Friday, November 15, 2013


Today I want to talk about ritual. It seems there is a lot of unnecessary fear surrounding that word in our modern western culture. On the one hand, I understand why. Ritual is a gate into the Mystery— capital M intended. The Mystery, as in the universal experience of life and the universe that confounds our knowledge and understanding. That ground of being we all share that seems beyond the mundane order of things. And of course, the Mystery equates to the unknown, or better yet, the unknowable. And there is nothing half so terrifying as that which we do not and cannot fully know. All ritual, therefore, contains an element of mysticism. Which means, according to my next paragraph, that all people are mystics. At least at one time or another.

But on the other hand, the fear of ritual baffles me because everyone experiences it. Everyone, everywhere, without exception, participates in ritual of some kind. And often, creates their own rituals. Every religion has its rituals. Even us Christianized westerners can attest to the experience of holy communion or mass/service on Sundays. And beyond that, there are cultural and community rituals. Standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. Going out with the family to pick a Christmas tree. Lunch at Aunt Susie's every Sunday after church. And then there are personal rituals. For me, it's my nightly bath. It might be your morning two-and-a-half cups of coffee. Or reading before bed. Or any number of things that we set up as little gateways from one way of being to another. Ritual is an act of transition. Something none of us escapes. Something that has been more or less ascribed as the fundamental mystery of the earth experience. For what is life, death, and rebirth but a series of transitions?

What I think is at the core of the fear surrounding ritual is, first and foremost, rather a fear of the ritual of the other. My ritualmy holy communion, my Christmas trees, and my Pledge of Allegiance— is familiar and a comfort to me. But your ritual, if it differs, is instantly foreign and discomfiting. My ritual makes my transition into the unknown feel more safe. Your ritual, while it may do that for you, does diddly-squat for me. In fact, because it is unfamiliar, it brings the awareness of the unknown to bear in my consciousness and fear is a natural product of that revelation.

Second to that, I think there is simply a gross lack of education on the idea of ritual itself. Again, this goes back to a culture that has devalued all things less substantial: spirituality, mysticism, core principles, magick, wisdom, dreams, and so on. In favor of their more substantial counterparts: money, property, political power, education, and the like. And so we have a majority of people walking around with no idea what ritual is, the very important place it holds in their lives, and just how much they're doing it.

I bring all this up because I think one of the things that people outside of Wicca or Neo-paganism are most at odds with is our embrace of ritual. In fact, I would go so far as to say that ritual is what truly unites us as a religious movement. It's very hard to get two pagans to agree on much in the way of beliefs, doctrine, or even deity. But what everyone in this faith seems to share is a passion and a reverence for ritual. Which requires, first, the acknowledgement of it that so many others lack, and second, the recognition of it in all its diversity. So when you cast your circle differently than I do mine, I don't fear and detest you. I may disagree and choose to keep mine as I see fit, but I can recognize what you're doing and see the inherent value in it. I admire the act of ritual, always.

If there were one thing I wish I could impart to people outside of Wicca and paganism, it would be this understanding and appreciation for ritual as an objective experience and not just a subjective one. I think so much fear and misunderstanding would be cleared up that way. One of my favorite rituals as a Wiccan is following the Wheel of the Year. I love marking the passage of seasons and the great Mystery through the Sabbats. I love sharing that experience with my family and friends. For me, every Sabbat is a chance to count my blessings, an opportunity to be merry and celebrate. It is how I reconcile myself to the transitions, to the unknowable force that animates, disanimates, and reanimates all things, to life and death itself.

What are some of your favorite rituals?

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