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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 31 March 2017

"The Rites of Passage" by Arnold van Gennep

This classic anthropological work was first published (in French) in 1908 and so some of the content seems a little old-fashioned to our modern sensibilities. It was the first work to discuss rites of passage and the origin of that phrase. Van Gennep believes that all rites of passage can be divided into three phases: separation, transition, and re-incorporation. He then goes on to list a huge number of examples of rituals of birth, puberty, marriage, and funerals, and many others. As such it is a quaintly old-fashioned but nevertheless interesting source of a lot of information. I don't know how much is still believed to be true.


  • "As we move downward on the scale of civilizations ... we cannot fail to notice an ever-increasing dominance of the secular by the sacred." (p 2) Leaving aside the potentially racist assumptions inherent in any scale of civilizations, I was reminded of Bettany Hughes in The Hemlock Cup when she pointed out that in ancient Athens (which some people regard as the pinnacle of civilization even though slaves were regarded as non-humans) "Life itself was thought to be a religious experience."
  • "The life of an individual in any country is a series of passages from one age to another and from one occupation to another." (pp 2 - 3)
  • "Rites of passage theoretically includes preliminal rites (rites of separation), liminal rites (rites of transition), and postliminal rites (rites of incorporation). (p 11)
  • "Except in the few countries where a passport is still in use, a person in these days may pass freely from one civilized region to another." (p 15): I didn't know this was true in 1908!! On the other hand: "Today, in our part of the world, one country touches another; but the situation was quite different in the times when Christian lands comprised only a part of Europe. Each country was surrounded by a strip of neutral ground which in practice was divided into sections or marches. These have gradually disappeared, although the term 'letter of marque' retains the meaning of a permit to pass from one territory to another through a neutral zone.  Zones of this kind were important in classical antiquity, especially in Greece, where they were used for market places or battlefields." (pp 17 - 18)
  • He suggests there is "an almost universal association between landmarks and the phallus" (p 16)
  • "A society is similar to a house divided into rooms and corridors. The more the society resembles ours in its form of civilization, the thinner are its internal partitions and the wider and more open are its doors of communication." (p 26)
  • "Exchanges have a direct, constraining effect: to accept a gift is to be bound to the giver." (p 29)
  • "If the Jews had linked themselves with Yahweh by perforating the septum, how much fewer would have been the errors in ethnographic literature?" (p 73)
  • The Mysteries of Eleusis "included: (a) a voyage through a hall divided into dark compartments which each represented a region of hell, the climbing of a staircase, the arrival into brightly illuminated regions, and entrance into the megaron, where sacra were displayed; and (b) a representation of the rising of Kore" (p 91)
  • The initiation into the rite of Attis included the initiate going into a pit "and the blood of a sacrificed bull covers his entire body; then he comes out of the pit bloody from head to foot ... like the newborn child emerging from its mother's body." (pp 92 - 93)
  • The veil as a symbol of separation. "In worship, sacrifice, and marriage rites, for example, the veiling is temporary. ... in Catholicism, to pass from a liminal stage (novitiate) to the stage of permanent incorporation into the community is to 'take the veil'. ... Among certain peoples a widow may wear a veil ... Socrates covered himself with a veil after drinking the hemlock, thereby separating himself from the world of the living." (p 168) Once you start going, veils are everywhere. The hood a hangman uses to cover a man about to be hanged. 
  • Among the Mylitta "every girl must once offer herself to a stranger and receive a coin from him" (p 170)
  • "In Dalmatia ... to have good fortune in the house, one should have intercourse with a goat, collect the sperm, and rub the door of the house with it." (p 173)
  • "There is a popular saying that only the first time counts; it is an interesting fact that this idea is truly universal" (p 175)


Interesting. March 2017, 194 pages

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