The numbers were hard to believe…
One out of every fourteen high school kids will attempt suicide.
One out of every seven will contemplate suicide at some time while in school.
This report comes from a recent PBS documentary on depression among high school students.
The same night that I watched that program, I also read about the male initiation rites of the Australian Aborigine tribe, the Aranda, in Joseph Campbell’s Primitive Mythology.
These complex rituals went on for weeks and not only included a painful circumcision, but an even more painful subincision. I won’t bother describing this subincision–let’s just say that while reading that passage, I had my legs tightly crossed.
The initiation rites sound both ridiculously horrific and sublimely profound. The idea was to rip the boy out of childhood and thrust him into adulthood. And it worked–this practice kept the society functioning for generation after generation. It was violent, but the boy knew what was coming and could prepare himself psychologically.
The ritual was based on a creation story and re-enacted that story. As a result, the initiate experienced himself as part of the myth. He himself was created–or re-created–as he died to one mode of life and was resurrected to another. Since the entire tribe participated in these rites, they witnessed the myth made real.
I don’t mean to imply that we need some sort of initiation ritual for our own youth. For one thing, you can’t imprint a ritual on a society, just as you can’t imprint a mythology. You can’t “force feed” such change–it must evolve over an extended period of time.
Meanwhile, we struggle to cope without a functioning mythology to guide us. What is my proof that we lack such a mythology? If our mythology worked for us, we wouldn’t be losing so many kids. A functioning mythology makes for a functioning society.
The students who commit suicide are saying, “No, I’m not going to participate in this world.” Their suicide is a regression, a falling back into the arms of that mother from which all life comes. The schools are trying to reach these kids. However, they can’t provide a process that will transition the students out of adolescence, a process that will propel them into a new way of being in the world.
These children were born into an upside-down world. I try to think of it as a “world of opportunity”. That said, we’re in very difficult passage now, in this century, and there’s no guarantee that we’ll make it through to a successful conclusion.
I don’t believe that a new mythology will emerge to guide us through this passage. There just isn’t time enough. However…
…I do believe that by finding ways to navigate this passage, we will create the beginnings of a new mythology.