The rites of passage – mythology

Creation of a mystery religion or researching a historical religion

Here is a guide/prompt to help you with this project; please read carefully:

You need to know what can be gained or was gained from your group before you start with anything else. What is the gnosis, the special knowledge that is to be known or gained? Is it a mystery about life or death, or is it some knowledge necessary to the role one is to play in their society? Remember the question, “What is a mystery worth knowing, or experiencing?” You need to understand Victor Turner and the chapter on ritual, as well as the Joseph Campbell chapter, “The Importance of Rites.” If you did not read “The Importance of Rites” due to time constraints, you will need to read it. I went over the pertinent information in my PowerPoint demonstration.

The function of rites along with the axiomatic concepts found in Turner should fuel your creation or research. Here are some of the main concepts to take into consideration, both optional information and non-optional information. Non-optional must be included in your writing while optional may give you more points if you show an understanding and familiarity with the terms:

  1. Non-optional: a. Exegetic, operational, and positional (axiomatic concepts) b. Separation, liminal, aggregation (Rites de Passage) c. Is the group you are studying liminoid or liminal?

Exegetic, operational, and positional are concepts that denote types of information. The Rites of passage is the primary ritual that you are using the axiomatic concepts to describe and define. 

  1. Optional material: You can use concepts from Campbell, such as his discussion of Freud’s ‘reality function,’ or you may use the role of rites in modern conceptions of the mystery (Hermetic groups). You may wish to refer to Turner’s discussion of play in pre/postindustrial society, etc. Optional material is a bit more sophisticated and therefore more challenging. I will reward any attempt, if there is evidence of some understanding of the material.  If in doubt, stick to the non-optional material.

You have three main options

  1. The first option is to create your own mystery religion or secret society. This is a work of fiction.  If you actually are a member or a creator of a society of this kind, I will not know the difference, so your secret is safe with me. This can be done rather straightforwardly as an essay or it can entail a work of short fiction, a fictional memoir, a dossier, etc.  Before the creative writing you need at least one paragraph in which you need to tell me what type of approach you are taking. You need to designate which type of social structure you are going to discuss, whether it is a mystery religion or a secret society. Often this is merely a matter of perspective. The value of the initiation and rituals change depending on which of these you choose and from what perspective, for example: There will be a difference between how a detective would see a group, or a member of a family that has a relative who has joined a religion they do not understand, as opposed to an anthropologist or a member of the religion.  A secret society can revolve around initiation. There are a few directions you can go with this option.  You can be a member (group, society, kin-based group, etc.), or the creator, or third person omniscient.  I consider these three essentially one concept.  You are on the inside and therefore your exegetic information comes from you.  You can also look at the study of a mystery religion or secret society as if you were an outsider attempting to look at it anthropologically, in which case your exegetic information would change.  In this scenario you are on the outside.  Both of these approaches are creative approaches to a fiction.  You will need to introduce your approach carefully and make sure I understand both the role of the axiomatic concepts and the rites of passage. 
  2. The second option is to study an actual mystery religion or secret society and act as if you are an anthropologist/mythologist, or at the very least research the society, using full MLA in this case, and using the terminology found in the Victor Turner section. In this scenario you will actually study, for more contemporary examples: the Branch Davidians, the Manson Family, gnostic groups or hermetic groups such as The Golden Dawn, Theosophical Society, Philosophical Research Society, or Temple of Thelema, etc., etc. You can also choose one of the essential mysteries we know about from history, such as: The Mithraic Mysteries, The Eleusinian Mysteries, The Orphic Mysteries, The Oracle at Delphi, Dionysian mysteries, The Isis mysteries, etc. If you choose this approach, you must understand that you are undergoing a research heavy choice not a creative choice.
  3. Your third option is to evaluate a mystery religion or secret society that has been portrayed in either a book or film using the same information that you would use in the previous two choices.  In this option you are not talking about a real historic mystery religion, nor are you discussing one of your own creations.  Here you are looking at the ways in which fictional narratives of any kind have used the same information to give a verisimilitude to the work in which you find your example. This can be anything from the work of William Blake (his own gnostic approach to religion in his poetry), H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu Cult in the mythos) to films such from Harry Potter (Death Eaters), Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, etc.  As long as it meets the criteria of the assignment, you can identify 1. Exegetic material 2. Operational 3. Positional within 1. Pre-liminal 2. Liminal 3. Post liminal.



How to structure the assignment:

You need and introduction which deals with the essential questions of what your group is, how you are going to approach your paper from the options listed above, and then mention how the operational and positional perspectives work, making sure to mention where exegetic information originates. These three divisions are the axiomatic concepts you will use to discuss the three basic functions of any mystery religion.  If you are writing this as a creative project, then this introduction can be separate from the main work, as mentioned above, as an introduction to me in order to keep the work itself flowing better.  That is up to you.

Remember that the Rites of Passage are understood using the axiomatic concepts mentioned above. One way this could work, if you want to write this in essay form, is to use these three aspects as your three-pronged thesis statement, with exegetic information, positional, and operational details used to explain the significance of each of the three divisions of the Rites. You could, on the other hand, use exegetic, positional and operational as your three prongs discussing separation-aggregation in each prong.  It is also fine by me if you use, with the body structure, bullet points, an outline, short story, a memoir, etc.  Just as long as you address these three concepts within the confines of your creation (the following is merely a few examples of the kind of information required to understand each of the three main concepts):


1.      How do you get members (neophytes)?  Who is good material for your particular group?

2.      Once you define how you get neophytes, you then must illustrate if they need to wear something different in preparation for initiation, etc.



1.      How does your group view the uninitiated that has at the same time been separated from society as a whole?  What makes this the threshold period?

2.      List and describe in detail your initiation rites and how this relates to becoming a member of this group, or how these steps transition a person into a new phase or function within a society. How many steps, what are these steps, etc.


1.      Once the initiation period has been dealt with, then you need to tell me what is gained with being taken as an equal member in this mystery.

2.      Does being a member mean …?  You tell me.  Is there ever a time when a member can rejoin society, or are they similar to a priestly class.  Are they ostracized from society, or is participation in typical society expected?’


Last thing you will write is a concise conclusion telling me what you think can be gained from this type of analysis. Even if you write a fictional account, you need to conclude with what significance as a reader I should take from your assignment.


This assignment is 4 page minimum, but if you could do more than that, it will be wonderful. Also, please be knowledgable in this area, as i will ask you alot of question, so be prepared, you also have to read the pages in the book i scanned, i will email the pages to you when we reach an agreement and you use quotes from it, no exceptions, outside sources are ok

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