Saturday, 9 March 2013

Ritual and tradition are closely aligned - two sides of the same coin, really - but when we talk about the two in a Celtic Reconstructionist (or perhaps more specifically, a Gaelic Polytheist) context, it seems like they're often talked about as separate things: one greater, the other lesser. By that, I mean that the kinds of traditions we might observe on an everyday basis - although perhaps (or potentially) ritualistic in themselves - are somehow seen as "lesser" to the kind of rituals we participate in at festivals, because these are perhaps seen as being more "formal" and therefore more important.

It's the timing that's key, I suppose.

It's not something that's articulated explicitly by anyone, I don't think, but on reflection I do get the feeling that there's a kind of general assumption there, especially when you consider how much attention the festivals get compared to daily practices (on the one hand), and then the kind of customs and traditions that also fill up our lives. I suppose it's understandable - festivals are special occasions, after all. But to a certain extent there's a danger that too much focus is placed on one area when there should be a more balanced approach.

When I think about the kind of rituals I do, they're mostly simple things. Prayer. Offerings. Observing certain customs and traditions. We say it's traditional to prayers at certain times of the day - when we get up, when we go to bed, and so on. So we do. It's traditional to make offerings as part of our ritual observances; it's part of how we build a reciprocal relationship with the gods, spirits and ancestors. So we do that, too. It's traditional to do things in a deiseil direction, where possible. It's traditional to sing as you go about your tasks, so often I do, in an off key kind of way when there's no one around to annoy (except when you cook; you shouldn't sing when you cook). Feasting can be a ritual - sharing food is important. Offering hospitality is a serious tradition, too. These things can become little rituals in themselves - whether they're accompanied by prayer or offering and a set, formal liturgy and format, or not - because they're rooted in the underlying values and beliefs of our religion. They symbolise and articulate the way we view our relationship with the world around us. Big or small, greater or lesser,  they all have the same roots.

The prayers, the offerings, the traditions can underpin more formal or elaborate rituals too - the longer rituals, more involved, the kind of thing that's written out and memorised, prepared for in advance. So it's the little things, isn't it, that add up to become big things. Without them we have nothing to build on.

There are often complaints that there aren't enough rituals shared between Gaelic Polytheists, and certainly that can be a problem - if anything, because if you're new to it all then it's never a bad thing to find a few pointers in the right direction. Then again, if we want meaningful ritual in our lives maybe it helps to remember that we shouldn't overlook the "little" things, either. Little acorns, mighty oaks and all that...