Among those who claim descent from the Oghuz Turks, the Book of Dede Korkut is both epos and guide to etiquette.
This wonderful work, available in an elusive Penguin Classics edition, catalogues the manner in which Oghuz boy-cubs became prowling adult Turks. The process was simple and satisfying:
The Turks would gather to feast. Tents would be tethered to Turcoman traders, miscellaneous meats would be grilled on the backs of Circassian maidens, wine would flow from the hollowed skulls of Armenian waterbearers - the hollowed skulls of live Armenian waterbearers - and bards would drone out dastans to the baleful beat of the bağlama on bared Byzantine buttocks.
Everyone was having a good time, except for one group of beardless youths. They sat tentless at a ragged Bokhara rug. Blinded Bulgarian bumboys dumped gobs of gristle on their laps. The wine was boxed. Pointy-headed urchins etched their caricatures in dung, and the Owl of Afrasiab soiled their caps.
One angry jigit approached the ataman and asked wherefore were they being treated thus. The chieftan replied that they had not proven themselves as men, let alone Turks, and had no right to sit with their bone-sucking elders.
The youths decided to consult a friendly tribesman whose name, Crazy Dumrul, hinted at the nature of his advice. At his urging they rose as one and marched off towards Georgia, which they treated much as General Grant would in later, happier times.
After much rumspringa, charivari and defenestration, they returned to the camp with a skein of Mingrelian limbs and innards. From these they fashioned a remarkable coat for the ataman, who was well-pleased.
Aksakal Dede Korkut, the sage of the Oghuz, would then bestow beards and names upon the striplings - Wolfsmack, Lowbrow, Moonbelt - all good stuff like that, and they would have their lunch at last with much trilling of timbrels and strumming of Kurds.
Our Western societies are pleasantly devoid of spirituality and so largely lack these wholesome rites of passage:
- Disentangling your classmates' underwear at a sixth-form disco or stealing an Oxford bobby's helmet are but echoes of our hunting fathers' bulging bugles.
- In rural Wales the 18th birthday midnight beating in the police cells recalls the okipa ordeal of our fondly-imagined Mandan cousins on the banks of the Missouri.
- Various guilds, boarding schools, cults and branches of the armed forces still shave and bludgeon novices' sweetbreads, but more out of colossal depravity than any tribal atavism.
Should we bring back spooky torment as an essential part of growing up? BBC Radio's Thought for the Day seeks to do so through the medium of whimsy, and the Catholic Church in Ireland has an individual take on the question as well.
Myself, I think that we fortysomethings can act like Dede Korkut and share our wisdom with the damp-palmed youths of today without the need for five-hour dutar riffs or flaying the citizens of Tbilisi alive. With that I would like to launch the No Good Boyo Moral Tutorial Course.
“Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, the Jesuits used to lie.
I wouldn't go that far, but would venture the slogan "Let the boy listen to my self-serving tales of overseas misadventure, and he might be able to divert frisky ladies and not end up being steamboated in a Turkish gaol."
I aim low, so that others might soar.