adult responsibilities. The rite of passage isn’t just an event, like a Confirmation or Sweet 16th birthday, but an actual challenge they must face and overcome.

Successfully navigating these rites creates the experience of maturity withing the child, granting them greater autonomy. It sets the stage for parents to better help their kids navigate complex challenges like peer pressure, digital addiction, sex and hormones, interpersonal relationships, staying safe and making good choices, and finding a deeper sense of life purpose.

This episode highlights why we must revive these rites to support the healthy development of the most important people in the world – the generation of leaders, parents, and citizens to come.

Key Questions:

Here are some questions you can contemplate while listening to this discussion. We suggest you take some time to use these as journaling prompts.
  • What has been my experience with rites of passage? Have I participated in any formal or informal rites of passage? How have they impacted my life and development?
  • Where do I feel I may have missed important initiatory experiences or developmental milestones? What might I need to feel more whole, initiated, and on purpose?
  • How can I create or seek out rites of passage experiences for myself to continue my growth and mark key transitions in my life journey?
  • As a parent, mentor, or elder, how can I help create meaningful rites of passage for the youth in my life? What do I feel they most need to support their healthy development?
  • In what ways have I experienced the split between humans and nature in the modern world? How has this impacted my wellbeing and sense of connection?
  • What practices do I have (or could I adopt) to deliberately unplug from screens and technology and reconnect with the natural world? How can I make this a regular part of my life?
  • What is my relationship to mentorship and eldership? Who have been my most impactful mentors and elders? How can I deepen my intergenerational connections and support?
  • What does "mature masculinity" mean to me? How does this vision compare to the mainstream narratives around being a man in our culture?
  • In what ways might my development have been impacted by the lack of rites of passage in the modern world? How might my life be different if I had experienced them?
  • What is my role in the larger cultural project of reinventing rites of passage and other structures for initiation, connection and purpose? How can I contribute my gifts to this important work?

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Looking autobiographically at this, my father and grandfather had rites of passage called WWII and WWI. I came of age just after the Fall of Saigon, and by then my parents’ relatively stable social world did not exist for my generation. So improv it was, and kind of still is.

I’ve had a few episodes of the spiritual emergency type. I guess that’s what lack of strong cultural grounding will get you. Every time, there was a definite before and after structure to the changes. The metaphor of the hermit crab would not be far off.

My kids had a more structured upbringing, because I went out of my way to be sure they had the structure I had missed. It does not seem fair to say, though, that parental engineering resulted in clear, pre-defined rights of passage. There still seems to be a lot of freedom and unpredictability in personal changes nowadays. Society in general seems very much in flux, and rites of passage may be more transitions we recognize in retrospect, not anything we really can design in advance.

This is a significant endeavor, I think, and given there are so many videos online about rites of passage (for boys and girls), I suspect there are pocket communities throughout the world who are engaging in such rites, and other life cycle passages as well, to which I say Yay! Adolescents are so ‘loose,’ given the hormonal changes taking place, that a culture with any wisdom would take advantage of this influential time of openness and questioning in a young person’s life to help guide them constructively into adulthood. I’m glad you guys are talking about it here.

While a rite of passage can give a young person a temporary experience of maturity that can be an ongoing touchstone for how they might respond to challenges and choices, I don’t think the rite will instantly make the person mature (that’s dependent on development). But it will signify a transition to adulthood that has been witnessed by the community/group and (hopefully) recognized by parents, and that definitely counts for something. In many early indigenous societies with a reliance on oral transmission of information, witnesses were called (and still are) “keepers of the history.” They become touchstones themselves for the person who has undergone an initiation/life passage rite.

Girlfriends gave me a Sweet 16 Birthday party, which was definitely ritualized in both some lovely and silly ways, and later that night at a local dance, a rock band in which my boyfriend was a guitarist continued the ritual with songs and dances dedicated to me. It felt like a really special and significant passage, although I will say, given who I was at the time, I did feel the lack of inclusion of any spiritual aspects; it felt as though a part of me was not acknowledged by my community (which turned out to be the challenge I had to face and overcome, and it took another two years before even my closest friends knew much about this inner part of me, and then in a very dramatic way, but that’s another story for another time). Which is just one reason why I think these rites need to be open to directly including a spiritual dimension to them. There are many ways of invoking Spirit that do not need to be “religiously” oriented, and many if not most teen-agers are particularly curious and want to talk about spiritual matters.

As a part of my past shamanic work, I have created and led different kinds of life cycle passages and other ceremonial events. One piece of guidance that I used in doing this work came from a passage in the Upanishads, about grace and self-effort being the “two wings of the bird.” Grace can be invited or invoked, and it is necessary that ritual participants use self-effort to align with whatever grace is present and with the intentions of the rite. They actually work together, grace and self-effort, in beautiful ways, one arousing the other arousing the other.


A couple things I noticed:

  • The chart mentions men not women. As noted by @LaWanna women also have rituals and I would say that while various Mens’ movements have been reconnecting and reevaluating these rituals, by and large the feminist movement has not. it has wiped away women’s rituals and set itself against men’s rituals, only to offer nothing in return. What I am seeing now is that Men are following varied paths that are becoming mainstream. Over the past few decades we have seen women take try to take roles in forming what men should be. For example, women are outspoken about “toxic masculinity” - as defined by them. Regardless of what influence women try to have on men’s health and wellness, large segments of men today are just saying “nah” and finding their own way forward, leaving the vast majority of modern capitalist feminist women now wondering “where’s my cheese?”. “Where are the men?” Men are working on themselves in a way modern western women are not and women often voice this as a bad thing, generally trying to stifle men’s progress independent of women’s controls.

  • Rituals need not be complicated nor have a lineage. In fact, these days there is a lot of blow back regarding cultural appropriation and it’s less problematic to start fresh with new modern rituals. As an example, it used to be a kind of boy-man interaction for a man to give his son a wrist watch, or teach him how to shave with a real razor, how to mercifully kill an animal (out of mercy or for sustenance), to work together on a car, build something together, or just sit in silence with a group of men while fishing, for example. All of these “rituals” and a thousand more teach a boy healthy male behavior.

  • We need to do away with terms like “mature masculine” and “divine masculine”. These terms just build shadows and unhealthy unbalanced cliches of men that mostly have their origin in expectations from women. These are mostly defined by Green and thus are not “Integral” concepts. If we are just talking about Green masculine, ok - mature and divine masculine are appropriate. The Integral masculine can judged as mature or immature according by modern and postmodern society. As well, it is vital that the Integral masculine include and subsume both the “darker” pre-modern masculine as well as the “divine” green masculine. Modern society would collapse in a week if men did not wake up daily and subsume and include the needs to remove trash, urine and feces from your house to the processing plant, kill animals for placement in the supermarkets, race through a city in an ambulance, fight fires, climb tall dangle from a rope hundreds of feet in the air to wash windows or build new buildings, and a thousand other jobs that require men to settle into those dark places and still live amongst children. Sure, there are a few women in these fields but you will see prices for these services increase exponentially as there are fewer “real men” to do these things.

I’m reminded of a conversation on facebook where a woman married to another woman was asking how to clear a clogged toilet when it was filling up the bathtub. If you know the answer, there is some humor there because it involves “men’s work”. You have to empty the shit and piss from the toilet, pull the toilet off it’s base, unclog whatever maxi pad or whatever is clogging the main line, clean everything up and then finally replace the toilet so it doesn’t leak. A plumber legitimately should charge $500-$1,000 for this task. Anyone who was offended by the above words can try it themselves, lol. The humor is that women and feminized men have absolutely no clue about this kind of dirty work and look down on the men who do it. Though I have known one or two self-defined dikes who could hang in there better than most men.

These also are “rituals” that need to be included in a boy’s understanding of an Integral masculine.

On the subject of warfare, this is a completely different thing and training for warfare should not be the primary much less the exclusive rituals a boy experiences as he enters manhood. There is a necessary sadism and cruelty required to train a man to kill another human. Not every man in every generation needs to be scarred in this way. This is one example why we need multigenerational rituals that pass on from grandparent to grandchild rather than parent to child. It is to be hoped that not every generation faces a crisis and when one generation does face it, it is the elders who will be the ones who help the young prepare.

I think the biggest thing adults can do is to carve out some non-commercial time for young people. Hopefully the Scouts will recover from their lawsuits and more organizations will see the necessity for these kinds of social clubs that are not based in commercialism or ultracompetitive sports leagues. In providing this space to children, the adults will also gain from being away from commercial enterprises and ultracompetitive sports.

Probably true. I couple years ago I manufactured my own rite of passage (adult worker → socially engaged retiree) essentially by working a really hard problem for months at a time, and threw just about everything at it. All the “ups”, basically. Not sure how generalizable that is. Maybe not the details of it, perhaps, but the general notion that transitions can happen, given attention and effort. Waiting for someone to hand you a playbook likely won’t get it done, however.

I think this hits on the crux of the matter: people often want a “playbook” much like they want any other product. Generally in the form of something they can purchase and absolve themselves of responsibility of finding their own way.

I think the best way forward is to take a page from a dozen people you personally know and cut and paste your own "ritual book’ together. Also, when a page is no longer working, rip it out and replace it. Maybe one man makes a point to play with children at least once a week. maybe another sits in contemplative silence and appreciation of nature 15 min before bed every day. maybe another goes on a physical adventure periodically to reconnect with his body and soul. There are thousands of possibilities and it’s just a matter of picking those that work towards the “end” we want.

As I look to the next 30 years I observe examples of what I want and what I don’t want. What rituals do they have that I want or do not want?
My boss has a ritual of sitting in his car before work listening to conservative AM radio. He also has rituals of spending his weekend hours at his business. When I see the results this has had on his health, I want nothing more than to distance myself from his rituals as far as possible. I started a plan in 2019 to do this, got interrupted by COVID for 3 years and now am back on track building a life that will enable rituals (daily, weekly, annual) that I want.

I think as a society we have created a large number of rituals to be successful in employment and business. Off the top of my head “7 Habits of Highly Successful people” comes to mind. As we achieve this, many of us are realizing that wasn’t really the best way to go. Or, rather Covey’s 7 habits as general points are good, but their implementation into the business format as priorities for life and then to make rituals through that lens creates a less than fulfilling life.

To take one of Covey’s points: “Think with the end in mind.” Most often people think the “end” is a number in dollars or some kind of material achievement, including the idea of “having” people as objects. “Big house, hot wife, sports car, children carbon copies of me” kind of thing. However, it’s only if we think the ultimate “end in mind” that things get the proper perspective. “The end” that is the only one that really matters is this: we die. Only when we remember this are we able to look with a proper perspective at what rituals will support our lives at different stages to fill the time gap between that end and now.