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Blog

We need rituals

Abby Jarvis

22894262-cosmetics-seamless-background Every morning, I array my tools — lotions, liquids, powders, brushes. I darken my eyes, shadow and line. Some days I sing softly, some days I work in steely silence. I call it my war paint. The ordeal is part of my ritual, the morning routine that separates my time at home to my time in the real world. The shower, the clothes, the meditative time standing over the stove — all a liminal time between those two worlds.

There are other, less mundane rituals. We all have them, we humans — the ones that mark us moving from one stage to another. Hovering over birthday candles, illuminated between one age and another; weddings, a transitory period between single life and a life of matrimony; bar mitzvahs, suspended between boyhood and manhood; silence in the pews, when the church prepares to move from the secular world into the sacred. Rituals are important; they make us aware of our stages of life, of our positions in the world, of our roles and relationships to the rest of humankind.

Joseph Campbell, an American mythicist and author, notes that rituals are ubiquitous, a universal part of the human experience. We need rituals to separate the phases of our life, to give us closure as one period of life ends and another begins. Some rituals were ordained long ago; communion, for example, and the liminality of being “outside” our world and present in the sacred. Other rituals are manmade — birthday parties, weddings, Halloween. Some are our own. If we do not have rituals imposed upon us, we often make our own. Campbell even suggests that many instances of teenage rebellion or adult neuroses stem from the absence of rituals and the subsequent insecurity in our current stages of life.

Whether man made or sacred, communal or individual, we move through our own rituals. The ordeal of brewing coffee smooths the transition from sleep to work; a child’s first day of school marks their advancement from babyhood to student; elaborate preparations and ceremonies denote major life changes. Ritual has proved important for millennia, used for everything from minor daily routines to major spiritual practices.

And so, every morning, I join the rest of mankind and perform my rituals. I shower, I dress, I cook my breakfast. I apply my war paint. At night, I perform the same ritual in reverse — I retreat again to the kitchen, I wash my face, I change my clothes. I am, again, my home-self. At least until tomorrow.