The season of rituals has begun, and will carry us into the new calendar year. From the Latin rītuālis, rite or ceremony, rituals have been present since the beginning of time and across all cultures as an integral part of religious, spiritual, political, social, and family life. Rituals help us to embody symbolic expressions of our inner life and search for meaning. What need is greater than the need to make meaning of life?
Rituals, like homing beacons, help us to find our way home. They provide many psychological benefits as well. A review of 50 years of research on the psychological use of ritual by Dr. Barbara Fiese (2002) and her colleagues at Syracuse University finds rituals to be “…powerful organizers of family life, supporting its stability, and increasing both personal identity and marital satisfaction.” What a noble role ritual can play, protecting and nurturing a group of people, helping each member to self-actualize and to learn to love deeply! Sadly, many powerful rituals are claimed as the property of religion, and those that are leftover are often so watered down that their original magical intentions are too weak to be effective. Personalized rituals, based on the composition and need of the members, return them to their powerful origins.
A Ritual Recipe
Rituals follow a very simple recipe. They have an opening, a verb/intention and a closing. The opening serves to create sacred space. The verb/intention is the most important part; it informs and infuses the action and magic of the ritual. The closing generally serves as a time for gratitude, disillusion of any energies still present, and a return to regular non-sacred space.
Clarity regarding the intention of the ritual will help with the choice of the ritual verb. Imber-Black and Roberts (1992) have studied rituals for much of their career, and suggest five common ritual verbs: relating, changing, healing, believing and celebrating. These broad categories include rites of blessing, worshiping, invoking, banishing, pacifying, energizing, imbuing, consecrating, and transforming.
Once the ritual intention is identified, it must have a concrete physical expression. For example, the ritual intention of banishing could be symbolically expressed by letting a helium balloon float away.
As we proceed through this season of rituals, pay attention to the verbs and intentions that surround you. You’ll notice that although the names of the holidays and rituals differ, the verbs are often the same…. and if you find yourself in need of a ritual that doesn’t exist, you’ve got everything you need to create one.
How to Write A Ritual: Creating A Blessing-way Ritual
For purposes of this post, let’s create a blessing ritual (sometimes called a ‘blessing-way’) for a pregnant first time mother-to-be. The verb, or intention, to bless the woman’s transformation, must be expressed symbolically. Symbols allow something small and simple to represent something quite epic. Symbolism is key to the creation of a good ritual. The stimulation of all five senses is encouraged whenever possible, as each of our senses follows its own path back to the archetypal experiences of our ancestors. This allows for the use of music, incense, food, fabrics and special altar items.
If the woman is open to the idea of the Divine-Feminine, goddess imagery is a lovely way to empower the pregnancy process, and the Celtic Goddess Brigid is a great choice. Brigid is a triple Goddess of healing, smithery and creativity, offering many transformative energies from which to choose. Baby showers are a very watered down version of a Brigid blessing ritual (the ritual verb/intention being to bless the new life).
Perhaps the simplest yet most powerful symbol associated with Brigid is the element of fire. Her name translates as “bright one,” and in ancient times, she was worshiped as a fire goddess at her sacred shine in Kildare. Water is another of Brigid’s symbols, as she has long been associated with sacred wells and the waters of inspiration and healing. The image of an eye, also attributed to Brigid, offers wonderful symbolism related to clear-vision and being watched over or protected. Brigid’s iconic straw crosses and colorful yarn wrapped “eyes of the goddess” are expression of this clear vision. Each of these symbols lends themselves beautifully to a blessing-way ritual.
Ritual symbols are often displayed on an altar of some sort. Candles and a lovely chalice of mineral water would be simple yet powerful symbols on an alter for Brigid.
Remember, a ritual recipe has three ingredients – opening, verb, closing. The opening might involve a procession into the room followed by a reading or song invoking Brigid’s presence. Other common ritual openings include the verbal invocation of the four directions, four elements, or four facets of the Goddess – maiden, mother, queen and crone.
Once sacred space has been established through the opening, Brigid can be invoked and invited in. Poetic invocations are often used because they are easy to remember, and can be recited with increasing speed and volume (usually thee times) as a method of raising the energy in the room. They need not rhyme. In Tbe Goddess Path, Patricia Monaghan (1999) offers the perfect invocation for a Brigid blessing-way:
Brigid, gold-red woman
Brigid, flame and honeycomb,
Brigid, sun of womanhood
Brigid, lead me home
The Ritual Verb (Blessing) – where the action is!
Now the ritual intention of blessing the mother-to-be can take place. A simple yet powerful way to bless the woman’s journey might involve the use of candles that will remain lit in some format until the after the mother’s labor. Guests might be asked to write possible obstacles to a peaceful labor and birth on magician’s flash paper, and then offer them for transformation into Brigid’s flames. Or each guest might hold the chalice of healing water from the altar, and put wishes and blessings into it. The mother-to-be might drink the water during the ceremony, or save it until she is in labor. The gathering community could make colorful goddess-eyes and Brigid’s crosses to hang in the delivery room, so that the goddess can watch over her delivery. Beads strung on a necklace could represent blessings. All who attend the rite could be woven together with yarn around their wrists, each vowing to wear the yarn until after labor is complete, and each vowing to lend the mother and child strength, peace and courage during the time of transformation. The only requirement for this part of the ritual is that it make sense to the mother-to-be, and that she has something tangible to take with her from the ritual and into her labor.
The Ritual Closing
The closing of the ritual is often very similar to the opening. Gratitude may be expressed, and any energies invoked (in this case, Brigid) should be released with gratitude and reverence. It is also good to eat something to assist with the return to normal consciousness, which allows for further less formal feasting and celebration.
A version of this post was previously published as:
King, B. (2012). Inspiration and invocation: Creating a ritual with Brigit. In P. Monaghan & M. McDermott (Eds.), Brigit: Sun of Womanhood. Las Vegas, NV: Goddess Ink. http://www.goddess-ink.com/brigitsunofwomanhood.html
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Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Fiese, B., et al (2002). A review of 50 years of research on naturally occurring family routines and rituals: Cause for celebration? Journal of Family Psychology, 16(4), 381-390. doi:10.1037//0893-3126.96.36.1991
Fisher, M., & Francis, B. (1999). Soul pain and the therapeutic use of ritual. Psychodynamic Counseling, 5(1), 53-72.
Houston, J. (1987). The search for the beloved: Journeys in mythology and sacred psychology. New York, NY: Putnam.
Frankl, V. (1984). Man’s search for meaning. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Imber-Black, E., & Roberts, J. (1992). Rituals for our times. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Jung, C. G. (1964). Man and his symbols. New York, NY: Doubleday.
King, B. (2012). Inspiration and invocation: Creating a ritual with Brigit. In P. Monaghan & M. McDermott (Eds.), Brigit: Sun of Womanhood. Las Vegas, NV: Goddess Ink.
May, R. (1991). The cry for myth. New York, NY: Norton.
Monaghan, P. (1999). The goddess path: Myths, invocations & rituals. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
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Parker, R. J. (1999). The art of blessing: Teaching parents to create rituals. Professional School Counseling, 2(3), 218-225.
Parker, R., & Horton, H. S. (1996). A typology of ritual: Paradigms for healing and empowerment. Counseling and Values, 40(2), 82-97. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007X.1996.tb00842.x
By Dr. Betz King, PsyD, MA Program Coordinator