Like so many of my readers, clients and friends, I’ve been walking through my own inner cleansing fires and initiation rituals. Initiation into what? I’m not entirely sure, but humanity itself feels those fires, too, as formerly reliable systems fall apart. I finished listening to Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” on tape and moved onto a lecture series called “Religion, Myth and Magic: The Anthropology of Religion,” this time on CD. Last night and this morning, I heard the lectures on ritual — its function, effects, and the intended and unexpected outcomes from ritual in our lives. The information reminded me of a deeply human longing to create meaning and order in our lives, both as individuals and as a group.
In times of intense paradigm shifts, “mindless” rituals may seem outdated or silly, but as life shifts from one state to the next, our souls long even more strongly for ways of marking change. Most people remain somewhat fragmented, with disconnects between what the mind and heart may “know” and what subconscious or emotional resistance may accept. Finding and performing rituals — whether old and comforting or new and initiatory — can enable soulful transitions from limited ways of thinking/being to more expansive states of freedom and joy.
Ritual tends to get a bad rap in Western society. I know so many “recovering Catholics” who bristle at anything that smacks of incense, Mass or “religious programming.” I also know people who consider the concept of ritual as mere superstition and proof of an undeveloped rational side. Still others fear the idea of ritual, immediately jumping to visions of Satanic sacrifice or Illuminati mind control. Yes, those in the highest halls of government, finance and religion absolutely know and utilize the power of ritual; however, that doesn’t make the nature of ritual “evil.” Ritual is a tool, the effectiveness of which depends on the intent and concentration of the one(s) wielding the tool. Neutralizing or co-opting the power of ritual in Western society has worked to remove this powerful tool from “intelligent,” “non-superstitious,” “good” people who long for better lives and a kinder planet.
Can we create better lives and a kinder planet without ritual? Sure. It’s a tool, not the tool. But denying our souls the satisfaction of symbolic movement across important thresholds may contribute to an underlying anxiety about whether or not “it” is really happening. We can take our pick on the meaning of “it,” anything from personally improved health or finances to ushering in and anchoring a New Golden Age of cooperation and planetary rebirth. Allowing ourselves symbolic markers of change gives the underlying emotional/doubter self something tangible to nurse on as more visible changes manifest in our outer world.
We hear lots of talk about “becoming the change” or “change begins within,” but what happens when we want change, long for change, know we must change, but find ourselves paralyzed by fear of the unknown? We get the push-pull, one-step-forward-two-steps-back, quantum-leap-False-Flag, inner and outer conflict of our world right now. Can we move through this period without ritual? Absolutely, we will move through it one way or another. The Old World is on a crash course for destruction, and creation always follows. That’s a lot of Sturm und Drang, though.
Those of us who long for a gentler emotional ride, may want to dust off ritual as an effective tool in pacifying inner emotional conflict so that our vibrations can harmonize with those things we truly do desire to manifest in our lives and world. Ritual need not be elaborate. It can be as simple as bringing consciousness to a hot shower, imagining the water washing away worries and stress.
I use henna to de-tangle my knotty/naughty hair, applying it every two months or so since early 2007. It doesn’t alter my natural hair color much, since my hair spontaneously turned quite red when I moved to Monterey, CA in 2007, but each henna application brings me back into the magical space of self-nurturing. Henna is associated with the Goddess Lakshmi, goddess of abundance, but it also has deep connection to women’s rituals of childbirth and marriage. I don’t know what’s in henna, but I swear those mud pies on my scalp do some kind of neurochemical mojo on my brain, like a deep inhale of peace and calm. I have now henna’d so many times in so many locations that the brewing of tea, soaking of henna, showering, application, waiting, rinsing and blow drying (in case of drips) has become its own consistent ritual transcending time and space. I also deeply moisturize my face, neck and ears, so the henna won’t stain that skin, and I spend the waiting time in quiet contemplation or soul-supportive activities.
In addition, I henna and listen to sacred chants while doing yearly tax prep so that I can infuse such an unpleasant, patriarchal control grid with all the gentle strength and fluid femininity of the Goddess. With henna on my head and chants in my mouth, taxes become “playing with numbers,” an energy only one step away from mystical numerology. If you monitored my feelings about taxes at other times, you’d recognize the power of my henna ritual! It transforms my attitude when I need that most and allows me a sense of humor in how I choose to direct that money. Remember, money is energy, and we can charge energy with powerful intentions. 😉 Ritual, with its focus and its injection of the sacred, amplifies that power.
We can use ritual to prepare us for or to enhance any task or situation. Elevating something we dread as a meaningless pain in the @$$ to something akin to an initiation ritual or an act of devotion can help us to reclaim emotional power over the circumstances of our lives. The devotion need not have anything to do with the actual task. We assign the meaning to the task. Bhakti yoga, for example, is the yoga of service, with an emphasis on deep, heartfelt compassion through chanting the many names of the Divine. I apply it to my tax prep, but it doesn’t stop there. The heart of most spiritual traditions emphasizes service to others as a means of connecting to Divine Love in action. In the Christian tradition, the idea of feeding each person as Christ or entertaining angels unawares, provides a way of adding deep meaning to the simplest acts. In Buddhism, the Mindfulness tradition brings the sacred into the realm of the ordinary. Ultimately, reclaiming the power of ritual helps us to realize that each thought/attention, each decision, each action, potentially holds something larger and more beautiful than the mundane. As we honor and infuse our lives with deliberate beauty, meaning and infinitude, we heal our souls.
Celtic: “In the Celtic tradition Hawk empowers a person to seek out their ancestral roots and to examine in depth that which is positive (so that it may be integrated into a person’s life) and that which is limiting (so it can be released). Tradition is only worth honoring when it supports joy and fulfillment in one’s life! In this tradition Hawk also supports the solar side as stated above, helping a person to move forward in life and to seek out great quests to embark upon.”
If a particular tradition draws us to participate, our soul may be longing to reclaim parts it left in previous lifetimes while practicing those rituals. Exploring may not mean conversion, but rather reminding of forgotten parts. Other people may find the work of Thomas Moore helpful for “Care of the Soul.” Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach has become a classic for bringing the sacred back to ordinary life. Decorating with the seasons, gardening, harvesting, painting, cooking or any other creative or generative act can take on ritual importance. So can honoring the dead and that which has passed (or is passing) away. In a world of rapid change, and with an awareness of how emotions affect the Law of Attraction, we can support ourselves in positive changes by finding ways, however tiny, to add meaning, beauty and soul to our lives.