The Power Of Ritual Is In The Mind Of The Practitioner, Part 2

Hindu prayer ritualWhat Does Ritual Mean To You?

Continuing the discussion from Part 1 of this post, two more seasoned practitioners share their views about what ritual means to them.

Ritual Is A Way Of Focusing

Sheva: “Broadly defined, a ritual is taking place when we fire up the computer, rustle our papers, and settle down for a day’s work at the office. Or when an athlete is breathing and focusing before each jump; and Aikido practitioner is tapping into vital core energy before a fight; or when a Traveler in the Underworld touches tools, listens to drums or purifies the space to ready body and mind for the Inner Journey. Hence, ‘ritual’ can be more specifically defined as a sequence of acts, spiritual and/or physical, used for the purpose of focusing. This focus can either be secular or sacred in nature. Ceremony, in turn, can be defined as ritual in a group, say a handfasting or wedding. There are additional definitions but these will do.

Ritual Is A Way Of Preparing For And Taking Journeys

“As to my own view, well, it really is simple. After all, I am one of the Am HaAretz (the People of the Land, i.e., the hicks, as the rabbis say), which is an Israeli Pagan Path of Earth and Warrior Spirituality. We use shamanic techniques and by definition almost 90% is solo work. As a result of who I am and the practices I choose, I have a pragmatic, empirical approach in this Reality, as in any other. In other words, I have found that what works on this plane, works over there. When linking with or journeying in the Otherworlds, I think it only wise to do so with at least the same precautions I would use on this plane.

“Say I am getting ready to do some serious trekking in the desert wilderness. Using what I have learned in my wilderness experience (in this Reality), I know that it is unwise to load myself down with equipment. Instead of concentrating on the trek, I find myself more concerned with organizing and carrying the extra baggage. Because my focus has shifted from my original purpose I lose sight of my objective and never reach it.

Ritual Requires Training And Preparation

“Yet I would never venture out into Nowhere-lands with so little equipment that the first sandstorm, or dry well, or bitterly cold night, finds me unprepared and impacts me so severely that I count myself lucky if I can even make it back. Usually when I use this simile, I get these questions: ‘But how do you know what equipment you will need? And how much is too much? Or too little?’ My answer is: ‘If you don’t know don’t do it! Learn first.’ In ALL Realities, it all boils down to having sense.”

Ritual Is A Part Of Life

Damien: “Not so long ago, a friend sent me a card. On it was a picture of a very small dragon with wings folded, fitting just-so into an antique pipe rack. The dragon wore a smile, enclosed as he was by pipes on either side. The caption under the picture simply said, ‘My Place.’ I kept the card, not really knowing why it appealed to me. I know somewhat better now. Ritual is ‘my place.’

“Among other meanings, ritual fits me. It is a constant in a changing world, a thing I can look toward and predict. It is mine because I control it. It is a world I create of my will; a space that is mine with no necessary relationship to others in place and time. I am there and the ritual delimits and defines that place by my will. I love it.

Ritual Defines A Set Of Boundaries…

“The ritual, then, defines a set of boundaries. I can create things in that place – my place – that exist and depend on nothing else. It allows and supports my power and I finally feel free to exercise my power within it. That is really wonderful! However, like any structure that supports power, it has (at least) two possible drawbacks. On the one hand, I can easily become slavish in my attendance to ritual, mirroring my psychological need to isolate, protect and aggrandize my Self – to make ‘green smoke’ in the manner of stage magicians. The other hand? That of ‘creating’ my own ritual, having no real idea what the hell I’m doing and meeting invoked entities on some imperious, uncontrolled basis. Each of these is dangerous and lessens me. I constantly remind myself that ritual is something I do, not something I am. That it must exist at all only as a manifestation of my Right Will.

And Sets The Stage For The Work To Be Done

“Ritual, in circumscribing a space and time, also allows a situation. Just as a stage encloses a play and a ring a prize fight, so ritual forms a venue for thoughts, feelings and perceptions that are not part of my mundane life. It encourages and suggests this greater variety of perceptions, while at the same time bonding them. Further, much as a beach scene sometimes ‘keys’ (produces or ‘conditions’) a relaxation response, so ritual keys a progressive relaxation and regression, a dropping of conventional models, a letting-go of defenses and a much more uncritical acceptance of both the different environment and the different Self that is thereby produced. This different Self can act effectively on the world in ways I would not have even considered before. I can practice these true alternatives, and rejoice in them, and develop others. Finally, since ritual does not alter my cognitive capacities, I can evaluate the alternatives clearly with respect to the outside world and choose among them.”

Ritual Is A Powerful Tool…

It is obvious that the word “ritual” elicits a strong response from people. A response conditioned by our upbringing and societal influences but ultimately shaped by our own experiences with this potent tool. And that’s what it ultimately is – a creative tool. We give our power to the words, acts and gestures that comprise any ritual. No matter if it’s an invocation or a work day routine. Without that personal involvement it becomes empty, meaningless, and without power.

Of course, there should be moderation in all things. Dependence on ritual to validate one’s self or impress others negates all its potential for spiritual progress. Instead of a tool it becomes a meaningless burden – or worse – a destructive weapon.

That Can Support Spiritual Growth As Well As Every Day Life

How does this answer the question of my dramatic change in belief regarding “ritual?” Basically, I came  to see its true purpose and its value in earnest spiritual growth as well as in every day life. Early humans knew its intrinsic value. It just took a little more time for me to recognize it. Whether used extensively or only for select purposes, ritual is a potent ingredient in the quest for self knowledge. Even if you don’t consciously construct and use rituals in every day life, pay attention to your daily routines. Is there anything you do the same every time you do it? Even the simple task of making morning coffee and reading the paper can be a focus to awaken your energy for the day ahead. It’s a ritual.

Regardless Of The Details, Ritual Is A Part Of All Our Lives

Whether simple or complex, ritual is a part of our lives. When we open ourselves to its purpose, we can begin to access the power of transformation.

Share Your Perspective On Ritual

Are you a seasoned ritual practitioner, a beginner in the use of this powerful transformational tool, or somewhere in between? How have you used ritual? What is your best piece of advice for other ritual practitioners?

The preceding was originally published in Mezlim magazine and has been edited and republished here with permission of the author, Donna Ravenscraft (formerly Stanford-Blake).

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