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Celebrate with Story

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I wish to foster interesting conversations along a fine plait of issues. Perhaps you can visualize how these pressing issues might be woven together. The first strand of the plait is arrested development, a real and tragic occurrence.

Holding the center strand, similar to a sweet smelling Sweetgrass braid, youngers and olders both need to move through the fire of initiation to feel the honored position in their clan as Initiates and Elders. They will step forward together and bring ceremony to all others. The final issue which completes the braid is our current challenges, one of the good elemental forms in Rites of Passage. As a collective of practitioners, many feel we are inside of a liminal space together now, building tradition through ceremonies. For the challenges ahead, I pray we practice perseverance and patience and good dialogues to expand our circles.

Begin Where We Are

Every human experiences profound transformations. Ordinary change is so subtle it’s often overlooked but this is the true nature of initiation.  In the drama of life seeking wholeness, do we understand how Rite of Passage ceremonies compliment transformations?

It’s true, consciousness continues to expand contributing to our collective evolution; so many lack the tools, the mentoring, or a visionary awareness about how to grow up. Sadly many never do; others only grow to a certain point. When the mind and body leave spirit and emotion behind, maturity is impossible and ego rules. Such a split causes suffering; do you remember a time when an unforgettable cascade of events felt like the Earth shifting; in the alchemy of unity, did transformation eventually happen? Must we accept happenstance change or could we invite the observance of change through ceremony? Could we teach such ceremonial observations to our children so they may look forward to their next stage of maturity?

When unspoken desires linger, a festering begins. Sometimes trauma provides a breakthrough; each person’s life-force or Soul is unimaginably clever. Accidents and illnesses may be disguised as tricksters bringing fresh choices. Look inside stories of change. Without ceremony, life seems to bounce between hard knocks. When one’s mind finally accepts an end to suffering, the sensitive and mysterious parts of one’s Soul accepts guidance from Spirit which beckons from the next Threshold. Some will be guided by intuition and some by mentors, but changing the energy of trauma enough for a breakthrough, this is the phenomenal work of initiations.

The inner desire for wholeness, for reunion and coming back together, is all powerful and may indeed cause a cascade of change. Relief creates a new normal, but does this outcome support and strengthen the individual and the community? Did the call to change receive satisfaction? Did a positive transformation occur?

Story Connects Us

Could you imagine a world where change becomes ceremonially wrapped and something to look forward to, especially the after-glow gifts of peace and harmony within oneself?

Those recovering from deep wounds of living, who dared to step up to personal growth, and especially those who shared their courageous action with a few others to receive a send-off and a welcome return, these folks are the lucky ones who experience a Rite of Passage ceremony. Courage is honored by a community circle gathered to close liminal time with the act of listening to the tale. The ritual of storytelling often begins with the exasperation of denying growth and owning the need for change. A space made sacred by listeners often reveals wholeness—where mind and body merge again with emotion and Soul. Such wholeness arrives in silence and is meant to be shared because the teller has more to learn. These pillars of wholeness—mind, body, emotions and Soul—begin to expand together after a ceremony that includes storytelling.

Simply said, sharing in a community circle is needed to complete a Rite of Passage; this allows the initiate to experience welcome encouragement for exploring his or her revelations. When family and friends gather around to hear of the trials which came before and during liminal time, the riches of such a Rite of Passage journey affect every witness. A quickening happens in relationships, an environment charged with relief of suffering also produces ecstatic hope for the entire Village. Who among us recognize these needs and patterns? Do you agree your friends and family might benefit from personal breakthroughs?

I am a carrier of this tradition. My own breakthrough in 1996 was so remarkable that my life turned a few degrees, higher purpose emerged out of the darkest night, and I committed to bring Rites of Passage to the culture, which I define as broad and inclusive. Beginning in women’s gatherings, in workshops and seminars, and with the collective ears of an Elders’ Council, I have listened deeply to teachers carrying parts and pieces of a new tradition. Because of our incredible diversity in America, our common culture of new and old immigrants comingling with native peoples demands patience, but do you see how we’ve been rewarded with miraculous ways to communicate? Once I envisioned a 40 year dedication to bring rituals and ceremonies to the Village for the celebration of all peoples; we’re experiencing a positive crescendo at 20 years. This is the mid-point of my vision. We need only patience and perseverance; I support a movement where all Elders and all Youth join hands, and where everyone, including Adults and Children, experience Rite of Passage ceremonies. I feel wildly hopeful, our dance will be beautiful.


An Alchemy

Patience and practice, these are our best tools: Parents and practitioners alike need these holy qualities to bring to the children something we did not receive for ourselves. Several years ago, I saw this paradox clearly. How could we give away something like these ceremonial rituals of severance and return when we did not receive them for ourselves?

After years of women’s ceremonies, I wish to re-story a recent ceremony. Elders, receiving the tradition of Nine Passages, took a year in very slow motion, to remember all seven Thresholds because we had missed celebrating them before. It was a delightful and too-brief experience. Soon we formed a strong circle of initiates and offered a second group this new tradition we had received for ourselves. This very act of beginning again, deepened our experience of a ceremonial initiation and sacred gift: Giving away something sacred, a Rite of Passage ceremony, has become our right. Women’s circles connected us to a common cause.

Women and men, through our growing networks, can easily address this lack of ceremonies for Rites of Passage if the paradigm shifts just a little more. Gather, plan to cross Thresholds together. Elders first, then, as surely as the Earth turns on her axis, we will feel the urge to give it away. Women connecting to men and babies, receive a ceremony and then pay it forward.

Allow maturity to become a group research project. The steps seem so simple. Here is a brief outline. Spend one or two months planning to cross Thresholds together, prepare for liminal journeys through the dark nights of winter. Step into liminal bubbles where you only need to listen and accept the challenge to heal. After solo time, gather to close the portal and experience group ecstasy. You will each learn something different and tell a unique story, this is the way to know your own story more intimately. The freedom to soar with kindred spirits will shine through initiate faces, no matter the age or the station. Most important: Find many ways to share your story with others.

I encourage this holistic experience for all Elders. Every one of our grandchildren will reap the benefits of our stories. Most leaders have personal stories. One of our responsibilities is adding our voice to this library of knowledge and experience. Practice is the key. We are all learning what it means to bring Rites of Passage to the youngest and the oldest among us.

Through long observations, I have been able to view the four pillars of development and twice that number of transformations. At Birth, a Soul comes for a spiritual experience and brings his or her unique contract with Death. The progression of development over-lays the Earth’s shifting axis creating seasons, this provides us with labels for maturity: Child, Youth, Adult, and Elder. Because we need the older generations to bring the younger generations to ceremony, I have applied the theory of simultaneity. If we began only with Birth, a longer time would be needed before that baby would be an Elder. If we begin with babies and grandfolks, soon everyone in the middle will be touched by Village ceremonies and people will step forward when their Threshold beckons.


Using the twin lenses of healer and teacher while observing and studying, nine distinct biological changes emerged from the mists. Counting Birth and Death, the dramatic bracket passages, biology serves as change agent throughout life. There are many hidden agents of change in personal life—births, weddings, graduations, and divorce, for example, yet the Elders revealed nine biological changes that we all have in common.

Humans beings mature in a reflection of the Medicine Wheel handed down through Indigenous ancestral lineages. Viewing each of the seasonal days—Equinoxes and Solstices—plus the midpoint days between the season markers, can you see how the early and late stages of adulthood precisely reflect the two parts to Autumn? Seeing into all of the stages of development, a profound truth emerges: Human development follows the Earth’s tipping axis. Feeling reverence for my indigenous relations, I opened the Medicine Wheel into a Spiral for inclusive teachings. Individuation progresses all through life. Expanded, the Life Spiral (see figure 1) includes nine stages of development and illustrates how Death is our constant companion.

Fig. 1: Life Spiral Developed for Nine Passages by Gail Burkett & Elders


Patience is our highest calling now, a practice to use and feel tested by. Most of us can see how civilization is breaking down and grief is ever present. To help bring consciousness to maturity, we encourage simultaneous ceremonies all around the Spiral. Patience is one of the great gifts of this vision. Let us persevere; Rite of Passage ceremonies will knit our Villages into beautiful interlocking designs. On the road ahead, we will need this strength, from the grassroots up.

I am deeply grateful for so many practitioners who step forward with spiritual intentions to bring the conversation, to deliver the experience, to hold so many containers at once. With all my heart I believe Rite of Passage traditions will be a human right in less than seven generations into the future.

Rituals that bring honor to natural life stages enrich each person’s journey in evolved and elegant ways. Rather than probing the darkness, the light of ceremony will guide our way forward. Rites of Passage provide a consistent storyline for maturity and serves well even through Death.

Creating new traditions to celebrate the sacred nature of change and the way stories are gathered into a bundle and shared, this is holy work. A glow of hope radiates from those who have found this consciousness in the past two decades. Initiate celebrants have a story that will impact listeners; like a precious gift it needs to be shared around central fires and dinner tables, and even during quiet nature moments.

About the Author: Gail Burkett

After receiving a PhD in Women and Nature Studies in 2001, Gail Burkett began to offer Rite of Passage ceremonies to women who asked. Before long, the Nine Passages Tradition took shape where every single person may discover their next step to maturity. Ceremony is one way to change the people’s experience, offering a Rite of Passage to the entire Village, this is the path to maturity. As an initiated Elder, Gail wishes more Elders could experience the honoring gift of initiation. When Elders step onto a personal ceremonial path, all people on their relationship wheel take notice. Her book Soul Stories: Nine Passages of Initiation, published in 2015, assists circles of women with no prior experience to find their way to Rites of Passage. Gail wrote a mentors’ manual and guidebook for every age and stage, published this year: Nine Passages for Women and Girls: Ceremonies and Stories of Transformation. She writes a blog called Moon Messages from ninepassages.com and lives with her playmates, Kenny Olson and Rosie-dog, in Idaho's Panhandle.

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