Monday, April 23, 2012

Story Ceremony - Passages into Adulthood

The transcendence into adulthood from child occurs in stages during story ceremonies. Groups of children gather together in a darkened room and sit in rows facing a single direction. In the front of this room a projection of a story imparts age-appropriate cultural knowledge. Each story focuses mainly on one of the following: an explanation of an event, a illustration of a value, a definition or distinction of a group’s identity, an explanation of ritual origin or purpose, or as pure entertainment. We can distinguish four distinct age groups from these ‘story ceremonies’: from birth to about the age of seven; seven to thirteen; thirteen to eighteen.

(Birth - 7yrs)
The youngest of children learn from basic stories, although without as much ceremony and ritual found ceremonies for older children. At this level, the rituals functions as an introduction to the ritual process for the child. The stories present themselves in a visually fictional aesthetic, clearly defining this act as separate and more special than reality, and remain simplistic and short. They share basic knowledge or value typical to any society would want to impart: concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, masculine and feminine, etc. In a sense, the ceremony at this age prepares the child for future initiations.  

(7 - 13 years)
More complex ideologies emerge in the seven to thirteen age stories. We see more definitions of group identity and clearer value systems. Themes focus on working together, the importance of self, distinctions of social class, rising above social class, acceptance of an unknown, and exploration of the unknown. These seemingly contradictory values become the base of what we see as distinctly American ideology (discussed later). The imagery for this age group ranges from serenely fantastic to harshly realistic, but usually incorporate an element of realism not found in the younger age group. Through multiple ceremonies, children come to understand how the world around them operates, and how they should operate within it.

(13 - 18 years)
As in most societies, entering into puberty gives individuals access to the most important cultural knowledge. The story ceremonies at this level contain the most variety and mix realism with fantasy and censorship. Arguably, from this level the most potent mythology emerges. For Americans, becoming a ‘young adult’ imparts higher social significance to the story ceremonies and could be called the only initiation ceremony. What previously was an entertaining distraction or topical education transforms into a way to distinguish identity and create personal significance in life. All the purposes for the story ceremony (origins, values, group identity, reasons for rituals, and entertainment) exist in at this level, and the majority of story ceremonies fall into this category. Most notably, the essential archetypes astronauts, cowboys, and zombies become a central focus.

Interestingly, because group and individual identity emerges at the ages of thirteen to eighteen, parents allow their adolescents to participate in the story ceremony without supervision. Younger individuals (13-16) often attend in gender-specific groups in order to align themselves to a certain coterie that extends outside the ceremony complex. It is not entirely known why this factioning occurs, or whether it has a perceived or actual purpose. Older individuals within adolescence (16-18) partially abandon this mode of attending ceremonies and instead opt for cross gender groups or pairing. It is clear that the exploration of possible sexual partners is the cause for this change. 

Couples do not abandon there coteries, however; simply the coterie no longer attends ceremonies together. Two individuals interacting at the ceremony can elevate the two's coteries social standing outside the temple. Possible, the coteries and the couple corroborate an individual’s identity choices, and the attending of ceremonies in turn reinforce the group identity within everyday social interactions. Because of this cyclical, internal feedback system, the content of a coterie’s chosen genre of ceremony deeply impacts their social standing among other, unrelated coteries and therefore the group individuals' potential as socially approved [potential] sexual partners. The ceremony, therefore, determines how outsiders view the coterie and how the coterie view themselves.

The final level into adulthood occurs at the age of eighteen. Here the individual's identity becomes of utmost concern. Society at this time does not necessarily recognize the individual as an adult, but rather recognizes the individual’s ability to form a unique identity. Ceremonies at this level often explore the darkest themes and utilize the most realism compared the the younger ceremonies. Although individuals rarely go to story ceremonies alone, the social significance dramatically decreases at this level from previous ages. Instead the ceremony takes on either a introspective role or initiates a small dialogue among a group or pair. From the experience, individuals can better understand who they are or who they want to be. 

Although story ceremonies have age ristrictions, individuals may enter story ceremonies of a younger class if they so choose and various reasons exist to do so. For example: Revisiting childhood can reconnect the individual to essential values they may have forgotten. Or: A reinterpretation of an old story allows a old myth to fit within present ideologies while preserving a sense of history allows the individual to reconnect to the past. Allowing elders to participate in younger ceremonies also reinforce the validity and value of the stories to the society.

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