Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Meaning of Ritual

When I decided the next direction of study in my quest for more knowledge about Paganism, I never realized what I was getting into. With just one search subject, “meaning of ritual”, I found more interesting information than I could handle in a short period of time. It would take me years to sort through and research that which I found interesting. With that search, I came up with these subtopics:

* Grief and ritual
* A syllabus from a class about Buddhist Ritual Practices at the University of Georgia
* A missionary guide to why ritual is important coming from a genetic, social and religious view
* A general article about the practice of ritual
* Many other ideas and topics

When the class syllabus popped up, I almost skipped over it. I am glad I did not. For within this well-written syllabus were some of the most thoughtful questions about religion, ritual, and the way we react or think about these subjects. One question that really made me ponder was this one:

*What does it mean to be a Buddhist – or Christian, or any other religion for that mater – given (1) the advances of science and technology, (2) the decay of Enlightenment values, (3) the uncertainty and groundlessness brought to bear on our dearest beliefs by “postmodern” theories?

The first part of the question alone is a deep question that would mean something different to each one of us. When you add the rest of this question in you really get a full look into what you believe if you were to sit down and make time to answer them in a thoughtful manner.

In different aspects of life, the word ritual can take on many meanings. Depending on whether they are for religious purposes, part of regular life, or for magick. Some people might even want to combine the religious and magical meanings and say that they are the same thing. While I don’t necessarily think that they are the same, in some circumstances they could be linked.

All religions use ritual. All humans use ritual. Even animals use ritual in the form of territory and how they hunt. From prayer led by clergy during a service to the more personal ritual of preparing (by dressing for the occasions, etc) for a religious ceremony or mass to making breakfast everyday, many aspects of our lives are all tied to ritual.

I have noticed that the word “ritual” is used quite often in the Pagan community. Whether it is mention of religious ceremonies or magical ceremonies, is an important part of their identity. Even though all religions have rituals, the word seems to have a bad connotation in regards to the Pagan community. Many not-so-well-meaning Christians seemed to have tied Paganism and ritual to Satanism, trying to convince others, and themselves, that they have the only truth. But they, seeming to ignore the fact, that they use rituals, too. Are they saying that theirs are okay, and other religions have no right to use ritual? I have seen it used most often to talk about Paganism in regards to “what they are doing wrong.”

Let’s find out the dictionary definition of “Ritual” before we go any further. I have looked at several dictionaries for input.


* Having to do with rites or rituals.
* The form of worship established by custom or law.
* The fixed forms or traditional acts that are used in a ceremony; as in an initiation ritual.
* Social customs.

We now know what a ritual is but how do you identify a ritual? you may ask. Many of us seem to be able to know a ritual of any type when we see one, but it often seems difficult to express why we believe it is a ritual. Although these are not strict definitions, I think they compliment the definitions and expand on our understanding of what rituals are. Here are some ideas taken from my readings:

* A shared, special occasion
* A repeatable event, something that happens again and again
* Highly symbolic
* To be effective, needs to follow some time-hallowed precedent

As there is a lot to talk about regarding ritual, I will make posts over several days. Otherwise there will be a very long post for you to read which may make you lose interest. I wouldn’t want that to happen. I will have later posts on personal/daily, religious, and magickal rituals. I hope you will be interested in reading all the posts.

1 comment:

TurtleHeart said...

I've often thought of ritual as an act with a specific intent behind it as well.

Looking forward to next posts on this topic.