Rites of Passage

The contemporary Pagan and witchcraft communities create their own Rituals for life’s important transitions: birth, death, marriage, divorce, coming of age and entering elderhood. A rich variety of prayers, songs, chants, meditations, rituals, poetry and other creative works is in continual evolution as Pagans draw on different traditions and heritages to meet their own spiritual needs.

These rites affirm the sacred wheel of birth-death-rebirth, the sacredness of the body, the human connection to nature, and oneness with the divine, expressed by the various aspects of the goddess and God. There are rites that honor the newly and ancestral dead and for animals. Of particular importance are rites of puberty and of aging, two stages of life largely ignored in Western society and mainstream religion. Puberty rites for both boys and girls are conducted. For elders, there are croning rituals for women and saging rituals for men.

Equally important are rites for dying, which address the spiritual needs to accept death as part of the cycle of life, rather than deny it. Death is celebrated as a rebirth, not only on a spiritual plane, but as preparation for return to Earth in another life.

Marriage rites in contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft are called handfastings, pledged to last as long as does love. In some traditions, the couple jumps over a broomstick for good luck. Divorce rites—another transition largely ignored from a ceremonial standpoint in Western society—are called handpartings.

“Wiccaning” and “Paganing” are child-blessing rites similar to a Christening, in which an infant is presented to the elements and Goddess/God and ritually blessed. In contemporary Witchcraft traditions, the child may be given a secret Craft name, which is used until the child is old enough to select his or her own name, if so desired.

Wiccaning and Paganing do not commit a child to a particular spiritual path; the child is free to choose his or her own path when the appropriate time comes.


  • Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. A Witches Bible Compleat. New York: magickal Childe, 1984.
  • Fitch, Ed, and Renee, Janine. Magical Rites from the Crystal Well. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1984.
  • Harvey, Graham. Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
  • Starhawk, m. Macha Nightmare and the reclaiming Collective. The Pagan Book of Living and Dying. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1997.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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