Sacred Ceremony and Ritual

Nancy Flynn preparing to conduct a communal tea ceremony.


“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
~ Muriel Barbery, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” 

Nancy Flynn with her handmade teapot and tea cup.

The comfort of the familiar whether it be the regularity of your favorite warm cup of tea or coffee in the morning hours, the touch of a much loved worn bathrobe that had to be tied ‘just so’, or the sight of the gracefully arched branch of a tree outside your window all add to the stability and comfort of our lives.

We all have experiences such as the aforementioned ones. For the most part, we take these experiences for granted going through life on autopilot until these small elements that are always already present are removed. Take out these familiar mooring posts and we soon feel unsteady, adrift, and ill at ease. 

A sharp dose of reality is served when the chosen cup breaks. Awareness arises of how that chosen cup had fit our hand just right. It was more than a habit, it spoke to some deep place in the soul that nourished your unique needs. Likewise, when our the old worn terrycloth bathroom is tearfully surrendered to the ragbag, memories of precious hours in grandmother’s home come rushing back and a deep understanding of how her love was wrapped in that robe. When a storm takes down the arched tree branch outside the window, you find yourself standing in the window in expectation of spending a few moments communing with your friend who is no longer there. You become aware of how you always stopped in that very spot, if only for few seconds, with the intent of bonding with your friend. You had consciously started this communing with the tree when you first moved into your home. These are all examples of rituals, these behaviors deeply infused into our lives, that at some point moved from the conscious level and began operating at a subliminal level.

Rituals are implemented on a conscious level with intent and performed in solitude or collectively. They help hold our lives together giving us a sense of control over what can be an otherwise chaotic and ever changing world. When tragedy strikes such as the loss of a child, ceremonies and the rituals that accompany them provide a way to move forward through the grief while acknowledging the deep loss.   

The terms ritual and ceremony are often used interchangeably. As Amber Wolf states in her book In the Shadow of the Shaman, “the very words ceremony and ritual have so many different interpretations that we may become confused and frustrated.”

To clarify how these words are being used in the context of this essay, ritual is being used as an action or fixed series of actions that, differing from habit, are implemented with an intent, even when that intent is in the subliminal recesses of the mind. Ceremony refers to a structure in which ritual may take place while also allowing for a more fluid creative dimension within that ceremonial framework. Both words are used here as ways to structure behavior in order to have a deeper connection to the underlying matrix of Oneness that connects all.

My goal is to celebrate the normal, the ordinary, and the everyday event with ceremony, because, in fact, your whole life is one magnificent ceremony, one long dramatic myth with your as its central character. ~Ceremonialist and Herbalist Elchai