I prepared for this blog post. I drew a mind map with “rites of passage” at the centre and spiraled off from there. I divided rites of passage up into four main sections- Marriage rituals, death rituals, social initiations and puberty. For me all those rituals and initiations seem to collect around crossing boundaries and shifting identity. (Well, duh! That’s what a rite of passage is about)
I then further divided those sections down into individual rituals, rites or experiences and created further sections with religious and secular on either side. (I like diagrams with words)
I’ll write about my top two rites of passage (with a little personal revelation alongside it too):
Breeching was the occasion when a small boy was first dressed in breeches or trousers. From the mid-16th century until the late 19th or early 20th century, young boys were unbreeched and wore gowns or dresses until an age that varied between two and eight. Breeching was an important rite of passage in the life of a boy, looked forward to with much excitement. It often marked the point at which the father became more involved with the raising of a boy
Must confess I wasn’t consciously familiar with the concept of breeching before noodling around the internet looking for rites of passage. I was aware that little boys in 17th Century paintings were usually featured wearing gowns but I guess I didn’t know there was a name for it.
I like the spirit of boys and girls just wearing clothes growing up of the pre-breeching time. I get a bit wary when society starts imposing it’s values and norms. “No, no, you must dress like this. Everyone else is doing it”. I’ve always been drawn to the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf (this isn’t going to turn into a confessional that I was dressed as a girl growing up…) I like that Orlando just decided to not get old and, like Gregor Samsa, awakes one morning from uneasy dreams transformed in zer bed. (No, zer is not a typo. Go look it up) Same person, same personality, transformed body. Orlando is able to make a few modifications to zer wardrobe to accommodate the changes that have happened. I would hope that I greet changes (any change) in my life with the same nonchalant attitude that Orlando has.
Rumspringa: a noun derived from to the Pennsylvania “Dutch” German verb term rumspringen “to jump around”) generally refers to a period of adolescence for some members of the Amish, a subsect of the Anabaptist Christian movement, that begins around the age of 16 and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church or instead leaves the community. The vast majority choose baptism and remain in the church. Not all Amish use this term but in sects that do, Amish elders generally view it as a time for courtship and finding a spouse.
I like how intentional some of the subsets of the Amish are when it comes to rumspringa. It says “We believe we’ve raised you well and we allow you to make a choice”. Granted it’s an all or nothing choice. Plus it’s a choice that also encourages hetero-normative values. There we go again with more norms being forced on people: “Now we’ve got you dressing like us, please get married like us and have children like us” Rites of passage can be a good thing… honest. I feel like I’m being down on ROP. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for LGBT Amish. I’ve read some poetry written by a gay Amish man but there’s little in the way of biography. (There’s some dreadful looking gay romantic fiction set within the gay Amish experience)
In the film Road Trip (yes, yes, I know it’s a bad film) the concept of Rumspringa becomes an inelegant punchline, there’s a sixteen year old Amish girl in the background of a scene and she’s totally lost it because she’s drunk both on alcohol and on freedom. A heady potent mix, I’m sure you’ll agree. As the main characters in the film drive away from the Amish community the girl looks up from the muddy puddle she’s facedown in and screams “rumspringa” with both arms held aloft in celebration. Looking back I’m not sure if she’s celebrating the freedom of getting away or the knowledge that she’ll be let back in at the end of it. It’s nice to know we can head to the bright lights of the big city but that there’s always a warm welcome waiting for us at the end of our adventures.