I’ve already come to realize that there are so many courses in the Initiate Path that one cannot just work on a single one at a time. So, here is my first essay for Liturgy 1.
Describe the purpose and function of ritual.
Bonewits defines ritual as “any ordered sequence of events, actions, and/or directed thoughts … that is designed to produce .. one or more altered states of consciousness within which certain results may be achieved.” Personally, I find this definition somewhat troublesome insofar as Druid ritual is concerned. It may be that Isaac was trying to encapsulate a universal principle, but the notion of “altered states of consciousness” speaks to Eastern mysticism rather than Indo-European sensibilities.
For myself, I tend to think of the purpose of religious ritual as a means by which individuals or groups journey from the mundane to the sacred. In the Indo-European sense of this word, this means becoming set apart or separated from the secular (Mallory 412). Altered states of consciousness may be the cause and/or the effect of this transition but they are not the goal, which is, rather, entrance into the sacred.
But once there, what do we hope to gain?
In terms of Druidic ritual Arnold Brooks suggests several objectives, at least as far as groups are concerned. These include entering into a relationship with the supernatural, spiritual fulfillment, seeking blessings, building group unity, improving the status of the liturgist, and clarifying group beliefs. Ian Corrigan, meanwhile, suggests the following; to rectify and empower the souls of the worshippers; to serve the God/desses and Spirits; and to bless the folk and the land. The two sets of proffered objectives are not mutually exclusive and in fact largely overlap. No doubt more goals could be suggested; neither of these sets in fact list the highly popular neo-Pagan uses of ritual as a means for raising energy to work magic, or to more fully appreciate the changings of the seasons and turnings of the wheel of the year. More generally, ritual is used to formally mark rites of passage; births, comings of age, initiations, marriages, and deaths.
Finally, rituals may require significant preparation in order to properly bring one into a state where one is open to entering the sacred. These can include meditation, fasting, bathing, trance work and other activities. For those of us whose lives are almost entirely devoted to the mundane, the journey to the sacred is a long one indeed.