“Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.” Gustav Mahler
(With thanks to my friend Dawn for the quote)
The holiday season always gets me thinking about rituals and how we use them. I have seen that the role of ritual in my own life has been to help me order and arrange my perceptions - a way to sort. I also see that rituals, especially theatrical ones, have been used for millennia to order and arrange people, congregations - a way to impress and enthrall, usually to persuade toward some belief. But in either case, there is nothing magic in it beyond our own perceptions, so that I can only call ritual a tool, useful for organizing myself and sharing experiences with friends and family, useful for creating context and invoking memory.
For example, several years ago I put a great deal of energy into using traditional Advent sensibilities toward a better personal understanding of the transition that I felt was taking place in my life. I set four gold candles on my dining room sideboard, lighting each one singly on each of the four Sundays before Solstice, which was on a Monday. On each of those Sundays I celebrated an Occasion. I had no set idea of how I would handle these celebrations, or what they would mean to me, but instead I hoped that they would serve as reminders of whatever I was supposed to be learning.
The first candle was at our late Thanksgiving, family and
friends using a table artfully set with dishes I have inherited,
beautiful and sentimental. I announced that we were deliberately
calling up the past in order to honor the future and made a small to-do about
lighting the candle. The day went perfectly and the vibes were great and I
later came to think of this as Invocation.
The specific things I learned were that all future is built on the past, and, as my partner was injured and unable to help with the preparations, that I should never bite off more than I can chew by myself!
The second Sunday was a family birthday celebration, and chaos reigned with kids and dogs so much that I forgot about lighting the candle at all until late in the evening. I have labeled the second candle Family, and the specific things I learned were that family commitments can be so consuming they make you shortsighted, and, secondly, that planning to the smallest detail inhibits creativity, as I cooked this meal and birthday cake ad hoc, mostly making it up as I went along. It was delicious and fun and it reminded me that dancing is the right metaphor for living in this universe.
The third Sunday we had two old friends for dinner, and I set the table simply but elegantly with dinnerware handed down from my grandmother and cooked an easy roast with sides. I labeled this candle Friends, and the specific things I learned were that friends make up our larger context, and old friends keep us from moving too far off the track, kind of working as regulators; second, familiarity and trust are comfortable and without stress, restful and refreshing for our souls.
The fourth candle was lighted for Silver Fox and I alone, to talk about our dreams for the Future. We had a favorite meal and we spun dreams out loud. I was reminded that sending double desires into the universe is more effective than sending single ones: thoughts have mass, as we learned from our early years planning together. So the lesson from this candle was to revisit lessons learned earlier in life about getting results in the real world.
On Solstice I lighted all four candles and went through the above learned lessons in my mind, and then I abandoned all thought to the fire.
This would be the time to dance.