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Rituals

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  1. What is a ritual?
  2. Rituals are a part of our life. 
  3. What are the "positive" and "negative" side of rituals? 
  4. Our state is important during a ritual.
  5. Rituals are founded on actual dynamics. 
  6. The technique for creating rituals.  


What is a ritual? It is an act whose significance lies not in the apparent, superficial activity but rather in the meaning -- religious, personal, social, or other.


Rituals are a part of our life. We all participate in rituals every day. There are the rituals of school graduations, holiday celebrations, club initiations, the pledge of allegiance, birthday parties, swearing-in ceremonies, and retirement parties. We also have religious ceremonies such as baptisms, bar mitzvahs, communion, and "grace" before a meal. And we have other rituals, such as the rules of etiquette and social behavior.


What are the "positive" and "negative" side of rituals?  

  1. The positive side.
    • They enhance our sense of meaning in our lives. In rituals, we seek meaning, and we explore the meaning which we have found.
    • They establish structure. The mind instinctively creates rituals for the same reason that it creates habits -- to simplify its operations and decision-making. In the formality of rituals, we know what to do, and we know how to interact with other people (who, similarly, are being told what to do).
    • Rituals connect us to a larger experience. Through rituals, we are bonded to society by acknowledging that we experience many of the same occurrences -- birth, wedding, funeral, etc. And we share the same history, as acknowledged by our national holidays, such as the United States' Independence Day. We recognize our similar emotions, such as those which we express at a sporting event. Within a family, our unique rituals link us as a unit. In rituals, we admit our common beliefs and ideals, whether secular or religious. When a ritual has a religious context, we are establishing a connection to our fellow worshippers, and to spirit, and to the forces which are represented in the ceremony. In all of these types of rituals, we are recognizing our community and our interconnectedness -- and our personal commitment and membership to those larger spheres.
  2. The negative side. The Buddha disliked rituals, and Jesus criticized the ritualistic behavior of some Jewish leaders. Today, many people feel that rituals are superficial and meaningless.
    • Rituals themselves have no meaning except that which we recognize in them, and some rituals lose their meaning as society changes and develops new symbols and values. Unfortunately, we persist with many rituals which might have had power and significance previously but are now mere formality, superstition, and habit.


Our state is important during a ritual. We enter this "altered state" when we sense a meaningfulness and depth which induces our attentiveness, reverence, and passion. We feel an intense involvement of our whole being, beyond the conscious actions or words. Intuitively, we understand the "symbolism"; for example, our domestic chore becomes a ritual in which we express love for our family; our bath becomes a purification of body and mind; our dinner becomes a sacred sharing of the bounty of the earth. Without this state, we are merely "going through the motions."


Rituals are founded on actual dynamics. Although rituals might seem to be merely symbolic, they express and convey the energy which is represented by that symbolism. Every ritual (indeed, any activity) possesses an energy which is as "real" as the physical activity which represents that energy, particularly if we consciously experience and direct the energy. For example, a handshake creates a literal bond and communication of energy between people. The ritual of a funeral ideally facilitates the resolution of the emotional energy of grief. A wedding helps to create a connection of energy between the bride and groom. And, of course, the underlying energy-dynamic of rituals is well-known in the rituals of magick and witchcraft.


The technique for creating rituals. We already create rituals spontaneously, as a natural part of life. But when we want to create rituals intentionally -- for meditation, or for enhancing our daily activities -- we can use the following suggestions:

  1. Movement. Some rituals include dancing, a procession, holding hands, or bowing or kneeling. The group can walk (or sit) in a circle; in the center, we can have an object such as candle or a religious statue.
  2. Music and sounds. This might be a solo instrumentalist, or a group of musicians, or simple tones from a gong or a drum. Certain pieces of music are traditionally associated with particular ceremonies; for example, we usually expect to hear "Pomp and Circumstance" at a graduation.
  3. Sharing. We might share food, or a gift, or a flower, or a beverage, or a flame with which to light each person's candle. At a wedding ceremony, the bride and groom usually feed a piece of cake to one another; the traditional smearing of the cake on one another's face is optional.
  4. Words. This can include singing, chanting, an improvised speech (as in a "toast"), a prepared oration, the reading from a text (such as The Bible), and the recitation of vows.
  5. Props. We might use scents (from incense, herbs, perfume, etc.), images (photos, paintings, or sculptures -- perhaps of a religious figure), candles or a bonfire, holy water (i.e., ordinary water which has been "blessed"), costumes (including ceremonial robes and hats), theatrical makeup, and the symbols of our particular organization (e.g., a crucifix). The construction of props can be done prior to the ceremony, or as part of the ceremony itself.
  6. An altar. On the altar, we might have candles, flowers, sculptures, paintings, photos, or symbolic items.
  7. A sacrifice. (Sacrifice means "to make sacred.") Although human sacrifice is rarely performed in modern society, many rituals involve other types of sacrifice -- the giving up of something for the sake of a greater entity. In our ritual, we might sacrifice a valuable commodity (such as a tithe of money). Or we might sacrifice an unwanted item (such as a destructive habit which we would describe on a piece of paper that is then burned in a ceremonial fire).
  8. Portrayal of rebirth. This is the concept in "initiation rituals," which often include a symbolic "death" before the rebirth. In some styles of baptism, we depict death through our immersion; when we arise from the water (which is a traditional symbol of the womb), we are "reborn."

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