The first person who presented—let’s call him A.—decided just to stand up and describe his ritual without any visual aids (he and his mentor both claimed to be “unable to draw,” and since content was my first priority, I saw no reason to object). He was the one I mentioned who was a bit anxious during the first session. Since he has trouble writing, his mentor wrote down all his ideas and just served to prompt him with a question here and there whenever he paused during his presentation. As A. started describing his ritual, I realized that he was describing a quest. He imagined a tribe of explorers and hunters in NYC. To gain membership, initiates—15 males and 15 females—had to be between the ages of 15 and 18. The boys have to dress all in dark blue sweats, sneakers, and tank tops. The girls are similarly garbed in black. They would be divided into two mixed-gender teams and instructed to search for two different pairs of 8-in rare blue diamond-encrusted stilettos. One pair would be hidden in Manhattan, the other in Brooklyn. Rather than competing with each other, each team would be assigned to one borough and they would have to face people outside the tribe who have been hired by the tribal leader to hurt or mislead them. Since the challenges involved include strangers trying to harm them physically or lie and mislead them away from the shoes, initiates have to have “mental strength” in addition to physical strength, in order to keep their wits about them and locate the shoes in three days, with the only hint being that they should look at any store that sells shoes. Each team must come back intact. Even if someone finds the shoes, it doesn’t count unless everyone returns alive. (A. did not articulate this explicitly as a value, but he obviously prizes loyalty, cooperation, and caring for your companions.) The individuals who do locate the shoes then get to be celebrated in a special ceremony. Although they do not get to keep the stilettos (they go to the leader’s daughter), they get a brand new set of clothes: the men are given a crown, a suit, and dress shoes; the women a dress, high heels, and a tiara. Then they get to feast at a banquet with all kinds of food (A. loves to cook and wants to be a chef), surrounded by bright lights and rainbow-colored balloons. After the celebration they are considered adults who are ready to go out on their own, get a job, and take on anything the world has to offer.
You might notice that very visual and narrative nature of this ritual. Indeed, when I later spoke to A.’s mentor, she said that he was very interested in film and that she helped ease his anxiety about the activity by telling him that he didn’t need to write or draw, but just envision everything in his head as if it were a movie. I hate to sound so hyperbolic about this, but that is world-class mentoring. She is the reason why A. was able to deal with his anxiety productively during the follow up session. As much as I’d love to take all the credit for how well the Tribal Rites of Passage workshop went, so much rested on the relationships already established between the adults and the young people in the group.