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Rites of Passage

Maddern's (1990)
5-stage model of rites of passage

James Neill
Last updated:
15 Dec 2004


Based on rites of passage in Australian aboriginals, Eric Maddern (1990) proposed a five stage model:

  1. Symbolic Journey: Initiation involves a journey which takes place on both real and symbolic levels.  The meaning and power of the journey can be intensified by placing it within the context of a ritual.  Symbolic acts can be used to signify the departure from home, the various stages of the journey and the final return of the successful initiate. 

  2. The Challenge: Include real challenges which have to be faced, and which may result in feelings of confusion, moments of intense fear, experiences of real pain and occasions when pressing needs cannot be satisfied.  They are times, therefore, of coming to terms with difficult emotions, of developing the ability to cope with hardship.  The love and guidance of older people can be a  key ingredient in helping the initiates pull through.

  3. Opening the Door to the Dreaming: Initiations are times when doors are opened to Adult Knowledge – the various words used to describe the complex, many-layered systems of human society.

  4. Responsibility: With the Adult Knowledge, and after transcending the emotional and physical tests of initiation comes public recognition of new responsibilities.

  5. Community Participation: The final stage of initiation is returning to the community with one’s new status. This is a transformation which, though regretted and grieved for at first, is now respected and celebrated.

Maddern, E. (1990). What is it fifteen year olds need?  Notes on developing initiations appropriate to our timesAdventure Education, 17(1), 29-32. [250kb; pdf]