by Caroline Borne
Ritual has been undergoing a reformation along with spiritual thinking. People are taking ritual into their own hands and creating new forms to define and shape their spirituality. Not only are people making new rituals for birth, adulthood, marriage and death, they are also bringing the sacred into everyday life by creating rituals however small, to help personal issues release and change.
I have been making my own rituals and facilitating and empowering groups and individuals in this work for many years. I’ve taken this work into a variety of contexts; with Catholic nuns in a convent in Liverpool, in prisons, education centres, at women’s festivals, with children, and taking groups into nature using the natural elements to support the work.
Self, Community and the World
Rituals can be used to help self or society. Anna Halprin, whom I trained with, responded to a crisis in her community with ritual. Her centre, (Tamalpa Institute) is on a mountain called Tamalpais. Most of it is a national park but in 1983 it was closed to the public for months because of a series of rapes and murders there. Anna ran workshops locally and in nearby San Francisco, culminating in hundreds of local people processing up the mountain together with poets, dancers and singers, accompanied by police presence. At the top they performed a peace ritual to enact the conflict of the forces of good and evil. The intention was to bring peace to the mountain. Shortly afterwards the killer was found and the mountain was opened again, perhaps simply by people talking to each other more openly.
The mountain is held sacred by the native people, and Anna was asked by them to enact this ritual ‘On the Mountain’ every year for 5 years to make the healing complete. This led to her creating ‘Circle the Earth’, a peace ritual that takes place at the same time in several counties at once. I have facilitated parts of this ritual in the U.K. several times. One year we performed it on top of Glastonbury Tor which was a powerful focal point for the ritual.
Having led traditional structured rituals from the American Indian and Celtic traditions, I now create rituals with people that are ‘hand made’ and present moment. People take time to connect to themselves and their lives, drawing on this so the structure and meaning is personally connected to all. It’s a collective creative process. We may use aspects of traditional ritual as for example calling in the four directions to orientate and balance the four elements within us, but for rituals to be alive and real they need to be created in present time. If it is a short workshop, and there isn’t time for everyone to co-create the whole ritual, I use a simple structure that is designed for everyone to participate within it.
Connecting to the Body
I facilitate embodied ritual because it is important to be in your body when doing ritual. My main work is teaching movement and dance and I am a movement therapist. I help people to become more embodied and to develop their own language of self-expressive dance and movement.
Spiritual work needs to be connected to the body, not just from the heart upwards, but fully embodied so that the lower body and legs are awake and alive and connected to the earth. Much psychic and spiritual work gives more value to the upper areas in the body, but all of the body is sacred and needs our respect and love. This can be given by relating to the body with breath work, movement and kinaesthetics awareness which increases our awareness of our body movement. Thus I start all my ritual workshops with movement, stretching, and releasing the joints, muscles and breath.
The Power of Intention
Choosing and holding an intention gives focus, direction and unity. Having an intention for a ritual also acts as a central channel for everyone’s will to join together, so everything can galvanise around it to support the process. Holding a clear joint intention has a lot of power. It is important to respect that power. In the 90’s I ran a ritual series for Centre for Creation Spirituality at St. James, Piccadilly in London and one week I called the theme ‘Be careful for what you ask for, you might get it’. That statement reminds us of the power of thought and intention and how we can forget it, even to the point of finding it hard to believe or receive something really positive when it comes, especially when it appears miraculous. If it happens to you, don’t say ‘I just don’t believe it’ as you just might wish it away!
Intentions have more potential when they include all of ourselves. If it is just a ‘head thought’ it is only two-dimensional. It has to be felt in your heart and experienced in your body. Your mind can name it in words, but it needs to be felt deeply.
The key factor that defines ritual and brings people closer spiritually, is that ritual always calls on a higher power. This can mean different things for different people, and willing communication always brings mutually agreeable words and actions. It is important to speak from your heart, and say what is real for you in the process before, during or after. The form of the ritual must never be more important than the moment to moment life of the ritual. Laughter, sometimes tears, a spontaneous song or a thought or feeling that was calling to be spoken out loud may not have been planned, but as long as everyone is aware and open to the process it will feel right.
The spirit in ritual can die, becoming an empty vessel in the more organised religions. Forms that were meaningful once don’t stay meaningful for ever because we evolve and change. You have to listen to changing times and needs, otherwise ritual becomes associated with the negative connotation of mindless repetition.
A ritual will mean different things for different people. To simply be gently touched by the experience will be more than enough for one. Some may feel connected to spirit again, or feel a sense of peace. To feel inspired and energised or strengthened enough to make an important decision. Others gain more consciousness with which to make a transition in their lives, and others feel transformed. Although a spiritual teacher of mine once said God is equally found in a an inner city skyscraper as in a beautiful place in nature, for me rituals in nature strengthen and renew me in very different ways to indoor ones. Finding the tangible and symbolic connections between our bodies and nature gives us intimacy with nature. But wherever the rituals take place, with our heart intent behind physical actions we can create magic and healing.
Beauty and love
Making ritual brings out the artist in you, even if you believe you’re not artistic. Making a simple altar with beautiful objects gives attention to your spirit in a physical way, and the act of making an altar can be a ritual in itself. Wearing soft silky flowing clothes, choosing colours you would not usually wear, but want to try can be liberating. Whether you are creating a sacred space alone or with others, it will remind you of your ability to lovingly create something beautiful.
Caroline Born has been facilitating and training groups since 1979 in Movement work, movement therapy and ritual. She is a graduate of the Tamalpa Institute and teaches in a wide variety of contexts including schools, prisons, colleges and theatres.