“So, ‘Yes,’ I say to the Starbucks lady, ‘I would like two tea bags.'” Duh.
“Yes,” mumbles Mr. Octopus.
“Tea bags are an abomination,” I continue.
“Worrrd, as you people say.”
I pour a cup of my special home-brew of Earl Grey with a touch of vanilla. “Really, once you’ve gotten used to the taste of loose tea, you’ll never bag it again!”
“Yeees,” he agrees. “I’m against tea baggers of every kind.”
Hahaha. Hilarious. Where was I? Oh yes, I wanted to clarify the difference between ritual and ceremony as it is important not to confuse the two. What I say here is based on my own understanding from having participated in ritual and having heard or read about it through such people as Malidoma Some, Martin Prechtel and others.
Ceremony is rote. More-or-less scripted. Choreographed. Not necessarily spiritual in nature. While there are certain planned elements in ritual, it is, for the most part spontaneous. There are basically two kinds of rituals: ordinary, day-to-day stuff and big-transformational-dealing-with-life-changes type stuff. Ordinary rituals are often done alone. They have to do with our daily spiritual maintenance, such as checking in with one’s ancestors and asking them to bless the way in the coming day. Big-transformational-type rituals must involve the community, for the health of the individual determines the health of the community. All are responsible for all, high and low, young and old, male and female, although sometimes it’s also important to divide the sexes in ritual, as women have women’s needs and men have men’s. Great change needs many voices. People join in ritual for that purpose.
It is a challenge to create this kind of community in an individualistic society, such as our own. But, when someone dies in Burkina Faso, let’s say, the whole village, and sometimes the neighboring villages stop what they are doing for several days and join in mourning. The tears are food for the one who has passed away. That food helps them to make the journey to the world of the ancestors. It is the food of love. Without many tears to fuel them, the ancestors will have trouble on their way. In dealing with their own troubles, they are less able to help us here. We will be cut off from their wisdom and vital aid. And they will be somewhat cut off from us and this is bad, bad juju. We all need the steady flow of information and love to and from the spirit world. So the whole village weeps.
A word here about our relationship with our ancestors. Someone might ask, why would I want to connect with dead Uncle Joe, when he was such a selfish son-of-a-bitch and never showed any interest in me when he was alive? Well, Uncle Joe is in a different place now. He has a different perspective. He sees the big picture and has learned from his life. Some people might have to just take that on faith, but after my grandfather died, for example, I felt him apologize to me for not having understood why I wanted to dance professionally. I don’t know how I know that, but I do.
Along those lines, I think ritual helps us to get out of our heads and to stop questioning the things we know in our bones. In a ritual, unlike in a ceremony, the spirits are invited into a sacred space, usually marked by invocation, music and dance, sacred ash and/or herbs, prayers, etc. After the intention for the ritual has been clearly articulated and after certain spirits are called upon, anything can happen in their hands. The thing to understand is that you’re in good hands. This is why it’s important for a safe space to be created and only positive energies should be called upon. Specificity helps.
At the end, what has been opened must be closed and released. This step is very important. I have been in situations where things were not closed properly and I was hurt by the unprotected energy I carried out into an unaware, heedless world. I won’t get into the gory details here. We can discuss it over a cup of fresh brewed loose tea. Or a cocktail. Preferably by a seashore…
Ritual must be respected and I cannot stress here the importance of having elders present during ritual work. It is partly their job to make sure that no one gets hurt. Now, I understand that in this modern age, there are precious few around that recognize and fulfill their role as elders. We have a real problem on our hands with how we treat old people. This is perhaps a subject to cover in more detail in a later blog, but I want to say here that our elders are as precious as our babes. Beware of entering into ritual without the presence of elders. The community may have good intentions, but that is not enough. This is not a dry ceremony. This is powerful stuff. Sorrow and ecstasy. Or maybe a fit of the giggles. You participate in a way that feels right.