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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8 Responses

  1. I also find rituals nourishing and I try to perform them regularly. Just now I tried to honor the lunar eclipse. I think people are increasingly realizing how empty their lives have been once religious rituals have almost completely lost their significance.
    Thank you for a beautiful piece of writing that soothed my soul this morning.

    1. I think you’re right about people finding new soul-soothing ways of recovering lost spiritual meaning. Thank you for letting me know this piece did that for you!

  2. Dear Jeanie…my sister-friend! What a beautiful blog. As read it I was transported back to our amazing Matrix days. I think it would go down in the personal histories of each of us as a time of fully realizing ourselves as powerful women and spiritual leaders. Our friendships became deep and important. Your role as the Ritual Lady was, indeed, an honored position among us. I often long for those days but know that we each took every morsel of what was offered and absorbed it into our being….we have moved past those days and are making a difference in other ways. I have taken the practice of ritual to a small therapeutic boarding school for boys and their families. We start all big meetings by lighting a candle in our “circle of friends” holder and say a blessing for the healing and support of our young warriors! It is very touching for both staff and families. And we have other rituals that we mark throughout the year with equal importance. Thank you for being so inspiring in the art of ritual…I will never forget it! xoxox

    1. Darling Beth,
      Simply meeting you and interacting with the amazing energy you brought to every meeting was transforming for me. I’ve been blessed by knowing a few other women who mentored me in maternal ways, but you were the first I knew who inspired me in a sisterly way: as a woman who was more interested in befriending and encouraging than impressing and competing. You provided the model for the image I’ve held for women’s friendships ever since. Thank you.
      Blessings on you and your healing work with your amazing offspring: The Cherokee Creek Boys School. xoxox

  3. About three or four years ago, a close friend gave as a present to Susie and me, an old family menorah. She said it had not been used for many years. Having no connection or understanding of anything of the Jewish faith, I asked if she would be offended if I , during Hanukkah , covered my head, read the prayers and lit the required candles throughout the week. I had no idea why I felt the need to do this. As each successive year has come and gone, I continue to cover my head, which has become a personal act of introduction to the ritual, the candles continue to be lit in the prescribed fashion, but the prayers have been replaced with a concentration on the act of lighting and a connection felt with the flame. The initial wanting to do this felt decidedly odd, but the ritual has developed into part of who I am becoming. What you say about the role of ritual and the opening to the possibility of change rings so true.
    On the same point, for the past week I have been trying some mindfulness techniques… Now I’m not claiming instant enlightenment here! …but after only a couple of days I found myself in mid-conversation with someone overseeing myself and guiding me away from being over critical . And as that was happening it felt as if their was a link between that and the mindfulness techniques being practiced. No , I knew it was the same process. The budding self-awareness is growing when I least expect it. Oh and thanks to you Jeanie for the prod in the right direction. 🙂

    1. Thank you for this beautiful example of the power of personal ritual, Brian. By honoring your inner prodding to do something that felt sacred without knowing why, you were already practicing mindfulness as well as establishing a relationship with the Self. Building this kind of self-awareness truly is life-changing, as you’ve already experienced. I imagine you’re experiencing the rewards of this in the way of some very pleasurable self-affirmation. I’m so happy to know I’ve been helpful in moving you along on this grand adventure!!

  4. Thank you, Jeanie. You make me think of all the ways ritual holds and reveals. I begin and end each bereavement group with simple ritual. I mark my days with ritual, although less than I did in the years soon after Vic’s death. I navigated Vic’s illness and the raw grief with ritual touchstones. Sometimes the idea or image came through dreams or sometimes through teachings or they simply developed because we loved a poem or a certain spot on our land. One of my favorites was and is to focus on the soles of my feet and feel myself firmly held by Earth. The workshops I give this fall and winter will be full of ritual. I love imagining you wearing the mantle of priestess. Thanks for sharing your experience with the Matrix group.

    1. And thank you for sharing the ways rituals enrich your life. I love the idea of focusing on the soles of my feet and feeling firmly held by Earth. I tend to notice and follow my breath several times a day, one of many ways I am reminded of the miracle of being alive. It’s amazing how such simple practices can bring so much more meaning and sacredness to our everyday lives. 🙂 Blessings, Jeanie

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