Ritual and context

I’ve been quiet for a few days, because I was busily off at the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention (I had a fabulous time and I am already looking forward to next year: many excellent conversations with interesting people about books and thoughts and the world in general.) It’s also sparked some thoughts about some things I really want to change in my life, and more on that in the coming days.

Today, though, a short post on something I was discussing else-net. One of the panels I was at this weekend was about the issue of message in a story: is it a good idea to be deliberately push buttons in your readers to make a point?

Emma Bull (one of the panelists, and one of my favorite authors to boot) made a comment I’ve been thinking about ever since: that all stories have your assumptions about how the world works. This comes through in the story, no matter what else you do.

This got me thinking. Ritual is, in many ways, a story.

Rituals are also stories, in their own way. Not in the sense they always have a plot, mind you – but in the sense that they have a context they exist in (what’s in their world), that stuff happens (there is a change between the beginning state and the end state of some kind), and that the successful ones have some kind of desireable emotional effect (because otherwise, we would eventually find them boring and never do them again.)

It’s that context (and my assumptions) that defines a ritual. And it’s how it works out for me that makes a ritual satisfying or meaningful (or, when it doesn’t work, frustrating and unsatisfying.)

And, likewise: if I do a given ritual only once, it still has a context: there are reasons that make sense to me that are why that ritual was that way. When I am done with the ritual, those reasons do not fall out of my head and cause a state of ritual experience amnesia: they continue to be part of my understanding of ritual experience, and how I’ll experience other rituals in the future, for good or bad.

It’s this, I think, that make public rituals so tricky: people bring such different experiences and contexts to them, that planning for all of their past experiences and buttons and such is just as complicated as writing a story (or novel, or whatever) that everyone will like. It is, however, a way I haven’t looked at writing ritual, and I think I’m going to keep it in mind for the next public ritual I do (probably for this year’s Pagan Pride, since the board traditionally does the opening ritual, and sometimes the closing one.)

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