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'Little tiny rit bits': How our everyday habits can be powerful rituals

Throughout history, rituals have been practised by humanity regardless of geography, culture, and religion. But the way we understand and integrate ritual into our lives has shifted. We look at how and why more and more people today are seeking to create personalized and secular rituals.

Rituals are always being adapted, reinvented through time, says professional celebrant

Throughout history, rituals have been practiced by humanity regardless of geography, culture, and religion. But the way we understand and integrate ritual into our lives has shifted. (Ben Shannon/CBC)
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When Hebrew priestess and chaplain Orev Reena Katz offered to help a transgender man create a ritual to mark his upcoming surgery, the man "instinctively" knew what the ritual needed to include.

During difficult times, when he had no one to talk to about what he was going through, he would take his diary to the beach in his Caribbean home country and write, leaving his tears on the ocean shore.

"I said, 'You know, the ocean [it is] for me,'" said the man, who CBC Radio is not identifying due to personal safety reasons. "So if we can just reproduce that in some form [for the ritual]."

Katz, a Toronto artist, curator, and radio show producer who creates rituals for the LGBT community, helped the man come up with a ritual that incorporated water and salt to symbolize the ocean.

Hebrew priestess and chaplain Orev Reena Katz offered to help a transgender man create a new, personalized ritual to mark his upcoming surgery. (Submitted by Orev Reena Katz)

When it unfolded, the man lit a new candle with the flame of an old one, which he explained represented "a transition from the old body into the new body." He then removed his shirt, put his hand in a bowl of water, and splashed the water on his chest, thanking his body for all it had done for him.

"That ritual became my ocean," he said.

Rituals being 'challenged'

Increasingly, people are looking to put a personal touch on cultural or religious rituals that have been passed down to them, but don't quite jive with their lives, says Sarah Chiddy, a professional celebrant.

"The kind of trust and deference and unquestioned power that used to be accorded to traditional sources of authority, including traditional sources of ritual authority or religious authority, has been challenged," Chiddy said.

Ronald Grimes, a ritual studies scholar and professor emeritus in the department of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, says "historically, one of the things that ritual has been used for is to keep people in their place."

Rites of passage, for example, were rituals used to "cement" men and women's place in society, he said.

'Historically, one of the things that ritual has been used for is to keep people in their place,' says ritual studies scholar Ronald Grimes. (Submitted by Ronald Grimes)

But more and more, people are using the elements of ritual "subversively," Chiddy says.

For instance, within the LGBT community, people have learned to create their own spaces and rituals.

"A lot of us have amazing cultural traditions, but [they] don't feel quite right for us," Katz explained.

"They don't fit quite right because we don't fit into that. Either they're very binary or they bring up memories for us that are kind of painful, because they're about a time when we weren't out."

Rituals sprout from ordinary tasks

Grimes says many of the mundane tasks we breeze through on a daily basis are considered rituals.

"Saying goodbye, saying hello, shaking hands — those are little tiny rit bits," as Grimes calls them.

He urges people not to think of a ritual as something that can only be achieved through "the mediation of some authority," but something that starts with an ordinary task and is developed into something more complex.

Gigi Banks used to have rituals around drugs, until she said it became unmanageable.

She used to wake up in the morning to use drugs, and then meet up with friends to do it all over again.

"Everything about addiction is a ritual," she said.

Faith Alexandra Marie, left, Sinclair Bletcher-Lowman and Gigi Banks before heading out for the night. They've adopted rituals for partying sober, although that wasn't always the case, according to Banks and Marie. (Submitted by Faith Alexandra Marie)

Faith Alexandra Marie would take alcohol and drugs to get high at parties, too.

However, "raves and parties aren't designed to support the needs of sober people," said Marie.

Both have since put a twist on their partying lifestyle by adopting different rituals and going to raves sober.

[Rituals] have as much power to debilitate and denigrate as they do to elevate.- Ronald Grimes, scholar and professor

Banks practicss self-care, while Marie preps for parties by packing a backpack with condoms, ID, a film camera, a naloxone kit, granola bars and energy drinks.

"When I was, like, using alcohol and drugs, any time I would go to a party I would just be so high. I just, like, wouldn't be able to dance," said Marie.

"What's different now is that when I go to parties I'm there to dance, to let go of that fear of, like, what other people think of me."

We may not always notice the rituals we're practising in our lives, or see them as such, according to Grimes.

But, "rituals have power," he said. "And they have as much power to debilitate and denigrate as they do to elevate."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Jess Shane.

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