Ever wondered what a ritual is or how to create one? Why would you even want to do a ritual? In this article, I explain what rituals are to me, how I incorporate BDSM into them, and how to create your own death and rebirth ritual.
What is a ritual?
A ritual is an act or series of acts that are symbolic. You decide that the act means something, and therefore it does. A ritual is something that is meaningful to you. Meaning is vital to mental health. All humans want their lives to be meaningful. Without meaning, we experience mental pain, which we attempt to numb or escape from.
We all want to matter and for our lives to matter.
The unconscious mind
At a deeper level, a ritual speaks to your unconscious mind. The famous psychodynamic psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856 to 1939) used an analogy of an iceberg to describe how the mind is made up of what we are conscious of (the tip of the iceberg) and what is hidden in the unconscious mind (the submerged part of the iceberg. While Freud proposed some silly things because of his own repressions, he was the grandfather of analytical psychology and did have some excellent ideas that went on to be developed by other great minds, like Carl Jung (1875 to 1961), my personal favourite and fantasy grandpa.
The unconscious contains all sorts of significant and disturbing material which we need to keep out of awareness because it is too threatening to acknowledge fully. One of Jung’s famous quotes goes “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. So while the unconscious mind is necessary as we don’t want to be constantly assailed by its contents, it is healthy to have some dialogue with the parts of your psyche that exist there, which is called the process of integration. This is also known as ‘shadow work’.
Rituals can be used as a form of shadow work because they use the language of symbolism. Symbolism is the language of the unconscious mind. Therefore, if you want to make some changes to your inner life of thoughts and feelings, working at the level of the unconscious can be helpful. Have you ever really wanted to make a change but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to make it happen? This usually occurs when something in your unconscious mind is opposing your conscious will. There could be all kinds of reasons for this but usually it is because an aspect of yourself in your unconscious mind believes that you need to be protected from something. Simply trying to press on regardless, ignoring the adversarial forces in your unconscious mind will not work.
What you resist, persists. Ignoring things or pushing them away is also known as the defence mechanism of repression.
It can be difficult to know where to begin. There is no right or wrong. You can trust your instincts – what symbols occur to you first? If you decide what the symbols mean, that is what they will mean. It is the process of speaking with the unconscious mind that begins to ease the tension there, not necessarily what you say. Your presence matters.
You speak to the unconscious mind with symbols, and you can do that with rituals.
Death and rebirth
I love the idea of death and rebirth as a symbolic process that we undergo many times throughout our life. You have experienced losses in your life. You have experienced lessons in your life. You have experienced growth in your life. There are also many losses, lessons, and opportunities yet to come. How often have you taken stock of what has happened in your life? Have you grieved your losses? On the flip side, have you celebrated your successes?
All these moments represent death and rebirth moments. Moments that have changed you.
A death and rebirth ritual can be a way of marking your transitions through moments that have changed you. A ritual can be a way of processing, releasing and transforming strong emotions connected to those moments. Sometimes it can be hard to feel the feelings connected to major life events. Or perhaps you have many feelings that have accrued over time that you have had to push away while you lived your life, and you need a cathartic experience to express them and feel renewed.
Whatever your reason, creating a symbolic death and rebirth experience can help you connect to the vastness of the hidden emotional content in your unconscious mind and allow yourself to feel different through that process.
Creating your own ritual
Let your imagination run wild if you wish or keep it simple. What matters is that you feel something.
The point of the ritual is to contact emotions, to give them space to move through you.
Here are a few tips for you to create your own death and rebirth ritual:
- What part or parts of you have died? How would you describe and mourn those parts? This is the part where you grieve and honour your past suffering. Music that evokes feelings connected to your grief may help you in this section.
- Is there anything that your past-self needed that you did not have? How could you give that to yourself now? Choose an object or an act that symbolises that need, and incorporate it into your ritual.
- Finally, who are you now, having been through the death or deaths that transformed you? How would you celebrate the new you? Again, music that evokes feelings connected with the new you may help you in this section.
Death and rebirth rituals that I have conducted
One way that I like to conduct a death and rebirth ritual for clients is to have them write their own eulogy, which I read over their ‘dead’ body. I will have ritually ‘buried’ them beforehand, and after I read the eulogy we play a series of tracks that musically evoke the emotions that connect them to their grief. They may then cry and be witnessed in their grief, and I might hold them through the process if that is what they need to make it to the ‘other side’ of the process and be reborn.
For the rebirth aspect there may be some nurturing, to provide a loving embrace and soothing for their nervous system before their body is fully energised again via a celebratory track list of music that we dance to ecstatically.
Dancing naked can feel like a symbolic way of being truly accepted for who you are. A way of being seen. Or perhaps a special outfit that reflects the new you can make you feel celebrated.
Crafting a ritual for you
I commend the brave folks who come to me for a ritual. It is often a very poignant and visceral experience processing emotions that have been repressed or suppressed. It is an honour for me to hold space for these processes, and I am open to crafting bespoke rituals for those that feel called to go on a journey into their inner world. We can incorporate all kinds of things, including BDSM structures like impact play, sensory deprivation, restraints and role play.
The BDSM structures are merely vehicles designed to help you contact the emotional states that you wish to purge or transform.
Travel well, explorers! Power and love to you.