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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #51

"If you ever read any anthropology, one of the first things you notice is that primal cultures simmer up all their mystery and magic and power and ask their teenagers to drink deeply.

"A sixteen-year-old Dakota boy fasts until an empowering vision overtakes him. A newly-menstruating Apache girl becomes the goddess White Painted Woman in an intense, joyful theatrical ritual which lasts four days. All over the planet, traditional cultures provide various ritual experiences to adolescents, bringing them into contact with the deepest parts of themselves and their heritage.

"There is danger and pain, as well as beauty and exultation, in some of these traditional ways of initiating people into adulthood. I don't want to make any shallow statement that we've got it all wrong because we don't ask pubescent boys to endure three days of biting wasps.

"But I would like you to reflect for a minute on the contrast between the way our society initiates its young and the vivid undertakings of the primal world.


"Adolescence is a time of dreaming, adventure, risk, sweet wildness, and intensity. It's the time for you to 'find yourself,' or at least go looking. The sun is rising on your life. Your body is breaking out of its cocoon and ready to try wings.


"The point of seeking any kind of visionary experience is to see. When vision comes to you, eternity is its black velvet backdrop. Everything else comes out on the stage to sing and dance. Some of it fits in with the grandeur of that backdrop, and some of it only clashes, looking ugly and cheap. You end up wanting to adjust your life so that it's full of the stuff that fits in with eternity, and not crammed with things that don't matter.

"Therefore, one reason many primal cultures can confidently guide their young toward visionary experiences is that they're not worried. They don't have to worry that the visions will show anything horrible about the society itself. If there is something wrong with the cultural state of affairs, they want to know, so they can fix it."

-Grace Llewellyn, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: how to quit school and get a real life and education (rev. ed. 1998), pp. 68-69

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