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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Power of Rituals

The Power of Rituals
Rituals touch our lives in so many ways. From the simple everyday rituals of our morning routines to special occasions like celebrating our birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, holidays, and other rites of passage--all of these are rituals that we can experience at various times in our lives.

What are Rituals?
Aside from the everyday mundane rituals, what do we mean by "rituals"? Whether they are religious, civic, family, societal, or personal rituals are usually activities performed for their symbolic value and they are often meaningful to that particular group or community. For instance, most cultures have some type of ritual initiation. In Christianity, the sacrament of Communion is a form of initiation. In Judaism, there is the Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The ancient Greeks had the Eleusinian Mysteries. These ritual initiations are part of the rites of passage for these groups. They mark important transitions from one stage of life, as well as a particular stage of consciousness, to another.

Joseph Campbell
The American mythologist, Joseph Campbell, discussed the importance of rituals and initiations when he discussed the "hero's journey." He believed the "hero's journey" was a common pattern found in many societies where the "hero" goes from the every day "Known World" on a quest through the "Unknown World," which contains ordeals and struggles to overcome, in order to return to the society of the "Known World" as a mature, valued, and contributing member of the community.

Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth
Healthy rituals can provide people with a sense of structure, comfort, stability, and a sense of continuity. Children need and want healthy rituals that they can depend on. An example of this would be the nighttime ritual of a parent reading a bedtime story to a child every night. Children usually love hearing the same stories over and over again because they like knowing what to expect and this is also how they learn to integrate information. So, the ritual is not only that the parent spends this special time with the child, it is also about the repetition of the story.

Are Rituals Always Healthy?
When we speak of rituals, we tend to think of healthy rituals that give comfort and a sense of stability. But there are also unhealthy rituals. For example, someone who is addicted to drugs usually undergoes certain ritualistic behavior when he or she is drug seeking (e.g., making the call to the drug dealer, setting up the drug paraphernalia, feeling excited anticipation, and ingesting the drug). There are also rituals associated with smoking cigarettes, such as the after dinner cigarette. In general, there are many rituals associated with addictions.

If rituals are imposed on individuals, they are no longer meaningful. For instance, a young person who is forced to engage in religious rituals that are no longer meaningful to him or her would find these rituals to be stifling.

In future blog posts, I would like to explore how we can create our own meaningful rituals in our lives.

The Joseph Campbell Foundation:

 The Power of Myth - by Joseph Campbell (with Bill Moyers)

The Hero with a Thousand Faces - by Joseph Campbell

Also, see my article: The Power of Creating Rituals

I am a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, Somatic Experiencing therapist and EMDR therapist in NYC. I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

Photo Credit:  Photo Pin

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