The Power of Ritual

How did your holiday celebrations go? Whether you marked Hanukkah, Yule, Guru Gobind Singh’s Birthday, Christmas or something else, ritual played a key role. Even those who count themselves secular have their rituals around this time. It could be decorating the Christmas tree, baking a special cake or lighting a candle. 

Rituals include a wide range of practices from the everyday to the esoteric. They’re a fundamental part of human culture and one of the embodied pathways of connection. But how do rituals work? More importantly, why do they sometimes fail? Most of us have endured an ’empty ritual’, an old tradition that’s lost its power. A graduation, wedding or funeral marks a transition, and such rituals function as social markers however the participants experience them. But the real work of a ritual lies in its impact on us. Did the wedding serve to change the new couples’ perception of themselves? Did the funeral contribute to the process of grieving? Such changes happen below the level of conscious experience, changing the what or how of our embodied knowing.

This is the aspect of ritual that inspired me to study embodied knowing. Through my ritual experience, I came to “a deep knowing of the sacredness of the Earth that is more than just an intellectual awareness of the facts & figures about species decimation & habitat loss” (Harris, 1995). By allowing us to think “through and with the body” (Raposa, 2004: 115), rituals can provide access to what I call the ‘deep body’, a level of awareness where embodied thoughts and thinking function.

We create new rituals all the time, and if we do that with thought and clear intentions, they can be transformative. The transformative power of ritual is part of the inspiration behind a project I’ve just launched. 

The Element Festivals logo. Graphic representation of Air, Water, Fire and Earth.

The Element Festivals

Many people use the classical Greek Elements of Air, Water, Fire and Earth in their spiritual or psychological practice, and our lives depend on them. The Element Festivals provide an opportunity to celebrate these archetypal forces. Each Element has one day a year dedicated to it, a time of honouring and celebrating its power and our relationship with it. Individuals or groups will mark each Festival with rituals, creating artwork, having a party or simply enjoying that particular Element. I’m especially encouraging people to bring an environmental dimension to their celebrations, but even if participants choose not to explicitly do something to help the planet, the ritual of celebration will help deepen their connection to nature.

The Embodied Pathways of Connection: A Presentation

The Embodiment Conference was a huge online event that took place in late 2020. I was the Manager of the Ecology and Research Channel and I also gave a presentation about the Embodied Pathways of Connection. While there have been a few days of free access to the Conference recordings, most of the time they’re behind a paywall. Fortunately, I’m able to share my presentation here. Although you can read an introduction to the Embodied Pathways of Connection in a couple of my blog posts, this 50-minute presentation allows me time to go into more depth. I refer to some of the other presentations from The Embodiment Conference, but you don’t need to watch those to understand what I’m talking about here. However, the Conference organisers will be delighted to sell you lifetime access to all the recordings if you’re keen!

In this presentation, I’m proposing that there are numerous ways of altering consciousness that can enable us to access our embodied knowing and awaken from what Thich Nhat Hanh called “our illusion of separateness.” These are the Embodied Pathways of Connection (EPoC). I talk about several of them in this presentation: mindfulness, psychedelic experience, nature connection, dance, ritual and Focusing. These are the EPoC that I identified when I was doing my PhD research, but are others I haven’t explored yet – art and sex are probably the most obvious.

Since I gave this presentation I’ve been working on a book about the EPoC and my ideas have developed a lot and changed in some ways. I’ll say more about that in future blog posts, but for now, I hope you’ll enjoy this. There’s a short introduction to the Ecology and Research Channel and I open with a reference to a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh: “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness”.