Why Ritual?

Ritual is an important part of human life, often related to significant life events.  Ritual is also a hidden victim of the current pandemic.

In my previous post I explained how life has its own natural rhythms, the first of the Three Rs.

Now I’m going to dig a little deeper into the second R, ritual.  Whilst ritual is often taken to mean religious ceremony, it actually refers to a [proper] order of activities, involving gestures, words, actions, or objects.

Rituals have existed the world over throughout history, from ritual sacrifice, to pre-match rituals.  The oldest known evidence of ritual was discovered in Botswana in 2006, where archaeologists found the local population had ‘sacrificed’ colourful spearheads to a stone carving of a python – one of their most important animals – 70,000 years ago.

So what makes something a ritual?

Rituals consist of three characteristics according to Encyclopædia Brittanica.

  1. A feeling or emotion of respect
  2. Dependence on a belief system
  3. Symbolic action

Rites of Passage

Perhaps the most relevant in relation to rhythm, are rites of passage.  Arnold van Gennep’s book “Rites of Passage” explains that human life is made up of stages of beginnings and endings. From birth, through puberty, marriage, parenthood, advancement in class, occupation, and eventually to death.  In this way human life resembles nature, sunrise to sunset, new moon to full moon, seasonal solstices and equinoxes, New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve.

The current pandemic has meant that we have been unable to mark these transitions as we normally would do.

Births have taken place where medical staff are having to focus on keeping Covid-19 at bay.  Grandparents, family, friends have not been able to visit the newborn or their parents to welcome them into the family.

Graduation ceremonies have not taken place, with students transitioning from the world of education to the world of work, or sadly unemployment, without the opportunity to recognise their achievements in front of their peers and families.

Marriages have been postponed, or taken place without the presence of wellwishers.  Both the couples and their families and friends have missed out on being able to celebrate together.

Those who have lost loved ones have not had the opportunity to participate in the ‘proper’ order of activities relating to someone’s passing.  They’ve not been able to spend time with them, to say what they need to say, to offer comfort, to be present, to have a normal funeral service, or have support of the company friends and family.

We have been unable to mark these occasions in the way we believe is proper, due to the pandemic. This will now become part of our stories.

Everyday Rituals

But there are rituals we can still enjoy, everyday rituals we take for granted, yet can lift our spirit. These simple acts still mark transitions from one state into another, such as:

  • Making a fresh pot of tea to sip in the morning.
  • Lighting the candles before sinking into a warm bath.
  • Changing into comfortable clothes when you get home.
  • Preparing, and sitting down to a simple meal.
  • Lighting the fire and settling down with a good book on a rainy day.
  • Reading a story and kissing your child before bedtime.
  • Taking off all the trappings of the day and cleansing your skin, before slipping beneath the covers of your bed at night.

It’s time to recognise ritual in all its forms

We use ritual to mark the transitions of life, no matter how small they are.  They offer us moments to reflect and pause.  To be present and understand.

Rituals offer us the chance to celebrate life, from waking up to a brand new day, to celebrating a big birthday.  Rituals help us feel connected to others and more able to define who we are as individuals.

Next time you make your first cup of tea (or coffee) in the morning, treat the moment with respect and take notice of your actions.  I promise you, it will lend a feeling of reverence to something you may otherwise think is mundane, and lift your day to new levels.

Ritual is one of the touchstones of life.

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