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 courtship displays, and dominance/submission behavior in pack and herd animals. What is instinctive in animals becomes 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 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.
/|\ 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.
Updated 30 December 2015