Monday, February 6, 2012

Ritual


 A ritual is composed of one or more symbolic acts, performed to produce a specific, hoped-for result.  Whether the tradition behind a particular ritual is explicit or not, the ritual carries with it the burden of being performed correctly if the desired results are to have any chance of being successful.

From the get go, the ritual is like an iceberg, much of it appearing quite rational.  Like the iceberg, the ritual has a large portion of itself not readily seen, an element of the magical.

The ritual may be as simple and personal as a morning cup of coffee, sipped from a particular mug with a particular history about it that contributes to the magical.  If properly prepared and sipped from that particular cup, the day will be pleasing and effective for the celebrant, perhaps even advantageous.  At the least, the celebrant will not find the rest of the day difficult or lacking harmony.

Those who enact a ritual become more than mere spear-carriers in lavish operas; they are celebrants who bring measures of respect and sincerity to the acts they are about to perform.  No plateau of result can be gained from the mindless, rote activity of making coffee, then drinking it from the particular cup.  The celebrant must exert some energy to the transformative magic that comes from drinking coffee made with love in a cup that has emotional ties.

If the Hopi Snake Clan performs the Snake Dance with proper reverence and expectation, by the time the snakes are released at the four cardinal directions, where they will carry back the news that the dance was done properly, the rain clouds are gathering over the mesa, and as you drive away, fat drops are beginning to splat on your windshield.

If the homa fire at a Hindu puja is performed correctly, with devotion in the heart of the pujarini, then Agni, god of fire, will relay the message that everything was done well, the offerings symbolizing fire, earth, air, and water, were well received, and the banana and yogurt were looked upon with approval.

If the manuscript is given one last spell-check before it is sent out, surely someone at the receiving end will see immediately that it is from a professional, wanting to be read now, right now, instead of later, when all the administrative work has been tended to.

Some rituals are thousands of years old, some a few hundred, others yet made up on the spot, a replication of some past chemistry, some past result that was beautiful to behold and experience.

Individuals who share rituals, however trivial the outcome might seem to a remote viewer, have begun to forge a bond that is essential to the human condition. In some ways, entire relationships may be seen as an interlinking series of rituals, the bonding process becoming more of a chemical nature with every repetition.

Sometimes an event as simple as a shared salad at a restaurant can become a ritual, particularly when, at the same restaurant, the same salad is ordered again and the participants tear into it with their forks this time instead of the politeness of dividing the salad into two servings on separate plates.

Rituals need not be anything but secular, the implements may be as simple and straightforward as a handful of pebbles, a few seashells, perhaps some dried flowers.  Their significances may mean nothing, absolutely nothing to a larger audience but this fact does not in any way diminish the potential for an enormous sense of intimacy and connection.

Some organizations have secret rituals one must be initiated into.  Your cultural heritage has a ritualized study of the Kabbalah, a mystical study of the relationship between the creator, who is seen as mysterious and notional, and the finite nature of his creation, the universe.  Were you to approach the study of the Kabbalah in the conventional ways of rabbinic and Talmudic lore, you’d have to wait for initiation until you were forty on the theory that some of the implications are so staggering and powerful that your circuits would be fried were you to attempt to absorb them too soon.

One of the better rituals you’ve come upon is the one where, whether you feel like it or not, you spend some time every day writing, attempting through a sense of devotion to the project and a sincere desire to become more aware of the potential tools and approaches to telling stories.  There are several outcomes you hope for, including growing awareness, satisfaction at the way things emerge, and keepable pages, which is to say material that might fit with enough other keepable material to make something longer, interesting, chemical in the way it holds together and suggests potentials that are not readily visible.  The beauty of such ritualistic behavior is that there is absolutely no guarantee of anything except the growing sense that this is what you wish to be doing with much of your time.

Your best sense of the way the universe works—at least for you—is that there is no magic, perhaps the appearance of it, but in your universe, all magic is ultimately explainable.  To be sure, there are enough remarkable combinations and events and products and people to give the distinct impression that magic abounds.  Perhaps it in fact does, but not for you.  The fact is, you rather like having to work for your magic.  Even if some outcome appears magical, your satisfaction comes from knowing that somewhere along the way, you worked for it in the most wonderful ritual of all—comp



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