For a New Culture

In the last few days I’ve come across no less than three children (all 8) who think babies are born by being cut out of their mothers’  bellies. That adds to the child who, a couple of months ago, said this to Amie, who immediately set the record straight. What with all her exposure, from a young age, to David Attenborough’s documentaries, my kid knows about mating and birth in detail. It was a bit of a shock to the other girl’s mom (a GP) when she heard the life lesson her daughter had just received. And then it was a bit of a shock to me what that mom’s reaction was!

Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge. But it worries me that children now think that C-sections are the way children are born, “naturally.” It means that the girls are scared witless, for one, and “never, ever want to have babies!” But what really scares me is that here is yet another essential function of a culture down the drain. The other two are initiation into adulthood, and death rites. There’s a slew of others, of course, like where food comes from, respect  for elders, the preservation of the earth for future generations, etc. But these come out of and after the three basics: birth, initiation, death. Our children are born in hospitals, with only the parents present. Our youth lacks any kind of clear transition into adulthood. Death is hidden away.

If it does not give guidance in the landmarks of our lives, a culture is truly an empty shell and the men who live by it are hollow. All it gives guidance in is the latest style in fashion, what new technological gadget will make you happy, how much money this or that celebrity makes. When  it does reach us deep in our foundations, it disempowers us with fear, submission to the political/economic powers that be, and the suspicion, truthful, finally, that our lives are meaningless.

In this culture, our children are not prepared. We do not prepare them. What do we do about it?

For this reason I’ve become interested in cultures that still give the precious gifts of initiation rites, death rites and birth rituals to their community (let’s not use the language of the dominant culture, that they are “public events,” for that  immediately befouls the goodness). Not to adopt these other cultures – I would be extremely uncomfortable with that – but to learn from them. What do their rites look like, what do they do? Perhaps they will help me recognize the remnants in my own culture(s) and then I can perhaps revive them. And, if my culture turns out not to be redeemable, they will help me make a new one.

That is the task, simple as that. All you have to do is say yes to it, and start the work.

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  1. Funny how I just spoke with a new mom about those postpartum things we were never expecting (hair loss??? Bleeding nipples from breastfeeding???), and how since we hide away so much of new motherhood, it hits the next new mom completely out of the blue. What unnecessary loneliness and confusion this causes! BTW, I think new parenthood is a major life change that deserves a few rites, too. I guess it’s related to initiation and it’s clearly not mandatory, but it’s one of the major, major ‘shifts’ in one’s life, isn’t it?

  2. Thanks, Katharina! Yes, there’s another big one, but I would include that in “birth,” as the birth of the parents as well. Isn’t it a sign of our culture, that we both separated the physical act of birth from the consequences to one’s life? How are they whole, connected, in other cultures with “birth” rites? I’m researching!

  3. Regarding rites for a new mother. I remember that very clearly for the book The Red Tent. The new mother was cared for completely by the women in the community after a child was born.

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