The Chicago Wisdom Project hosts small groups of young people from Chicago on seasonal retreats on our land in Ganges, MI. There, amid 100 acres of land and next to a beautiful interfaith temple at Mother’s Trust Ashram, young people have the opportunity to build a caring community, find silent time away from their screens and phones, and connect to their ancestors and the natural world.

Rites of passage take many forms, and involve the passage from one type of being, one particular role in a community, to another. Birth, the cutting of the umbilical cord, is the prime example, and impossible to purge due to its necessity, as much as we have tried to medicalize and desacralize it. Birth is a transformation not only for the birthed, but for birther as well. We are transformed into parents in the process.

The entrance into adulthood, once the most important rite of passage, is almost non-existent in the modern world. Even the ceremonies that do remain are often more about getting gifts that becoming an adult. Formerly, these ceremonies were so significant because, in leading the child through puberty and into adulthood, they taught us how to become a full-fledged human being in a particular culture. They answered the question, “Who am I?” teaching an individual how he belonged.

The specifics of the rite of passage ceremony can be determined by the group. Sometimes, this has to do with its cultural traditions. There are, however, several components that are held in common with almost all authentic rites of passage.

Severance. For a rite of passage to be authentic, there must be something we leave behind. Our students will learn to let go of old attachments through the challenge of camping and other wilderness activities.

Instruction. In traditional cultures, the initiate learned important skills and myths, gaining entry as a human being in that particular cosmology. At our retreats, youth learn from each other through dialogue.

Reentry into the community as a new person. Our curriculum is designed to expand our students’ sense of self and community, to connect them to nature and to issues beyond their daily experience. But we do this in order to allow the students to return to the community in order to transform it. At the Chicago Wisdom Project, we have placed a great deal of emphasis on presenting the creative projects to the community as the culmination of the rite of passage. The students have become teachers.

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