The Importance of Rituals

Ritual allows us to deal with change and death - both inner and outer death.

I had the opportunity, recently, to hear a sermon from Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church. He addressed the importance of rituals in our lives and how they serve as a reminder for us as to what is most important.

Rituals should be seen as a "sacred holy task" that focuses you on what is most important. In his example, Rob discussed his morning ritual of making lunches and taking his boys to school. This ritual serves as a reminder of his calling to take care of his boys.

What is it that is most important to you?

Do your "rituals" reflect what is most important to you through your actions?

We need to constantly be checking ourselves and the rituals that we participate in, to make sure we are focused on the most worthy pursuits.

[David Korff]
Found at Thinking about things blog (now dead)

I recently read an article about a paramedic who created a ritual to help him separate from all the things he had seen during the day and create a space for being with his family.

Everyday when he got home, he would imagine hanging all the troubles of the work day on the tree next to his back door. As he entered the house he would touch the tree and walk into the house, leaving the work day behind–a simple ritual to help his subconscious mind to know that it was time to focus on his family.

Rituals of Transition

The paramedic touching the tree and setting the intention of being fully present for his family is an example of a transition ritual. Another example that most of us are familiar with is bedtime rituals which help children settle down for the night. The more consistent the story time and lights out, the more the child becomes to depend on the ritual and can make the transition from busy day to restful night.

Rituals of transition help us move from one area of our lives to another.  

We can make use of this idea of rituals to help us be in the moment and make the transition from one area of focus to another, e.g., work to home, creating space to focus on a project, bedtime, etc. The elements important to creating a ritual is setting an intention, performing the action and making the action a regular occurrence so that it becomes a habit.

Rituals of Relaxation and Focus

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of the book The Power of Full Engagement, maintain that we do not need to manage our time, we need to manage our energy, and that we have to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

Loehr and Schwartz worked for years with top athletes, and noticed that they were able to reset their bodies and minds in little time, with highly practiced, repeated - scheduled - actions (i.e., rituals.)

Watch a basketball player at the free throw line or a tennis player before they serve. Many have a little routine that they do each time before they take a shot or serve. It may be the number of times they bounce the ball or how they touch their body.

You can use this idea to create small rituals of relaxation and focus and repeat them regularly throughout your day. You can tie these rituals to specific events in your day.

[Carol Woodliff]
The Importance of Rituals, found at WMV Group

[...] I attribute a positive value to all religions. In their symbolism I recognize those figures which I have met with in the dreams and fantasies of my patients.

In their moral teaching I see efforts that are the same as or similar to those made by my patients, when, guided by their own insight or inspiration, they seek the right way of dealing with the forces of the inner life.

Ceremonial, ritual, initiation rites and ascetic practices, in all their forms and variations, interest me profoundly as so many techniques for bringing about a proper relation to these [inner] forces.

[C.G. Jung]
Modern Man In Search Of A Soul ('Freud and Jung'), p.121, 122

The game and the creation of the game must be seen as a single phenomenon, and indeed, it is subjectively plausible to say that the sequence is really playable only so long as it retains some elements of the creative and unexpected.

If the sequence is totally known, it is ritual, although perhaps still character forming.

If we define play as the establishment and exploration of relationship, then greeting and ritual are the affirmation of relationship. But obviously mixtures of affirmation and exploration are common.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 150-1

"Ritual is poetry in the world of acts."

In this way of thinking, the performance of ritual has no special power of its own. Its power comes from the effects that it, like poetry, has on the people who take part in and experience it. Just as a well-written poem can reshape the awareness of its reader or hearer, revealing connections that might otherwise go unnoticed and highlighting neglected meanings, a well-performed ritual can do the same for those who take part in it.

Thus, celebrating the stations of the year isn't a mere formality. It focuses the experience of time and the seasons, lifting participants out of the limited consciousness of passing days into a wider awareness of the turning wheel of the year. It reminds them that their lives take place in a larger context, one in which living beings and spiritual powers also have a place. It restores meaning to a world in which meaning often seems in short supply.

The mind also has unrecognized potentials that can be awakened through the redefining power of ritual. Thus ritual has effects that go well beyond the realm of psychology, and into subtler realms little understood by modern ways of approaching the world.

[...] ritual is empty only when it's misused or ineptly performed. Done with skill and a grasp of basic principles, it can be full to bursting with meaning and can communicate that fulness to our everyday lives.

Whatever else can be said about it, ritual is a performing art related to drama, storytelling, and poetry recitation [...] For this reason, the regular practice of ritual is the most important step in walking the Sun Path. By performing and experiencing rituals, novice ritualists learn from personal experience what works and what doesn't, and rehearse the skills required until they can do an effective ritual working at a moments notice.

[John Michael Greer]
The Druidry Handbook,  p. 170-1

To clarify, let us consider those ceremonials which devolve upon personal crises, such as death, marriage, puberty, or illness. These can be considered “existential" situations; that is, people die, marry, sicken, become sexually mature and economically responsible in all societies.

In primitive societies, such ordinary human events are rendered extraordinary, that is, they are made meaningful and valuable, through the medium of the dramatic ceremonies. Here we confront man raising himself above the level of the merely biological, affirming his identity, and defining his obligations to himself and to the group.

The ritual drama, then, focuses on ordinary human events and makes them, in a sense, sacramental.

At the same time, the ceremonials we are speaking of enable the individual to maintain integrity of self while changing life roles. The person is freed to act in new ways without crippling anxiety, or becoming a social automaton. That is, the person discharges the new status but the status does not become the person.

This, I believe, is the central psychological meaning of the theme of death and rebirth, of constant psychic renewal, which is encountered so frequently in primitive ceremonials. It is an organic theme; what one is emerges out of what one was. There is no mechanical separation, only an organic transition, extending, characteristically, over a considerable time, often crowded with events, and never traumatic, but modulated and realistic in its effects.

[Stanley Diamond]
'Plato and the Primitive'

People who are not in close contact with their own unconscious have great difficulty accepting the slow, unhurried, cyclic rhythms of nature, which allow time for birth, maturation, and death.

When some part of us dies, there must be a time of mourning, a period of withdrawal and introspection, a period of allowing the tears to fall. Tears connect us to our hearts, our real values, our own inner Home. Without them, we become brittle, warped, prunes instead of plums.

Born into a society in which rites of passage are not a consciously nor firmly entrenched part of life, we do not understand ritual. We hate death and we do not really believe in resurrection. The rituals which would connect us with these rhythms in ourselves we find "boring."

Thus when the unconscious naturally tries to move us onto a new level of awareness, we feel violated because we are unable to enter the death experience; we experience ourselves as victims, rather than participants. We are half-aware that some life-threatening sacrifice has been made, something dead is inside us, something "crazy" is going on, but we do not take time to find out who the new person is, nor do we have the slightest idea what territory we have crossed into (see Trafford 1982).

The tragedy is that if we do not give ourselves space and time to find out, we attempt to live in the new era despite being inadequately equipped to do so, for we still have only the old concepts of ourselves.

We are like confused butterflies just emerged from our chrysalises, butterflies who still think like caterpillars yet blame everyone else for damaging our wings, when the truth is we are afraid to take responsibility for the transformation that has taken place. Instead of taking time to let our beautiful wings unfold in readiness for new life, we fearfully draw back into non-existent cocoons, our protective coverings gone.

[Marion Woodman]
‘The Emergence of the Feminine’, Betwixt and Between, p.211

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Lost Tribe 
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