Archive for the ‘rituals’ tag
Yes, it’s the first weekend of December and our apartment is looking a lot like Christmas even though we are in China for Christmas. We have been decorating for the season in some fashion or other for as long as I can remember as a family. Lights, a tree, and an assortment of other decorations including garland, stars and coloured balls take their place in various places in our main room. As I am writing this, Christmas music is playing and the lights are dancing.
I have to confess that this Christmas season has nothing to do with a religion for me. The lights, the colours, the music, the greenery and the good cheer that animate our home at this time of year are connected with something more primal within. If anything, this joyful celebration is a deliberate act to help the spirit navigate the darkest time of year, taking the spirit back into the light of a new year.
Winter’s solstice has been celebrated almost from the beginning of awareness within humans. The celebrations were invocations to the gods to bring back the light of the sun that seemed to disappear more and more each day. Fear of increased darkness and cold, fear of the loss of light encouraged humanity to cajole the gods, to invite the return of the sun and warmth.
I don’t find any relation between this season and the religion of Christianity. For some reason, the Christian face of the season became corrupted with commercialism. I dislike the practice of gift-giving and shopping for these gifts. I want to give the gift or relationship and the sharing of time, food and good drink – the celebration of being alive and together. I guess this makes me a pagan. Somehow, I think that this also makes me a truly spiritual person, living with my heart and soul rather than out of a creed of rules that separates the saved from the damned.
I found this flower isolated from a field of such flowers which seem to prefer the shade of trees rather than the open fields and direct sunlight. Not too far off, a large number of similar flowers huddled together. They made me think of a community holding together and with this one flower, an outsider or outlier. I had chosen this flower for today’s post early this morning and then got busy with the making of school lessons and then shopping for needed foodstuffs for the week. I knew that this was the photo for today but didn’t know what I would talk about or why I would talk about it. Looking again at this solitary flower, I thought of myself, an outlier or outsider, and I thought about how willingly entering into the process and journey of self-awakening, individuation, leaves one positioned on the outside of a community even though still contained by the community. Then, one of my readers, Urspo asked a question in commenting about yesterday’s post which had community and rituals as the topic. Then, I knew where this photo was taking me – and so I enter into into the idea of ritual and individual for this post, a place and idea that I have not consciously thought about before this moment. I am excited about seeing where this will take me, not knowing what will emerge when the post is completed and published.
Yesterday, through wandering through the words of King and Heimbrock, I came to understand about how ritual sustains community, in a way defines community; and how community gives rise to the rituals. Doctor Urspo asked about rituals for the individual, rituals other than analysis or therapy which is a ritual in itself. My first thought was to say, of course there are rituals for the individual, that person who dares the journey of individuation. But, where does that come from? And in beginning the search for answers I found that ritual is embedded in the spiritual. Anything that connects ego, self, with the all-encompassing whole that we name as God, as the One, the source of light and life, is a ritual.
I noted that my blogging here is a ritual, a practice I engage in to honour my own journey and to light my path on this journey. In a way, it has become such a part of my life that it causes me discomfort when outer life interferes with this private time, as though these words are like prayers. Rituals in a Jungian sense are repetitions of an action which are meant to transform. To enter into a dialogue with that spiritual centre which Jung called the “Self” is to invite the conscious “self” to change. Change means something dies so that something new can be born out of that death. For Jung and most Jungians, this is an alchemical process, a process of psychological transformation.
To be alive is to be growing, becoming a better person with “better” being defined by each individual. No one wants to be stuck in one place, spinning one’s wheels so to speak. We pray in order to grow, to become a better person; we study for the same reason; we practice skills in order to perfect imperfect skills. We fear being stuck, not growing as we sense that this would somehow be psychologically fatal for our well-being. So, we do what we can, both consciously and unconsciously to stay alive.
Somehow we know that soul is near that centre, a part of that centre. For ritual to assist an individual, it must reach for the centre, it must honour the soul, the mystery of the unknown and the unknowable. So, what can I do as a practice, as a ritual that would honour and assist the journey of individuation, a journey of wholeness, of holiness?
For me, blogging, daring to step into ideas and paths that lead me out of my comfort zone of what I know. For Jung, the drawing of mandalas played a large role. For others, sand play or sandwerk or a return to a church or dance or . . . it seems to me that the paths of ritual are endless. Silent meditation is one path that I have used and will continue to use though the form of meditation seems to change. Sometimes that meditation is active such as in gardening or wandering with a camera. Sometimes the meditation is passive as in sitting still with music or incense or simply with one’s quiet centre.
Now, I want to ask you, the reader, what rituals assist you on this journey toward light?
The new students have arrived at the campus and like all new students everywhere in China, the first weeks are spent in a form of military training. Chinese students arrive at the university with the idea that they are the centre of the universe, they are doted upon by parents and grandparents and do little for themselves other than the obligatory school work. At university they are placed into a group of forty to sixty young adults and are expected to perform as a team, to learn as a team, to put the team first. It’s an interesting process to watch, to see them learning how to march in a coordinated fashion, to respond as a group to a command and to build new friendships that will last a lifetime. Coming from single-child families they finally get to have brothers or sisters. This is a ritual that shifts the individual from childhood to young adulthood.
Rituals to mark transitional points in one’s life. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I first wondered about transitions in terms of the masculine, the transition for boy to man, a transition that seems to be barely identifiable in the modern western world. But, as I began to think more about it, I wondered about the whole idea of ritual outside of the boundaries of the masculine. A quick search on the Internet soon proved to me that there still are a lot of rituals left in our modern world.
“A ritual is a well-defined sequence of words and actions designed to focus attention, establish significance, and achieve a beneficial result. Although some people think we have lost our sense of ritual, 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 making of connections (marriage ceremonies, church services, flirting).” (King, “Rituals and Modern Society“)
After reading and considering what King has had to say, I have to admit that there are rituals in our modern society. But, at the same time, King’s words leave me unsatisfied as there seems to be a lot missing, unsaid. So, the search continued.
“When I consider the decline of ritual as an element . . . I come to the conclusion that the erosion of community life is a very important factor. We have learned from Durkheim (1912) that religion, especially through its rituals, fulfills an integrative role in society. From Erikson we learned that rituals originate in the mother-child relationship; that, later on, in the community in which a person lives, rituals disclose and hold fast the “hallowed presencec”, the binding mystery of the community. Thus, without community there is no ritual and there are no rituals without a community. Where the community withers, as in our modern society, rituals decline.” (Heimbrock, Current Studies on Rituals, page 53)
Yes, this is what I felt was missing, and this is what the initiation of the freshmen students at the university was providing for my students – community, a binding together. The rituals that build and nourish communities, the communities that build and nourish rituals for the cohesiveness of the community. I wonder after reading these words why there is a growing sense of dissociation in the world, a sense of loneliness while in large crowds. As a school principal I saw too many lonely students, too many youth who were excluded and in their exclusion, bullied. Now, I see that the school didn’t provide rituals that built a sense of community.
There is too much here for one post. I need more time to think and to find questions that need to be asked, as a man and as a human.
The moon waxing gibbous as seen through my camera lens. I had hoped to get an earlier phase of the moon, perhaps the waxing crescent as well as the first quarter, but the sky conditions didn’t allow that to happen. I take what is given to me and will make do with that in terms of my SoFoBoMo project. If weather permits, I will be able to get the full moon and the waining phases as well as the new moon. For my information in preparing for the book as well as these blogs, I went to Moon Connection where a useful chart is available explaining the phases of the moon as well as a host of other interesting information regarding the moon.
With this image, the idea of “whiteness” must be discarded. The pits and discolorations and shadows can’t all be written off to defects in the cameras lens. Rather, the moon must be seen as it truly is, a rock that is sterile and which, unlike our planet, can’t support life. The moon is a cold, hard, lifeless orb mindlessly circling our planet. That should be the end of all talk of the moon. But, science and the real facts be damned. We want more from “our” moon.
I know that the facts we have today about the moon and the sun provide us with no room for some romance, or alchemy. However, it has never been the sun or the moon. It has always been about our looking out of eyes onto a world trying hard to find meaning while being trapped behind the lenses of our eyes. As each of us moves through the days of living, we learn that there “is” more than what our senses tell us exists. Our senses deceive us, even in terms of parents and siblings.
This is especially true in terms of relationships. How can we ever truly know an “other” when we are so desperately forever in search of “self?” Yet, it is only in relationship to “other” than one begins to see otherwise hidden aspects of “self.” It is as if one requires submersion into the unknown as a means of discovering more about who we are. And so, as humans we have encoded this hard won awareness of how we come to be conscious beings into myths, into rituals and onto images (archetypes) – a process that has been ongoing since the dawn of human awareness.
The whole process begins with us instinctively seeking out an other person in order to fill a mandate for the survival of the species, something that is unconsciously driven. Men reach for women and women reach for men. There is nothing conscious about any of this. And because of that, we must create stories so that we feel less of a victim, more in control. And so begin the clumsy gropings for understanding.
This is a male Rufous-Sided Towhee found in the semi-desert hills of south-western Saskatchewan. One of my grandsons pointed out this bird to me while we were hiking in the hills. There were seven of us, a grandfather, a son-in-law and five grandsons – a gathering of the masculine. At one point, the youngest had a small fall with a very slight skinning of one knee – a wounding of sorts. Of course, that resulted in a badge of honour, a chance to be manly. As Monick points out:
Masculinity is an accomplishment, not a birthright – so strong is the pull of nature-mother. (Monick, Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine, 1987, p. 48)
The bridging of generations for males is built through small rituals and large rituals as well as containment of the developing masculine in the absence of the mother. A sense of self as a masculine being is simply that, a sense of self. It isn’t about other, it isn’t about power over other. It is about self awareness as a male.
Above the entrance to the main temple near the top of the Magician’s Pyramid in Uxmal, the representation of Chaac, the rain god, includes this detail of two naked bodies with their backsides together. One is obviously a male while the second figure, the one on the left is not in good enough shape to distinguish gender. Since rain is about life, it would be my guess that the second figure was female. The Chaac figure is found on almost every building at Uxmal. Some of them with the pendulous nose pointed towards the heavens as though to catch the rain and some of them have the nose pointing downwards as though to feed the earth with the life-giving waters. Nude figures in Mayan ruins are often depicting slaves and humans that are sacrificial. The theme of sacrifice is strong in Mayan religion.
Mayans acted out the collective unconscious at a basic level believing that the gods could be reached only with knowledge, ritual and prayer that was beyond the normal conscious state. Sacrifice was essential to make this mythological journey to the gods. Today, we still must make the journey into the the collective unconscious through our own rituals, sacrificing skepticism and the dogmatic belief in only one rational world. This kind of sacrifice is risky for most people, too risky. In a way, one needs to become trustingly submissive and stripped of all artifice, the price for the journey through the underworld that is dark and moist and pregnant with life giving awareness.