Having come to a use of ritual over several years, I have developed an understanding of it within my own, personal use which might be of interest to others.
The Urge for Ritual
Like most people I would have traditionally looked to a religious ethos for creating and facilitating participation in rituals. In some respects this can leave a gap between those performing the actions and those taking part in the actions performed. This was my experience. Increasingly, I felt a distance between experiencing the impact of ritual from an inner and intimate place and experiencing it as being given to me from an outside and impersonal place.
As this outside directing of ritual became arid, I turned to exploring the possibilities within my own ability to create and direct the space and action of ritual. When attempting to rely on personal intuition for the form of expression that is ritual, I encountered the alarming prospect of assuming authority within myself.
The word ‘expression’, is accurate for me in this context – ritual, directed by and for the individual self as an outward manifestation. A making visible through symbolic use of objects, environment and language that can be an opening to contact which can be internal, interpersonal or inter-dimensional, i.e. having an outer, other source.
The words ‘individual’ and ‘self’ are used to attempt to discern between ritual created alone as compared with group ritual – created with or for others.
With all forms of focused space, there are many methods and variations of style possible. When it comes to self-ritual, it is convenient to boil down the sometimes elaborate features of various ritual usage to the essential requirements for individual action and participation. Whatever about the spiritual or philosophical backdrops of any self ritual, there arc basic steps important in creating an identifiable space of ritual. I find the following steps useful to include:
1. Creating an environment – Ritual Space 2. Identifying the frame of reference – Focus/purpose of ritual 3. Finding the means to do both of these – Symbolic objects/clear language 4. Beginning – Entering the Ritual Activating – Using the Ritual Space Ending – Leaving the Ritual Space 5. Owning the effects – Observing and integrating the results over time
Breaking things down in this way appears quite structured, but. in fact these actions flow naturally with practice and familiarity.
Overcoming Fear of Ritual
Taking authority in a ritual space can be scary. In my own development it was important to consider letting go of such ideas as: the necessity for a master of ceremonies, a mediator between me and the power inherent in the ritual, a false and inappropriate humility and the requirement of esoteric knowledge.
Taking ownership is really the most viable approach to clarity and truth. If I can create a space within which it is possible to experience this, I believe that is a healthy place to partake of.
Because the activity of setting up a space for ritual involves effort and decision, I tend to see it as active rather than passive. This is not, of course, to say that self-ritual cannot be a means of receiving as well as transmitting. It could be said that any form of ritual encapsulates both of these. However, in making the nature of a ritual clear, it is worth identifying if one’s focus is towards receiving or seeking. In this way, the language spoken within that space can have its own power of clarity, directness and personal ownership. There are a number of qualities I find conducive to each of the steps outlined, also some practical steps to be observed.
1. Creating the Environment
There is a decision to be made here. A choice to communicate and connect – internally and/or externally. This involves a degree of self interest and self support. It also implies an acceptance of one’s effectiveness in initiating a personal form of ritual. In this way, the qualities of decisiveness, self-love, and creative experience are useful to engage. It is worthwhile sitting with this initial step for perhaps several days; allowing a clearer sense to come, of how best to proceed.
2. Identifying the Frame of Reference
This is about recognising the purpose in the ritual. What is its aim? Is it simple or complex – having a layered theme or a specific theme? Is the inner need for ritual clear or confused?
The more succinctly the purpose of the ritual can be named the clearer its manifestation can be made. This has a bearing on the power of the internal experience during the action of the ritual. Writing down feeling! or thoughts connected with the ritual’s focus can be valuable. Even noting the negative and positive aspects of the focus, e.g. worthiness/guilt, demands/choices, expectations/denials, fears/affirmations.
In this way of preparation, one enters more consciously into the personal ritual space. The qualities of honesty, fairness, courage and hope can be valuable to remember at this second step.
3. Finding the means – Objects & Language
When the purpose is clear, the choosing of relevant symbolic objects is made easier. Allowing oneself to be drawn to relevant objects can be an intuitive act. Also, there can be clear associations in certain objects that provide a practical link to the aims of the ritual. The basic questions I ask myself are: What fits as representing – the focus of the ritual, my connection to the ritual, any witnesses to the ritual, a desired outcome? Intuition and the work of marking out the relevant space is necessary here.
What we say carries something of who we are. When we speak, we transmit something of ourselves. It is important to me to be as accurate as possible when transmitting from within the ritual space. It can be a powerfully focused place and the nature of what is said can reverberate to many levels.
For example, I mistakenly claimed the letting go of various fears during an early ritual and encountered a long period (that’s how it felt) of struggling with an upsurge of anxieties that followed. I learned to identify clearly in language my choosing of a gentle and manageable outcome to any other ritual of this nature.
We can send messages internally in a power space that can activate an internal response, the consequences of which need to be respected. Clarity, accuracy, definition are important here.
4. Entering the Ritual
There can be a nervousness or excitement at this point with which one may need to sit for a time. It can be appropriate to simply allow time to settle into your ritual space. All the time holding in mind the focus or purpose of your presence in this space.
In choosing the ritual, it can be good to allow a similar sitting with the energies experienced. You may choose to set aside some of the objects for further ritual work. What happens between start and finish is intimate and personal. The ‘how’ of this part completely belongs to that moment. This is the core of the activity of ritual and what takes place within this space deserves to be respected for its privacy and potential power.
5. Owning the Effects of Ritual
Finally, there are always results from a ritual. I think of the words, ‘you may not always get what you want but you always get what you need’. This fits my experience. Retrospectively, the effects from a ritual can be appreciated only if you have not rushed into another ritual space out of fear or impatience. Having a fixed expectation can also bring the risk of disowning the effects from ritual work. In making links between the events, experiences, developments, in the weeks/months following a ritual, you may see more clearly, the ability at your command, and the possibilities for further development and refinement of your own style and authority of ritual making.