Ritual

Under development. Updated 29 Nov 2017.

/|\ INTRODUCTION

From small rituals like shaking hands vs. bowing, or saying your culture’s equivalents of “please” and “thank you,” to family traditions at the holidays, and outward to public ceremonies like reunions, annual festivals, weddings, funerals, ship-launchings, inaugurations, dedications, etc., ritual pervades all human cultures.

Even animals exhibit ritualized behavior, if we count things like courtship displays, and dominance/submission behavior in pack and herd animals. What is instinctive in animals becomes (potentially) conscious among humans, and though anthropologists and psychologists have developed a range of explanatory theories, none captures all the richness, variety and potential power of actual ritual.

Whenever I catch myself thinking “empty ritual”, I realize I’m what’s missing. Ritual is simply a form, like a recipe or dance move or martial arts kata. And like a kata, it’s “a routine or pattern of behavior that is practiced to various levels of mastery,” as the Wikipedia entry for kata puts it.

So if my heart isn’t in it, if the pattern-making doesn’t hold my attention, if it doesn’t carry significance to me, it will naturally feel empty to me — because I haven’t filled it with my dedication, my energy and imagination, my preparation, my sense of participating in something larger than myself. The essential component is me. If we want meaningful rituals, it’s up to us to create them.

Families and friends develop rituals to celebrate their relationship — you may have our own examples of a favorite gathering-place, in-group slang and allusions to past shared events opaque to outsiders, and so on. Humans are meaning-seekers and pattern-makers. Ritual is one expression of how human consciousness works.

Reginald Ray, in his book The Indestructible Truth, puts it this way:

Through ritual, genuinely undertaken, one is led to take a larger view of one’s life and one’s world; one experiences a shift in perspective—sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic. This shift feels like a diminishing of one’s sense of isolated individuality and an increase in one’s sense of connectedness with other people, with the nonhuman presences of our realm, and with purposes that transcend one’s usual self-serving motivations.

Ritual is a way of reconnecting with the larger and deeper purposes of life, ones that are oriented toward the general good conceived in the largest sense. Ironically, through coming to such a larger and more inclusive sense of connection and purpose, through rediscovering oneself as a member of a much bigger and more inclusive enterprise, one feels that much more oneself and grounded in one’s own personhood. Through ritual, one’s energy and motivation are roused and mobilized so that one can better fulfill the responsibilities, challenges and demands that life presents.

/|\ IN THE WORLD OF ACTS

“Ritual is poetry in the world of acts”, exclaims Ross Nichols, founder of OBOD. That means, like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington croon (see video below!), “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”. Rhythm, accent, echo, silence, pace, imagery, the senses alive, bodies moving to the beat of the sacred, the blood, the breath, the tides of nature and the cosmos. These things figure largely in “good” ritual.

The late founder of ADF, Isaac Bonewits, had much to say about what makes for effective ritual. You can find four excerpts from his book Rites of Worship on his website. In  “Dramatic Tension, Humor, Play and Pacing in Liturgy“, he examines links between theater and ritual, noting

Pacing is something that anyone familiar with the theater will tell you is absolutely crucial to the success of a performance … The only way to learn pacing is to experiment a lot with modular design and to rehearse the people in your group to find their skills and limits. A five-minute guided meditation may be too long for some groups, too short for others. Taking thirty seconds to bless each person in turn is fine if you only have a small group, but can be a disaster with a large one. A chant that naturally builds to a peak in three minutes should not be dragged out for ten. Many problems with pacing are solvable by artistic means, especially musical …

We may think one rite’s sacred and another isn’t, in other words, when what’s really going on is the holiness is leaking out of a rite through inattention to theater. It was, after all, a whole burning bush and not a single burning blade of grass that God used to catch Moses’ attention.

/|\ THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR

Ritual is simply another tool, and Druidry as an earth-centered spirituality includes the ritual celebration of the seasons. The eight-fold seasonal cycle common to Wicca and Druidry and many Pagans generally is a modern conception. It appears to be the happy result of a collaboration, or at least of mutual influence, between Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols. In the middle of the last century they were inspired to merge the four Fire Festivals of the Celts of early February, May, August and November with the equinoxes and solstices. The names* we give the holidays may vary, but roughly every six weeks you can find a festival marking the turning of the Wheel of the Year.

Ritual can be magically simple, and needn’t take place only on one of the “Great Eights.” Ritual needs nothing more than you and your intention. You visit a favorite meadow or grove or stone outcropping, and you whisper to yourself a favorite poem, a child’s verse, like “This is my rock” by David McCord:

This is my rock
and here I run
to steal the secret of the sun;

This is my rock,
and here come I
before the night has swept the sky;

This is my rock,
this is the place
I meet the evening face to face.

 

/|\ /|\ /|\

*The Wheel of the Year

October 31 – November 2: Hallowe’en, Samhain/Samhuinn, All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Todos Santos, Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos.

December 20-22: Yule, Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan.

February 1-2: Imbolc, Oimelc, St. Brigid’s Day, Groundhog Day, Candlemas.

March 20-22: Spring Equinox, Ostara, Alban Eilir.

May 1: May Day, Beltane, Bealtainne, Walpurgis Night.

June 20-22: Summer Solstice, Midsummer, St. John’s Day, Litha, Alban Hefin.

August 1: Lughnasad/Lunasa, Lammas(tide).

September 20-22: Autumn Equinox, Alban Elfed, Mabon.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald perform their exquisite ritual

 

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Posted 29 October 2015 by adruidway