Wilderness Rites of Passage

“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Wilderness Rites of Passage

I have been a guide of wilderness rites of passage for over twenty years with the School of Lost Borders. I first learned of Lost Borders in 1995, a time in my life when I was lost and confused about my identity and purpose. Immediately, I discovered I was missing the support and markers to help me move through the significant transitions I was experiencing; namely, I was missing rites of passage. 

What is a rite of passage? 

“A ritual, event, or experience that marks or constitutes a major milestone or change in a person’s life”
– Merriam Webster

Deeply tuned in to the cycles of nature, societies worldwide created rituals of initiation to mark and affirm the significant transitions that occur throughout the human lifespan. 

Although the primary rite of passage is the transition from childhood to adulthood, we pass various initiatory milestones in every stage of life; each challenging us to become more of who we truly are, guiding us to realize our shared purpose and responsibility within the community and cosmos. 

I consider deep psychotherapeutic work as a modern-day rite of passage. All that therapy asks us to address – loss, illness, death, change – harken back to initiation. The framework of a rite of passage gives these challenges a place where they can move from transition into transformation.  

The term “rites of passage” was first used by the French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep in his 1909 book Les Rites de Passage. Since then, his work has influenced other anthropologists, mythologists, psychologists, and those wanting to understand the driving force of human development.

Van Gennep outlined a three-phase structure of a rite of passage: Severance, the time of preparation; Threshold, the in-between; and Incorporation, the return or integration. Although not set in stone or entirely universal, this structure can provide a map to help us navigate unfamiliar psychological and spiritual terrain.

My work with the School of Lost Borders involves specifically Wilderness Rites of Passage. In small groups, we facilitate a “vision fast,” a four-day and night solo, usually in the backcountry of the desert. If this sounds extreme, it is because modern society has lost the significance of these practices. But to go out alone, with the support of a nearby community, is an ancient idea residing in the depths of our psyche.