The Dead Good Funerals Book

Pages 111-112

Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage present us with the contradictions of our nature and by acting them out symbolically through a sensual and physical, rather than an intellectual process; we learn and pass on what it is to be human. With the vastness of this new millennium we need all the help we can get.

inappropriate ceremonies can be worse than no ceremonies at al. We need clear new rites to ground us. Anyone who has experienced the desolation at the funeral of someone we love conducted by strangers, devoid of personal significance with no power to help us celebrate the deceased and mourn our loss, should take no convincing. People who become isolated and resort to illness or breakdown or psychiatrists could use ceremonies of integration to help them cope with conflict or complexity. Those retiring, leaving home, stopping work (either through choice or redundancy), changing jobs, changing status, reaching fifty, moving or building a house, divorcing, as well as in the traditional areas of birth, baptism, coming of age, marrying or dying could benefit from considered declarations of positions with a sympathetic group.

The question for a fragmented and rootless secular society is not whether we need rites of passage ceremonies or not, but rather what form they should take, who provides them, are they private or public, what are they celebrating and who are the celebrants? Should they be trained and if so by whom?

The Form of a Rite of Passage

The basic forms are similar in different cultures and centuries and perhaps more surprisingly are also similar for varied occasions. The underlying structure of a funeral ceremony need not, for example, be very different from that of a wedding.

Nearly eighty years ago Gennep spotted a universal three-part structure, a logical sequence of

Separation … transition … re-incorporation

To take a person from an old position via an interval to a new status.

Another way of putting it is:

Extinguish … pause to adjust … create the new

After change we are integrated with a new status and ideally greater wisdom. According to your choice of religion this applies both to the living and the dead. The difficult transition of the bereaved is that they have "to disentangle themselves not only from the past but from the previously envisaged future."

Such sequences can work in real space and time, within a self-contained invented world and quite mysteriously and cleverly, in both at once.

Back to The Dead Good Funerals Book