Ritual – What is, What isn’t

Ritual – What is, What isn’t October 26, 2016

Rituals.  I do like to write about them, though I don’t often write much about specific rituals I do love to write about the more general stuff – offerings, sacrifice, ritual forms and the like.  I am not the only one of course, rituals as a topic make up a fair bit of the Pagan and Polytheist blogosphere.

Even some non-Pagans enjoy writing about rituals – well of course it exists in many religions – but actually I read an interesting piece by Jenna, the Foxy Folklorist over on the Atheist channel of Patheos.  It’s a simple read that can appeal to anyone, go take a look.  Jenna breaks down in basic terms what ritual is and what it isn’t.  This post is not, in any way, meant to be rebuttal – but perspective matters.  How an Atheist views ritual will differ to how a Pagan, Witch or Polytheist will view it, simply because of the difference in our views on the mundane.

What ritual is and is not is actually fairly easy to break down, and Jenna does a fine job of it.  Simply put, a ritual is something done, usually formulaic and at specific times – whether frequently or infrequently – that has a deeper meaning than it’s physical actions might suggest.  From simple things like saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes to more complex frequent things like the Deipnon to more moment specific things like, as Jenna stated, the crowning of a new monarch.

But those things we do that are frequent and formulaic but have no deeper meaning, are not rituals.  Those things where the actions are exactly what they seem to be, those are not rituals.  Brushing your teeth, sweeping the floor, washing the dishes in that particular order and method that you do – not rituals.

Except, when they are rituals.

When is a ritual a ritual?
Via public domain pictures.

Hearth and Kitchen Witchery are our greatest examples of those mundane non-ritual tasks becoming ritual tasks.  Me, I am a Hearth Witch – though I don’t really blog much about it – so there are many things I do that may seem normal and mundane that actually hold a much deeper meaning and purpose than is obvious on the surface.  Sweeping, cleaning, cooking, DIY, crafts, these are all things that are, at times, rituals and not just chores to do.

But also, not always.  Most of the time I sweep the floor because, it needs to be swept for the umpteenth time because I have kids and they are messy.  There is no ritual to this, it’s a task that must be done.  But there are those other times, when it looks exactly the same, you can’t even tell the difference when looking with your eyes – but it’s a ritual. Meaning, purpose, will and magic flows through.  Perhaps it’s a cleansing ritual, perhaps a protection, perhaps a banishing.  Perhaps it is something else.  You won’t know for looking, you can’t know.  But it’s there.

And the usually mundane chore becomes deeper, meaningful and spiritual as well.

This happens outside of witchery of course.  Sweeping on the Deipnon, to place the sweepings alongside the offering to Hekate – this is a ritual as well.  Cleaning your altar and shrine, sometimes it is a mundane chore, because of dust you know – but sometimes, hopefully more often, the cleaning of your sacred areas, though it looks relatively normal, would actually be a deeper and more meaningful ritual than people would assume.


On the flip side, things that are ritual to most people aren’t necessarily such to others.  As Jenna said, and I mentioned above – saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, is in itself a ritual because of its deeper meaning.  But if you don’t ascribe any deeper meaning to those words, or your use of those words, then it can’t really be called a ritual any more, can it?  It’s just an automatic thing like saying, “Jesus Christ!” when you stub your toe. You aren’t necessarily calling on Jesus to bless your toe, are you? The same, if I were to say “Bless you” it really wouldn’t mean anything deeper than – I am stuck in this world where stuff said all the time becomes impossible to not say.  Or, we are all sheeple sometimes.

Ritual is something that is at once very simple to define, but also very complicated to define.  Simple – it has to have a deeper meaning that is not necessarily apparent on the surface.  Complicated – everything can be a ritual, it just depends on who is doing it.  You can’t assume one way or the other.

And it does make me wonder.  Is there anyone out there for whom brushing their teeth is actually a ritual?

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