These Strange Times Bring New Rituals

We live in a time of transition. That transition makes the world feel unusual and brings forth many strange moods. We need new rituals to appease the strange gods of these times.

Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on

Sonja Blignaut shared a wonderful piece she had written on one of my favourite topics; transition, boundaries and liminality. In that piece, Sonja highlights the role of rituals in marking transition and notes:

Maybe this could be a gift of our turbulent times, reconnecting to the power of ritual that ancient cultures knew so well.

Sonja Blignaut

Strange gods

We ask people all the time “how are you?” or “how are you going?”. Once the answer was always “fine” or “good”. Now the response usually involves some variant of “things are a bit strange”.

Some of this reflects that we are still grappling with the same Monsters at the Gates from early 2020 that demand our agency and our attention – climate change, race, gender equality, pandemic, changing work and more. We have recently added war and new fronts in the landscape of political and cultural conflict. A bigger issue is that our personal responses to the demands on our agency, our work and our lives has been changed by the distruption of the pandemic. Lockdowns left us with lots of time to reflect. For many, the conclusions of those reflections lead directly to change as Sonja notes in her piece – changes in relationships, work, lives and more.

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House

Similar periods of transition at the beginning of the modern era have led to intense explosion of religious revival. The experience in the ‘burned over’ districts in New York state of a significant religious revival was broadly contemporaneous with the beginnings of modern factory production, transportation and communication and the rapid westward expansion of the United States. There was a great deal of change in society and new power structures as society transformed from an agricultural to an industrial one.

In our time, the beneficiaries of this transition are less likely to be religious leaders, but there has been a return to those capable of manipulating modern digital communications: populist political leaders, disinformation specialists, influencers and thought leaders. Our reflexive daily doomscrolling ritual plays to their expertise, provides a channel to our attention, and has enabled many to build rich livelihoods, large movements and even considerable power.

New Rituals For Strange Gods

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford, A Ritual to Read Each Other

I have found over the last two years that there are a need for new rituals to reflect the changing world. Here are some examples:

The Digital Commute: Walking from the kitchen to the study is a matter of minutes and doesn’t allow the planning or reflection time of a traditional suburban commute. I have found the need to find the time to stop and drink a coffee before the day begins. This is also my time to consider a blogpost or a new project. Gym time is another important ritual in this context.

Morning Digital Greetings: We don’t walk into the office as much and in lockdown we never left the house. We lost our morning greetings and social chats. I found myself adopting the practice of a morning greeting to a regular correspondents. Adding a tiny social interaction helps start the day in a more engaged way and often resulted in the day being underpinned with a more social vibe. Some went on so long, they became evening farewells.

Validation Checks: In a face paced digital world, it is easy to take messages at face value and equally easy to get oneself in a mess whether through misinformation, phishing or some other malicious act. I now check information more often and more widely. I ask myself why I am clicking through and what I want from the experience more often.

The Digital Disconnect: We need to turn off our work and our digital bombardment. Baking in time in the day that digital is off is important. More recently, I have begun to insist on a fixed time of reading books to stretch and relax the mind. Taking concentration away from the intensity of work and social media is important. I find this time powerful for engaging curiosity, imagination and escaping the drive of the algorithmic bubble.

The Spontaneous Coffee/Walk/Lunch: With less interaction in the office and busy social lives, there is more need to plan social interactions. Fighting that with a call to others for a spontaneous coffee, lunch, walk around the block or walk in the park.

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

Frank O’Hara, Having a Coke with You

Something for Yourself: A ritual of finding time for yourself is important when the digital, work, family and social pressures can be relentless.

The Creative Outlet: Engaging a different part of your life through creative work or engagement with the arts is as important as the daily grind. Finding consistent time and practice for this has become important. I have spoken about my enjoyment of poetry and have been continuing my baking in this regard.

The Evening Walk: Ending the day in the dark and the quiet with time to clear the mind and calm the nerves

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Maya Angelou, Still I Rise

What new rituals that have helped you shape the transitions?

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