If people know the problem that they are confronting, they are capable of devising a ritual that will handle this problem. A recipe that someone brings from somewhere else will not solve the problem. If you start by trusting yourself and your ability to address an issue symbolically, you are likely to deepen your experience in designing ritual. There are no cookbooks, and there is no need for some master to be staring over your shoulder when a ritual is designed. Rituals never like to be done the same way twice, for they would rather reflect the versatility of human imagination than its corresponding power to create stagnation and rigidity. Simply take into account the geography you are in, your place in time, the nature of the problem, and the nature of the community of people and spirits that have been called for the ritual, and you will end up with something that is very transforming. Ritual is a tribute to the human capacity to create, remember, and imagine, and to apply that imagination for the benefit of the community.
– Malidoma Somé, The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose through Nature, Ritual, and Community, from near the end of chapter 1 (“Healing, Ritual, and Community”).
Yeah, I’m rereading my copies of Malidoma’s books after hearing him speak.
Here is a tension between apparently opposing truths: the one, that each ritual needs to speak to the moment, the truth that it is addressing, rather than be an empty shell of action; the other, that ritual repeated over time is ritual strengthened, through the buildup of shared vocabulary and understanding, and perhaps the repeated opening of the same channels between the seen and the unseen in the same way widens the path like a stream opens up into a river.
I know that part of the strength I feel in formal Kemetic ritual is the knowledge: these concepts have been spoken before. I am not the first to pour water; I am not the first to light the flame.
But also, why I do not pursue daily formal ritual, is the flip side of this: that if it is too routine, too ordinary, then it becomes a forced thing that is soul-sucking rather than soul-feeding. I did a period of time where I made a commitment to daily ritual (I was spending some time with my father helping him out after he had some surgery, so I committed to daily ritual practice while I was there). And the thing that I found rejuvenating and sustaining when I came to it in need became a dreariness when it was every day’s work.
Perhaps, in Malidoma’s framework, I come to such daily ritual without a problem to solve. But I have daily problems that I address: daily needs for cleansing and purification, for protection, for alignment, and I address those each with their own small ritual. And each of those rituals draws on a corpus of knowledge, a set of consistent practice, but I come to each one in the moment, with the moment’s need, whether it’s ‘Prepare me for the stress of this visitor’ or ‘Rebalance this energy’ or whatever else.
And here is a thing: the nature of formal daily ritual in Egyptian practice is to address the problem “Will the sun come up?” and similar matters. “Are we a part of the great rhythms of the world?”
(I remain confused, as I have been for years, as to how people who claim to be concerned about the great rhythms of the world can comfortably use Daylight Savings Time. For one of those little mental glitch spaces that mostly underscores for me how much the Machine world that Malidoma talks about is separated from the world of the natural. Noon is a natural referent; even the sort of standardisation that keeps the canonical trains running on time is at least theoretically constructed in a manner that keeps real noon within the noon hour… except when it changes that. Pardon, tangential rant. When I was a teenager I refused to change my clock.)
And it’s actually a real question that I think has gone unasked, let alone answered: what are the actual issues that we are addressing by ritual action? Ritual for the sake of having done the ritual is not addressing a problem; it is simply feeding an insecurity in the human psyche, that which is created by the perception of uncompleted ritual. That is not healing; that is a neurosis.
Are we feeling out of touch with natural cycles? What addresses that need? (To riff off the DST bitch, how about a Stations of the Sun type prayer? Timing observances to the phases of the moon?) What corrects that relationship?
Are we feeling distant from the gods, because of the thousands of years in lapse from their formal veneration? What addresses that need?
Are we feeling distant from ourselves?
What are the burning questions, the burning places, where we seek healing?
When we have those questions, we can seek answers from within our traditions.