Ritual – Let’s Talk About It!

Ritual – Let’s Talk About It!

There’s a conversation we are not having in the public arena or privately over coffee – a situation that is not top of mind and has significant implications for Western Society. I’m referring to the loss of ritual as a conscious, deliberate and meaningful activity.

What do I mean by “ritual”? I am referring to activities we engage in to deliberately appreciate, recognize, honour, praise, sustain or cope with an aspect of our life experience. The activities that form a ritual are “a well-defined sequence of words and actions designed to focus attention, establish significance, and achieve a beneficial result”. (Dr. Serge King)

The fascinating thing about ritual is that is has been a mode of behaviour exhibited by all known societies since the beginning of humankind!

Ritual is a “universal feature of human social existence” (Kevin Carrico, Jnl. of Cultural Anthropology). It is as central and foundational to our existence as language! Who would have guessed? Cultural anthropologists say it is, therefore, “possible to view ritual as a way of defining or describing humans”. (Encyclopedia Britiannica)

That is pretty heavy duty! We are defined or described by our rituals? Wow!

For many of us, ritual is some obscure, esoteric and perplexing mystical, religious or cultural practice that we see as being outside of ourselves. However, it takes only a few moments of reflection to realize that rituals are an inherent part of each of our everyday lives.

In addition to personal rituals like brushing teeth every morning, meditating regularly evening, or grabbing coffee at Starbucks on the way to work unfailingly every day … as King points out, “modern society makes use of many rituals to mark:

  • the beginning of significant events (baby showers, grand openings, ship launchings);
  • the ending of life, or ways of life (funerals, bachelor parties, happy hours);
  • the completion of important tasks or performances (graduation ceremonies, toasting successful negotiations, applause);
  • the transition of one state or time period to another (birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, religious ceremonies like baptism/bar mitzvah/confirmation),” and,
  • the commitment to a belief system or practice (church services, communion, regular prayer or meditation, regular exercise);
  • a change in social status or social role (weddings, retirements, ordinations, inaugurations ).

Yet, behaviourial researchers and those of us ordinary folk who are thinking about ritual are concerned that we have lost the sense of ritual in our modern western world. Why so?

The concern is that most rituals have largely lost their meaning and purpose. They are no longer as effective as they can be and we may be suffering negative consequences from that loss that we are not even aware of.

There is a reason for ritual in human society. What purpose does it fulfill? What impact does it have on our world? What personal benefits accrue from it? What have we lost and what is the price of that loss?

What has happened to ritual over the centuries, and more recently? What is missing from modern rituals? What can we do to have more effective rituals? How might we benefit individually and societally from attending to this issue?

Sonia Beverley will continue the discourse in this mini blog series on Ritual – Let’s Talk About It!


Let’s talk ritual! To comment on this blog post and join the discussion, go to: www.countyweddings.ca/ritual-lets-talk-about-it

or https://www.facebook.com/countyweddings