One of my confessions is that…I believe in ritual, and the power behind ritual.
From throwing salt over the shoulder if we spill some, first-footing (yes, it still happens in my household), celebrating birthdays and blowing out candles, to thanksgiving in the US with turkey and pumpkin pie, or to the annual ‘cheese-rolling’ down the side of Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire, England each Spring, or to the more formalised ritual of marriage, etc, we still love our rituals.
“At the stroke of midnight on New Years Day I open the front door and back door, to let the old year out, and the new year in.” Alice.
For Druids, ritual may be a hearing (and sometimes, a re-enacting) of a familiar myth or story as they celebrate the seasons of the year. Children love re-enactments, and you can find evidence of their involvement in many cultures, faith-groups and different settings, even at Christmas when re-enacting the Nativity at church or school. Druids may, sometimes, form a circle, or stand within one, honour the four directions and offer up prayers. Awesome ritual.
At other times, in other places, ancient Celts in Britain, and for example those in southern England, had meticulous burial customs to ensure the deceased. There was the belief of a ‘land of youth’, or ‘the Isle of the Blessed’, a place of bliss, mystery and charm. Indeed, the whole island of Britain was viewed as somewhat supernatural and mysterious by the Romans, who called it Insula Sacra (The Sacred Island).
“Five minutes before kick off, I open a can of beer, and to honour of my team, the first half-inch of beer is deliberately spilled in the garden”. Tom.
An anthropologist might settle for a definition of ritual that seeks to infer ritual as mere primitive superstition, to ward off the temper of an angry god, gods, godesses etc. Some of my friends actually believe in a deity like that. Or they might see ritual as empty or done in desperation.
My personal opinion, is that that misses the point. Ancient tribes may, from our viewpoint, have less knowledge (though that is debatable), but they don’t necessarily lack wisdom, and for them a neighbour who was a character in a re-enactment, say, was still their neighbour and they knew that, but for a moment all had entered into ‘liminal space’, especially their neighbour, in a vicarious way. And whilst empty ritual, done by rote today, is, I believe, meaningless – and I’ve been a few times where Evening Prayer has been said 50% faster to get through it and meant that I couldn’t really ‘enter into it – ritual has power if done with the right attitude. And so, in many cases ritual has more to do with us, than the deity, who (personally) I view as love. Connecting ritual.
“Putting on the special ceremonial clothes is a reminder to me that I’m working in the ‘gap’ of power and potential, a place the ancient celts called ‘thin places’ [caol ait], which for me, happens to be the Eucharistic service”. Daniel.
Ritual move us into a liminal realm – the gap between here and there, where things happen. A wedding, say a Christian wedding, for instance, has a start, middle and end. The priest, couple to be married, and the congregation are ushered into another ‘realm’ as it were, by words, music, song and ritual, and for that time special things occur, culminating in two people becoming one – a deep mystery. And then the liminal service closes. Momentarily in the liminal realm, then back to ‘normal’. Uniting ritual.
“My ritual is to watch the sun rise on the first day of the month, and to express gratitude to That Which Is Larger Than Myself.” Paul.
Ofcourse, for those with ‘eyes to see’, liminality is all around us. The deity, then, doesn’t need that structured ritual – he, she, they already dwell in that liminal realm – but we need it, as we need continually to be reminded. It’s easy to forget about liminality, and let the busy-ness of the day crowd in.
Ritual ‘in time’ to take us out of time.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you’. Ancient sacred text.
That text, above, has always puzzled me. I love ancient wisdom. So long as one person moves, and one stands still then the distance between them is reduced, and that must surely be a good thing? But, I don’t believe that text is talking about talking about geographical distance, but openness and responsiveness to each other. The Deity can draw closer to us and does, but we can miss the benefits by ‘unthinkingness’, or being too busy, or distracted – and who isn’t distracted by our 24/7 society?. However, if we draw closer to God (and the Deity does the same) then we benefit. And, ritual, I believe is a way of ensuring that we are intentional in our drawing closer. Then, we set aside a special time, then we do appropriate things intentionally, and ‘whoosh’ we’re there.
Ritual is ‘movement’, but not the geographical kind.
Ritual then, whether it’s the formalised church or other faith-group service in a building or grove, or whether it is our own ritual practiced in front of a home altar, has great benefits so long as we do it with intentionality, and not unthinkingly by rote (for then in becomes powerless and ‘liminoid ‘, that is, a liminal ‘near miss’).
Yes, ritual has power.
Ritual has power because it ushers us into the liminal realm, ‘connects’ us with the Deity, and all power comes from that Source, and we benefit. So, I believe in ritual and the power behind it.
I would commend you to start (or continue with) an appropriate (daily) ritual – not in an over-elaborate way, nor a just for effect sort of way, for that would smack of the liminoid – but in a gentle, encouraging way, and with intentionality, and so reap some amazing benefits. Enter the liminal by ritual.
If you wish to know more about liminality or ritual, or Tadhg’s work as a ceremonialist, please do contact him, direct.