The individual is the hero in hero stories and the initiate in initiatory routines. So the hero is the person who is attemping to become a complete biological and historical entity, personality, so that they are capable not only of adopting independent existence, but of adopting independent existence that’s productive, and that’s productive in a way that’s a benefit to the community. It’s a particular pattern of development. And that needs to be catalyzed by human societies, because in order for society to maintain its structure and for the people within it to thrive, the developing individuals have to mature to the point where they can take care of themselves in a way that doesn’t disrupt the whole social structure.
It’s a natural path for human beings to some degree because we’re such intensly social creatures. But because we’re also quite malleable and complex and grounded in history and cultural creatures, it’s also something that needs to be taught explicitly.
A lot of initiation rites are predicated on the idea that you take the person out of their childhood context, you destroy their personality, usually as a consequence of some quasi-traumatic encounter, and then you refill them with the cultural norms, and that makes them an adult. To some degree that’s what people are doing in a very slow way when you make the transition from high school to university, or from high school to a job. In our culture we don’t have the kind of abrupt ceremonies that are designed to catalyze that transformation, and maybe that’s an okay thing.
And then maybe that’s not an okay thing. One of the things that Freud pointed out, and he’s absolutely right about this, is that because human beings have such a long dependency period it’s not that easy for us to grow up. And sometimes it takes a shock in order for that to happen. And so one of the potential problems with having a dependency period as long as the human dependency period is that it never ends, and that you stay immature forever.
Initiation ceremonies in part were designed to catalyze that break. So that your personal mother, in particular, but also your father to some degree were no longer the dominant figures of influence in your life. That’s what maturation means, in some sense.