A Boy Comes of Age

A Coming of Age ritual for a boy is a subject that I've never given much thought, having been blessed myself with two daughters, but I got curious so I did a little research. First, the bad news: There's damned little out there already on the subject of CoA rituals for boys, which means you'll have to wing it. The good news is, there's damned little out there already on the subject of CoA rituals for boys, which means that nobody can tell you that you did it wrong.

As you've already figured out, the particular earmarks of manhood are much less cut-and-dried than those of womanhood. It was pretty easy for us with the girls. Whether or not our elder daughter wanted to talk about it, there was no avoiding the need for menstrual pads. Apart from the appearance of facial or body hair and the voice cracking, boys don't provide many clues on their own except perhaps spending an inordinant amount of time in the bathroom with the door locked. Perhaps this is why the Jews, who at least in the civilized world are probably the most active in respect to CoA rituals for boys, gave up trying to figure it out centuries ago and settled on the arbitrary age of 13. (At this point, my darlin' wife Amberflame interjects that 13 might not be entirely arbitrary, since the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar year and consequently has 13 months. A "month of years" perhaps? But I digress, which gives me time to make up some more stuff..) Anyway, the "when" is probably less important than the "what" in a boy's CoA.

Ceisiwr Serith wrote that "A boy's coming of age by necessity involves more of an ordeal than a girl's. The boy does not have the major body signals to convince him that he has indeed become a man. He must feel tested and he must feel that he has passed that test. Anything else will leave him in doubt of his manhood." 1 It is probably for this reason that in many cultures manhood was historically marked by either killing something or screwing something. The former is still common today in many parts of the U.S. when a boy kills his first buck, and has his shirttail cut off and blood smeared on his face. The latter is somewhat less common now that we have venereal diseases that laugh at antibiotics, but a classic example is a scene in "The Last Picture Show" where some older boys arrange for a younger kid to lose his virginity to a local waitress whose affections are nogotiable for the right price (in this case, a couple of bucks sufficed.) Chances are you're not really going to want to incorporate either of these  into your own child's CoA ritual (especially sex, unless he's of legal age) but they are examples.

What is important in your boy's transition to manhood is that the challenge be appropriate within the context of his culture, family or lifestyle. Is there a strong father-figure or other older male in his life? What does this man do that is a "man's domain" and therefor off-limits (if not downright illegal) for a boy? Apart from a hunting trip or going trolloping, there are many ways to mark this event. A solitary wilderness camping trip, a vision quest, an overnight vigil, carving a drum, or even building a birdhouse in the basement can become part of his trial. I say "part" because this challenge doesn't have to involve one big earth-shattering event. It can be a series of challenges.

Take the example of the wilderness overnighter. Certain skills must be mastered if this is not to be a horrible or even dangerous experience for your young man. Fundamental skill in finding or making shelter, building a fire and basic orienteering are practical necessities2, and nearly as important to the success of this venture as knowing which leaves make good toilet paper.3

Think it through, and you should be able to come up with a Coming of Age ritual for your son that, should he survive it, will likely be passed down through his own sons generation to generation from now on.

Oakdancer - 6/14/02

1) The Pagan Family - Handing the Old Ways Down. Llewellyn Publications, 1994

2) Most authorities agree that if the boy freezes to death or can't find his way back, his parents were probably rushing things a bit.

3) "Leaves of three, let it be." 'Nuff said.

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