The Value of Ritual


In 1997 four other women and I formed an organization we called The Matrix. Our purpose was to discover, define, and address what is valuable in the lives of women. Having experienced many benefits from engaging in personal rituals, it was important to me to find concrete and memorable ways to express our hopes and desires for the Matrix — for example, to devise meaningful programs, to relate honestly, to work in harmony with one another, and to help women create connections with their own deep wells of wisdom — and so I created rituals for each meeting as well as the events we produced. To my delight, the others participated eagerly, and after a while I earned the unofficial title of “Ritual Lady,” a distinction I wore with great honor.
At first, the most obvious benefit of our planning session rituals was that they connected us with our innermost selves, often at levels much deeper than those normally accessible. Rarely did we complete a ritual without deep emotion and affirming new insights. This soul-baring work established the foundation for an unusual degree of intimacy and trust which gradually changed our group from a secular organization into a spiritual community. As a woman who has been very slow to trust that others would accept me if I spoke my soul’s truths, I experienced a huge breakthrough the first time my Matrix sisters created a special ritual for me in which to express some anger. Their encouragement to communicate honestly and openly, and their acceptance when I did, was life-changing.
I would never have had the courage to do this if we had not, meeting after meeting, month after month, year after year taken the time to create a sacred container for ourselves and our work through ritual. For me, this proves the truth of an assertion by Kay Turner in her article, “Contemporary Feminist Rituals,” that “Feminist ritual practice is currently the most important model for symbolic and, therefore, psychic and spiritual change in women.”
Whether personal or collective, rituals help transform individual souls and bring them into proper relationship with One Soul. In Turner’s words, “…ritual space and activity are sacred in the sense of representing the possibility of self-transformation. Part of the power and the fear experienced in ritual is the realization that one may change, become ultimately different, as a result of the experience or that the experience may suddenly make recognizable change that has been slowly rising from the depths of personality and ideology.”
A major benefit of ritual is growth in consciousness. As I wrote in my post from February, 2011 titled “Your Body As Your Partner in Dreamwork,” I’ve found that participating in original rituals helps me clarify and integrate important new insights. Even if I should someday forget the ritual my Matrix sisters conducted for me, the courage, relief, self-validation and personal empowerment I experienced changed me forever. I still feel anger and other powerful emotions, of course, but I am no longer at their mercy, nor do I feel compelled to deny them healthy outlets, for the simple reason that I am more conscious.
Before I began writing this post I lit the lemon grass and wheat-scented candle on my desk and spent a moment in quiet self-awareness. This never fails to inspire me. When I am finished, extinguishing it will bring the comfort of knowing I have completed a task that is important to my soul. What are the rituals that nourish your soul?

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0 Responses

  1. I suppose I never thought about some of my behavior as “ritual” but as I read your piece, Jeanie, I think that I may, at times, use ritual as I search for wisdom and guidance.
    Two instances immediately come to mind and they each involve sitting quietly with my eyes closed, early in the morning, in the same chair, listening to music:
    1) Whenever I am looking to for order in my writing I listen to Glen Gould’s interpretation of Bach’s Preludes in Fugues.
    2) When I want my mind to wander and take me away I listen to Keith Jarret’s “The Koln Concert”
    Might these qualify as rituals, Jeanie?

    1. Oh, absolutely, Charlie. These are wonderful examples. I think anything we do mindfully and with love is a sacred act and qualifies as a ritual: preparing food for ourselves or loved ones, watching sunsets with a glass of wine, gardening, listening to special music, grooming a pet, reading to a child, walking along the beach at sunrise, etc.

  2. I love rituals. The are hard to always do, but when I do them, everything seems to go better.
    Lighting candles,journaling at the end of the day and and reading a poem before bedtime are some of the rituals I like.
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Hi jay,
      It’s the same for me. Things do seem to go better when I become intentional about connecting my inner world with outer actions. I feel more present, peaceful, aware and alive, and I sense I’ve done something that’s important somehow. I think that may be my soul telling my ego how much it loves and needs rituals. I love yours. Thank you for stopping by and sharing them.

  3. Beautiful story of ritual and healing. As I move through many years of doing “men’s” work–i.e, Robert Blysian shadow work, as well as moving through addictions, abuse memories, and so on, I have discovered that rituals, conscious rituals, are key to my healing. And they can be simple and they can be private, or shared. They can be “silly” in the sense of light–they can be deep and almost all include music or poetry. Once I used to pray (which was just me talking to myself) with only my head–my heart and body weren’t involved–I carried too much shame, too much pain, too much grief and rage. I was at their mercy. And I ran from them into the waiting, frigid arms of addictions. Today, I am learning to listen to these emotions, to look at them as angels–messengers–to be honored with safe expression, to be blessed with gentle rituals, to be thanked for their holy and important work. Rituals, we all have them. May they become conscious and shared in a spirit of love and unity, in a movement of dance and of song. Honor the body, honor the heart, honor the mind, honor each other.

    1. Dear Joseph,
      Your story is very powerful. Thank you for sharing it. I love knowing that your “safe expression” of emotions in “gentle rituals” has been healing for you. This is, indeed, “holy and important work.” I believe the many varieties of inner work are the holiest and most important work anyone can do; in healing ourselves, we make the only lasting contribution any of us can make to healing the world. As Krishnamurti said, “the world problem is an individual problem.”
      With honor and blessings to you for your wise and courageous work,

  4. Great blog! Recently, I began holding Red Tents for women and it has been such a beautiful experience to connect with women and share about our inner selves. I think rituals bring peace and light for me. I ground myself in the morning with prayer and smudging. Even the quick and condensed version of a ritual helps for stressful times.

    1. Dear sweetnessof soul,
      How marvelous that you are doing Red Tent rituals! You are providing such an important service by helping women honor themselves and their femininity. Brava, sweet soul sister! And your morning prayer and smudging are wonderful ways to prepare your mind and bless your body for another day. Smudging is a favorite ritual of mine too. I used to do it before I meditated every day. And I agree that condensed rituals work almost as well; I think it’s because they bring your mind back into an attitude of reverent awareness — a necessary element of consciousness — if only for a brief moment. Thank you for taking the time to share your rituals.
      Blessings to you,

  5. Dear Matrix Sister… Of course I loved the blog as I love you for the blessing you have been in my life. As the Ritual Queen for the Matrix, you shared the sacred power of ritual. I have taken this knowledge and experience to my school where rituals and rites of passage are integrated into the fabric of the program. While middle school boys may not fully understand– on a soul level– the power of ritual, I know that they have been exposed to both the word “ritual” and the experience and are changed by it. Their parents also participate in rituals that are a part of our family training seminars. Perhaps the most important rituals are part is our graduation rite of passage where parents, students and staff meet at the medicine wheel to issue “honorable closure” to the graduate. He walks the medicine wheel sharing his insights about his growth and new understanding of himself. Thank you, Jeanie, for being The Teacher…

    1. Oh Beth, you have the most generous spirit of any woman I have ever known and are a true blessing in my life too. It makes me feel so wonderful to know I had a part in the extraordinary learning situation you have created for your boys at Cherokee Creek School. They and their parents will spend the rest of their lives thanking their lucky stars they found you.
      Love and blessings to you my dear Matrix sister and friend,

  6. I so value the deep friendship of my “girl/women” friends. I must admit I’ve not bared myself as much as your essay states, but I still feel the power from good and strong women. Amen to that!
    ps, I cannot locate your replys. 🙁

  7. Hi Donna,
    I think my experience with these women was unusual in that we were all as sincerely committed to understanding and accepting ourselves and each other as we were to helping other women. I once was in a group in which I shared a dream that had given me guidance about how to respond to the request of one of the women in the group and she took it so badly that she left and never came back. Not everyone can be trusted with our heart’s truths. You have toknow when it’s safe and when it’s not!
    I’m glad you have the friendship of good and strong women to support you. It is a true blessing.
    I’ll write separately about how to get my replies.

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