Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

Atheopagan Rites of Passage

Traditionally, rituals have not only been for holidays or personal practice. They also mark milestones in life, when something major is occurring and the community wants to acknowledge that change. Naming ceremonies, passages into adulthood, weddings, and funerals are all examples of rites of passage.

This is a tradition that appears to go back a long way. There is a Paleolithic cave in France which preserves the footprints of children dancing in a circle, and it is possible that this evidence, plus the hundreds of hand prints—each of a different person—found on the walls of many of these caves marks the traces of truly ancient passage rites. In such caves, the farthest and most difficult to reach areas sometimes contain art of part-human, part-animal creatures: most likely the “revelation” reached at the end of a ritual ordeal.

Mainstream culture pretty commonly celebrates only three forms of rites of passage: Naming ceremonies for babies (“Christening” or baptism, for Christians), weddings, and funerals. But arrival in adulthood (whether legally or biologically) is one we really should mark, as it helps young adults to know that they have new responsibilities and freedoms, and moving on from adulthood into elderhood is one we should consider, as well.

Atheopagans, too, can implement rites of passage into our practices. All of us are born and die. Most of us, too,  get married and/or have children, grow into adulthood, and age. Rituals with our families and community to acknowledge these milestones can lend meaning and richness to the process of our living.

It is the “ageing” part of the arc of life that may be hardest for us to acknowledge. The cult of youth is so pervasive and powerful (in American society, anyway) that few of us acknowledge a point when we have become elders, preferring to persist in self-identification as “youthful”, if not exactly young.

But there is a value, I think, in acknowledging that we have arrived at a Certain Age. It may be easier for those with uteri to mark a definite point of change at menopause, but for those with testes, too, there are definite physical signs: onset of male-pattern balding, perhaps, or the beginning of accumulation of belly fat.

That said, we are living so much longer lives now than did many of our ancestors that the point of declaring yourself “old” may be deferred for awhile. For myself, I have decided that 60—presuming I get there— will be the age at which I declare myself “old” (though I intend to be a vigorous “old”). I’ll hold a special birthday party that year with a ritual marking my passage into elderhood.

For those of you planning or officiating at a rite of passage, remember to consider what the meaning of the transition is to the subject: is it arrival in the magnificent Universe, or in the sovereignty of adulthood? Is it the commitment of marriage (be it for some limited period such as “a year and a day” of “handfasting” (a Pagan term for marriage), or until such time as love no longer thrives)? Each rite of passage—even a funeral—is a celebration, even if there is loss sown into it. What are you celebrating, and how can that joy be brought out into the community of your friends and family?

To be legally empowered to conduct a wedding, you may need designation as clergy by a legally recognized nonprofit religious organization. Atheopaganism has no formal hierarchy, but we do have Atheopagan clerics who are ordained at the nonprofit Atheopagan Society’s website. In most parts of the U.S. this legal ordination will empower you to conduct weddings, funerals, hospital and hospice visitation, etc. Ordination is free, requiring only a pledge to embrace the 13 Atheopagan Principles. Being a cleric is not an elevation of status (thus the lower-case), but rather a commitment of service to the Atheopagan community and to the Earth and humanity generally.

As you frame a rite of passage, be thinking about what the multiple meanings are for that passage. Life is complex, and no phase of it is just one thing. Particularly, be careful about assumptions about what the next phase of the person’s life is likely to be about, because frankly, you don’t know. Some people undergo gender transitions. Some people have children, others don’t. In all cases, a rite of passage should be affirming, describing the new phase as a positive step forward (or, in the case of a funeral rite, describing the life of the deceased in positive terms).

Our lives are precious, and a central element of Atheopaganism is about not letting them slip by unnoticed. Mark those important transitions for yourself and your friends! You’ll be glad you did.


  1. A few years ago, after the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality, our local probate judge decided to stop doing all courthouse weddings. So no civil ceremonies. A whole bunch of us in Huntsville, AL decided to get online ordination to step up and fill the role our judge abandoned. I don’t charge if all they want is the minimum– I do that at a table in the library. As a civic duty. Even though short, these are actually very meaningful occasions.

    I got 3 ordinations. Universal Life which you listed; the First Church of Atheism in case the couple prefers that; and the Church of the Latter Day Dude, based on Taoist principles somewhat, and I think compatible with atheopagans too. I have great hopes that one day I will get to do a Dudeist wedding, complete with bathrobes and White Russians.

    1. I’ve heard of both of the other ordinations, but are they actually legally recognized by the IRS? Some states won’t let you officiate unless it’s with a federally recognized religious organization.

      Thank you for your service to the community!

  2. In the Mid-Western culture of my youth (talking mid-fifties, here; I’m an old guy), it was, and I hope still is, the custom to mark a male child’s arrival at adolescence by giving him a knife, or his first gun- the assumption being that he will own a succession of better guns, as he grows older.
    I was given both. My Uncle Frank gave me a lovely hunting knife, that I wish I still had, and about the same time my step-father (an avid hunter) gave me my first .410 shotgun- a single shot, generally considered to be a “starter” weapon. (I never owned another shotgun, although I owned several rifles and pistols- but, then, I don’t live in Nebraska any more, either.)
    I don’t think anyone thought of it as a “Ritual”; it was just something the men in the family did, when they judged the child was old, and mature, enough to own potentially dangerous tools. There would be the command to “take care of it”, meaning cleaning the shotgun and knowing how to sharpen the knife, and a few brief lessons in how to use the thing safely (“Don’t cut toward your thumb. Don’t point it at people- EVER!”), and that was it: you were now a young man.
    Without much thought, I’ve carried on the custom, giving knives (shotguns being more problematic here, these days) to several young men (including my son and grandson), when the time seemed right. Now, it’s “Swiss Army” knives, which seem much less “weapon-like”, and more about giving them a handy collection of household tools.
    I find myself wondering, how far back this custom goes, and I suspect the answer would be, pretty far. It’s just a remnant of a fragment, now, of what I’m sure was a serious coming of age ceremony, back in the mists of time, and (given the ever-increasing difficulty of carrying a knife, these days) I don’t know if the custom will survive my generation. I hope so.
    Boy or girl, man or woman, everybody needs to have a good, useful knife. I don’t think that’s going to change. Quite the contrary, I fear.

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