The secret of joy in work is contained on one word- escellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it. Pearl S. Buck
Scribbles About Ritual
One of the differences between Man and the rest of the animal kingdom is mankind’s conscious use of ritual. I emphasize the word conscious; you only have to watch the family pet to notice the preciseness, and the continutity with which animals perform some regular action. My family had a dog who before lying down in a chosen spot, would ritually circle three times before allowing herself to settle. I have heard that all dogs do this. I remember reading an article, the gist of which I forget, explaining why dogs did this. I think I do remember the article stating it was an instictive act, like their rituals of attracting mates and parenting. I take instinctive to mean no one has to teach them these acts; I’m not sure I agree totally with that. At least the parenting techniques have an element of education about them.
I am told elephants will make long journeys, to the place of death, to mourn their dead companions. I have a sister who, ritually, goes to vist the graves of dead relatives. She will happily spend a whole holiday afternoon going from gravesite to gravesite. She always has trouble locating a particular aunt and uncle’s site, never fails to grouse about it. I have suggested that they move everytime she comes because she doesn’t call first. She didn’t crack even the beginning of a smile. She doesn’t understand that I don’t want to come with her on these excursions. My take on visiting grave sites is the dead are dead, let them be. It’s not like they are going to offer you a cup of tea. This is, of course, coming from a man whose dream is to visit Greece and walk in the supposed footsteps of Socrates and Plato. I excuse my desire as being a one time thing.
Not that I don’t have my own rituals; my New Year Eves’ celebrations being a case in point.
The when and the how I developed my New Year’s Eve ritual is so far back in the past as to be mythical. While I remember certain aspects of the ritual, such as writing a note to the old year listing my triumphs and/or disappointments in the year passing, coming from outside myself, portions of the ritual seem to have sprung full blown out of my head and have no recognizable history. Even as a child, I made it a point to take the old year out of the house a few minutes before midnight, say “thank you” and goodbye, and welcome the New Year and bring it into the house with almost a religious conviction that by meeting the New Year, half way, I would encourage it to be kind to me. I was the only one in the family that did this; they actually thought me strange because I insisted on it.
Men give meaning to their rituals, they explain them. A wafer on the tongue to a Catholic, in prescribed conditions is the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. They don’t mean this in a symbolic way. In fact, growing up, I was taught the Sacrifice of the Mass was the actual cycle of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not a repeat, but a mystical connection with the actual event, itself. Over the years, the emphasis on Sacrifice, with the priest offering it up, seems to have evolved into an idea of the Mass as dinner, presided over by a host. Rituals change, over time, and this change in the Catholic Church of the meaning of Mass as less sacrifice, more celebration, is no small matter.
Every ritual has its birth in the practial. The Western Civilization ritual of a handshake grew out of warriors proving to each other they had no weapon in their weapon hand. The ritual is kept even when the need for it no longer exists.
The marriage ritual, perhaps, has changed the most, over the centuries. As established in the Bible, it was originally a ritual that symbolized the transfer of property (the bride) from the father to her new owner, the groom. The groom had to purchase the bride through some with labor, or property, or whatever medium of exchange deemed appropriate. Later that evolved into the idea of a dowry. In my lifetime, the dowry was replaced by the bride’s family paying for the wedding. A symbol of this exchange was the father, in front of witnesses, giving the bride to the groom. Today, the father no longer sells the bride, but he often still escorts her down the aisle . Now that same-sex marriage is in the offering, it will be interesting to watch what traditional rituals evolve and/or disappear.
I suppose we got the idea of ritual by watching the rituals of the heaven and the earth. We like our rituals; they give us a sense of comfort, of certainty, of the orderliness of life, presents on birthdays and winter holidays, boiled eggs and candy on Easter, masks and costumes on Halloween, etc., etc.
The dark side of ritual is obsessive compulsive behavior; ritual for the sake of ritual, with a touch of fear to its not being performed exactly.
While popular ritual probably began connected to religion, secular life has its rituals, too. At this moment, America is involved in the every fourth year pre-election of a President. This too can be a dark, dismal ritual.