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?