Warning. This is a very opinionated post. Read on, if you don’t mind my ranting.
Ritual is defined by Dictionary.com as follows:
“…an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.”
A fairly simple definition, right? After all, ritual fills our daily lives – we move from one thing to another in ritualistic format, whether it be our morning routine for rolling out of bed and getting ourselves ready for the day to those times when we must observe cultural rituals, such as those for death, birth or marriage.
But really, what is ritual, in a religious context? How do I, spiritually, define this? Why is it so important to every individual’s spiritual practice, and why do some belief systems just get it so wrong? At the risk of turning into a ranting maniac, I digress; it is important to remember, as far as I am concerned, the nature of ritual and the reason for performing it.
Cultures the world over use ritual, religiously, to honor their Gods, Ancestors and Spirits. Generally speaking, these are ceremonies or reverence and thanks; times of fear, of jubilation, of thanksgiving, of sacrifice in hopes of pleasing the Mighty Ones and ushering in a successful and bountiful harvest.
For me, ritual is still that; a time of thanksgiving and respect. It is a time to thank the Gods for their blessings, and also a time of praise. It is a time to honor them and call them by their many names and titles, to show absolute love and devotion to even the most dark and sinister of deities. For they, unlike us, expect such reverence; they are, after all, Divine beings. Our piety and our devotion to them is shown through these acts of praise.
They may – or may not – choose to grant us more blessings in return. It is Their prerogative; after all, they are the ones at the helm of the spiritual ship.
Where my issues come – and perhaps this is because I have adapted such an Aztec philosophy on the purpose of ritual – is when ritual becomes all about the Self; all about bringing things to the Practitioner, all about petitioning for Blessings or material things or manifestations of emotions or events. While these, the rites of petition have a place within any spiritual practice, they must not become the center pillar of worship.
I must preface my next words with these; I am, most certainly, accepting of the beliefs of others. However, I feel it is important – no, integral – to recall that opionionation happens, and in such a broad and diverse community as Paganism, there are broad to be many different drumbeats to dance to. Once again, I remind you, that this is my opinion.
I feel that many modern Pagan traditions, specifically those falling under the umbrella of traditional and eclectic Wicca, have stumbled into the pothole of what I like to call petition ritual. While the premise and theory is there for establishing a connection with the Holy God and Goddess of these traditions, it seems, more or less, like the rituals focus purely on bringing things to the practitioner. Rather than cast the circle, call the quarters, invite deity and praise, the offerings portion is replaced with magical workings. Perhaps, later, the Gods are thanked in the ceremony of Cakes and Ale; this, too, however, has its roots on instilling blessings upon the practitioner. Where is the piety? Where is the sacrifice? The giving of that which is due? The Gods do not ask much of us; they as for occasional observance of their sacred Rites, and praise of their names. Is it that difficult to make this a more regular occasion than pure mongering? Wiccan ritual – and indeed, that of many Neo-Pagan traditions – is too heavily-centered on the workings; that is, the magic, to bring upon blessings and gifts from the Gods.
Perhaps this is why the Aztec Teotl have never truly meshed with the Neo-Pagan worldview. Many Wiccan websites and texts warn against the welcoming of Aztec gods, for it is said they will not grant blessings and instead bring chaos. Do you blame them? The Aztec Teotl are a proud pantheon, who demand respect and do not merely bend and conform to the wants and whims of their followers. Perhaps the Gods and Goddesses of other groups merely allow things to occur and, indeed, grant their worshipers favors merely in joy that people actually care once more outside of their traditional cultures, and are bringing them back into the spiritual world.
In my own practice with the Aztec Teotl, I have done little to no magical workings. While certainly, I have prayed for their guidance, their wisdom, and their assistance, at no time has it been for material things or a non-urgent or prying matter. It is acceptable to ask for assistance with money, or love, but when does it become too much? When we begin to ask for things in excess and, truly, out of our own greed, prayer becomes begging and sheer ignorance towards the Gods. To ask the Gods for anything, we must first earn their trust and respect; we need them as our Allies, and we need them to know we come in truth and with honest intentions. Many Gods – the Teotl, at least – do not purely accept petition right off the bat. You must establish yourself as a worthy recipient of their Gifts.
In short, and in closing, I beg the Pagan community to bring back the purpose of Ritual. To honor and to convey our love, respect, piety and sometimes our respect-borne fear to the mighty Shining Ones. Do not just ask for petty favors or meaningless material things; Praise them, honor them, and develop a relationship of service to Them. Allow yourself the beauty of a true ritual, in which the Gods of your choosing are honored and praised; you will not regret the experience.
Teotlatolpan (in the Gods’ word),