The Paradigm of Ritual
Since man first took a moment upon killing an animal and pondered the greater scheme of things and gave thanks for his fortune, the human consciousness has been flooded with ritual. Like all other animals we are creatures of habit, but with our ability to perceive the more heightened senses we take this further and become creatures of ritual. So firstly, how do we distinguish the difference? How are habit and ritual differentiated? Quite simply habit is a ritual that has become mundane, something that has lost its focused intent and has developed into something accepted rather than something necessary. This should not be looked upon as a bad thing, far from it. If everything in our life was ritual then everything would in essence be mundane and human nature needs the difference to be distinguished. Ritual is an element of our life that goes beyond the regular, beyond the mundane and retains a link to the "other", the mystical, the mystery. How do we define that mystery? I see the mystery in our life and in the world as that which is beyond our own sphere of perception, beyond our sphere of influence - that is the true unknown. Ritual is a tool to allow us to equate with that unknown, to attune to the vibrational world outside and it is due to it being unknown that we develop faith, or as it should really be known, instinctive trust.
So as humans evolved both physically, socially and spiritually we began to define the shared unknown together in collective ritual and a collective, or shared approach to the what we now call the divine. In so doing created the groundwork for religion - a systematic method of quantifying our understanding of what we don't understand and the ritual way in which we seek to approach it. As we approach the mystery outside our perceived reality we bring ourselves closer to it until it begins to enter that sphere of perception until the rituals becomes habitual. This happens through various methods and I will try to provide a simplistic example here. During the very early stages of spiritual awareness the human consciousness developed an awareness of the life forces that where in the natural world around us, beyond our own supposed existence. This was the time in which animism came into being, that belief in the life force present in all nature and more importantly in the inanimate as well as the more obvious animate forms of life. As human intelligence continued to develop we began to understand the nature of nature and to think of nature more collectively leading the next stage of belief, that of totemism.
This was an early understanding of collective spirituality, or as Carl Jung termed it collective consciousness. The individual trees of the forest that had been revered as sacred for their life force where then considered as a collective whole, that there was a God of the forest comprised of the collective spirit of them all. Thousands of years later science has developed that now allows us to understand on a scientific level that which ancient man knew, that the life forces in the inanimate are indeed present. This knowledge led ritual to become habitual, and we know find the majority of people talking about the protection of trees on the basis of how they support the global supply of oxygen and how we are so intrinsically linked - scientific belief but still a form of belief.
So we set out now upon our modern world, knowledge in hand perhaps of what distinguishes habit from ritual, walking our individual and collective pathways leading to further understandings and greater goals. Yet what do we truly understand in our day and age, with all the knowledge that we have, of the subtle influencing factors of ritual? When we stand amidst our circle and cleanse, purify and bless just what is it that we are doing, what are we cleansing away? What are we purifying and why and is there any real need to bless? When we create that world beyond all worlds (for non-pagans my apologies, but outside of the more ritualistic religious practice I might not be making a huge amount of sense) just what are we attempting to separate ourselves from?
The new technological world around us is full to brimming with all forms of vibration and inside our sacred circles and our places of power is no different. When we draw the circle round I could quite easily pull out a mobile mid-invocation and call forth something no quite as expected as an elemental. When standing amidst the sacred, be within a magical circle or within a stone circle, we are perpetually bombarded on a vibrational level with information. The collected wealth of mobile phone calls, wi-fi Internet, radio, television. Every atom of air right in front of you, right now, is infused with and carrying all that information. Developing an awareness of this can start to have profound effects on a person and will in time start to play a part in just how you approach ritual. Exploration of that concept I will leave with the reader for now.
The world is vast and the mystery that still lies outside our sphere of perception is, I believe, the "final frontier" of spiritual searching and we are indeed the great explorers. Don't forget that each day you wake and learn something new, even if it is only that your physical body has travelled all the way around the centre of the world yet again (my preferred way of thinking of a day). You are able to rethink your perception of what you see however you want. Try to remember why a fortnight is called so, the physical distance your body has moved in space in one year (including the journey around the sun) and also the known fact that you spend more "perceived hours" in a dream world asleep than you do in your waking experience.
So, what is the paradigm of ritual?
The truth is that ritual is a theory to an end not the end to a theory. Ritual is the tool and the "tools" are mere trappings to allow us to focus our intent on the tool which allows us to do the job, the job being the ever growing expansion of our sphere of understanding. All we can ever do is seek to understand and understand what we seek. We must learn to understand that we become what we perceive and in so doing begin to construct the pathway that lies before us. A great deal of this may all seem obvious, may have you thinking "I know this" and I would believe you - the problem is that many of us know something, can even understand that something but fail to hold that image in our mind long enough for it to become a fully accepted and used part of our personal reality, and until that is done it is as though it doesn't exist - even though we know it does, because nothing exists in our personal reality until it becomes a part of us!