Ritual and ceremony have been interwoven into the fabric of human life since the beginning of time. From the ancient Egyptian funeral rituals of mummifying, to more modern rituals like laying out eggs for Easter bunny trails or organising hen and stag nights. If you’re a child of the 70’s and 80’s you’ll remember the ritual of being given ‘the bumps’ on your birthday.
There are rituals around birth, death, marriage, coming of age, leaving school, religious celebrations, the start of the new year, the crowning of a monarch, the opening and closing of Parliament, pregnancy, menstruation and menopause, new moon, graduation, the list goes on…..
Professor Vanessa Ochs, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia says
“rituals.......bring structure to the complicated emotions and dramatic social changes attending those moments of profound transition. Rituals also offer a sense of belonging.……..they suggest a deeper world of meaning beyond the mundane habits of the everyday. They can transcend time, connecting us to our ancestors and to those who will come after us. Many rituals have emerged to accommodate people who want to experience the spiritual and find a sense of community through those experiences, without having to say they belong to a certain religion….Examples include yoga and meditation classes and retreats, which are largely unchained from religious beliefs but still foster a sense of spirituality and community."
In the simple enactment of a ritual we create stability through the comfort that a ritual’s familiarity and predictability brings, especially at times such as this year, when predictability goes out of the window. Within the ritual, symbolic elements carry at least one meaning. The water in a Christian baptism symbolises purifying the body of sin. The flame of a candle can symbolise many things - the ephemeral nature of life, light in the darkness, warmth, simplicity. The rainbow drawn by our children during lockdown symbolised hope, the bright colours symbolic of the need to focus on the positive, and a brighter future.
Rituals help ease us through major life events. In a marriage, the rings symbolise eternal love. In a funeral we might throw soil onto the coffin as an act of love and remembrance. In divorce we may symbolically destroy our wedding photos or certificate to represent letting go of our marriage.
This month, I trained to be a celebrant and was opened up to the almost limitless opportunities there are in life for rituals and ceremonies. Life after all is one big tapestry of events, both small and large. Something that may seem insignificant to one person may be hugely important to another. We have all endured a very challenging year, and one of its many teachings is the transitory nature of not only life itself, but also the many seemingly insignificant daily rituals that gave our life a sense of order and security; the daily commute, the school run, the chats at the school gate, dinners with friends, a drink at the pub on a Sunday afternoon, the gym visit, the Wednesday night top-up shop, the weekly dog walk with your sister, the evening class.
Out of this pandemic have come new rituals to connect and hold us, both practical ones like washing our hands whilst singing happy birthday twice, and also rituals that honour, comfort, nurture and support such as clapping on our doorsteps on Thursday evenings to honour the NHS.
I’m guessing that you yourself have developed your own rituals to help get through the challenges of Covid. Perhaps you marked the end of another WFH day by moving from one room to another at a certain ‘clocking off’ time. Maybe you and your children began to eat meals together for the first time in ages. Birthdays were celebrated with video messages and friends and family standing out on the street with signs. Some NHS workers who chose to remain away from their families at the peak of the virus, read their children bedtime stories over Zoom. And let’s not forget the lockdown bread baking craze, the ritual of preparing and cooking a staple ingredient of our diets, providing a sense of not only control but also possibly tapping into childhood memories of a warm family atmosphere. What has become clear is that in times of uncertainty and fear, ritual plays a huge role in our lives. Tiny rituals at home can provide a safe port in the storm. A favourite cup left out by the kettle each night before you go to bed, for your morning cup of tea. A favourite pair of trackie bottoms washed with fabric conditioner for that wind down after work. A set time after the evening meal, when the family puts down their phones and plays a game together or shares one good thing that’s happened to them that day. Having a theme night every Saturday night where you all dress up and cook different dishes from a chosen region or country. Lighting a candle every evening and setting aside time to read a book on something new. Downloading Insight Timer for a guided meditation. Writing what we're thankful for in a gratitude journal.
Let’s not forget or diminish the importance of the rituals that we created in 2020. They may fade as life gets back to a new normal, but let’s remember the purpose of ritual and its power in connecting, harmonising, balancing. Let’s create new rituals for ourselves, our families and our communities in 2021 and beyond; rituals that bring meaning to future generations, rituals that bring pinpricks of light in the darkest of times. Because it’s rituals that can bring us home.
Some questions you might like to think about before the end of the year
How can you shape your own family and personal rituals in the future?
Whereabouts in your life can you bring new rituals? Work? Family? Hobbies? Spirituality? Fitness?
What 3 things are you most grateful for from 2020?
What is your number one learning from 2020?
In December 2020 I trained to be a Celebrant.
If you are interested in honouring a person or memory, celebrating an event or loved one, marking an occasion, or simply want to bring together a community, I can work with you to create a unique, personal and deeply meaningful ceremony that tells your story, whatever that may be.
Weddings, commitment ceremonies, baby naming, gender transitioning, divorce ceremonies, graduation, first period, menopause, leaving home, renewal of vows, bringing together previously estranged family members, remembering someone who has passed away, unifying a neighbourhood or social group, integrating new members into a community…...the list is limitless - ritual and ceremony can be created around whatever feels important and significant to you.
Call me for a no obligation chat on 07704 109806 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Power of Ritual - Casper Ter Kuile