A unique aspect of Mormonism is that all males over age 12 can hold an office of the priesthood, and that they are expected to use that priesthood in service to both the community (sacrament, callings) and to individuals (healings, blessings, and acts of service). When the church was first organized, most of the offices of the Aaronic priesthood were held by adult males, not teens. Has teenage priesthood ordination evolved into a form of puberty rite?
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
What is a “puberty rite”? In The Power of Myth, Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell discuss the importance of puberty rites. When society does not have a ritualistic way to move young men to adulthood, those young men create their own rituals (e.g. violent street gangs, Lord of the Flies scenarios). Those rites can be dangerous because they often run counter to the interests of society, but it is the failure of society to initiate those children into adulthood in concert with the society’s values that creates the problem.
In primal societies, there are teeth knocked out, there are scarifications, there are circumcisions, there are all kinds of things done. So you don’t have your little baby body anymore, you’re something else entirely. When I was a kid, we wore short trousers, you know, knee pants. And then there was this great moment when you put on long pants. Boys now don’t get that. I see even five-year-olds walking around with long trousers. When are they going to know that they’re now men and must put aside childish things? ~ Joseph Campbell
Moyers & Campbell discuss a puberty rite from the Aboriginals:
“When a boy gets to be a bit ungovernable, one fine day the men come in, and they are naked except for stripes of white bird down that they’ve stuck on their bodies using their own blood for glue. They are swinging the bull-roarers, which are the voices of spirits, and the men arrive as spirits.
“The boy will try to take refuge with his mother, and she will pretend to try to protect him. But the men just take him away. A mother is no good from then on, you see. You can’t go back to Mother, you’re in another field.
“Then the boys are taken out to the men’s sacred ground, and they’re really put through an ordeal–circumsicision, subincision, the drinking of men’s blood, and so forth. Just as they had drunk mother’s milk as children, so now they drink men’s blood. They’re being turned into men. While this is going on, they are being shown enactments of mythological episodes from the great myths. They are instructed in the mythology of the tribe. Then, at the end of this, they are brought back to the village, and the girl whom each is to marry has already been selected. The boy has now become a man. . .
“Now he has a man’s body. There’s no chance of relapsing back to boyhood after a show like that.”
Priesthood ordination sounds a little tame compared to this particular ritual. Maybe scout camp is a better analogy? The obvious question is if that’s how a boy becomes a man, how does a girl become a woman? Here is a contrast:
“The girl becomes a woman with her first menstruation. It happens to her. Nature does it to her. And so she has undergone the transformation, and what is her initiation? Typically it is to sit in a little hut for a certain number of days and realize what she is . . . . She is now a woman. And what is a woman? A woman is the vehicle of life. Life has overtaken her. Woman is what it is all about–the giving of birth and the giving of nourishment. She is identical with the earth goddess in her powers, and she has got to realize that about herself. The boy does not have a happening of this kind, so he has to be turned into a man and voluntarily become a servant of something greater than himself.”
Clearly to our modern sensibilities, the idea that periods are the female equivalent of priesthood strikes a sour note (to say the least!). And frankly, I never sat in a hut for a few days over it. Perhaps I watched some reruns and ate mint chocolate chip ice cream, though.
However, one point to consider is that to become men, boys leave their primarily female-dominated sphere (the home) to join a male-dominated sphere (the world of men). To do this, boys need to associate with men, and to join their ranks in a way that contributes to the society. Priesthood initiation at age 12 seems to do just that. What are your thoughts? Discuss.