By Anne Gill
Entering into a sacred space of mind. Honouring the core of our own humanity. Recognition of the power of the invisible forces that heal and connect and transcend. Visible expressions of community bonding and support through biological and psychological passages of life. Rites of separation from old ways of being and thinking and behaving, and integrating into new modes of living. Communication and celebration, solemnity, and occasions for deep inner silence. The ways all societies give meaning, richness and structure to life. Healing Ceremonies.
I became aware of a deep need to reconnect with ritual after a Holotropic breath workshop over a year ago. It was and is a real soul hunger.
Rituals nourish my soul, connecting me to the sacred and a reality far greater than myself. So I read William Bloom’s Sacred Times and gathered a small group of people to celebrate the Celtic festivals and Equinoxes. At Samhain five of us – all women – gathered in Four Knocks, an ancient burial chamber in Co. Meath. We started by lighting candles and cleansing each other with a smudge stick made from dried sage. Sitting in a circle we then spoke individually about why we had come and prayed and remembered our parents and our ancestors. We shared some of our joys and struggles and asked for help. We then sang and shared a little food.
It was a joyful and strengthening experience.
We live in a time of profound change and many of us are searching to find an authentic spiritual experience of who we are, why we are and where we are – and to have a sense of its truthfulness from a private source within rather than a so-called spiritual authority out there. We need to honour the fact that new forms are emerging and empower ourselves to become our own sacred celebrants.
I was forcibly struck by this recently when doing a five day course on The Healing Voice with Jill Purce in London. Much of the work we did involved ritual. One was a naming ceremony for which we worked in groups of five. The person to be named was in the centre of a circle and the others stood North, South, East and West. Facing the West, the person in the centre named out loud what they needed to let go of which was not helpful in their life. As they did this the others in the group shook rattles which absorbed both the sound and the negativity. Then they faced to the East and sang their name. They were then silent as the other group members chanted their name so that they could receive it as a gift and blessing. Each group member then cleansed the person in the centre with some water as they faced South. Finally they turned to the North and each group member blessed them using a little oil where they felt appropriate. I experienced this as a joyful and moving re-Baptism. During those days we used circle dancing and drumming and chanting to create ritual. Two days were spent on group chanting to heal our mother’s line and/or father’s line. Although we each did this individually the group sharing was also a powerful source of healing.
James Roose Evans in his book Ritual Today, Passages of the Soul, makes the point that:
The ritualising of an experience is essentially a creative act in which one takes the broken pieces of one’s life and assembles them into a mosaic of meaning, creating, as Robert Frost once expressed it, “one more stay against confusion.” But it only becomes a healing or integrating influence when we continue to meditate upon it, to live with it, and to absorb it into our daily living.¹
As I bring more ritual into my own life I see more ways in which clients can use it to further their healing. Recently one client was dealing with intense grief and guilt about her last child – a baby girl stillborn thirteen years ago. I suggested a ritual which we carried out during the next session. We lit a candle and used a doll and asked Spirit to be with us to enable her to do what she needed to do. It was a simple ceremony in which she wept a good deal and said what she needed to say. There was anger too at the hospital for not allowing her hold her baby and for not listening to her when she told them she did not want to return home to an abusive situation. By the end of the session she had reframed her guilt and reconnected with her baby daughter as spirit. She had also realised that perhaps it was not such a waste to bring her into the world. She said it had helped her complete her grieving.
Another client with whom I work is a survivor of abuse. She sometimes creates rituals involving sticks and stones and berries and shells and her own pottery. Often the ritual which I have witnessed connects with her dreams. The long quote at the end of this article is an eloquent testimony of how important ritual is in her healing process
‘Cutting the Ties that Bind’ is a ritual described by the Jungian psychotherapist Phyllis Krystal in her book of the same name. It is a symbolic way of cutting the ties which bind us negatively to things, people, places, ways of life and anything which prevents us being free. I have found this ritual helpful myself in relation to both my mother and my father, even though he has been dead many years. I use it with clients where it seems appropriate. It involves visualisation and symbols. Symbols carry messages effectively to the subconscious part of the mind and are effective because symbols and images are the language of the subconscious. Ritual is one of the keys which can open a door into the realm of the imagination, that realm which is in fact the world of the collective unconscious.
Rituals give significance to life’s passages. When they become repetitive and empty we are left with a craving for meaning. This explains the growing interest in ancient and tribal cultures and their practices. A growing ecological awareness has resulted in rites and observances related to global concerns. Healing ritual is beginning to enter more into the field of health care. Ritual works because:
It ushers us into a welcome and comforting rhythm of thoughts and activities. It unclutters our minds by providing structure and boundaries during times of change. The order imposed by meaningful ritual allows us to reflect our values and convey messages to self and the community about who we are and what we are experiencing. Ritual helps us face together those things that are too painful, confusing or awesome to face alone. Because rituals come from and create dreams, they encourage the deeper wisdom coming from these visionary levels.2
I am grateful to one of my clients for allowing me to use her words to express what ritual has meant in her life:
Ritual for me is my inner self seeking expression in her own way using play as a means. It is my inner core trying to speak in symbols – my soul trying to breathe, my selfness creating her own ways of being heard, ways to bypass my linear mind which will control, repress, suffocate the hidden self. The joy breaks through when I know I’m being me – not just my conditioning, but an expression of the divine. Ritual is speaking through me, to me, in a language that is beyond words. It is the healing, poetic, playful voice of my self beyond all the walls, defences, fears, blocks and distrust. Ritual is the innocent child in me singing her song, playing her tune, being totally her. This innocent child is linked with the Divine Child. It is who I was born to be.
Ritual is the scream of the shattered part of me trying to bring myself to wholeness. It is the damaged but not broken self being heard at last. I experience the joy of allowing it to unfold and sensing the truth in layer upon layer of her symbols. I watch in awe and mute admiration at how much she has taught me about truth, wisdom and clarity. I am humbled by her simplicity.
Ritual touches the core of my inner self in a way no words can – bringing me into the silence to find myself. It links me to others in a way no words can. Ritual has revealed to me the wonder of God’s presence inside of me – in the brokenness. For me personally ritual is the Eucharist.
1. Ritual Today, Passages of the Soul, James Roose-Evans, Element Books.
2. Rituals of Healing, Jeanne Achterberg el al, Bantam Books.
Other useful books:
Sacred Times, William Bloom, Findhorn Press.
Cutting the Ties that Bind, Phyllis Krystal, Element Books.
The Healing Voice, Joy Gardner-Gordon, The Crossing Press, California.
The Fourfold Way, Angeles Arrien, Harper San Francisco.