What’s So Important About Ritual?

Rituals are symbolic experiences that help us, together with our families and friends, express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events. For example, birthday parties honor the passing of another year in life. Weddings publicly affirm the private love shared by two people. Funerals and memorial services are traditional and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved.

What do rituals have in common? First, they are typically public events. Families, friends, church members, villages, even nations – any group with strong emotional or philosophical ties – may create and enact a ritual, providing a support system for common beliefs and values. Rituals unite us.

Second, most rituals follow an established, cultural-specific procedure. The details will change, but the general pattern remains recognizable. Even a completely customized and unique celebrant-led ceremony will include signposts that comfort and reassure. The predictability of rituals helps participants feel at ease.

Finally, and perhaps most important, rituals are symbolic. Wedding rings, christening gowns and gold watches all symbolize important life transitions and commitments. Not just the objects, but the very acts of ritual are symbolic as well. The symbol of ritual provides a means to express our beliefs and feelings when language alone will not do those beliefs and feelings justice.

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