When you hear the word “ritual” what do you think about?
You might immediately associate the term with pentagrams, circles of candles, ominous chanting and cloaked figures. You might picture occult symbols, darkly lit rooms, voodoo dolls or any number of other stereotypical images linked with the word.
The word “ritual” is almost always assumed to have religious connotations – after all, almost every culture since the beginning of time has incorporated rituals into their spiritual and religious ceremonies. From the ancient Egyptians, American Indians and Mayans, to the Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Muslims, rituals of every kind have been created and sustained for almost every purpose imaginable.
So it might come as a surprise to you to discover that rituals don’t have to be esoteric, rituals don’t have to be religious and rituals don’t have to be spiritual. In other words, you don’t have to belong to any tradition to practice them, you don’t have to be religious or spiritual to practice them, and you don’t have to make them “occult” or “new age” to practice them.
What is a Ritual and How Can You Benefit from One?
The rituals I speak of in this article are free for any person of any age, gender, religion, non-religion or culture to practice. The beautiful thing about rituals is that they are a habitual set of actions that are imbued with deep and personally significant meaning. Rituals, when practiced consistently and introspectively, can have an immensely beneficial impact on your life.
But the truth – something vital to remember – is that rituals in and of themselves have no power of their own. Think of them like you would a cup: a cup is a vessel for life-nourishing water, but when empty it doesn’t serve us much purpose. The same can be said for rituals; when over-used, they can become empty, lifeless and pointless. Unfortunately, many people in our world forget this and waste large portions of their time worshiping the “cup” rather than honoring the water within.
This is why I recommend setting an “Expiry Date” for your rituals. While some rituals will last you a year or more, others will last you a month, a week, a day, or even a minute.
That being said, here are some benefits of having a ritual:
• Rituals help you to “banish” bad habits.
• Rituals help you to heal.
• Rituals help you to create closure.
• Rituals help you to “invoke” the healing powers of transformation.
• Rituals help you to remain focused and goal orientated.
• Rituals help you to develop self-discipline.
The power of our rituals is directly dependent on the power of our will and intention. In a sense, rituals are like symbolic commitments we make to ourselves to grow, to strengthen, to heal and to surrender.
4 Types of Rituals
You might benefit from custom-creating a ritual of your own, or you might find it easier to use a ritual that has already been “tried and tested.” Whatever the case, I hope the rituals below inspire you. When I first started incorporating rituals into my process of inner healing and transformation, I experimented with both pre-established kinds, and custom-made creations. Below you will find a sample mixture of both.
1. Light a Candle and Blow it Out
Blowing out the flame of a candle has always symbolized “death” or an “ending” of something to me. I like to use this ritual when I wish something to end or cease in my life, for example, my core wound of guilt. By no means do I rely on this ritual to heal myself, but I do use it to facilitate my healing and to bridge a gap between my conscious and unconscious mind.
To complete this ritual simply set aside a time and a quiet place every day (for however long necessary), light a tea light or a small candle, hold it in your hands, stare into the flame and hold your intention in mind. For instance, your intention might be, “My anger is slowly fading away like the flame of this candle. I am finding forgiveness again.” Then, blow the flame out.
2. Anoint Yourself/Bathe
Anointing has been viewed as something distinctly Catholic, but it doesn’t have to be. I associate anointing with purification and renewal, so it is particularly significant in periods of life that call for personal “rebirth.” For example, you might be particularly stressed out from your new job and you might desire to rid yourself of the accumulation of toxic energy you have gathered throughout the day. Anointing yourself – particularly with essential oils – and bathing, is the perfect symbolic ritual to renew yourself.
Chamomile, Rose, Sage and Lavender are just some of the many essential oils that, when diluted, provide a number of mind-body health benefits perfect for this type of ritual. I personally like the practical and sacred benefits of Tea Tree Oil and its ability to awaken and restore the physical and emotional body.
Simply dilute some essential oil in a small bowl of warm water. You can choose to dip your fingers in the oil and anoint each energy center of your body (head, throat, chest, stomach, etc.), or you can choose to gently pour the water over your head while you are in the shower, visualizing the tension in your body flowing away.
3. Let the Wind Carry Away the Feather
The wind has always been something of a mysterious force to me: it is unseen, but powerful. In many ways, wind is symbolic of life itself. Feathers on the other hand are very earthly, but also fly easily away with the wind.
The wind and feather ritual is symbolic of acceptance and surrender, and is particularly useful for periods of your life where you feel emotionally burdened. The reality is that we can’t always “change” everything to our liking in our lives, and it is our resistance to what we can’t change that causes us pain.
You could use a feather, leaf or even dandelion for this ritual. In a wide expansive place (preferably outdoors), hold the delicate object in your hand, reflecting deeply on your problems. Then, when you are ready to release the feather, leaf or dandelion (and with it your resistance) blow away the item from your hand, or wait for a gust of wind to carry it off. Watch as it floats away, and with it, your angst. Every problem, strife and pain drifts away eventually.
4. Burning Your Worries Away
Cremating symbolizes finality: there is no going back! This final ritual is a particularly powerful one as it literally reduces whatever thought, feeling, intention, desire or issue you have to dust.
This ritual starts with a simple piece of paper. On a small piece of paper, write down whatever problem you have experienced or are experiencing in the present. For instance, you might write, “Self-hatred,” “My jealousy of _______,” “How I don’t stand up for myself,” and so forth. Keep in mind that some emotions and experiences are actually beneficial and useful to us in unexpected (and often harsh) ways, like grief and longing. This ritual will only work with self-destructive fears, desires and intentions, so be mindful.
After you have written something down on your piece of paper, find a safe place to burn it with matches or a cigarette lighter. You might choose a place outdoors, or a safe room indoors to complete the ritual. After you have found an appropriate place and method of putting out the flames (should they get out of control), sit or stand in silence for a few minutes. Reflect on what you have written on the piece of paper and how it impacts your life. Once you are ready to truly let these feelings go, put the flame to the piece of paper and watch it burn to ashes.
You might also like to say a small prayer or a few words such as “Let it be,” “I am ready to move on,” or “I embrace the end.”
Remember that these rituals can be repeated as little or as much as you like. Not only do they help us to find acceptance, strength and resolve, but they also help to send a very powerful message to the unconscious mind.
Which of these rituals appeal to you? If you have any of your own types of rituals to recommend, please share below in the comments.