The Purpose of Ritual
Why are rituals important in life? Ritual helps to make your intent known to the universe so you can better manifest it. It also provides a time and place to make covenants with your-self and your higher power as well as creating time and space to mark special occasions. A ritual can be as simple as wishing on a falling star or as complex as a full- blown wedding ceremony with all its layers of traditions.
The Components of Ritual
There is a saying; “what you put out, comes back to you three times over”. If you are putting out negativity, that is what will come back to you, so it’s better to put out good intentions and gratitude to keep the cycle flowing in a positive way. Even if your ritual is for letting go of something, do it with love and respect.
An alter is used as an anchor for your intentions. It’s a place to focus your energy and to put representations of your gratitude, your desires and any deities or ancestors that you wish to call on and honor. It creates a place that transcends normal time and space to become sacred.
Many cultures maintain a shrine or alter in their homes and/or businesses and tend to them daily. They realize the importance of communicating with spirit on a regular basis. Like a plant, their bond with their higher power grows stronger with regular attention.
Most traditions leave an offering of water and food, usually fruit, to symbolically feed and tend to the spirits/ancestors. (Many traditions also take a small portion of each food served to them at every meal and place it aside with a prayer to feed the spirits and give thanks for the meal)
Also present could be a candle to light the way and focus attention along with a representation of your higher power (Buddha, Christ etc.) and any ancestors you wish to honor. Some form of incense or smudge is usually burned with the thought that the smoke is taking your prayers to a higher realm.
Movement of any kind is seen as a way to move prayer. The Tibetans write their prayers on flags that blow in the wind or on scrolls enclosed in a spinning wheel; whirling dervishes send their prayers through spinning dances. The Japanese send candles and prayers aloft with balloons to honor the ancestors. These are just some examples of how you can use movement to signify intention.
There is no right or wrong way to pray or conduct ritual but a few basics should always be adhered to.
First of all, stop and center or ground yourself. This is a sacred time and you need to be there fully and presently. Smudging with sage is a wonderful way to do this. It’s very grounding and the intent with sage is to clear negative energy. Sweet grass is another herb that is often used, but its intention is, to welcome in good influences after the bad have been driven out. Cedar can also be used as a purifier and to bring in good energy.
When burning herbs may be impractical or dangerous, you can use cedar branches and run them over your body to brush away bad energy and surround you with blessings. Its nice after each sweep of the branches to run them over a stone to hold the negative energy and not leave it for others to pass through.
If you don’t have smudge available you can just run your hands over your body symbolically washing away any negative energy and with a deep breath and outstretched arms, draw in energy from the universe and pull it down with your hands and place it in your heart.
Once you are grounded and centered, invite your higher power (Male and Female, Mother Earth that nourishes us and the Creator), your ancestors, the spirits of the four directions and all those who love you to be present and hear your prayers. Prayers should be said out loud, putting their intent out to the universe.
Start by giving thanks. No matter how bad things are in life there is always something to be grateful for.
Send prayers to those in need. Pray for others before yourself. Respectfully ask for your prayers to be answered if it’s in your best interest and the best interest of the universe. (Sometimes it seems as if our prayers aren't being heard. You have to understand that each of us are here to have our own lessons in life. It may be that we are going through what seems like a negative experience to learn a greater lesson. Don't ever look at adversity as a punishment directed at you but as an experience to learn from.)
Thank the spirits and guides for taking the time to listen and close the prayers with something that symbolically finishes the session such as “amen” or “all my relations” for example.
Prayers should come from the heart. They can be different every time. Better to speak from your heart than mindlessly repeating something you memorized. If you want to say a standard prayer, focus on the words and mean them.
As well as prayer, you can sing, dance, drum, chant or express yourself in any other way you wish to show thanks and give honor. This is also called “raising energy”. Perform your rituals, make your covenants, and celebrate your intentions.
When you are ready to wrap things up, ground the energy that you have raised.
One way to do this is to say
The roots of me go down and down
O Mother Earth in thee I ground
If you are in a group its always nice to form a circle and have a closing song or prayer.
Chanting OM together is a powerful way to finish.
Ritual can take any form you want, from extremely simple to outrageously elaborate. It’s your ceremony. Write your own vows. Design your own stage, costume and sacred objects to represent your intentions as seen by you.
There are many tables of correspondences to help you focus your intent. You can plan your rituals around the lunar calendar, the days of the week, or dates with meaningful numbers. You can use specific colored candles, crystals, animal, or deity representations to layer your ceremony with your specific intentions. Again there is no right or wrong, its all in your intention in the end, but by using agreed upon correspondences you can make your ceremony that much more powerful.
It’s always wise to have a healthy snack after any ritual to ground yourself.
Don’t forget to give thanks!
What kind of rituals or traditions are in your life? I would love to hear your stories.