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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

How does one create a sacred ritual?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (30548points) January 10th, 2013

I am particularly interested in what theists and spiritualists have to say, but all are welcome to join the discussion.

What elements make up sacred ritual?

If a person wished to create a fresh sacred ritual, how would one go about it?

Please, note this is a General Section question.

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26 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

A ritual is a ceremony of some sort, or an act with spiritual significance that gets repeated in response to a need.

So think about what you are trying to recognize, and how you would make not of it, and what behaviors might be symbolic. Then you need to incorporate them into something repeated on a regular schedule or in response to a common event.

For instance, certain AA meetings read certain passages open a meeting with a moment of silence and the serenity prayer. Then they have a reading out of a piece of AA literature. The collection basket is sent around at a specific time and manner. At the close, perhaps another reading and a closing prayer with people holding hands in a circle.

It is not the same for every AA meeting. But it is done in a ritualized manner. Ritual is the same as tradition, but for a specific purpose and more for a formal group.

If creating a ritual, one must look at what the group has done and what the ritual will be used for. Even the Catholic Church creates rituals or updates them. For instance, for the last 20 or 25 years the Easter Vigil service begins with an outdoor fire, and then moves inside. They didn’t do that when I was a kid. It’s a new ritual that if they skipped it one year, people would get upset.

Remember that tradition only has to be done two years in a row, and hen in the third year it’s, “oh come on, we do this every year”.

Pachy's avatar

I would study up on Native American rituals, aspects of which have found their way into many if not most subsequent organizational rituals, including AA. The four directions, and animal, for example.

burntbonez's avatar

It all depends on what the ritual is being used for. But generally, you want to have a method for calming and centering yourself at first. Then you want to build focus on the subject of the event. Then you want to add content, in words, music, dance or some combination. Finally you want a celebration. And then you want to calm down again.

Those are the elements and the order. In order to fill in each box, it depends on your tradition and the specific things that are relevant to the topic of the ritual.

Another variable can be solemnity. You can make it solemn or more humorous. It can be serious or celebratory. All depends on what it’s about.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Emile Durkheim, one of the (three dead white men) fathers of sociology, said it was about creating the sacred/profane binary – you can mark any object or ritual or thing as sacred as long as you have another marked as profane. So you would have a rock that you used daily but one that you used only in a ritual. You would have men perform rites but dirty menstruating women couldn’t, etc.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Where in the title question or any of the details does it mention I’m interested in creating a misogynistic or racist ritual? Your allusions to “three dead white men” and “dirty menstruating women couldn’t” are more a reflection of your mindset than anything else. The sacred/profane binary is helpful. Thank you.

@all Does ritual have to include more than one person? Can it be solitary?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Oh no, that was just descriptive. Of course you aren’t interested in doing those kinds of things. As to what ‘mindset’ of mine you’re talking about, I don’t know. Also, I don’t know why people don’t get this but when I say ‘you’, I don’t mean you.

burntbonez's avatar

It can absolutely be alone. Really, you make it how you want to. A ritual, technically, is something you do regularly. Brushing your teeth at night is a ritual.

To make it sacred, all you have to do is add intention to it.

ragingloli's avatar

You just make something up and then call it ‘sacred’. That is how it was always done.

Strauss's avatar

I am a former Catholic, now a spiritualist. This question is timely for me, as I am developing a presentation on the importance of ritual, both for traditional religions and the recently popular spiritualist or metaphysical beliefs.

The three steps for ritual are preparation, function, closing. The preparation (for an individual) can be as simple as finding a quiet place and centering. The function would be attempting to fulfill the reason for the ritual (some might call it ceremony). The closing is to make a distinct boundary between the ritual and going back to “everyday” life.

A ritual is not necessarily religious in nature; it can be strictly secular. Some of the more well-known secular rituals are installation of public officials. Depending on the office, it can be short and to the point (e.g., the administering of the oath of office), or it can be filled with pomp and circumstances (a Presidential Inauguration, along with all the balls, celebrations, etc).

However, my assumption is that the OP is asking for a spiritual or religious point of view.

One of the main reasons for ritual is to set a mood. In the religio-spiritual sense, this is to set the stage for the group or individual to communicate with the Divine, in whatever tradition. This mood may be set in several ways; in the traditional Catholic ritual (the Mass) the mood is set by prayer and scripture. In some Neo-Pagan rituals, the mood is set by “setting sacred space”, calling upon deities, spirits, angels, etc., for protection. The actual ritual then follows.

The closing, in the Catholic Mass, is generally the blessing and dismissal. The Neo-Pagan closing consists of “closing sacred space”, by thanking all deities, spirits, etc., who have provided protection.

As I was composing this post, I saw your additional question: Does ritual have to include more than one person? Can it be solitary?

The answer is that ritual can be solitary or group. Many “Neo-Shamanistic” (or “Core Shamanistic”) rituals are done by the “shaman” to stay in touch with the other world. Many times a shaman will perform a ritual for a subject who is not in the immediate presence of the shaman.


Jeruba's avatar

It seems to me that symbolism is essential. Something has to stand for something else. A process develops around it, and the process takes on meaning through repetition and mindfulness with respect to the symbol.

When my son was away from home and in trouble, I took to lighting a candle every night. It became what you could call a ritual. A flame is a powerful symbol, not least because it seems to have a life of its own. I didn’t intellectualize what I was doing, nor did I believe that it was a cause of something—that something bad would happen or fail to happen if I didn’t do it. Instead it was a way of gathering my feelings together and focusing on my hope for a good, safe outcome; it gave me comfort.

It also let me feel is if I were doing something, however small, at a time when I was in fact helpless to do anything.

And it did have a quality of the sacred about it, to me, even though there was no religious component at all. A person could invest the ritual with a spiritual element, and then it would be present. Because of course the objects or symbols are just things that have no meaning other than what we attach to them in our minds.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

IMO if one creates a sacred ritual it is because they created the god they serve; one made of stone, metal, wood, etc. A living God would tell you what was sacred by way of His prophets. A sacred ritual created by people would have to have some significance to their god, for some purpose it was suppose to do, bring rain, keep locus away, stop sickness etc. I guess you would determine if their was a sacrifice made, if so what, and what manner the sacrifice was to be presented. The steps and protocol to do so would be the sacred rite or whatever, and it would be seen with reverence because it would be done to appease or please the god they have created and decided to believe had some real power to act upon their sacrifice.

marinelife's avatar

You use things that are imbued with the sacred to you. For example, candles or water or the four directions. You call upon whatever powers you consider sacred to bless and protect your endeavor.

Aster's avatar

Hi, Jake I’m with Jeruba on the candle thing. I cannot imagine any ritual not using either a candle or a fire.
The only sacred ritual I could envision since I know almost nothing about them is to have an altar. You can get them with a padded kneeling thing in front. Then on top I’d put a candle and then photos of the person or persons you wish to affect if this is goal oriented. Knowing me, I would probably have a crucifix up there too. There might be a little drawer where I’d keep matches. I really like the idea of this but my husband would hit the overhead. Meaning, he’s the boss around here. Not only that, my daughter would say I’ve cracked up and probably tell some of her friends I’ve gone off the deep end. Maybe another day…

bookish1's avatar

Hey Jake, there are some good answers here already. I second the idea that rituals can be performed in the presence of a group or in solitude. I do solitary rituals at my altar at home.
I am not sure why fire is important, but I am inclined to agree instinctively with @Aster and @Jeruba! I light candles, oil lamps, or most commonly, incense, to begin a ritual.

Which brings me to the one novel contribution I’ve thought of… I think engaging the senses is very important. Whether through images, scent, food, or sex magick ;) It keeps you anchored in the present, and you might make your sense impressions part of an offering. In Hinduism, you can make offerings of food and then eat a portion of the food yourself after it has been consecrated. This can be done at home or in temple.

YARNLADY's avatar

There are several time-honored symbols of sacred things through out history. My favorite one is the bones of a favored dead person are sacred and if you look at them, touch them, or pray to them, you will be blessed.

Some people will believe anything. Many elements in common are; candles, especially color coded, special words to recite, special clothes to wear, and special surroundings to participate in. Most of them have to do with being mysterious, and perhaps a little scary.

Strauss's avatar

@bookish1 I think engaging the senses is very important.
Agreed. In my experience with Catholic monasticism, I observed that sight (symbols and colors), sound (music, recitation of prayers, etc), smell (incense), touch (being sprinkled with holy water, for example) and even taste (the taking of communion) were all important in ritual.

zensky's avatar

@burntbonez A ritual, technically, is something you do regularly. Brushing your teeth at night is a ritual.To make it sacred, all you have to do is add intention to it.

So if I always intend to use Colgate – it’s a sacred ritual?

burntbonez's avatar

If Colgate is that meaningful to you, then yes. But most people probably don’t find a consumer product to be worthy of intention. It’s just something you do. Have fun with that, though!

wundayatta's avatar

For me, dance is central. When my wife and I got married, we incorporated dance into the vows. It was a simple dance and when I look at the video, I cringe, but it meant a lot to us because we met dancing, and we’ve been dancing ever since, except for the time when she stopped and all hell broke loose. But I digress.

My point is that you put what is meaningful to you in the ritual. Like @zensky loves Colgate. Pretty awesome, dude!

rooeytoo's avatar

I too was raised catholic so to me a sacred ritual would have to comprise location, scent (incense), purpose, and appropriate music. If you have those components, to me, they would constitute a ritual. I think the sacred part comes from your heart and what is sacred to you might not be for me.

Nullo's avatar

He doesn’t. People can’t make things sacred on their own, that falls to the supernatural party.

burntbonez's avatar

That is your belief, @Nullo. Just because you think it, doesn’t make it so. Spirituality is personal for most people. What is sacred is a personal thing, too, for just about everyone except you. You are welcome to believe in a supernatural entity if you want to, but it is very condescending to tell everyone else they don’t hold anything sacred if they don’t believe in a supernatural party.

And on the other hand, you can’t know whether anyone else is letting a supernatural party make things sacred or not, because you can’t see what is inside their hearts.

And to twist it again, if it can’t be sacred without a supernatural party, than whatever someone believes is sacred, must be made by the supernatural party, whether they believe in it or not.

zenvelo's avatar

@Nullo That’s just plain wrong.

Other than the ritual of the recreation of the Last Supper in various Christian Communion rites, no ritual comes directly from Christ.

Baptism came from John the Baptist, and although Christ was baptized, he didn’t baptize people. Marriage Ritual did not come from God, neither did rites to become a minister or a priest, Christ said priests could forgive sins, but there was no ritual to hear confessions.

Rituals are man made constructs to carry out a sacred duty.

Nullo's avatar

@zenvelo I am speaking of sacred rituals specifically, as in the OP, and I was not thinking only of Christian ones (as I recall, not having mandatory rituals is part of the point of Christianity – and certainly has been a popular view in Church history). The Temple stuff, for instance, is directly handed down, .
I am aware that life is full of regular rituals – I have plenty of my own that pertain to boring things like doing my job or buying lunch or security things like locking up the house, or safety things like making sure the gas is off.

@burntbonez The thing is, there can only be one Truth. One of ‘em is going to be right, the rest are all going to be wrong, no matter whose feelings are hurt or how personal their spirituality is.
I think it’s awfully arrogant to suppose that a regular joe can go about pronouncing a thing sacred or otherwise without any kind of authority – unless we’re using sacred by its literal meaning, to be set apart?

burntbonez's avatar

@Nullo I suppose that, depending on how you define it, there could only be one truth. I’m not sure how you could perceive it, though. Nor do I know how you could distinguish between different perspectives on something that are all part of the truth of something (but incomplete versions), and the complete truth and the perspectives that are deviations from the truth.

Truth is a nice ideal, but kind of a useless thing to use in reality. You can’t know what it is, unless you are perfect, yourself.

LostInParadise's avatar

I believe that the multitude of rituals that we create in our daily lives, as suggested by @Nullo, is what the OP had in mind. These rituals are not directly related to objective truth in the outside world, but are closer in meaning to poetic truth in the way that we create personal meaning for things. I am surprised nobody mentioned the role of language. The language used can be said out loud or just thought of. It could be a prayer, poem, song or quotation.

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