The purposes of ritual

In this circle No Fear
In this circle Deep Peace
In this circle Great Happiness
In this circle Rich Connection

 In the book Rituals for Our Times, the authors explain five functions of rituals that make them work. Why should we do rituals anyway? Why do they matter? What is the point?

I would note that none of the elements on this list have to do with symbols, actions, and physical objects, but are instead about the emotional elements of connection, affection, and relationship:

  • Relating: “the shaping, expressing, and maintaining of important relationships…established relationships were reaffirmed and new relationship April 2016 109possibilities opened.” This means of deeply engaging with and connecting with those closest to you, reaffirms and strengthens important relationships. In my own life, I usually encourage the inviting of participation from women beyond only those in our “inner circles” and in so doing have found that that new relationship possibilities emerge from the reaching out and inclusion of those who were originally less close, but who after the connection of shared ritual, then became closer friends.
  • Changing: “the making and marking of transitions for self and others.” There are many life transitions that may be overlooked or ignored in the wider culture. This first came to my attention particularly related to giving birth and the entry into motherhood—an intense and permanent life change–but there are many rites of passage and significant moments in each of our lives that are enhanced and deepened through the acknowledging “container” of shared ritual.
  • Healing: “recovery from loss,” special tributes, recovering from fears or scars from past experiences or cultural socialization. My mom and 13161696_1738356003043281_8037058280019085678_osome close friends had a meaningful ceremony for me following the miscarriage-birth of my third baby. I’ve also planned several ceremonies in which releasing fears was a potent element of the ritual.
  • Believing: “the voicing of beliefs and the making of meaning.” By honoring ourselves and others through ceremony, we are affirming that our experiences, stories, and lives are valuable and meaningful and that they are deserving of celebration and acknowledgement.
  • Celebrating: “the expressing of deep joy and the honoring of life with festivity.” Celebrating accomplishments of…one’s very being.

Notice that what is NOT included is any mention of a specific religion, deity, or “should do” list of what color of candle to include! I’ve observed that many people are starved for ritual, but they may also be deeply scarred from rituals of their pasts. I come from a family history of “non-religious” people and I feel like I seem to have less baggage about ritual and ceremony than other people do. An example I return to is one that arose while planning a mother blessing ceremony: we were talking about one of the songs that we customarily sing–Call Down Blessing–we weren’t sure if we should include it for fear that it would seem too “spiritual” or metaphysical for the honoree (i.e. blessings from where?!) and I remembered another friend asking during a body blessing ritual we did at a women’s retreat, “but WHO’s doing the blessing?” As someone who does not personally come a religious framework in which blessings are bestowed from outside sources–i.e. a priest/priestess or an Abrahamic God–the answer felt simple, well, WE are. We’re blessing each other. When we “call down a blessing” we’re invoking the connection of the women around us, the women of all past times and places, and of the beautiful world that surrounds us. We might each personally add something more to that calling down, but at the root, to me, it is an affirmation of connection to the rhythms and cycles of relationship, time, and place. Blessings come from within and around us all the time, there’s nothing supernatural about it.

In her book, The Power of Ritual, Rachel Pollack explains:

You do not actually have to accept the ideas of any single tradition, or even believe in divine forces at all, to take part in ritual. Ritual is a direct experience, not a doctrine. Though it will certainly help to suspend your disbelief for the time of the ritual, you could attend a group ritual, take part in the chanting and drumming, and find yourself transported to a sense of wonder at the simple beauty of it all without ever actually believing in any of the claims made or the Spirits invoked. You can also adapt rituals to your own beliefs. If evolution means more to you than a Creator, you could see ritual as a way to connect yourself to the life force…

While I am goddess-oriented in my personal practice, I have long maintained that it is fully possible to plan and facilitate women’s rituals that speak to the “womanspirit” in all of us and do not require a specifically shared spiritual framework or belief system in order to gain something special from the connection with other women. This is what my own Red Tent Circles draw upon.

“Ritual opens a doorway in the invisible wall that seems to separate the spiritual and the physical. The formal quality of ritual allows us to move into the space between the worlds, experience what we need, and then step back and once more close the doorway so we can return to our lives enriched.” –Rachel Pollack

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If you’d like to explore more of the messy, beautiful real-life work of ritual facilitation and practical priestessing with me, I invite you to join me in our Practical Priestessing or Red Tent Initiation courses.

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