Rivers of Ritual


The Pagan Experience’s Monday Musing: Ritual – What is your definition of the word “ritual”? What are your rituals- mundane and spiritual? How do they inform each other? Is ritual a necessary component to spiritual practice?


A rite is a religious or other solemn ceremony or act, and ritual is the prescription or customary order that is regularly followed when performing a rite. I think the distinction between custom and ritual is the more ceremonial and intentional aspect of ritual. Magic and spiritual practice can be done without ritual, but they tend to be more potent or perhaps easier with ritual. Much like using a recipe when cooking. You don’t have to have a recipe, but it can help if you’re looking to make something specific.


I think of ritual like the riverbed or valley carved into time, the psyche, and maybe the collective consciousness (when not private but communal) by the river of a rite. The longer it has been done that way, the deeper it is engraved and guides — and even defines — the actions and the experience. Over time, rivers change and branch, get new inlets and outlets, deposit new land areas into the landscape, but the valley it has carved generally guides it. The purpose of a rite will generally be couched in this valley, so even if the ritual steps change and the course is altered a little or a lot, the need for the rite will shape the flow when it comes through, being performed yet again by the community who saw the need and invented the rite in the first place, and still sees the need and dances through that valley to attain whatever it is.

I haven’t paid much attention to ritual in my adult life. I had a bit of resistance to prescriptions, preferring creative and pioneering experiences, to discover life in a more wild way, unconstrained by social expectations and traditions. I tend to climb around the mountains wherever, path or no, rather than get carried swiftly down the rivers and out to sea. But I do feel the gravity and depth of those valleys, the power of those rivers, and they can be intoxicating. I do sometimes swim in the rivers and feel the pull of connection to the spirit of past and future rites — the participation in my human family’s collective experiences, and the world of spirit’s engraved landscapes.

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