Rituals, Part One

The topic of rituals came up recently. What is a ritual? How does a person create a ritual?  Why are rituals important? In terms of occult spiritualities, the word ” ritual ” invokes images of darkly lit assemblages of people … outdoors in the woods … or indoors in dramatically decorated spaces, complete with burgundy velvet and mysterious implements, strange words spoken in ancient languages, and mysteries which open the eyes in amazement. The stuff of Hollywood.

These types of rituals exist, and range from being fun to create and perform, to a bit on the edge of acceptability, to downright dangerous cult activities. However, ritual does not have to be this way.

As an ordained minister & wedding officiant, I have overseen numerous rituals in Southern California. On a spiritual level, rituals often mark a change of life passage. Weddings are rituals. So are sweet sixteen parties, and their Latina equivalents the quinceaneras, as well as more somber rituals, such a funerals and celebrations of life.

However, rituals are only rituals. They mark a specific point in time; generally a time of transition. So, the ritual is simply a midpoint between the past and the future. What a person creates of the future, or what people create together of the future, is truly much more important than the specifics of the ritual itself.

A ritual is not a person, nor is it a relationship, and focusing too much on the ritual itself can be counterproductive. The importance is not particularly the ritual, even though ritual can be very fun and entertaining, it’s transitory. Ritual does not last.

A ritual has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Even the most complicated Hermetic rituals from ancient times, the ones which lasted more than a few hours or so, were still completed within a matter of days. Rituals generally do not take weeks, months or years.

It’s the future, for which the ritual marks a beginning by creating a separation from the past, that is really important. The future could be life with or without a certain person or people who are being transitioned during the ritual.

Whether it’s a coming of age ceremony that opens the door to being old enough to date, select a loved one, and marry; whether it’s a wedding that opens the door for two people to create a shared life, while at the same time closing the door to competitors to that future relationship; or whether it’s a door closing on a life that was, hopefully, well lived, a the souls’ transition, and a door opening to a changed experience for the loved ones who continue on the earth’s surface, who mourn the separation, and prepare for a different sort of future.

The topic of ritual, as being less important than life after ritual, has been the subject of literature and, as often happens when we seek something, the universe delivers. Today, the universe chose to deliver the story of Jane Eyre as required reading for an online course, for which I am to write a paper. I sped-read the novel, focusing on what I felt was the most important lesson of the book, and quickly wrote the upcoming assignment ( if you’re in the same class, please don’t cut and paste. do your own work):

“Reader, I married him.  A quiet wedding we had:  he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present.” These are the first two sentences of the final chapter of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. For those who read through the entire book, and experienced all the hardships and heartaches, lost loves and friendships that were experienced, these words come like an antidote to any negativity we have so far shared with the writer of the novel. For many of us, the book could have ended with those words.

However, the writer goes on and finishes the chapter, telling us how the news was received, and then jumps ahead ten years to see how the relationship developed. No fairy tale ending here, with the prince sweeping the princess up and the camera going fuzzy, with romantic music playing and leaving us all to imagine how they lived happily ever after.

No, like the consummate story teller that she is, Charlotte Bronte does her due diligence to explain how the relationship is still together, and in fact even miraculously better, after ten years together.

In these days of imaginative weddings, and frequent divorces, it is a sobering yet needed tale to tell … the story of what a humble wedding with only the minimum witnesses … none of them friends nor family members … and the reality of what happens after the wedding.

How much we can learn from this final chapter! For Jane, the past was gone in that one decision; a decision witnessed by people who were never part of her previous life, and who allowed her to have complete control of creating her future. And, create a wonderful future she did.

The power of the words “Reader, I married him” on first glance seem to be an average triumph of a second wife over the first. However, reading on, we learn that the real triumph was not the marriage ceremony. It was the life that went beyond that simple ritual; a life which superseded any ritual, and became a relationship.

The story of Jane Eyre, in relationship to our fascination with outlandish rituals … whether they are the ritual of taking a funny video we hope to show off on the internet, or having the most outrageous wedding ceremony … helps bring us back down to earth ( and not only because great literature tends to seem quite mundane entertainment these days ).

Her story is a triumph, and the laurels go to the relationship and not the ritual. One is transient, ephemeral, and often leaving us with the feeling of eating a fast food meal. The other is the reality of life. The day-to-day we live when nobody is watching, when there is no audience, and we have only what we’ve created and built for ourselves in our lives after the rituals.

So why are rituals important? A ritual is important as a way to recognize or celebrate a door opening to the future for a certain person or for certain people at a particular moment in time.
How do we create a ritual? Either traditionally or creatively, in a way that satisfies the people involved, and the situation being celebrated, in a legal and ethical way.

What are rituals? Rituals are a product of human creativity. To create a ritual, you can find a pre-written ritual or inspiration for creating a your own ritual by searching online or in a book, or by contacting someone with experience to perform or help you create a ritual.