I’ve been reading a fantastic book called “Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue” by Paul Woodruff a Philosopher and Professor of the Humanities. He does a phenomenal job of breaking down reverence into both a past and modern day context and in a style that is both concise and thorough and most importantly “edible.” In my thesis research, it has been hard to find a scholarly book that doesn’t have magical sleep inducing properties.
So what is reverence? This quote by Woodruff frames this question well: “Reverence compels me to confess that I do not know exactly what reverence is.” Reverence, like all virtues, is hard to define. It is something that is created through learned experience and carries with it the subtleties of culture and of things we know but can’t put into words. Reverence is the feeling of awe you get when you encounter something larger than yourself, “reverence is the virtue that keeps human beings from trying to act like gods.”
It occurred to me that reverence was the core of ritual as well as my pursuit of it’s meaning. Reverence is the essence and ritual is the form.
Woodruff goes into great detail about what is reverence and what is not, but I’ll leave you to read the book for that depth of understanding. In the meantime, I should cycle back to ritual (I am learning to resist you, tangent!)
Finding this core has helped me to take the next step in my thinking about ritual. If ultimately, reverence is the goal, a ritual could take any form couldn’t it?
Perhaps. Yes. and then no…
I have an inkling that there are good recipes and there are bad recipes.
So here is my first attempt to put together a list of ingredients:
1. An intro – this is necessary to transition into the ritual. The idea of the “magic circle,” a term coined by Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, is helpful here. The magic circle is a place where suspension of disbelief and artificial sets of rules are allowed. Most commonly seen in kids games where we understand most purely the power of imagination.
2. Symbols – these represent the myths and metaphors we need to buy into the magic circle.
(more on this to come as I delve into Campbell, Eliade and Segal.)
3. History – I am starting to think that this is key. History allows ritual to have a feeling of transcending time and space. To think that people thousands of years ago were doing the same thing and feeling similarly as you are is incredibly profound. It also makes it harder to question. History demands the ritual be taken more seriously like antiques vs. Ikea.
** At the same time, I think this is a more controversial ingredient and deserving of it’s own discussion to come.
4. Other people – also controversial, but there is a potent power in knowing you are not alone. One role of ritual is that it ties you to a larger community – one of the key parts of reverence – the feeling that you are connecting to something bigger than yourself. Can this be achieved in other ways – yes. But is a solo ritual legit? Maybe this one is backed up by ingredient number 3?
What else comes to mind for you? What problems, holes or truths do you find in the beginnings of my recipe?