Introduction to Ritual and Ceremony
by Murray Barton – incommunique.blogspot.com
The Oxford dictionary defines ritual as “the series of actions used in a religious or other ceremony”. In secular society the “or other” in this definition hides a wide variety of rituals, such as the opening of parliament, which have no religious connections at all. Ross Nicholls, poet and Druid defined ritual as “poetry in the world of acts”. Ritual is not black magic or esoteric. If you have ever shaken hands you have performed a ritual, one of greeting.
Rituals can be as simple as blessing food before you eat or as complex and full of ceremony as the Catholic Mass. Whatever your beliefs there is a place for ritual in your life. Rituals strengthen the bonds of belonging in groups, they are the sign posts by which we navigate life and they can be the islands from which we centre and rejuvenate ourselves. Simple rituals can give us just the break we need to maintain a peaceful outlook on life, as said by Druid and author Emma Restall Orr: “ritual is the fine art of taking a break”.
The effectiveness of any ritual is governed by a few factors; the degree of safety and welcoming created by the facilitators, how well the players fill their roles and the openness of the participants to the energies raised. Magician and author Peregrin Wildoak says, “A good ritual will encourage people to participate at the deepest level they can”. The most powerful ingredient and one every ritual must have is a clearly stated intention. Having no intention for a ritual is like getting in your car and driving with no map and no destination in mind; you will end up wherever you end up. No intention means no predictable outcome, whatever happens happens and you will get what you get.
Rituals can be broken into four broad categories: celebration, change, connection and completion. The categories are helpful to see the ‘what and why’ of ritual but they are not definitive and a ritual for change may also have components of celebration and completion. All rituals have some component of connection, with other people, with spirit beings, with nature, with the sacred tools and space used.
Rituals of celebration are the easiest to start with as they are the most commonly practised in our daily lives. Birthday parties are rituals of celebration as is New Years Eve. Celebratory rituals are generally informal and festive occasions. The ritual components are well known and no particular facilitation or structure is required, as anyone who has been to a New Years Eve party can attest – around midnight the countdown will spontaneously commence followed by cheers, kisses and later, new years resolutions.
Rituals of completion are the rituals we have to mark the loss or end of something. A funeral is a good example of this type of ritual but a graduation ceremony is also a ritual for completion (whilst being a celebration as well). The completion and grieving process from any loss can be facilitated by the creation of a ritual to mark its passing, symbolically let go of attachments and simply allow what has passed its place in the past.
Rituals for change or transformation. All rituals have the power to cause change, what differentiates rituals for change is intentionality. There are three basic types of change rituals: cleansing, healing and initiations.
Cleansing rituals are the energetic equivalent of a spring clean. Any physical cleansing can also have an energetic cleansing component added with the inclusion of an intention and some simple ritual. For example, having a bath with candles, incense and bath salts and a simple prayer will not only be relaxing but will deepen the cleansing on all levels.
Healing rituals are rituals designed and intended to heal at some level of being; be it physical, emotional or spiritual. A healing ritual could be for any individual or being, in the green movement healing rituals for the earth are becoming more common. A shamanic healing is a ritual for healing.
Initiations or rites of passage mark the beginning of something and they also mark a transformation. An initiation is always into something be it a group, a level of training or a stage of life. In the joining there is a becoming and the initiate is literally not the same person after. With the abandonment of intentional rites of passage for our societies young, they invent rituals of their own. This can be seen especially amongst young men and usually involves drinking and dangerous behaviour.
Rituals for connection. The wedding is a ritual for connection. A naming ceremony of a child is also a ritual of connection; it introduces the child to its community and the community to the child. Rituals for communion are in essence rituals of connection, to commune is to “communicate mentally or spiritually”. Any communication you have with your god(s) are acts of communion. Rituals where you create relationships with spirit beings and communicate with them are rituals of connection.
Most of us are already participating in many rituals, the ones which are common in our culture. You can heighten the experience of these rituals by forming an intention around them. For example, the intention around the birthday ritual of singing Happy Birthday, blowing out the candles and cutting the cake might be “that Sally knows she is loved and cherished and all are present to joy and celebration”.
Nearly any everyday act can be turned into an act of worship and made part of your spiritual practise by the inclusion of some ritual. It could be as simple as lighting a candle or incense and saying a short prayer of gratitude. In many ways these simple every-day rituals are the best because they are repeated regularly and they are part of your life rather than something you go and do. Whatever your beliefs they belong in your life, not just for special occasions. The creation of every day rituals is one way to bring your beliefs to life.