Our senses tuned to a familiar combination of sight and sound and scent that anchors us and causes our spirit to rejoice in recognition. The sequence and the salve of our regular rituals is a common crucial thread in human beings, a way of experiencing our world that links us together despite its differences, and ours.
We all have our rituals. We find comfort in doing things a prescribed way for a purpose greater than the sum of its parts. We delight in its holy places. Fall into its solace. Crave its welcome embrace. We are undeniably creatures of habit; of routine and ritual. It holds us safe in the familiar and at once connects us to far more than what we know. Our lives and our passage through them are shaped by our rituals, providing an architecture that frames our existence and leaves indelible marks in regular increments on our time and life lines. We are fashioned from these grooves, as our heads and hearts and bodies take their repeated form.
Rituals add a welcome ceremonial element to our lives, whether on our birthday or under a full moon, in a church or on the mat, in the places and spaces we inhabit. They can turn the most repetitive tasks into a state of grace. They draw us into the presence of personal divinity, sometimes unwittingly or despite our resistance.
A good ritual can satisfy our hunger for the mystical and the magical by connecting us to dimensions beyond regular consciousness. They tend to bring us quiet joy, the kind we tuck inside or save for later. They hold us through unbearable difficulty and great grief. Comfort arrives dressed as ritual and settles in.
All walks of life maintain their peculiar gait through a sacred collection of rituals that bind their community together, no matter what is going on within it or around it. Togetherness balms hurt and confusion and fosters understanding. Rituals endure. They tether the past to the present and promise a future built upon it. As an act of shared humanity, rituals operate as a joiner. They invite us into a space already occupied by others whose arms outstretch to meet ours in kind. They cultivate a sense of belonging, rendering us part of a wider identity and protected by its tenets. Rituals can make us feel at home and ground us in what we collectively know and trust. They confirm our values and frame their expression in our lives.
As an act of personal care or proud proclamation, the rituals we choose—or create—ourselves operate as a devotional. Most commonly associated with religious fervour, the roots of devotion tell a broader tale. Crafted from the Latin combination of the words for making a vow and returning to it, to be devoted demonstrates a commitment based on love and loyalty. A fealty to our spirit enacted with a faithfulness to purpose and a belief stronger than our weakest moments. We place our faith in rituals when we are struggling to home it anywhere else. An unwavering promise that in turn provides us a constant container we can clamber into, over and over again.
Devotion is integral to the health of the human spirit. To be devoted—to anything —is balm for the soul. It holds you to something. It does not sit like a burden or an imperative. It offers a rising sense of achievement. It lifts your spirit, its motions breathing life into your body and purpose into your life. Whatever you are devoted to exists like a smiling corner of your world that draws you into its light and its shadows, rewarding you for showing up by its eventual bloom in your life.
Though most often associated with spiritual or cultural practices, a ritual is simply a sequence of actions and intentions with a specific purpose. We do them on repeat for a reason. Over time and with practice we can enact them without thinking and with inbuilt knowing. Our muscles remember the movements.
Our nervous system rests in the safety of what is already known. Our senses devour the experience and cement it. We furnish our connection to something beyond ourselves. A ritual grants access to a larger body of wisdom and the varied knowledge borne of its shared experience. It feels magical and it is.
All the ancient rituals are tied to the natural world that hums in all our cells too. The movement of the moon and the sun, equinoxes and eclipses, the dance of the planets, the turn of the seasons and the wheel of the year. Our oldest ancestors saw themselves as one part of a greater tapestry woven on earth, its elements interlaced and their shared outcomes inextricably connected. Humanity’s symbiotic universe was gradually personified by diverse mythologies, connections forged in rites that held the natural world as generative centre point. Life depended on this knowledge and wisdom was borne of its cumulation, passed from generation to generation through ritualised traditions and practices. But far beyond safety and survival, ritual also afforded humanity its experience of the divine and its primary connection to magic and miracles.
The purpose of ritual itself is to wake up the old mind in us, to put it to work. The old ones inside us, the collective unconscious, the many lives, the different eternal parts, the senses and the parts of the brain that have been ignored. Those parts do not speak English. They do not care about television. But they do understand candlelight and colours. They do understand nature.
~ Z. Budapest
It is this ancient mind that we have anaesthetised with modern life. Saturated it in strange currents and artificial environments. Crowded its autonomic connection to the land we live on, the topsoil we depend on and all the other life forms that have an equal right to its nourishment. Shifted its priorities and ambitions towards the soulless and inorganic. We forget to learn about the cycles our bodies mirror in kind, despite inattention or insouciant expectation. Attached to screens and an always online screeching world, we starve our ancient mind of meaning as we cram it with useless information and endless opinion.
We lose connection to our own wildish natures in the buzz as we barter connection to far lesser gods. Fortunately the moon’s effect on biology does not depend on a belief in it. Our behaviour continues to be altered and steered by the seasons and the weather even if we disavow the effect of our changing climate. Nature does not keep a tab on absence but whispers constantly to our innate need for its generous exchange. The world beyond the world is always ready for a knock on its door. That precious ancient mind will continue to seek meaning from the mundane and yearn for the rituals that confirm its belonging in your life.
Ritual is an unspoken language that echoes deep within us. It forms a bridge into liminal spaces, walking us up to our thresholds and fostering connection to much vaster dimensions beyond perceived limits. It can translate feelings and alchemise them into understanding. It can hold even the greatest transitions by providing rites of passage and a nuanced acknowledgement of the constant transformation that is the hallmark of human existence. Rituals can channel power and restore vitality to the flagging spirit. Our rites become our conduit for intention and the spells we weave, consciously or otherwise, through the words we speak and the actions we take.
There are few rituals without a story that accompanies them. Whether it is recollection of history, acknowledgement of tradition and ancestors, or a fable of epic portent, our rituals become the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. They are the formwork that holds our beliefs intact. They can operate as much required reinforcement when we need something sturdier to lean on. They can bear our weight and our abandonment, singing parts of ourselves back home when we have drifted away or gotten lost. They remind us what our bodies belong to and where our spirit resides. They are our vehicle and our ticket to ride.
The mythology that partners ritual perpetually invites us deeper into its soft folds and promises to tell us the story we love so much. At the same time it fosters connection to secret chapters not immediately obvious at first sight, which grants us greater access to our hidden depths. All that dances in the shadows or is caught flapping in mental safety nets, the emotions we stuff down and the feelings that rise up, can be gracefully or artlessly revealed as part of a story that will live before and long after us.
Ritual can give voice to our yearning and align us to mighty forces far beyond our own, which is why its prescriptions and limits have long been determined by power systems that decry individual sovereignty. Ritualised movement turns the body into a vessel. Meditation shapes the mind into a channel. Religious fervour can conjure states of ecstasy and grace. Witchcraft is naught more than an understanding of elemental forces built on the observation of nature and the world around you. Ritual is what brings us into alignment with natural power, potential and agency.
Because of its defining consistency, our ritual participation provides an ever deepening understanding of ourselves. This is as true of spellcraft as it is of prayer, though they are arguably indistinct. The sequence may be the same, the environment and elements consistent, prevailing conditions as prescribed. Still we will always arrive to our rituals differently. We are not nearly as consistent as we train ourselves to be. Our moods vary wildly and in unpredictable ways. Our mind is prone to run away with itself. Life is uncertain, even for post-modern control freaks and their complicated algorithms. The practice of our rituals will vacillate and their results will inevitably vary. All of this contributes to a perpetual learning curve and an unheralded adventure in consciousness. What remains certain are the integral elements of the ritual; how they combine is always in the hands and heart of the ritualist themselves.
The heady embrace of ritual is felt deep in our bones, an iron wine that gives us full bodied structure. As humanity rebirths itself and revolts against a history that has almost brought it undone, there is beloved security to be found in our ceremonies and practices and all they keep us tethered to. Our well-loved rituals can connect us to a sane sameness in a world gone mad, all the while allowing us to explore new paths and paradigms, always willing to operate in service of our evolution and care. With devoted practice their promise is the continued revelation of what lies sleeping inside us, connecting us even more deeply to the worlds we inhabit and offering open invitation to meet what lies beyond them.