The Goals of Group Ritual
The Goals of Group Ritual
A Ritual always has more than one goal. There may be many goals or only a few. How many goals a ritual has does not affect how complex a ritual is. The goals of a ritual will affect what is said and done, but not the difficulty of the ritual. Let us now look at some of the common and uncommon goals of a ritual.
The most common goal of a religious ceremony is to enter into a relationship with supernatural forces. In general we want to strengthen our relationships with positive forces and weaken our relationship with negative forces. The nature of these relationships depends on the individuals own beliefs. In any group there are differences in what the group believes and what the individual believes.
It is human nature that every group has unwritten rules on who is and is not a member. These rules determine the freedom given to express differences and what must be held in common. The ritual writer must know and consider these rules. Stop right now and think about this! If you belong to a group that allows a great deal of freedom your ritual must allow room for individuals to express or hold to their beliefs. If you belong to a group that does not allow much freedom, your ritual should be very specific and spell out exactly what your group believes. The various Christian communion rituals are good examples of this.
The second most common goal of a ritual is spiritual fulfillment. This is not an easy goal to achieve because people receive spiritual fulfillment in many different ways. Some people get it from music or poetry. Some need a moment of silence or prayer. Style is important here: some need a very solemn rite, others a very joyous rite. Your rituals should include different elements and be varied enough to satisfy everyone's needs. Just remember that you can not please everyone all of the time.
A common goal is to receive or ask for a blessing. When there is a specific need the ritual should emphasize that need and more effort should be expended to meet it. Even if the blessing is not received this will still have a profound impact on the individual in need and the group.
A common goal is to build group unity and a sense of community. This is necessary to meet the goals I have already outlined. It is important to consider what degree of group unity you will have going into your ritual. If this will be done with a new group or a group of strangers. You may be starting from scratch and need to expend a lot of effort on establishing group unity. Your first ritual for a new group will have a great deal of impact on those unwritten rules I talked about earlier. If your group is established you should have some group unity going into the ritual. Your ritual may not need to devote much time to achieving group unity.
A common goal is to improve the status of the ritual writer and the clergy performing the ritual. Even if this is not your goal it is going to happen. Status will go up or it will go down. A sincere effective ritual competently done is your best protection. How this constant change in status effects the power structure in your group is something worth thinking about. If you want a democratic group where everyone's status is judged by merit, than ritual writing and the clergy roles must be open to everyone. If you want a more restrictive power structure. Than you will have to restrict access to ritual writing and limit who can act as clergy.
An uncommon goal is to reduce status. Some members of your group will prove themselves to be very competent at ritual writing and performing clergy roles. If you want a democratic group you will have to insure that they will not write or perform all of the rituals. If you do not than a few years down the road there will be an unwritten rule that these people must perform all of the rituals. If your aim is to reduce status include as many people as possible in performing the ceremony. Have your high status people work on the sidelines or perform parts of the ritual they are weak at. Better yet do'nt include them at all. Accomplishing this is not easy.
A common goal is to clarify a belief or practice. To remind the group or at least get them to think about it once a year. There are a lot of tools to accomplish this, plays mysteries and catechisms are all good tools to educate. The nature of the group will limit how much educating can be done in one ritual. Be aware that there are exceptions. For example the Christian church rarely uses mysteries or plays until Christmas comes then they are used extensively. Rites of initiation are common to all most all religions. A ritual of this type should spell out what the group expects from the initiate. The core beliefs of the group and the rules of behavior. A sense of community is very important during a ritual of this type. The ritual should basically remain the same because common experiences build group unity. Groups expect new members to pay dues either before or during the initiation. Examples of this are everywhere: basic training/military service catechism class/Christianity fasting or feats of valor/chivalry pledge week/fraternities and sororities. The nature and severity of the dues may vary but they must be paid. This practice again increases group unity and weeds out those who are not sincere. Rites of Passages are fairly common births, deaths, marriages all have to be acknowledged. rituals of this nature may be done in front of the entire group or at a special time and place with only a part of the group. since these events are very important they should be the rituals primary goal.
Training is rarely a goal but it is always happening. If you have new people attending then it is happening. If children are present then you are showing them your ritual. If nothing else your clergy is gaining experience. You should evaluate every ritual you write. Ask people what they thought. Ask them what the highs and lows were. If you are a nice person, the only people who will say anything to you are nice people who want to be nice. That isn't good feedback. Value the people who criticize you for they are the only ones who will make you better. Ask yourself if the criticism is valid. "It Sucked" is not a valid criticism. "It sucked because it rained" is a valid criticism. You may be able to do something about rain in the future or you may not. If there is nothing you can do about the rain do'nt worry about it. Concentrate on improving the things that can be changed.
Most of us realize that we are not perfect, yet we set high standards for ourselves this section will deal with what can go wrong. You should try to do the best you can and not be to hard on yourself and the people you work with. It is possible to have some major faults and still have a powerful and meaningful ritual.
Boredom is a major fault, there is a limited attention span that groups and individuals have . This will vary according to the group and individual. The most common cause of boredom is delays. Some examples are waiting for musical instruments to be tuned, waiting for the ceremonial fire to finally start burning. It may be a case of many small delays. If each person is slow to perform their part and does their part slowly boredom can set in. Devoting to much time to an activity can cause boredom, people can only sing so long. They can only wait for the chalice to be passed so long. Any activity that someone can not participate in will cause boredom. Fore example, if someone can not meditate they will become bored during a guided meditation. If someone can not speak Latin they may become bored during a Latin mass.
The cures for boredom are usually simple. Tune the musical instruments and light the fire beforehand. You can do two activities at the same time. Sing a song while the fire is lit, have someone talk while the instruments are tuned. Doing two activities at the same time is a good idea for any activity that will take some time. When there are many small delays it is more difficult to overcome. This is usually caused by a lack of experience which can only be improved with time. Since inexperienced people are usually concerned with when they should do their part prompting them will help things go faster and reassure them. The prompt can be everything from a nod and a wink to announcing, "Now let the --------- prayer be given." This is especially good when you have forgotten who is doing what. If possible use mixture of experienced and inexperienced people. Rehearsals can also help a lot with this problem.
If individuals are having difficulty participating in an activity they may need training and that training should be provided. Of course you can not teach everyone Latin but you can use a running translation and incorporate a lot of group responses.
Good preparation and foresight are essential prevent boredom. If it happens anyway, humor is your greatest ally. Huffing and puffing while you attempt to light the ceremonial fire is funny! Remember no one can be bored while laughing.
Overload is another ritual fault. This happens when an individual or the group is asked to do too much. You can not ask the group to hold a candle in one hand, a sprig of holly in the other, and than pass the chalice around. It is a talented individual who can usher, act as choir director, and also be the priest during the same ceremony. Keep things simple, split the ritual duties up, act out the parts of the ritual to make sure there are enough hands to go around.
Look for activities in conflict with each other or the environment, chanting or singing while doing a procession uphill is a good example. Speaking where there is a lot of background noise is another. A ceremonial fire indoors can cause unique problems. Identify these conflicts as you write the ritual and seek ways to overcome them. You may need to change the ritual itself or get a PA system. For a ceremonial fire you will have to disable the fire alarm and do something about smoke.
Loss of control is another problem. The clergy can usually handle this, but you should also pay attention to this while writing the ritual. If parts of the ritual are done in two or more different areas of control will become more difficult. Consult with the clergy people about whether they feel they can handle it or not. Splitting the participants up into groups will make it more difficult to coordinate between them. Allowing the group to break up for an Easter egg hunt is a good example. You will have to allow time for the group to reassemble and get organized again.
The time of day the ritual is scheduled for dictates special preparations. An evening ceremony will lose the daylight if it runs too long. An evening ritual must be simple to stay within the abilities of the group or some provision for lighting must be provided.
Be advised that if the clergy does not show up you might get stuck doing the ritual yourself. If this happens I recommend the K.I.S.S principle (keep it simple, stupid). If you daydream and ride the nightmare while you write your ritual you will eliminate most of these faults, let your clergy do the rest for a successful ritual.
-Arnold A. Brooks
Ritual and Practice