I decided to write something a little different this time. The recent passing of a friend got me thinking about the ritualistic nature of the funeral service. Got me thinking about rituals in general. What follows are some thoughts on the subject.
What exactly is a ritual? A ritual can be defined as a ceremonial or formal solemn act, observance, or procedure done in accordance with a prescribed rule or custom. Now that's a broad definition that can certainly encompass much activity, but most rituals are meant to induce change, or reflect a change that is already taking place. Many rituals are in reality, nothing more than rites of pas-sage. Some examples of this are bar mitzvahs, baptizes, marriages, and funerals. Traditional events that are ritualistic in their very nature. These so called rites of pas-sage are just changes from one form to another. They are very analogous to celestial changes that are noted by ritualistic celebrations. Festivals in honor of the Spring and Autumn Equinox, or the Summer and Winter Solstice, do commerate the changing from one season to another. Every December 31st we all celebrate the dawning of a New Year.
Traditional rituals slow down the rush, and chaos of daily life. They present to us glimpses of eternity, and show us where we are in the midst of things. One thing that a ritual like a wedding does is freeze the clock against our most formidable opponent, time. At a wedding we have the parents, who inwardly wind back the hands of time. Visions of the child’s first steps, school plays, and first dates parade thru their minds. The elderly in attendance reflect up-on their marriages, and the changes they have seen within that union. They ponder on all that they have seen thru the years of their marriage. The younger ones cast themselves in the role of the betrothed.
Funerals and wakes are rituals that honor the dead. They spark the emotions, by triggering feelings of mourning and remembrance. These particular rites of passage can be very therapeutic for the living because it helps to set up feelings of acceptance, and lets them continue-with their own lives. It also helps dissolve any feelings of guilt.
Most traditional rituals make use of candles, in one way or another. In many Christian ceremonies, the candles are symbolic of Christ, as being the light of the world. One non-Christian us of candles in ritualistic celebrations, is the birthday cake. Light the candles, make a wish, and blow them out. Your wish will come true. In traditional rituals, as with any kind of ritual, candles are used as a symbol to focus ones attention, and aid in the total concentration of the mind.
The cross is another symbolic tool used in traditional rituals. The custom of making the sign of the cross is an instant way to a-waken, and activate the spiritual spark within us. The cross is not specifically a Christian symbol. It is a universal symbol, and can be found in all theosophies, in one form or another. In many ways the cross is an obvious manifestation of our whole world. It represents the four .seasons of the year, the four elements, the four direction- all points of the compass, the four cardinal points in astrology, even the four Archangels. Many different spiritual rituals are found to be based upon the powerful symbol of the cross.
Traditional rituals help us to deal with the inevitable changes in our lives, and present a chance to stop and take a good look at our lives, see were we have been, and where we are going.