Rumspringa: An Amish Ritual
In the Amish religion, there lies a pivotal tradition for many of its adolescent followers. There are a number of Americans whom are likely to have never heard of this rite; as it is practiced by a small demographic, consisting of roughly 200,000 people . Their tradition, referred to as the Pennsylvania-German term “Rumspringa”, can best be explained by the word’s translation. With “rum-”, translating in English to “around”, and “-schpringe”, meaning “to run” or “to skip”, Rumspringa roughly translates to: “running around”. In essence, this is what the young participants do, as they explore the modern American society. While this tradition entails both religious symbol and myth, the primary purpose behind Rumspringa is to serve as a religious ritual.
Upon turning 16, it is by the decision of the youth whether he or she will go and explore the outer limits of the Amish community and religion. It is at this age that a person is thought to be mature enough to make wise informed decisions. Sometimes lasting for years, participants live in modern society, what the Amish refer to as, “The Devil’s Playground”. Throughout their journey, the adolescents are expected to reflect upon whether or not they would like to return to their religion and make a lifetime commitment to the sacrificial lifestyle . Should they return home from the luxuries of technology and temptations of video games, cars, alcohol, drugs and such, they can then be baptized and forever committed to the Amish religion.
While the practice of Rumspringa itself if ritual, the origins of this tradition are based on a myth promoted by English philosopher John Locke. Following the Lutheran Reformation, there was an emergence of a number of Christian sects. One such sect was the Anabaptists (“rebaptizers), held an opposing stance to the practice of baptism at birth. It was their belief that only when one had reached adulthood, could they make a conscious and informed decision to become part of the church. This philosophy digresses back to the myth stated by John Locke, “Nobody is born a member of any church…” It was the belief that one had the right to choose what faith they followed. Consequently, the myth was highly opposed by Catholics and Protestants, whose own values enforced being baptized at infancy. It was with this conflict, that the grounds for additional sect formations such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, and the Amish religions in England were provided.
Myth has also played a key element in the adolescents’ decision-making process during Rumspringa. While many Americans may not regard it as so, to the Amish community, life outside of their territory is mythologized to be a land of the damned. We may not believe the myth that we are forever damned for watching Thursday night television or using washing machines to do our laundry; but within the Amish tradition, when adolescents choose to live this lifestyle, the myth is held that they are literally playing in “The Devil’s playground”. The religion holds this belief because of their certainty that there is no salvation outside of their church. In a video documentary by Lisa Walker on the Rumspringa ritual, concern over the “right path” is quoted by Faron, an Amish teen, as he ponders, “It all comes down to whether you want to be Amish or not. To be, or not to be- that is the question”.
With this Amish concept in mind, should the young candidates chose to live a life without sacrifice in “The Devil’s playground”, they will be forever condemned. This plays a critical role in the youth’s final choice of direction; whether they should forever join the church or not. Torn thoughts are further expressed in the documentary by another teen, “I know for sure that if I decide to become Amish, I’ll get to heaven.” This confidence in the religion’s capability of salvation is highly prevalent among those undergoing Rumspringa. In a New York Times article, teen Gerald Yutzy, will have a hard time giving up freedom, but has similar views, “I’ve got to stop partying so hard,” he explains, “Amish life is real strict, yet it might be the best way to get there [Heaven]”. With the modern world symbolizing damnation, the Amish religion counters by symbolizing salvation. These statements alone, with such confidence in the religion, help explain why there is an impressive and astonishingly high, (80-90%) return rate among the tested Amish.
The concept of “The Devil’s Playground” not only serves as an Amish myth, but as a symbol as well. Consider the statement made by Roger Schmidt saying, “Symbols reveal how life should be ordered”. Our daily experience in modern