Private Ritual

This Thanksgiving, after all the eating and football and more eating (etc) our family had a bonfire. (We do that. A lot.) Once the initial 20 ft conflagration (yep, we use gasoline) had turned into a nice glow, my mother surprised us all by pulling out the Black Belt.

This belt is a heirloom from her side of the family. I don’t know how many generations it goes back, but it’s sole purpose was the disciplining of children. A thick leather strap, folded over on one end for better grip with sufficient length left over for the whacking of bottoms. As the oldest child I remember getting whacked quite a bit. (My folks had mellowed by the time the younger ones were getting into their trouble, not nearly so much whacking going on then.)

So my mom surprises us all, by pulling out the long unused Black Belt… and after a few words, throwing it on the fire.

This was her ritual for us, a gesture of reconciliation, of apology, asking forgiveness, and a hope for healing. It was very powerful.

My beliefs have changed about things like God, Blessings, Answers to Prayers, etc. I no longer feel about them the way I did growing up in the church. But I DO believe in private ritual. That in our animal brains, we respond to special acts done with intent.

I have had a few difficult days recently and I’ve been able to find some measure of comfort in my own private rituals. My primary form of worship/ritual involves making marks. It works for me.

I also believe in the ritual of sweat & strained muscles, of beating the hell out of an inanimate object, of writing things down, of creating something, of destroying something. Of Silence. Of reaching out.

What are your rituals?


  1. Absolutely! Our animal brains need these kinds of moments and times that we set aside with a purpose. It just feels different. And I don’t care if god is there or not looking down, it matters to ME.

  2. I have come to understand ritual very differently lately as I try to connect with my own spirit. Something about letting the physical take over is powerful to me right now.

  3. That’s a brave thing your mom did. It takes guts to admit to your whole family that what you did was wrong.

    As for ritual… I lead a pretty ritual-less life. I need to figure out how to create personal ritual that’s meaningful to me.

  4. Great post! I’m also very drawn to ritual, to sacred space and sacred clothing and the construction of meaning through solemn, scripted action. It’s something I always really hungered after as an (unendowed) Church member, feeling that our worship was ritually impoverished in all the sacred spaces to which I had access, and yet that for me to create my own private rituals would be a form of sacrilege, an affront to God.

    After I felt broken by the Church’s rituals I found my own sacred spaces and my own private ceremonies for coping–counterrituals, as it were. I frequently construct my own sacraments for reminding myself of my values and goals. Often, I feel that if I blow out a candle or carry a piece of jewelry with me as a reminder of my commitments to myself, I’ll be a changed person. It never seems to work any more effectively than the sacrament did, but I continue doing it.

  5. Deborah and Caroline~ yes, this was a very strong gesture from my mother. And very healing.

    Kiskilili~ exACTly! Yes! Especially the part about the questionable effectiveness of the sacrament, but still needing SOMETHING. Some act that our (superstitious, longing-for-meaning) hearts can lean on.

  6. Beautiful piece, G. My rituals are about hopes, dreams, and prayers (I blogged about my wishing tree once). I would like more rituals about letting things go. I need to do some cleaning.

    • I have been to blessingways where the mom to be will write her fears and doubts on a piece of paper, read them aloud, and then burn them while the women there read positive affirmations and hopes for her. I really love that. I should burn my fears more often.

      • I really like this idea. I had a friend recently talk about how any time she finds that she is avoiding something and/or feeling fearful, she makes sure to do that very thing. Letting go of fear by purposefully burning them away sounds wonderful. Very cathartic and clarifying.

  7. The idea of rituals and art – I am reminded of the Northern Exposure episode where Chris creates a huge catapult and flings a piano. I love everything about that idea. It sort of takes beating the hell out of an inanimate object and elevates it to something transcendent.

    I love that your mom could admit her mistakes to her children. Beautiful.

  8. What are your rituals?

    My family has begun initiating tribal worship services on a weekly basis. We started with sacrament meeting in our home. Unlike the church services, a tribal sacrament service can exactly follow the revelations given to Joseph Smith. So, instead of a priest blessing the sacrament when an elder is present (contrary to revelation), I (as the presiding elder) do as the revelation states and bless the sacrament while the others listen in. Instead of everyone sitting down during the sacrament prayers (contrary to revelation), everyone in my tribe kneels as the prayers are stated. Instead of everyone getting a bite of bread and a thimble of water, everyone eats and drinks until they are filled. We are also free to use new wine, instead of water.

    Just about every ordinance performed at church can be performed in a family (tribe). The Melchizedek or Aaronic priesthoods are used for all of these private rituals (ordinances).

    Like Kiskilili, I too felt “that our worship was ritually impoverished in all the sacred spaces to which I [have] access,” however I’ve found that creating my own tribal worship services as anything but “a form of sacrilege, an affront to God.” So far, my family’s services have kept us from being spiritually drained due to lukewarm services at our local congregation.

  9. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. First I want to commend your mom for her actions. That is a very brave and beneficial thing to have done.
    Second, I’ve been thinking about the sorts of rituals I have, and that others have. Oddly enough I’ve wondered if the habit of making self-imposed rules surrounding food (something I see women do and it drives me batty) isn’t a symptom of craving some ritual. The self-imposed rules I’m talking about are the sorts that say, ‘If I go for a jog then I’ll let myself have ice cream after dinner.’ Or ‘I close my kitchen at 7pm’ or I drink a glass of water before every meal so I don’t eat too much.’ The evidence that would prescribe these behaviors is pretty dubious, but I still see so many people, women especially, artificially boxing themselves in. I wonder if the main selling point for these behaviors is the psychological need for ritual rather than any intellectual understanding of healthy actions.

    • That’s really interesting Starfoxy, I had never thought of it that way. I think that is why I have been actively pursuing nature rituals this year, at the same time that I have shed a lot of my “rules” about food. Of course, I am still a HUGE real food advocate and that will never change 🙂 But as far as rules about amounts of food, exercise, feeling “good” or “bad” regarding food choices, it seems much healthier to let those go and focus on our own wholeness.

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