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The complex interrelationships among ritual, life course transitions, and altered states of consciousness (ASCs) are examined on a theoretical level. ASCs are an important and relatively new concept in anthropological studies of transition and change. Hypersuggestibility, a characteristic of ASCs, is the key element of this analysis.

Birthday parties are analyzed as a life course ritual. Their efficacy in facilitating transition is evaluated in light of the issue of the potential of a series of less intense rituals versus the potential of one major ritual for effecting change. Stress is a crucial element of this problem. A symbolic analysis of those elements of birthday parties relevant to the main thesis supports the conclusion that birthday parties are a significant life course ritual in American culture.