Updated: Mar 15
Ritual is often described as a symbolic expression of actual social relations, status, or the role of individuals in a society. Ritual is also described as referring to a transcendent, numinous (spiritual) reality and to the ultimate values of a community.
Simply put, ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence. Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community. Rituals are characterized, but not defined, by formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-governance, sacral symbolism, and performance.
Rituals are a feature of all known human societies. They include not only the worship rites and sacraments of organized religions and cults, but also rites of passage, atonement and purification rites, oaths of allegiance, dedication ceremonies, coronations and presidential inaugurations, marriages, funerals and more.
People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition – or even making it rain. Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear.
In our fast-moving world, rituals have the power to ground and stabilize us, and keep us focused and purposeful. They increase confidence, provide us with a sense of security, alleviate the weight of grief and help reduce anxiety. And, above all, rituals are a sure fire way to increase happiness.
Rituals are known to contribute toward social solidarity and cohesion as well as physical and mental well-being. In particular for a minority community, rituals help group members establish and maintain strong community networks and a unique group identity.
Additionally, rituals benefit our physical well-being and immune system. According to Andrew Newberg, the associate director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, rituals lower cortisol, which in turn lowers heart rate and blood pressure and increases immune system function.
Rituals motivate and move us. Through ritual we build families and communities, we make transitions and mark important events in our lives, we express ourselves in joy and sorrow, and perhaps, most importantly, we create and sustain identity. They come in every shape and colour.
Not long ago ritual was an integral part of human life. Today however much of community ritual experience has been relegated to the halls of religion. Whereas ritual satisfies an innate human desire inside all of us, we are not all of a religious bearing. So what are you to do if you’re not religious, but would still like to experience the community benefits of ritual?
Thanks to all of the recent research being done in the area of health and well-being (thank you pandemic) research has paid more attention to the power of ritual than ever before. There are now opportunities to participate in both live, and virtual rituals via non-religious holistic centers like Medicine + Magick .
If you’ve been looking for a way to experience being more grounded, centered and connected in these wild and I certain times, perhaps ritual is a pathway for you to explore in the new year.