Youth rites of passage and initiation

Wilderness Journeys into Adulthood for 14-18 year-olds

Young Men's Initiation: June 20 - 28, 2020

Young Women's rite of passage: July 18 - 26, 2020

Young Men's Initiation: JuLY 31 - AUg. 8, 2020

"If we do not initiate the youth, they'll burn down the village just to feel the heat" - African Proverb

"If we do not initiate the youth, they'll burn down the village just to feel the heat" - African Proverb

At some point, children grow up. The change from adolescent to adult happens. Until quite recently, when a youth was going through these changes they were brought away from their family and community by a group of elders. In a secret place, often deep in wild nature, she/he died to her/his life as a child. Through the community supported initiatory experience, they were then born into the power, beauty, knowledge and responsibilities of adulthood.

Cascadia Quests Young Women's Rite of Passage and Young Men’s Initiation are contemporary wilderness rites of passage based on the old ways of adulthood initiation. They are 9-day programs – including 2 days and nights of solo time – facilitated by skilled guides, and assisted by a circle of initiated adults and elders. The experience is meant to sufficiently challenge the initiate to leave behind their life and psychology as a child, and return with the courage, vision, knowledge and support to take up their life as an adult.

How does one know it is time for initiation? Rapid physical growth and change, self exploration, wanting more responsibility, vivid dreams, attraction to challenge, soul searching...  "Negative" signs which are also expressions of the need for a rite of passage: rebelliousness,  contrariness, angst, anger, excessive risk taking, confusion, low self-esteem, violence, relationship troubles, self-harm, and more.


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What you'll receive:

  • Challenge and guidance to make the transition.

  • Strong adult role models.

  • Adult knowledge and wisdom.

  • Skills to survive in the wilderness of nature and daily life.

  • Follow-up support including a welcome home celebration, monthly mentorship, and quarterly group meetings.

Cost: $1,500-1,800 sliding scale (includes breakfasts and dinners, plus nine months of mentorship)



Whose decision is it for a young person to do a rite of passage?

The short answer is: the parents... with their child’s willingness.

According to Dr. Arne Rubinstein (Australia), author of The Making of Men, "When they are children, the parents make the choices. When they are adults, they make their own choices and have to live with the consequences.  The rite of passage is the turning point. It may be the last major decision you make for your child."

Traditionally, rites of passage or initiations were brought to the youth by the elders and mature initiated adults. They had the knowledge and foresight to know that initiation was necessary to temper the fiery forces that are unleashed with puberty and adolescence. It was understood in the community that initiation was necessary to ensure the well-being and continuity of their people. Parents- and the larger community- raised their children with the expectation that some day they would be released into an initiatory experience that would return them as young adults.

Today it is usually the parents- ideally with the blessing and support of elders, family and community- who sign their young person up for this type of rite of passage. Although the young person may resist, which is a normal and healthy part of adolescence, they need to be willing to go along with their parent’s choice. There are many young people who understand this and enthusiastically dive in. Our experience is that resistances and fears fade quickly once they are out in the desert with us, unless the child is absolutely and demonstratively refusing to go.

How do I speak to my son or daughter about doing a rite of passage?

In an honest, authentic and heart-felt way. This is an important conversation. You may have been thinking and dreaming about their rite of passage for years, or even their whole lives. That time is finally here. Let them know how important it is for you and what you wish for them.

A few other suggestions:

  1. Make a special time for the conversation, e.g. a special dedicated dinner or walk, a weekend away, etc.

  2. Speak to your child when they are most likely to hear you. Are you speaking to them when they are likely to be receptive or resistant? Be aware of their and your emotional states. Again, create conditions where they are likely to hear you.

  3. Listen deeply and with "fresh ears." Acknowledge what they have to say. Make the effort to really see them, and let them know that you hear them. This doesn't mean that you have to agree, or change your decision, but acknowledging and considering their view is critical.

  4. Turn off distractions such as TV, cell phones, ipads, or other interactive technologies.

  5. Be clear about who has decision making power. This varies with age and family dynamics. Speaking with a largely dependent 15 year old (tell them with enthusiasm) may be different than an independent 18 year old (persuasively asking them or offering the initiation to them a gift to help them transition out of the house).

  6. Check in with yourself. Are you ready to acknowledge that they are growing up, will soon be or already are a young adult? Are you grounded and ready for the conversation?

  7. Faith and prayer can be helpful.

  8. Call us and talk it over. We'll do our best to help.

  9. Birthing a child is a big deal, perhaps even your reason for living. Taking this major step of letting go of them as a child so that you can welcome them as a young adult is huge. Prepare yourself, create the right conditions, and most of all be authentic, clear, and speak from the heart.

How can I call my daughter or son to this rite of passage?

We strongly urge parents to "call" (telling) their daughter or son to their rite of passage, rather than "invite" (asking) them. Traditionally, a rite of passage is an expectation of all people in the social group (i.e. tribe, clan, or society). It is not an optional summer camp. It is a significant life challenge and ceremony to clearly mark the transition from child to young adult. The rite of passage makes this clear to the young person, as well as their parents, family, community, and ultimately, society.

The tone and nature of the conversation will vary with your style and your relationship with your child. See the suggestions above. However, your calling should be clear, loving, and firm. It should have a feeling of resolve based on your understanding of the rite of passage and your belief that they and you need it. 

e.g. "I love you. You are important to us beyond words. You are beautiful, strong, and have so many gifts for the world. We see you are changing and it is time to acknowledge that you are now a young adult. We want you to do (or are signing you up for) a rite of passage to mark that change for all of us. After you return, we'll treat you differently- as a young adult/man/woman. You'll have more freedom- which we know you've been wantin. You'll have more say in things, and we will expect more responsibilities from you. The rite of passage will be challenging. We believe you've got what it takes to get through it. This is a big moment in our lives. You may not have expected this, but that is how life is: we don't get to choose our challenges." 

If your child is enthusiastic: For many, it is a moment that they have been waiting for. More freedom, more choices, and more opportunities to show how capable they are.

If your child is resistant: Your child does not have to be enthusiastic, but simply willing to go along. They may have fears or doubts. Or, they are simply being teens. Part of the job description is to push back against parents so that they can have enough space to find out who they are. There is a possibility that they are truly not ready, though, by age 16 this is seldom the case. If you are unsure, have a conversation with us about it.

Occasionally, a child refuses. There is some underlying reason for this (e.g. fears, entrenched child-led decision-making, etc.). Finding it out can be very challenging. Talk with us. We'll do our best to help, and sometimes it just doesn't work out.

The reality is that the vast majority report that their rite of passage is the most fun and "awesome" experience they've ever had in their lives!

How can I tell if my daughter or son is not ready for this rite of passage?

  • They still have a solid foot in children's make-believe or play world (e.g. legos, dolls, movies for 8-10 year olds)

  • Their peer group is one and a half years or more younger. This is different than taking care of or being a big brother or sister to a lower age group.

  • They are still very attached to being with and being directed by parents.

  • You have an intuition or hunch that they will suffer (emotionally, psychologically, their trust in you, etc.) if they do the rite of passage now.

  • If their psychological development is for whatever reason slower (autism spectrum, developmental disability, etc.) then they may need more time.

What is the best age to do this?

When they are developmentally ready. Age fourteen is possible but most often at age 15-17. Seventeen and eighteen year olds are usually further out the door, yet often take to what we do most readily. Girls generally, though not always, mature faster emotionally and psychologically, so are more likely to be ready in the 14 to 15 age range. Look for some of these signs : Rapid physical growth and change (increased height and girth, foot size, voice changes, growth of facial and body hair, increased odor, signs of increased testosterone or estrogen, interest in relationships and sex), self exploration, wanting more responsibility, vivid dreams, attraction to challenge, soul searching...  "Negative" signs/expressions of the need for a rite of passage: rebelliousness, contrariness, angst, anger, excessive risk-taking, confusion, low self-esteem, violence, relationship troubles, self-harm, and more. 

It is much better to have a meaningful rite of passage at this age than spend the next few decades feeling as though they missed something or seeking often harmful ways of self-initiating... Most adults who do our adult vision fasts are seeking to have the rite of passage they never got as a youth.

What do you actually do out there?

Our program brings together the worlds of primitive skills, nature awareness and tracking, nature based ceremony, the practice of council, vision fasting, and mentorship. Hands on skills (tarpcraft, knot tying, camouflage, friction fire, plant i.d., herbal medicine, etc.), inner (emotional) work usually through the medium of physical activities or games, talking circles, intentional “medicine” walks, guided hikes, solo time, work shifts (kitchen, clean up, etc.), story telling, music and singing, and more combine to make a holistic impactful journey.

Because the element of surprise is so critical to that impact of the program, we don’t share the exact details here. If parents/guardians would like more specifics they should contact Rob Miller- program designer and lead guide- at 458-201-2868 for a confidential discussion.

We encourage you to watch this short film about youth rites of passage:

We invite you to visit the creators of this film, and support their work at which is so generously supporting ours.