Rituals are actions that are performed which “act out” thoughts produced from beliefs, myths or ideas.

Rituals are important because they provide us with opportunities to enhance our experiences as individuals and as a society. Rituals accomplish this by adding meaning to circumstances which goes beyond that which separate actions add up to. This is because the actions and symbols, attached to rituals, operate to stimulate emotions and senses. As a result, through rituals, we can more effectively achieve desired outcomes.

Rituals and underlying myths, ideas, actions and symbols may contain mysterious origins and components. More specifically, it may unknown what the original underlying idea was that gave rise to the occasion to perform a particular ritual; or, it may be unknown how a particular action or symbol became attached to a particular ritual. Moreover, rituals and underlying myths, ideas, actions and symbols may contain nonsensical origins and components. With such fallacies in mind, the following question is often posed: If the underpinnings of a ritual are unknown or might be considered ridiculous, should the ritual be continued? The best answer is: It is wise to keep and revere rituals which enrich our lives individually or communally. Myth, ritual and tradition need to be considered in the context of what they were intended to represent, and more importantly, need to be considered in the context of what they have come to represent. Rituals should be encouraged where the objective and/or outcome is to bring desirable meaning, understanding and purpose to life.

Myth and ritual can satisfy individual needs in everyday life. Individuals, whether conscious of it, or not, have certain personal myths and shared myths concerning identity; and consequently, perform rituals related to these myths. Examples include carrying a sentimental item, wearing a certain article of clothing for luck and performing certain routines in a particular order. Daily living is filled with mini ceremonies (ritualistic acts), that bring us out of the ordinary and into heightened states of awareness. Expressing these otherwise unexceptional actions with purposefulness, awareness and affection can add depth and meaning to our lives.

Rituals can be a means for values and structures of society to continue through the ages. Rituals can also create new values and structures. The corresponding principles and institutions, whether traditional or new, can be transmitted to individuals and groups. Examples include family values and cultural idiosyncrasies.

Rituals can facilitate and encourage a sense of belongingness. Celebrating events, whether important or unimportant, with the flair of ritualistic actions and symbols, creates feelings of unity and common purpose for those that participate. Examples include carving pumpkins for Halloween, drinking green beer on Saint Patrick’s Day and hunting for Easter eggs.

Life brings changes. All over the world, societies have rituals (ceremonies) signifying an event in a person's life that is indicative of a transition from one stage to another. These are often referred to as “rites of passage”. Rites of passage rituals provide purpose and function at both the individual and the group level by revealing the change in a positive light. Also, such rituals help alleviate the anxiety that people might experience, in connection with undergoing the change, by helping them cope with the stresses of change and providing them with understanding or meaning for the change. Examples of rites of passage rituals include graduation ceremonies, weddings and funerals.

Unfortunately, rituals may be dismissed as primitive, unnecessary or religious. However, disowning and abandoning rituals deprives our generation, and generations to come, of the benefits of rituals. In addition, rejection of rituals at an individual level may result in feelings of detachment from self and others.

Since myth and ritual can be valuable instruments to enrich life at the individual and collective level, before we dismiss or discard a ritual, we should stop to consider the meaning and the effect of the ritual. The value and essence of rituals may be best summed up with a quote from Huston Smith. “Rituals help us celebrate, and at the other end of the spectrum they help us to connect deeply with people in times of sorrow. The repetition that ritual always involves sets the present moment in a larger context and infuses it with wider meaning.”

Author's Bio: 

Denise Lammi, BMA, CA - Denise is a Lecturer, Author and Chartered Accountant. She has authored numerous personal development articles and business seminars and has co-authored the personal development book, Your Own Devices.

Denise's varied education, life experiences and work experience combined with her personal interest in classic novels, history, science fiction and new age thinking give her writing an insightful and entertaining quality. Her current project is Lucid World, a new age fantasy novel.