Rites of passage tend to suggest events; big focal moments in life that need marking. Birth, coming of age, marriage, elderhood and death are the most obvious, along with spiritual initiations and dedications. Pagans can mark any event that seems pertinent, and again the most obvious way to go is to focus on the more dramatic events and changes.
However, many of the most important things in our lives can be more like works in progress than events. Anyone dedicated to lifelong learning, especially anyone not pursuing an academic route, will not have so many events. The same is true in an enduring marriage, or long term dedication to a spiritual path. The road of parenting, caring for creatures, the activist path and the work of a celebrant or teacher has this same tendency. It could easily be the focal point of your life but it won’t deliver big, obvious changes to celebrate.
Making personal rites of passage around ongoing commitments can be a very good way of reminding ourselves why we are doing these things, and celebrating what we’ve achieved. It can be an act of affirmation, and of re-dedication. Making a more obvious rite of passage can help draw attention to ongoing work – whether that’s five years of activism, or your seventeenth rescued cat, the point at which you need to flag up what you’ve done, is yours. Expressing it allows other people the chance to recognise and honour what you are doing. I think this is a really good thing – we have rather an events orientated culture and can overlook the value of stability, ongoing efforts and long haul commitments. Pausing to celebrate these things helps remind us that our lives are far more about what we do from day to day, than the occasional moments of drama and big anniversaries.
Yesterday was my fourth wedding anniversary. Four years married and we have a pretty good idea of how we get along as a couple and a deepened and more insightful commitment than we could have had when we started. We went out together and had matching bands tattooed onto our arms. It was Tom’s first tattoo, and the first time I have let anyone who wasn’t him anywhere near my skin since the police medical examination. So there’s a second aspect of this for me, reclaiming ownership of a body that has not been treated kindly. The right to say ‘no’ is a good deal more powerful when you aren’t too afraid to say ‘yes’ sometimes. There was blood and pain, and looking after each other, and we’ll have a week of taking care of each other’s ink as we heal, and I like that a lot.
Small rites of passage in ongoing situations are whatever you want them to be, on whatever terms make sense.