Rites of Passage are as old as humanity itself. They mark periods of growth, maturation, and change in a person's life, and help augment both self-awareness and a feeling of unity or belonging to a group. However, as our Western culture has become increasingly secular, rational, and scientific, many question the need for such ceremonies and traditions, scoffing at them for superstitious nonsense.
In earlier times, a young man would have to participate in a rite of passage in order to take his place among the men of his society. In the American West, a youth would leave civilization behind, setting out on his own on a vision quest. In Europe, young nobles would pass a time of vigil and fasting before being made a knight. Both sought a connection with the divine.
In more recent times, rites of passage have, for the most part, lost their spiritual purpose and become more a thing of culture. The baptism and the Bar Mitzvah are less about finding religion, and more about joining a community under the mere name of religion. Young men are not, on the whole, encouraged to to seek spirituality and philosophy, but rather to place their feet on the path that most readily will reward their worldly ambition.
With the end of the Second World War, something unprecedented happened: With the explosion of prosperity, the rising generation - the Baby Boomers - became obsessed with gaining wealth. They were determined (though most likely unconsciously) to never suffer economic hardship the way their parents and grandparents had during the Great Depression. So women poured into the workforce in ever greater numbers, together with their husbands, focused entirely on keeping up with the proverbial Jones'. Is it any wonder that a generation dedicated to gain has had almost no use for Masonry or any other initiatic group? Gain is diametrically opposed to spirituality. With a generation that could see no use in Masonry, many speculated that the end of the Craft was near.
However, as the youth of Generations X and Y have grown up, they have become dissatisfied with their parents' goals. They are feeling the yearning for something greater than themselves. And with that yearning, they are seeking out religion, mystery traditions, and personal connections with the sublime. Many are discovering Masonry. The average age of lodges is plummeting as more and more young men join their older brothers in the quarry.
These young men are not so interested in being part of a fraternity: Many of them are in college and could easily join a fraternity there that doesn't require monthly meetings and hanging out with men their grandfathers' age, were that the case. What they seek, what they long for, is that spiritual rite of passage that fulfills and innate need, an inborn drive to find greater light.
This is no longer the time to bemoan the fate of Masonry. Rather, we are at the dawn of a new Masonic era. Rites of passage will inevitably grow more spiritual, more meaningful, and more common as they fill the dearth left by the last generation. The pendulum has already begin to swing back from the secular extreme, and the search for light begins anew.