Rituals for a fascinating part of our collective human experience, and throughout the spiritual and religious traditions of the world, rituals have taken many, many forms.

They are used in key rites of passage such as births, coming of age and death. These public celebrations present a sense of collective social experience, a codified means of social expression and a framework for continuity from generation to generation.

Virtually all known belief systems from shamanism to buddhism, christianity to paganism have all used, and still do use rituals as a key means of conveying faith and shared beliefs.

Some rituals are very simple and personal, whilst others have become large scale public celebrations. Some require little in the way of formal set up, and others require a rich preparation such as fasting, the commissioning of special costumes or the preparation of special meals.

And many rituals are rich in symbolism, and are a means of story telling and myth making, which would have been passed down verbally from generation to generation. They may tell stories of creator beings, give moral instruction or tell tales of times when the gods walked the earth. For some Australian aborigines, the land itself is a story book of such mythical times, where beings tore the earth, fought and even died.

It is also thought that the early Upanishads were encouraging people to look through external meaning of vedic rituals and experience their inner meaning, through retreats and personal meditation. And the act of ritual, however simple, can provide important mental and physical anchors for the meditative experience.

For many the music, incense and singing of rituals can create a moving experience, which allows them to transcend their limited self and experience being a part of a greater whole. Indeed, some form of sacrifice whether real or symbolic, is often a key element in many rituals.

© David R. Durham

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