A guest post by Mindy Klasky
In Keara’s Raven: Escape, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home instead of sacrificing Caw, the raven darkbeast she has been magically bound to all her life. Pursued by Inquisitors who will punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers and tries to find safety for herself and her companion.
Prior to her flight, Keara’s life is controlled by a variety of rites and rituals. The “Family Rule” dictates how she greets relatives, behaves around them, and takes her leave. When the titheman arrives to collect the annual head tax, Keara understands the precise steps she must follow, the words she must say, and the tattoo she must receive, all to be a respectable member of her society.
Beyond the secular authorities, Keara observes religious rites as well. Her world is dominated by the Twelve, a dozen gods and goddesses. Each has a unique godhouse (a temple with specific architecture where complex rites are performed). Each has 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: Children must sacrifice their animal companions on an onyx altar when they turn twelve.
I loosely built Keara’s experience on a number of coming-of-age rituals from around the world (although none of them include sacrificing a beloved companion!) First and foremost was a rite from my own culture—the bat mitzvah of a twelve-year-old girl (or a thirteen-year-old boy’s bar mitzvah), which constitutes 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 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. People that age are still growing—still becoming true to themselves—but they have the tools to educate and lead others.
I drew on other rituals, outside my personal experience. For example, quinceañera is a tradition from many Latin American communities where a girl celebrates her fifteenth birthday with a ceremony marking her transition from a child to an adult. Specifics vary from country to country, but the girl often wears elaborate makeup and a fancy dress that resembles a brightly colored wedding gown. Honored by her parents and grandparents, she is usually accompanied by friends who cheer her on.
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, escorted by her entire family. 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, and jealousy.
Just as the metatah celebrants set aside 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 her 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. All it takes it bravery—and the help of people Keara meets along the Great Road.
How about you? Have you completed any coming-of-age rituals? What would you include in such a rite, if you were building one from scratch?
About the Author
USA Today-bestselling author Mindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere in the world through stories. She never forgot that advice. Mindy’s travels took her through multiple careers. After graduating from Princeton University, Mindy considered becoming a professional stage manager or a rabbi. Ultimately, she settled on being a lawyer, working as a litigator at a large Washington firm. When she realized that lawyering kept her from writing (and dating and sleeping and otherwise living a normal life), Mindy became a librarian, managing large law firm libraries. Mindy now writes full time. Learn more at her website.