I am totally obsessed with transformation. I am obsessed with transmutation. I am obsessed with alchemy. I am in love with lifting the bedskirt on the everyday, scooting down underneath into the darkness, and spinning a wondrous new world out of thin air. How? With ritual.
With ritual, it is possible to turn the shit of life into gold.
Typically people just save ritual for big events like weddings or funerals or religious ceremonies. But I prefer to create rituals every day. Why? Because there are things that need to be deeply felt and examined every day.
Ritual is defined as “a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.”*
The thing that is missing from that definition is what ritual invokes. When a ritual is effectively created and performed, it touches into the essence of the topic at hand. It stirs up insight, emotion and wisdom that is not readily available in daily life. The ritual has an intelligence of its own that shows you the hidden treasures in the present moment (or present predicament).
I once had a dream that I was standing in the shallows of a bay under an overcast sky. When I looked down under the surface of the dark bluegreen water I saw that instead of a bed of rocks, the entire ocean floor was made up of gems and jewels and precious stones. That’s what ritual does. It reveals what lies beneath.
Ritual is especially important when things are terrible. After my long-term relationship suddenly ended five years ago, I got out of our townhouse in LA as fast as I could and moved back to New York. The breakup had been so fast and so painful that it felt like a shark had bitten off my entire arm, including my shoulder and scapula. Entrails of my arm were trailing behind me and blood was pouring out wherever I went.
I did the usual stuff to get over it like buy tight white pants and go dancing and take sweaty yoga classes and flirt with younger men (they all seemed oddly young after emerging from the 5-year time warp of my relationship). But none of that made me feel better. It just bided the time. The thing that made me feel better was this ritual I’d do when I got back home alone at night.
I was renting a little room on the second floor of a busted up old Victorian house on Marlborough Road in Ditmas Park. The bed was lofted, which left just enough room for clothing and books to be stored underneath. Attached to my room was a small sagging glassed-in porch with slatted floor and cobwebbed corners. It was strangely similar to my deceased grandmother’s little house tucked in the Vermont woods.
At night I would turn off the lights, light a circle of candles, sit with paper and pen nearby, and wait.
The emotions would simmer, churn and rise up. They would become movements or sounds or words written down. They would take me on a ride to who-knows-where, and I would just let them have their way. It was often torrential, but cathartic. A few times actual thunderstorms blew through and rattled the house and spat rain all over the windows precisely in the middle of the ritual.
Then eventually the candles would burn down and the emotions would subside… and I was just sitting on a porch in the dark. A little bit lighter.
You don’t have to be processing something big to have a ritual. I create one just about every morning to explore whatever wants attention when I wake up.
And it doesn’t take much to make a ritual. Here are some guidelines to shape one for yourself:
- Theme: have something you want to work through or hold up to the light such as a relationship issue, career question, past trauma, new beginning, old habit…
- Support: call in any ancestors, great teachers, gods, goddesses, dead rock stars, angels or animals whose energetic guidance you could use.
- Icons: gather any trinkets, photos, rocks, flowers or figurines that feel meaningful. Place intentionally.
- Sound: bells, music, singing bowls, chimes, a magic flute, your own wails… it’s all good.
- Fire: burning stuff is a great idea. It symbolizes immediate transformation. Candles set a nice mood. Sage, Paulo Santo or incense to clear energy. Write questions or fears on bits of paper to burn.
- Movement: physicalizing is extremely important to inspire physiological transformation. Mudra, intuitive swaying/shaking/rocking, shadow boxing, expressive gestures or euphoric dance… let yourself be moved.
- Extras: Tarot cards, a journal, paints, essential oils, dirt, water, whatever else might assist in the process of exploration and expression. Use your imagination.
- Avoid: Drugs and alcohol, digital devices and other crude elements. Spirit is subtle and is best invoked with delicacy and respect.
You know it’s really happening when something else seems to take over. Your cognitive brain that set it up is no longer in charge, there’s a new energy at work and you are being guided. There is tremendous relief in this surrender to a vaster organizing power.
Do try one and let me know how it goes. Or if you are already a big ritualizer, tell me about it in the comments. Would love to hear your insight and ideas.
(Ps. Going to Dunkin Donuts at the same time each day does not count as a ritual.)
Photo: Jessica Kirkham for Sensheant Magazine