Note from Patrice: Morgan Keyes, author of Darkbeast, is today’s guest blogger, talking about coming-of-age rituals that inspired her new middle-grade fantasy series. She’s offering a chance to win a copy of Darkbeast, so make sure you leave a comment on this post below. Over to Morgan!

Many thanks to Patrice for allowing me to visit and tell you about my middle grade fantasy novel, Darkbeast.  Due to the generosity of my publisher, Simon & Schuster, I will give away a copy of Darkbeast to one commenter chosen at random from all the comments made to this post by midnight on Friday EDT.

In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been magically bound to all her life.  Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers and tries to find a safe haven for herself and her companion.

Keara’s life (especially in her home village) is controlled by a variety of rites and rituals.  The “Family Rule” dictates how she greets relatives, how she behaves around them, and how she takes her leave.  When the titheman comes to town to collect the annual head tax, Keara understands the precise steps she has to follow, the words she has to say, the tattoo she must receive, all to be a respectable member of her society.

Beyond the secular authorities, there are religious rites as well.  Keara’s world is dominated by the Twelve, by a dozen gods and goddesses.  Each has a unique godhouse (a temple with specific architecture where complex rites are performed).  Each has a sigil, an animal symbol that calls to mind the deity’s specific powers.

Bestius, the god of darkbeasts, has his own strict requirements.  First and foremost is the demand that twelve-year-olds sacrifice their animal companions, executing the creatures on an onyx altar.

The scene where Keara enters Bestius’s godhouse was one of the first that I wrote.  I was captivated by the traditions my heroine needed to follow.  I wanted to draw on other rites, other rituals – real ones from our world.

One of the first traditions I thought of came from my own culture – the bat mitzvah of a twelve-year-old girl (or a bar mitzvah, for a thirteen-year-old boy) becoming an adult in Jewish society.  In that ceremony, the young person reads part of Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and part of the Haftorah (the Bible’s books of the Prophets.)  The bar or bat mitzvah also usually leads a discussion about the Bible portions, explaining the words to the congregation.

Keara’s age is a direct reflection of my Jewish traditions.  Even though our current society lets children stay children for much longer, I loved the idea of a twelve-year-old assuming full social responsibility.  Children that age are still growing, still becoming true to themselves, but they have the tools to educate, to lead others.

There are other real-world rituals that shape Keara’s experience, ones outside my own traditions.  For example, quinceanera is a tradition from many Latin American communities where a girl celebrates her fifteenth birthday with a ceremony to mark her transition from a child to an adult.  Specific ceremonies vary from country to country, but the girl often wears elaborate makeup and a fancy dress that resembles a brightly colored wedding gown. She is usually accompanied by dressed-up female friends (“damas”) and male friends (“chambelanes”).

Keara is clothed in a finely-embroidered gown (a gift from her sisters), and her face is painted with valuable cosmetics.  She is led through the streets of Silver Hollow by her entire family, who cheer her on outside the godhouse.  While she completes the darkbeast ceremony, all the boys and girls circle the godhouse, chanting appropriate words.

Keara’s rites even draw from Indonesian tradition.  In the metatah ceremony, young Hindu adults have six of their teeth filed down. The ritual symbolizes the change from animal nature (represented by sharp canine teeth) to human nature. Filing protects teenagers from the “sad ripu”, six enemies of human nature: desire, greed, anger, intoxication, confusion (leaving tasks unfinished), and jealousy.

Just as the metatah celebrants set aside their animal nature, their most negative deeds and thoughts, so Keara must sacrifice her darkbeast.  Through the years, she has told Caw about her own “sad ripu”; she has no choice but to slay the raven when she wishes to become an adult.

Except, of course, Keara does have a choice.  She can forsake the rites and rituals of her people.  She can build new traditions for herself, for others.  All it takes it bravery – and the help of people Keara meets along the Great Road.

Does your culture have specific rites and rituals associated with becoming an adult?  What about family traditions?


9 Comments

Patrice Sarath · September 27, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Thanks, Morgan. You know, I’m trying to think if we have non-religious rituals for coming of age, and I can’t really think of any. Maybe getting one’s driver’s license? That certainly seems to be a marker. Or shaving — whether it’s the first scraggly chin hairs for a boy or a girl shaving her legs (and getting those first nicks, alas.)

I really like that you borrowed from so many traditions for Darkbeast.

Morgan Keyes · September 28, 2012 at 7:08 am

Thanks for having me here, Patrice! I think that our non-religious rituals aren’t as fully defined, but there were *some* in my life. Going down to take my driver’s license test when I turned sixteen… Having a form of a “Sweet Sixteen” party at my grandmother’s house on that birthday… Celebrating college admissions acceptances with a family dinner…

I wish that we had *more* rituals in our daily lives!

Kelley Coyner · September 28, 2012 at 8:18 am

Confirmation in the Protestant tradition was very much on my mind as I read DarkBeast especially as the approach my church and family takes to this is very much about understanding various faith tradition.

One a lighter note we have family rituals for about everything around here some momentous and others to celebrate the moment.

Kelley

A Lockwood · September 28, 2012 at 9:29 am

I remember hearing about this book before and wanting to read it. Great to learn a little more about it.

I don’t know that my family has all that many rituals, although my brother and several of my cousins got computers on their 10th birthdays. For a brief while I suppose that was a family tradition.

My mom threw me a surprise party for my 12th birthday since she’d had one on her 12th. I suppose that counts too.

Laramie Sasseville · September 28, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Twelve seems so young for coming of age. I hadn’t realized bat mitzvahs happened at an earlier age for young women than bar mitvahs do for young men. Is there a rationale for it?

~ Laramie

Morgan Keyes · October 1, 2012 at 8:13 am

Kelley – My Jewish tradition also has a Confirmation, for fifteen-year-olds. (I think it originated as a way to bring kids into the fold if they chose not to have a bar/bat mitzvah…) Personally, I like the family traditions 🙂

A Lockwood – Thanks for the interest! (And yes, I love those traditions that grow out “my parents” (or sibling or whoever) did this, and so now I will too…)

Laramie – I have to say, even having grown up in the Reform Jewish tradition, I had *never* heard of the twelve/thirteen difference in bat/bar mitzvahs, until I began to research DARKBEAST. I *think* that it stems from ancient times, reflecting girls’ relatively early maturation, and the desire to make them “adults” before they could get in real trouble ::wry grin:: (That explanation, though, doesn’t totally work for me, as most girls in early societies did not menstruate until much later than today, due to differences in nutrition, environment, etc.) So ::shrug:: I don’t know!

Morgan Keyes · October 1, 2012 at 8:14 am

And Laramie! The Random Number Generator says that you’re the winner of the free copy of DARKBEAST! Send your street address to me at morgan@morgankeyes.com, and I’ll have Simon and Schuster send you a copy!

Patrice Sarath · October 1, 2012 at 9:01 am

Congratulations to Laramie! And thanks to everyone who commented.

Cel-e-brate Good Times, Come On! | Mindy Klasky, Author · September 28, 2012 at 7:12 am

[…] that I’ve earwormed you…  Today, I’m over at Patrice Sarath’s blog, thinking about coming of age rituals.  Most of the ones that survive in our modern society are […]

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