When most of us think of ceremony we imagine it as a series of actions to mark an occasion or life event that are given a particular form and mode of expression. Whilst this is true, what is most powerful about ceremony is that which remains unseen.
Ceremony is defined in its conception and intentions by the level of congruence it facilitates, both in the lead up process and within the ‘expression’ of the form itself. When preparing to leave your youth, to have a child, to marry or to come to the end of your life, or to mark the changing of the seasons, a birthday or other significant life event, all of it is ceremony – ceremony is the context in which you operate – research is ceremony, preparation is ceremony, conversation is ceremony, disagreements and challenges are ceremony and most of all, the relationships engendered are ceremony as well as the elements that are presented on the day.
Ceremony begins with the setting of intentions, the way in which the visible elements are conceived, thought about, given language to and brought to expression. Ceremony is a process in which ones intentions are clarified and made manifest by paying particular attention to the quality of the experience you take your guests on.
Understanding that the people meeting and participating in the ‘ceremony’ will have the opportunity to enter their lives anew, with a shift in perspective, thought and feeling.
Rites of Passage, a term coined by Arnold Van Gennep, an early 20th Century Anthropologist identified (produced) ‘3 phases’ (- I call them experiences) in all Rites of Passage-
Separation – pre liminal
Re-Incorporation- post liminal.
Coming from the Latin term, Limen-‘ to stand at the threshold’ between one way of being and another.
Liminality is the middle phase of all initiations, characterized by ambiguity and disorientation, where the subject has left his or her previous identity or way of living and is yet to assume their new one or place in society. Later in the 20th C, the term was reclaimed by Victor Turner who focused in the liminal period entirely and applied it more widely that to passage rites themselves, noting, that the status of liminal individuals is socially and structurally ambiguous.
‘the subject is structurally, if not physically, ‘invisible’” (1967: 95)….Liminality may perhaps be regarded as a realm of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise” (1967: 97).
Ceremony is a way of performing how things can be that may be in tension with how things actually are. This ‘ceremonial narrative’ happens within the everyday in place and time, but is set apart from it.
It is this space- the sacred within the everyday, where other possibilities are glimpsed is where real societal or attitudinal changes are seeded and become possible.
It’s an act of listening for the integration points, the building of relationships around certain actions through repetition, careful and clear language and the creation of congruence in those participating and those presenting.
Good ceremony is good storytelling that transmits a sense of inclusion, shared values and becomes a mooring point for belonging and for the possibility of new questions and perspectives to be produced.
To bring it to our lives offers us an opportunity to see things anew, to create the narratives by which primary meaning is made in our lives.
Winter Solstice Ceremony at Rockwood Cemetery, 23 June, 2018. Images Courtesy of Dean Walsh and Kaz Therese