Ritual- What is it and why does it matter?
Updated: Mar 29
The baby boomer generation is responsible for instigating many changes in society, among them is the return of home birth, natural birth, and homeschooling. We are in a groundswell of changing attitudes and approaches to death, dying, and the funeral industry. Most times, it is the Baby Boomers who are leading the way. The focus is on bringing death and dying back into the community, making it part of life again, not an aspect of life that we push to the edges of society and try to ignore. We are reconnecting with the knowledge of the importance of community and the support it can provide.
The manner in which we approach and discuss death is expanding. We are reconnecting with a fundamental understanding of the sacredness of this time of transition. As we add new rituals and blend them with the traditional, and sometimes, replace the older ones. These more original rituals carry a personal connection to those involved.
The practice and participation in Ritual has always been an essential element of human experience. It becomes a sacred practice through the intention behind the action.
Grief, death, and loss are profound and immense subjects. Words can fail us or appear futile when we attempt to use them to describe and navigate our feelings around these universal topics. Symbols and rituals assist us on our hard journey.
Objects can become part of a ceremony that holds a special meaning for the person involved.
Objects, such as regularly used prayer beads, become imbued with intention and carry the energy of the user. Another potent symbol is the black armband often worn to signal that the wearer is in a period of mourning.It says so much, tells us there is a loss, sadness, grief, pain, hurt, anger, numbness, and much more with a small piece of black material around an arm.
In the 20th century in the West, we became accustomed to dying and death often taking place in a fully mechanized, and medicalized environment, and this can still be the case in the 21st century. Over the past number of years, we have employed combative language to discuss death. Including " fight a battle with" falling sick from" "long struggle with" "combating illness." We also use euphemisms for death," passed on" "no longer with us."
Death is the one universal experience we have on this planet. We are reconnecting and remembering some of our ancient knowledge around this period of life. Namely, death and dying are sacred times of transition. We will all die one day and leave our physical body. In the past birth and death took place at home, both witnessed and acknowledged. Rituals accompanied these events.
Religious background can have a considerable effect on how events unfold during this time. Sometimes, people who have had little to do with their religion through life return to it for comfort at the time of their death. We can also bring our own personal rituals such as candles, essential oils, reading of poetry, prayers, sacred texts. Using music or attendance of choirs such as the Threshold Choir. Burning of Incense, sage and the use of singing bowls.
Our cultural roots affect our attitudes. In parts of Asia, the number 4 is associated with death as the word for death, and four in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese are similar. White is the color people wear around death, whereas in the West, we have historically worn black. The Ritual of wearing nothing but black for a year to commemorate a loss has fallen away in many parts of Europe and the US. In the Jewish tradition, there is a ritual of sitting with the body up to the time of burial in a simple wood casket or a shroud. Flowers are not part of the event. Ritual bathing and dressing of the body take place within a specific framework. In Islam, ritual bathing is also part of preparing the body.
Sometimes, the client or the family may decide to include their own personalized rituals. Water is connected with purification and cleansing, and the use of essential oils such as lavender or Rose are added to the cleansing water. Myrrh and Frankincense have been used to anoint the body since the Ancient Egyptians. Sacred objects or objects that hold particular significance for the person can be displayed on a small altar in the room.
As some people approach death, they want an absence of things and people around them. It is as if they are going through a process of detachment. Others wish to have their favorite people, objects, and pets close to them.
Within Shamanic traditions, fire is a purification rite.
Bundles of items that were treasured by the person that has died are gathered together and then ceremonially offered through fire as a rite of purification. In the Catholic tradition, the ceremony of the last rites takes place by the bedside. This involves anointing with oils and prayers.
I believe it is the amount of focus, tone, and intention that empowers Ritual. When these 3 factors are present, it becomes a process whereby an internal change or transformation can take place. A precious alchemy is in place.
In the dying process, different areas of the brain are involved.
The reptilian brain is the part of the brain that is most connected to the primary functions of life, which include reproduction and survival.
It controls temperature and breathing. This part of the brain knows how to die. It is made up of the brain stem, medulla, and cerebellum.
The mammalian brain deals with the preservation of life. It regulates fear, fight, and flight. This part of the brain is dedicated to survival.
The third part is associated with reason and individuality: the cortex.
This area will reason and try to explain what is happening.
The 4th area is the God brain or spirit area, the spiritual area.
Carrying out Ritual during the dying process can help to reduce the fear, anxiety, fight and flight reactions, of the mammalian brain, the reptilian brain knows what to do, the cortex will try to understand what is happening and gentle rituals can help reduce the struggle. The spiritual brain knows where it is going.
As a Doula, I can guide and facilitate the use of such rituals and help to support the client and their family in their implementation, helping and facilitating their journey through this sacred time of change.