The Power of Everyday Magic:
An introduction to ritual
Ritual is a kind of everyday magic. Where we do not merely assign meaning. We create it.
A ritual can be as simple as a morning tea. When something more is going on than simply hydration and tannin. Perhaps we are saying "I matter". "I'm worth this time". A birthday party is a ritual, saying "We love you". Every major religion has rituals of some kind. Betrothals like weddings are rituals celebrating and consolidating love and commitment.
If a footballer has a particular ritual before taking a penalty whether they’re able to complete their ritual to hypnotise themselves will have a big impact on whether they’ll score. Rafael Nadal famously uses ritual to prepare and perform. . It’s a way of bypassing the conscious mind to tap into the unconscious. In the Inner Game of Tennis, a book about much more than tennis, (though will almost certainly improve your serve) with great psychological insights drawn from Zen, author Tim Gallwey describes this as the difference between Self 1, the analysing mind and Self 2, the deeper, knowing aspect. Peak performance is reached when Self 1 gets out the way of Self 2. The magic of ritual can help us break the spell of the thinking mind.
Unfamiliar rituals can be mystifying and even seem ridiculous.
But we all know that something is going on. When something IS going on. The reason we have the phrase 'an empty ritual' is because we recognise when a ritual does have meaning. When it's full.
So what happens in a ritual? I believe we go in to a kind of space where we invite in the power of our creative imagination. And we must remember that everything we can see made by humans began in this space. It's fertile ground. Ultimately it's where our subjectivity meets the objective, material world.
Rituals have been used for tribal bonding for as long as humans have lived in community.
I have begun initiation into the ritual of Cabana, or sweat lodge, a ritual used all over the world. Probably the Mayan Temezcal is the most well-known. My teacher Xamam Alba Maria of Terra Mirim Foundation first learned the practice, which she calls Cabana, in Alaska.
It’s a ceremony of transformation. Of surpassing the physical. It can get uncomfortable. There are hot stones in the centre, heated for hours in the fire, and water, sometimes with herbs is poured, to create steam. In Mexican Temezcal fragrant herbs and zesty citrus might be added. Thick blankets trap the heat and create darkness. In the darkness we have the opportunity to go into our deepest selves.
People will often meet their "I can’t do it", their "I’m afraid", their "I’m not strong enough": and surpass this. Emerging with a new perspective on their limitations and capabilities, which they take into their lives. With this new awareness we can expand, live with more courage. Though I will do my initiation Cabanas alone, the sense of going through something profound with others is very strong in this ritual and this bonding fosters community. We sing, sweat and in some traditions scream sounds of release together - dropping our masks and releasing stuck emotion.
All of what we experience, we experience inside. A ritual is a time to go inside with consciousness, to bring order and meaning to the jumble of thoughts, feelings and beliefs we have. To consciously become aware of these and to exercise choice over what we want to hang on to, what we want to release and what we want to invite in and cultivate.
It’s a ritual of death and rebirth. Letting in the new and releasing that which needs to die. We go into the dark and come out into the light. Known as grandmother spider because of it’s legs it also represents the womb. Such mythology helps us enter the numinous, a transformative place.
Cabana and other rituals are often done according to phases of the moon. Whether for you this timing is merely a chronology that you wish to ritualise or a regular felt experience, research supports the ancient belief that our inner tides are affected by moon phases (we are mostly water after all) you can use these symbols of outer transformation to inform and mirror inner-change.
A simple ritual could be writing down beliefs or behaviours to release and invite and offering these to flame - fire is another symbol of transformation, it’s a power which has transformed human existence. The fire is a very important part of Cabana and is prepared carefully: it can be laid facing east-west if we are working on the Jungian and indigenous archetypes of masculine and feminine (our inner marriage) and north-south if we seek to strengthen our connection to our ancestral line and inner-child.
If you're interested in experiencing the ritual of sweat lodge for any purpose from simple curiosity or for something you're already conscious of, I know people around the world who do this beautiful ceremony - feel free to get in touch.