28 September 2007

Formality Isn't Just a Formality

In the United States, people often downplay the importance of ritual. It is looked at as haughty, unimportant, and/or repetitive. What people don't realize is that ritual is a vitally important part of how we interact with ourselves, with others, and with the universe around us.

Rituals have many purposes. They can help one focus on an object. They can teach. And they can bring people together to celebrate an event, whether present, past, or future. They do all these things and more, yet modern Americans don't see their power. I believe this stems from the fact that the United States was formed by a non-ritualistic group of religious fanatics. Their influences still affect us down to the present day.

I recently heard of a wedding where the groom wore blue jeans. This is a perfect example of how someone doesn't take a serious ritual seriously. He may have thought, "Oh, this is all pomp and circumstance. No matter, we are still married.", or "This ritual means nothing; it is our love which is important." Both of these things are true, but neither abrogates the importance of the ritual itself, both to its participants and its spectators. I would go so far as to say that he disrespected himself, his new wife, and their marriage by his actions; his clothing reflected the state of his mind. I wonder if they will remain married.

Human beings are hard-wired for ritual. We do better when we have a bit of order to which we can cling — but not too much. Rituals should be performed with all of one's energy, which will be directed towards the purpose of the ritual itself. Then, the ritual's purpose will manifest into something stronger than if someone "just does it". Yet, these days, everyone "just does it". Proof abounds of the failure of such an approach. Look around you.

We are allowing magic, strength, companionship, bonds, and emotion to flow out of our regular direct experience, and we are the worse off for it.