A while back, I spent time with a native people. Having spent just a few weeks with them, I became familiar with a few of their customs and rituals. One of those rituals was of particular interest to me, which I will try to recount in the following words.
It began (as did many of the native rituals did) by a number of people gathering at a previously agreed upon location and time (often in the evening). Once assembled, from the midst of the people, one person was selected, given a special chair, a special place at table, and given a crown to wear. I assume this person was a kind of King for the evening or a King of the assembly, as latter in the ritual he is presented with a number of tokens of varying sort from those present. Some of the tokens encouraged somber feelings, excitement, and laughter from not just the King but also those assembled.
However, before the Kingis presented with these tokens, a number of small torches are lit and stuck midway into a sweet, spongy food that is then placed before the King of the assembly. Once the food and torch combination has been presented to the King, everyone present stopps what they were doing, gathered about the King in a circular fashion (a circle to represent the never ending loyalty of the assembly), the lights were lessened, and a song of wishing was sung to and for the King. On occasion, one or two people (they must have been the choral directors) added an extra verse or two to the song of wishing. It was clear that these added verses were not part of the original song, as from gathering to gathering the extra verses varied in content. Those present at the assembly usually had no issues with the additional verses to the song being added to the song of wishing. The extra verses showed that the native people I was visiting have a natural ability for improvisation.
Upon completion of the song of wishing, the King, after being presented with the food and torches, extinguishes the torches. The manner often chosen to accomplish this was through a brief, strong, and carefully aimed exhalation from the King across the torches. This apparently meant that though the flame of life will one day extinguish, the King will leave behind a ‘sweet’ legacy for others.
Once all the torches have been extinguished, the lights are returned to their normal luminosity and the King is then presented with a cutting device, which he uses to carefully make the first cut into the sweet, spongy food before passing the food cutting duties to someone else in the assembly. In addition to the sweet, spongy food, a round serving – just smaller than a baseball – of a sweet, frozen, milky product is served to the assembly. All present usually partake of the food in some capacity.
At roughly this time, often just after the consumption of food but sometimes during it, the King is presented with the above mentioned tokens. Soon after all the tokens have been presented, the gathering often disbands. Each person going their own way until the next assembly is called together.
[If you have not figured it out, the above ritual is that of a birthday party. Something that most people wouldn't call a ritual; yet, strangely enough a birthday party resembles a ritual upon closer analysis.]
In brief rituals are need to:
- Give form and shape to an event.
- Help in providing a foundation for the event (related to #1)
- Help in avoiding confusion and minimizing unexpected surprises.
- allow a person to be comfortable with what is going on so that they may move freely in the ritual. (So that people are no longer thinking about doing the ritual because the ritual has become a part of who they are).