Saturday, July 02, 2005

Religious Ritual

There tends to be more that is known about ritual within a religious context. I believe that this is where most of us get our first conscious taste of ritual, no matter the religion. Religion embraces the concept of ritual, which again, helps people to feel connected, but this time within a context of community. Feeling close to people through community, as that is what I see a church as being, has been proven to be connected to longer life span and feeling of high self worth.

I see this as another “level” of ritual. It builds upon the personal and daily rituals. Sometimes the personal/daily rituals can also be religious depending on how you approach them.
Religious rituals help us to stay connected to our beliefs – a way to show what we believe in, if you will. Each religion has its own special rituals to help believers to have the feeling of connection. That feeling of connection could be called spirituality.

There is so much to talk about within the subject of religious rituals. I am going to mention the markings of a ritual with some religions as well as some rituals themselves.

Christian Rituals

I would think that most readers of this blog are familiar with Christianity in some aspect. Whether being brought up in the Christian religions or just by some exposure within our education, I think that most of us will be familiar with some of their rituals. Going to Church on Sunday, Communion, Bible Study, Prayer, baptism, as well as weddings and funerals are all common Christian rituals.

Most Christian denominations will have their Church services on Sundays. This day was chosen early on to differentiate their belief system with those of the Jewish faith, whose Religious ceremonies take place on Saturday. I not going to go into what Christian rituals there are within a service, as that is not what I am currently studying. Although I will say that Christians see going to Church on a regular basis as an important part of their religious identity.

Communion is a Christian ritual that I must admit baffles me at times. It is seen as ritualized, symbolic representation of the sacrifice that Jesus made. “The body and the blood” of Christ is taken into one’s body in reflection of that sacrifice. Very symbolic. Very personal meaning for everyone who partakes within this religion. Within the Catholic denomination, a child’s First Communion is a very special ritual that is highly celebrated.

So what about it baffles me? It seems that within the context of their own religion, they can accept symbolic sacrifice. But when it is mentioned within the context of a different religion, fundamentalists seem to think that that is real sacrifice. And use negative propaganda to promote that idea.

Prayer is a mighty force within the realm of Christianity. Little kids are encouraged to “say their prayers” every night. Adults are also encouraged to say daily prayers, as this helps to bring them mindfully closer to God.

Pagan Rituals

In the context of Wicca/Pagan religions, rituals are used both in religious ceremonies and in magic. I will talk about magic in the ritual sense in another post.

Like those of other religions, Wiccans also have specific days to celebrate their religion. Most will do a ritual for the eight holidays spread throughout the year (see previous post on Wiccan Holidays) and also for night of the full moon. This totals 21 rituals per yearly cycle, not including any other rituals that may be done for other religious purposes, such as dedication or initiation depending on the tradition of the individual or group.

Some common aspects of Pagan religious rituals that may differ from other religions include preparation, the scared space, participants, ways of dress, wording of the ritual, tools and practices within the scared space.

One aspect of preparation that I see mentioned often is the ritual bath to purify the self. At first I found this a little silly. A ritual bath before a ritual? When thinking about this more it started to make sense. This is a way before hand to start to mentally prepare for the upcoming event. A way to make the actual ritual more meaningful, by letting go of any negativity from the day. You’re really preparing your sub-conscious to open itself up to experience the depth of the moment; communing with your Gods.

The scared space for a Pagan ritual more often than not takes place within a circle, whether an line drawn with the minds’ eye or a physical line drawn on the floor with string or drawn in the dirt if outside. I have read many different accounts of what size the circle should be, but think that it should be big enough to accommodate all participants. Drawing the circle around the space used for the ritual sets that space off from your surroundings and makes it special, just as going to a church does. It is being made for the use of worship. What makes this different is that Pagans can chose where to set up this sacred space depending on their mood and also depending on where they feel comfortable to do so. This may be in their living room at home or outside if they so chose. I like this concept as I have a difficult time finding meaning within traditional religious settings of a “bricks and mortar” church.

As for participants, these rituals could be done by the individual or with a group depending on the person’s mood and whether the person is involved with a group or coven. I can see the appeal of either but though I have attended group rituals in the past; I personally find more meaning within my own rituals. It’s more because I have the option of working exactly how I like to work.

From published books, websites and other pagans that I have known in the past, I have noticed a trend of wearing special robes for religious ritual. This again helps the mind to focus on the task at hand, but not necessarily mandatory. I have recently noticed many websites that mention just to wear something that you feel comfortable in. It may seem a bit silly to some, but to me comfort translates to a loose tank top and karate pants. I find robes distracting, personally; too old fashioned maybe. Again, it is what works for you, as long as it is meaningful.

The published rituals I have found within books and online tend to have a particular way of their wording. I see many that make use of poetry and rhyme. Wording also may depend on the number of participants as well. Using a published ritual may not always be the best to use, mostly because of what it means to you. Make sure it means something to you; otherwise your act becomes an empty ritual.

All religions have special tools that they use for their ceremonies. An alter, alter cloths, candles, chalices, books; these are all common tools (but not the only tools). Pagans are no exceptions. I may talk about the religious tools in more depth later on.

These are some of the things involved within Pagan rituals, but what are some of the Pagan rituals themselves? Here are two links to Pagan rituals for examples of rituals.

A Solitary Midsummer’s Ritual
A Full Moon Ritual


Tenna said...

Tank top and karate pants! Mine involve the karate pants and a baggy t-shirt.

I have my initiate's robe but for work at home, I don't wear it. I've dealt with unexpected fire from a faulty central heat furnace. Since I have my quater candles and such on the ground, last thing I want is 2nd and 3rd degree burns again because I set my robes on fire. Not the most graceful of people...

Glad to have found your blog. I followed a link from someone named turtle (something).

Sojourner said...

Karate pants are comfortable, aren't they? :) Glad to know I'm not the only one!

Thanks for checking out my blog.

TurtleHeart said...

I always wear comfortable clothing for ritual, but I don't have ritual robes or anything. I tend to like having my arms bared, though. I *do* like to be barefoot for ritual, if at all possible. For some reason, this really helps "set the mood" for me.

I rarely take a ritual bath-- its a bit time consuming... but I will use a sage smudge to purify myself and sometimes an oil to annoint my third eye.

Sojourner said...

I was more or less using the ritual bath as an example, as that is what is mentioned more often than not in most books and websites. I should have mentioned that. It seems to be "traditional" but I don't think it happens very often before ritual.

I have a feeling that a lot of people use other methods of purification, for the same reasons you state.