Rituals have long had a bad rap, ever since the sixties when they were seen as a relic and symbol of stuffy dogma and oppressive regimes. However, any anthropologist will tell you the whole of human civilisation, and our ability to thrive, is based on ritual. In every nation, culture that is and ever has been, ritual has played a key role. It is core to who we are as humans. Technology has been built around the concept of ritual as being oppressive when in actual fact rituals are made to give us strength, structure and to help us thrive and grow. The lack of ritual will foster chaos and weakness - much like a climbing plant without trellis or a garden without trees.
The internet may have brought us community but without rituals to root us in that community, to ground us, there is no point to that community. We cannot make scrolling a ritual because it requires words and pictures - not presence. When we make scrolling a ritual, we end up with a psychic vacuum, hyper anxious and depressed. A ritual has an end goal. It's how we are built as humans. We need each other and we need physical ritual. It's ritual, not money, that makes the world go round.
Why do junkies get depressed even when they have broken dependency? It's not the drug they miss in their core - it's the habit. The ritual of scavenging, scoring, obtaining the desired drug. The effect lasts only a moment but it's the ritual that keeps them in a community, allows them to belong and have purpose - however meangingless. Why do folk who retire often die within months of gaining their pension and freedom? It's the ritual of work they miss. When a loved one dies, it's not so much the person (that comes later) but the things we did with them we miss, that cause the ache. The breaking of those rituals, however small. In fact, because they are small. It aches so bad. When we split up from someone, we either immediately build new rituals and break old ones or we behave like a loved one has died, haunting vacant places and habits. Mourning the loss of small rituals full of meaning because they were the structure on which our love could grow. Why do we shop when we have no money? It brings us comfort, the ritual that assures us we can provide for our needs and desires. Why do we value streaming less than the physical? Because it's the physical ritual that allows us to build real emotional muscle.
Weddings, funerals, births, celbrations or the major and minor kind - it doesn't matter. It's a ritual. We can go, knowing how to behave, what to do, and belong. We don't need explanations, words and pictures or an instruction manual or Google; we just need to be involved.
The digital age, more than war, famine, disease and climate crisis is crushing our humanity till we are amorphous sludge. We don't budge from our screens. Ironically, those who routinely attend a food bank or a community shelter will survive better than those who have funds but no communal event anymore. Covid broke so many rituals and we've never got our momentum going since. Now more than ever before, we need to celebrate and make small spaces for community. No event is too small, no problem too large we cannot somehow make an event out of it. Rituals + event = memories.
Nothing shrieks the death of ritual and culture than the stream of announcements which we are told are 'stories'. They are not stories - they are propaganda. A story involves a community. With a constant flow of 'stories', we are losing the space to process, to be and to form the roots of real community: friendship, trust and plain old-fashioned conversation. Announcement culture is exhausting. I literally have no emojis left to describe my enthusiasm for something I am not a part of. More and more, I find myself looking for ways to engage on a real level and would rather spend my time and money making a real experience with someone than posting something flippant on a loop in perpetuum.
Even Jesus knew how much humans depended on rituals which is why he went into explicit detail to create one through the breaking of bread and sharing of wine. In this, he allows people out of his time and place to celebrate and share in his physical death - a ritual that confirms participants in that community, acknowledging Jesus died for our sins. Christianity today is just a name of a set of dogmas many believers feel estranged from but the Eucharist unites believers in what is real, what we believe and who we follow. So, start building small rituals into your day. It doesn't mean every day is the same, but it establishes links with who you are, what you value. Be it a skincare routine, the way you fold your clothes, an exercise, the way you make coffee. Be frugal with your scrolling but lavish with your love-building. Rituals bring us back to who we are. Ask any old person who has been taken into a home or anyone who has spent a long time in hospital.
I grew up in a wonderful civic northern town but witnessed the obliteration of its civic rituals - from the way we talked to each other to the Mayor's Parade and the WMC - between Thatcherism and the Strikes. Money can never fill the hole that community and culture brings. All the redundnacy money thrown at the miners went on heroin because, if we don't have our culture, built on rituals and community, there's an existential despair no money or policy can repair. Those rituals, from friendly banter to the Mayor's parade, the market, the Working Men's Club and festivals - had taken centuries to form. You cannot take them away and replace them with zeros.
As we move into a very different time and inflationary chaos, it is really important we replace and build new rituals of love with WHOEVER is in our community. When we invest in each other, we build true value and strength to community. Let's not forget that. Start building real ritual back into the fabric of our lives.