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Rites of Passage

Post  Callisto on Thu May 02, 2013 2:41 pm

This is something that doesn't get much discussion. What are people's thoughts on ensuring/incorporating their religion with life's milestones such as marriage, children (birth), death? Has anyone thought about such things, or implemented something like creating a living will?

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Re: Rites of Passage

Post  Anniemal on Tue Aug 13, 2013 5:31 pm

Obviously, this does not get much discussion Wink.

I personally do not see too many stages in life that would need rites of passage. The only thing you mentioned above that I would like to be prepared for is death.

Since I am closely connected to the marine environment I put to record that I wish to have a sailor's funeral which includes cremation. The latter was common from 1100 B.C. in ancient Greece. Though actually my body then is destroyed I also insist on having a coin or metal plate put in the urn to pay Charon.

Because there will not be a family to attend the funeral I have to do without the mourning, prayers and libations. I would not know whom to ask for that favour. I do not know how to divide my belongings but I would appreciate an auction for a good cause.

Maybe that is a naive and underdeveloped view on burying rituals but this is as far as I have been getting in my research.

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Re: Rites of Passage

Post  Erodius on Tue Aug 13, 2013 6:46 pm

Such rites of passage certainly exist, and some are preserved in practice by the living Orphic tradition, while there are others, though out of active use for perhaps many centuries, that are preserved in written sources.

Nevertheless, with people more and more simply 'ignoring' customary rites of passage, and young children are having their proverbial innocence taken from them by the greater media culture at younger and younger ages (8 year olds with iPads — kids being fully proficient texters and internet users before they're even teenagers etc.) The vestiges that do remain of 'rites of passage' (First-Communion, Bar-Mitzvah, Upanayanam etc.) have, as far as I have seen, become primarily an occasion for spending lots of money on elaborate parties and expensive gifts, where the actual ceremony of first communion or Torah recitation becomes almost a 'bothersome afterthought.' A little side detour before the party.

We have marriage customs (although they are primarily of a secular nature, being as marriage in Hellenistic societies was primarily a worldly affair, and only mildly sacralized. As difficult as it may be for us to comprehend, just as it is in many cultures today, in probably the majority of cases, marriages would not have been on the couple's whim, or even, often, for love at all. It was a matter of social status, financial and household stability, and procreation. This really only began to change slightly in very Late Antiquity, and non-consensual marriage remained a relatively typical occurrence even in the West well into the 19th century.

For children, there are also simple observances. First, children would be symbolically accepted into the family by the head of the household (from an era when child rejection/abandonment/exposure was a distinct possibility for newborn babies), and then a marker of passage into adulthood where youths of both sexes would give up the accoutrements of childhood (certain kinds of clothing, toys, games etc.), to be either burnt, given to a temple, or handed on to one's younger sibling(s). A Roman custom included the donning of the adult toga for boys, the offering of the stubble from his first shave, and registration with the local government as a public citizen. For girls, historically, this usually meant that they were now considered to be available for marriage. Again, one can see that these observances were of a primarily worldly nature. The religious involvement was relatively simple.

Death, however, was a fairly major affair around the Classical Mediterranean (and largely remains so today). This is also where religion plays probably the most major part as far as rites of passage are concerned, as well as where the greatest amount of difference is visible in terms of particular religion (the other rites of passage were, essentially, cultural, rather than religious). In the religion of the common 'rabble' so to speak, death was a great tragedy, a cause for great lamentation (as Anniemal mentioned, funeral processions would escort the body to the gravesite/pyre, with the traditional coin in the mouth or on the eyes, to the accompaniment of loud wailing and weeping, sometimes even by professional mourners, followed by a period of religious impurity upon the household of the deceased. The family of the deceased would then be responsible for tending the gravesite and conducting the appropriate rituals on the appropriate days indefinitely. In the common religion, it was vitally important that the deceased be treated in the proper way. It was considered quite a tragedy for the body to be lost for whatever reason, and just as heinous to refuse the rightful ceremonies due to a dead person. The tragic play Antigone is primarily focused on this issue.

Orphics nearly always cremated their dead without much fanfare, who were interred with instructions for the deceased person's soul written on small gold, bronze or lead scrolls. Additionally, it was also sometimes the practice to have holy scriptures burnt on the pyre with the body. The Derveni Papyri, an Orphic theological commentary on a cosmogony story, survives for us because it was carbonized on a funeral fire, probably in exactly this ritual. Orphics also had, uniquely, something we might call communal, religion-specific burial sites that were restricted to individuals from the particular brotherhood/congregation (one sign from such a cemetery reads 'Nobody may be interred here who is not a Bakkhos' (a word used for Orphic initiates). Jews also had their own unique customs, as did the Christians, who buried their dead whole, and also the Egyptians, and those who adhered to popular Egyptian Mystery cults like the widespread Isiac Mysteries, who likewise emphasized the preservation of the body as much as possible. Both Isiacs and Christians believed that the body would be necessary again in the future. For Isiacs, it was needed in the afterlife, and for Christians, it was needed so that it could be resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ.

Christians were so notable, actually, for their treatment of the dead, and the fact that they often interred their dead in their places of worship, that many opponents of Christianity called churches 'corpse houses', and accused Christians of all sorts of necrophiliac acts. As strange as it sounds to us today, early Christians were often stereotyped as very depraved, immoral and atheistic people, and were accused of human sacrifice, cannibalism, necrophilia, and drunken orgies.

This is why, with only a handful of exceptions, nearly all of the caskets/sarcophagi we find from Antiquity are either Egyptian or Christian. Actually, until the unearthing of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy, historians and anthropologists had virtually no access to remains of Greeks or Romans to study, because, for much of Classical history, cremation was the dominant practice.

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