"Ritual created containers for the celebration and expression of our joys and sorrows, but more importantly, they created - through symbol and communal intention - an energetic container for bridging a connection to the healing energies of nature, as well as the soul and spirit worlds."
If we observe the deep joys and sorrows of the human experience, they rarely, if ever, occur in a vacuum. Instead they arise within the rich context of family and/or community (friends, co-workers, trees, animals, rivers…). Often our deepest joys are the result of a strengthening of these communal ties – a baby is born, someone gets married, we reach a summit, a river is restored. Our deepest sorrows are often tied to a tear in the same communal fabric – someone dies, oil is spilled in the ocean, we lose a home, a job, a relationship. Once upon a time, when most human beings lived in intimate relationship with the earth, the unseen world, and their community, rites and rituals were integral to daily life. Ritual created containers for the celebration and expression of our joys and sorrows, but more importantly, they created - through symbol and communal intention - an energetic container for bridging a connection to the healing energies of nature, as well as the soul and spirit worlds. Through rites and rituals human beings lived in sacred conversation with the divine mystery.
While some rituals have remained in Western cultures, such as weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, and funerals we have, for the most part, lost our connection to the power of ritual and therefore to its function of mending tears in the communal fabric and restoring our connection to earth, soul and spirit. African elder and shaman, Malidoma Somé pointed out that this disconnection, the separation from ritual and ancestral spiritual practices has resulted in many of the ills we face as a species – the destruction of the environment, violence, addiction, mental illness, the breaking down of family systems, etc. Even our practice of spending a minimal and often sterile few hours grieving and honoring our dead (sometimes not even that) is a pale shadow of the funeral rituals performed by our ancestors. The loss of these specific ritual practices has resulted in an epidemic of unprocessed grief with deep social repercussions, which is a topic in and of itself.
In his exquisite book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, psychotherapist / writer / soul activist, Francis Weller explains that ritual is an inherent part of the human psyche – the urge and instinct for ritual is the urge for healing and restoring our connection to the world and to each other. In the absence of it, we have fallen into what Weller calls unconscious “ritualized behaviors.” Although these may bring momentary pleasure and a semblance of connection, they lack the power of a true ritual to provide healing, restoration, reconnection which “hold and sustain our psychic lives.” These ritualized behaviors include “repetitive patterns of addiction, compulsion, or routines lacking the artistry and renewal of genuine ritual.” Weller urges us to deeply listen to the wisdom within ourselves, within the earth, within our communities – to identify what needs reparation and customize rituals indigenous to us and our unique communal experiences. By the same token, I believe it is important to create ritual around what needs celebration and honoring within our community and enhance energy and intention around our strengths and sources of health – our rivers and streams, our healthy vibrant elders and children, the peace that dwells here.
So what is ritual and what does it involve? Although ritual can be performed by a single person, a community ritual involves a group of people coming together around a specific intention. Ritual speaks the language of the collective unconscious, of the unseen forces of the natural world, Spirit and the primordial energies of our soul and psyche. Its language is elemental, symbolic and emotive. It may include representations of water, earth, fire, air, and the natural world, as well as sound (i.e. chants, song, drums, bowls, or other rhythmic instruments), and other means of creative expression. Participants can bring objects that embody the sacred into the ritual space. During ritual it is important to bypass our logical mental states and connect more with our heart, gut, and emotions. We aim to connect fully with our intuition through altered states of consciousness. This state of connection to the unseen world is induced by the very same energy generated by the participants often guided by ritual facilitators. The intention of ritual is restoration, healing, and strengthening of the communal fabric. Situations such as deaths, mass shootings, environmental destruction and loss of any kind call for the healing power of ritual. I believe that joyous occasions such as births, new relationships / partnerships, the restoration of a forest or a water system also call for ritual. Above all, ritual fosters deep connection to each other, to the natural world, and to spiritual sources of support by creating a container for powerful healing and/or celebration and gratitude. Certainly, what the world and our communities need now.