Nous Sommes du Soleil – Some Thoughts on Ritual

Many people know my aversion to most things “ritual” in form. And many of those folks are even more puzzled when they discover that I have my own rituals – my morning greeting of the sun (it doesn’t always happen, but I do make a concerted effort), my evening send-off of the sun, and my greeting to the moon.  Yes Virginia, Tommy does have regular rituals in his life…

My Morning Ritual (the abbreviated version)

Perhaps the one ritual I talk about the most is my morning ritual of greeting the sun. Back IMG_2867when I was teaching as an adjunct professor, I had plenty of time to make this into a daily ritual.  I would stand outside by my little stone circle, and watch the eastern horizon as the sun slowly crawled up over the horizon. There’s nothing overly special about it. I would stand next to the stone circle, a fresh cup of coffee in my hand, and greet the morning sun with the Druid’s Prayer for Peace.

Grant, O Great Spirit/Goddess/God/Holy Ones, Thy Protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
the love of Great Spirit/Goddess/God/Holy Ones/the Earth our mother, and all goodness.

(Druid Prayer & Devotion)

In the minds of a lot of people (including myself at one time), there’s the terror of having to memorize all of this word for word. The reality is that I have rarely said this the same way twice. I have aspects of this memorized, but the wording as I speak it is rarely the same. To be frankly honest, my memory is not that good. And to be even more blunt, I actually like that I can’t remember stuff like this word for word.

When Ritual Gets Boring (for me)

I remember back in the 7th grade, we did a play about the American Revolutionary War. I went to private schools as a child (a whole different blog post that may never get written) because my parents thought I got a “better” education there. Our class was very small, about fourteen kids in all, and each of us had a compulsory role in the little play. Mine was to be the rebellious son of one of the village leaders, and I was opposed to the little colony village seeking independence from the crown. The term in the play that was used to describe me was that I was a Tory. We practice the play in Government/History class every day. In three weeks, I had my lines memorized (and I had the lion’s share of lines) to the point that I could recite my part while looking out the window. And I honestly was so bored, I spent a lot of time looking out the window. One afternoon, during the recitation, I decided to start playing with the lines a little bit….tweaking them if you will. I had grown up in Europe, and was exposed to the English lifestyle quite a bit. So, I adopted the mannerisms of some of the young adults I had watched from a distance during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of the people I was attempting to emulate were involved in the 1981 Brixton Riot.  For the most part, I was ignored, because I was just a “Yank’s kid.” But I remember the pent-up anger and frustration of people living in the area during those times. So I utilized that, along with a terrible Eliza Doolittle cockney accent to help make the character a little more “interesting.” This did nothing to make me “popular” with my peers, since they resented me changing things up from what was written on the paper.

Thinking forward now, I can see where my problem with ritual is – when it becomes rote, habitual, almost mechanical in nature – it loses its touch with me. Ritual should – in my opinion – flow, live, breathe, evolve. There’s a framework that ritual should be held to, but it should be basic and unobtrusive – ready for new things to be added, and aspects that are not entirely relevant to the moment to be removed and packed away for another day. That day might be next year, it might be twenty years down the road — but its always available to be re-added.

Perhaps, this is the reason that I am constantly refashioning the podcast that I do. I am always afraid that the podcast will not have relevant information or formatting for the listeners, and I am equally afraid that it will become a stiff, unbending format that makes doing the show into a chore of sorts. That’s honestly when I know its time to close down the podcast for good and “pod-fade” into the woodwork – when it becomes a chore.

This probably explains my fascination with musical artists like the Grateful Dead, Ratdog, Phish, Widespread Panic and others. None of them play the same performance twice. Every show is a unique entity, where they utilize songs as frameworks to try new things against. As an aside, about ten years back, I went to a Styx show here in Dallas. This was the first tour dates with Dennis DeYoung no longer in the band. When the band played “Too Much Time on My Hands”, I found that I knew all the interspersing dialogue in-between the lyrics — because they were exactly the same as it was on their live album – right down to Tommy Shaw‘s maniacal giggle in the middle of the song. It was a clearly disappointing moment for me. I was expecting the song to somewhat resemble that which was already on their studio recording. What I wasn’t expecting was a note-for-note, word-for-word effigy of a previous live recording. I walked away from that concert with far less respect for a band that had punctuated much of my late teen years growing up.

Spicing It Up

But there is a point of caution to all of this. “Change for the sake of change” is never a good mantra to uphold. Sometimes, changing things up just to be “different” can make something untenable, even somewhat forgettable. I had a report that I had given to my boss at the beginning of my employment in my new job. I had created the report of a need to quench a question I had asked myself. From that, grew a report that I turned over to him. He then asked for other data points to be added to it. As I dug in the system to get this information, I found other information that I added to the report to spice up the information a bit more. The result was a report that I was proud of, but had so much data contained within it that it become an overwhelming tsunami of data, rather than a useful analysis tool. I made changes simply for the sake of making changes – which resulted in something that became unusable. Be sure that you need to make the change to whatever ritual you are looking to alter and not because you want something “different”.

I’m a fan of impromptu ritual. I have been known, on many of my trips to various scared site locations here in the United States over the past few years, to stop and spent time in impromptu ritual or devotion. I started carrying tobacco (loose leaf) during these trips – not because I smoke (I hate smoking being around me) but because I want something to offer back to the Spirits of the Land and the Ancestors that are there but somewhat forgotten. And when I don’t have tobacco with me, I usually carry a sandwich baggie full of birdseed for the same reason. I toss seeds in the four cardinal directions, and pour a small bit of water in each direction as well. Then I sit or stand – reciting the Druid’s Prayer for Peace — either out loud or silently in my mind. Whichever seems more appropriate. And as I noted, the words are hardly ever the same. Nor is the manner in which I make my offerings to the four directions. Nor is the manner in which I try to connect to the Spirits or Ancestors. Mostly because I cannot remember the exact words or gestures, but also because each of them are different. Just as each moment is unique and different. Viva la’ difference! N’est-ce pas?

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