“You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born. Fear not the strangeness you feel. The future must enter you long before it happens. Just wait for the birth, for the hour of the new clarity.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

As I witnessed my cousin's Bat Mitzvah recently, I kept flashing back to Rilke's poem. It seemed to me that he was talking about ceremonies, about rites of passage. Those words reminded me of how we need to let go of one stage of life, step into the unknown, and try to make ourselves more comfortable with the discomfort; and that in doing so, we find the courage to step into the next phase of our lives.

Ceremonies are as varied as cultures and have served an important role in bringing communities together at joyous and sad times. A ceremony performs an important function in allowing people to come together to mark an ending and a new beginning. It is an established way to make sense of two questions:

  • How do I make meaning of my life at this moment?
  • How do I live authentically in this present moment, honoring and letting go of the past, and taking a meaningful step towards an intentional future?
  • The basic elements of Ceremony in most cultures tend to be similar in nature. They can broadly be categorized as below:

    1. Right Timing
    2. Intention
    3. Witnessing
    4. Movement

    1. Right Timing: The purpose of a ceremony is not for something to occur, but to recognize what is already happening. A ceremony creates a meaningful context within which the event can then happen. Most rites of passage are a confirmation of an initiation, or allow an individual to mark a phase of life, a moment they are currently present in.

    2. Intention: Ceremonies are held to mark an occurrence that is deemed worthy of acknowledgment. It may be a ceremony of severance, or one of threshold (marking an in-between stage), or one to mark a new beginning. The ceremony typically comprises symbols of the elements or actions that mark the intention specific to the occasion. Cultural and personal symbols may be used to signify the purpose of the ceremony.

    3. Witness: Traditionally, families and tribes, communities and like minded individuals have often come together to witness the ceremony. There may be a specific family member, community elder, or minister who is called upon to play a significant role in the ceremony. However, all who are present are invited to play an important role in witnessing the ceremony and creating the meaningful context for the event to unfold in.

    4. Movement: The ceremony must include a meaningful movement or progression. In other words, the ceremony must have a sense of direction or unfolding to indicate the forward journey of the individual or individuals who are participating in it.

    A ceremony is said to have three important steps: opening, threshold and closure. The opening phase signifies the ending of the old, the termination of what came before and brings us into the heart of the ceremony. The threshold phase is the actual "doing" of the ceremony, the meat of the matter, the rituals, the expression of intent, the witnessing of the individual's journey and the celebration of the movement.The closure phase is the beginning of the new, when the doer or initiate steps into the intention, beginning a new phase of their journey.

    Life, as we know it, is constantly initiating us. It is left up to us, to gather our friends and family to acknowledge this movement through ceremony.

    Cer"e*mo*ny (?), n.; pl. Ceremonies (#). [F. c'er'emonie, L. caerimonia; perh. akin to E. create and from a root signifying to do or make.]


    Ar act or series of acts, often of a symbolical character, prescribed by law, custom, or authority, in the conduct of important matters, as in the performance of religious duties, the transaction of affairs of state, and the celebration of notable events; as, the ceremony of crowning a sovereign; the ceremonies observed in consecrating a church; marriage and baptismal ceremonies.

    According to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof shall ye keep it [the Passover]. Numb. ix. 3

    Bring her up the high altar, that she may The sacred ceremonies there partake. Spenser.

    [The heralds] with awful ceremony And trumpet's sound, throughout the host proclaim A solemn council. Milton.


    Behavior regulated by strict etiquette; a formal method of performing acts of civility; forms of civility prescribed by custom or authority.

    Ceremony was but devised at first To set a gloss on . . . hollow welcomes . . . But where there is true friendship there needs none. Shak.

    Al ceremonies are in themselves very silly things; but yet a man of the world should know them. Chesterfield.


    A ceremonial symbols; an emblem, as a crown, scepter, garland, etc.


    Disrobe the images, If you find them decked with ceremonies. . . . Let no images Be hung with Caesar's trophies. Shak.


    A sign or prodigy; a portent.


    Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies, Yet, now they fright me. Shak.

    Master of ceremonies, an officer who determines the forms to be observed, or superintends their observance, on a public occasion. -- Not to stand on ceremony, not to be ceremonious; to be familiar, outspoken, or bold.


    © Webster 1913.

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