Sunday, September 27, 2009

Designing Rituals that Stick

My funological comrades and I are in a conversation about what the “central ritual” will be at the Villages in the Sky festival in the Ozarks in 2010. Central rituals play important roles in two of the inspirational events for VIS – Burning Man and the Rainbow Gathering.

At Burning Man there are actually two central rituals. The first (on the Saturday night) is the burning of the man. A 40 foot high effigy is set alight amongst dozens of fire dancers and a host of fireworks displays. Participants run in circles around the burning man and make incredible noise. Crystal actually does not think this is a ritual at all, he prefers to refer to it as “the spectacle” and it certainly is that.

On Sunday night the temple is burned. The temple is further out, and actually much larger overall It is made entirely of wood and is an incredibly intricate art piece. On it participants scribble what ever it is they want to let go of, often sadness about a loved one who passed in the last year (or anytime really). In sharp contrast to the burn of the man, this is a highly somber and quiet. Up close, both of these rituals are physically quite hot. They are also magnificent enuf so that they can be enjoyably viewed from a fairly significant distance.

At the Rainbow Gathering the central ritual mixes noise and quite. Part of the site selection for the part of the national parks which hosts these gatherings is that they need to have a space (for the national gatherings) which can accommodate 25,000 people standing in a large circle holding hands. For the first half of the fourth of July, rainbow kids (some of whom are in their 80s) are silent, doing their daily chores, heading toward a mid day gathering which comes together in a large silent circle. After some length of time which seems cosmologically determined, the kids run into the middle yelling and this is the signal for everyone to run in. Much dancing and partying ensues.

We will have tree houses and zip lines and hopefully turbine platforms as our environment. Presumably, there will be an open field to operate in, and n year one only a few hundred participants. And I believe that this ritual, and its power and effect on people will be one of the things which determines how many people come back for year 2 and beyond.

So I am in dialog with my new lover Premin, who lives in a spiritual resort which used to be a spiritual commune about what gives ritual life and bond people with them. She said these clever things:

The real important thing about ritual is, that it is not a ritual. that it is alive in every moment, that it makes sense, that it takes people into account, and when it doesn’t feel right or fitting any more, it can be changed. It grows with the moment, with the people. It takes presence, and not routine.


Bill said...

Well, at Burning Man the have a "burning man" and at the Rainbow Gathering they "gather". So maybe Villages in the Sky could have some sort of "village" in the "sky."

PJ said...

I'm thinking paint. Lots of cardboard. And tape. Music too.

Angie said...

I am torn on the creation of this ritual. On the one hand, I see value in us as organizers coming up with some funologically perfect event, tested and tinkered with in the weeks leading up to the event. I also see value in engaging the people who attend this first event in the creation of this ritual. BM and Rainbow's rituals are pre-set in part because of the size of the group, but VIS (at least in 2010) will be small enough that we could co-create the ritual with the few hundred people there. My preference is for a hybrid approach- having something simple and beautiful to fall back on, but working to create a ritual that makes sense for these people, this festival, this year. Premin is right- rituals are best when they are not rituals, but are alive.

Unknown said...

Whereas the westerners think of it as the "air" element, in Chinese it is traditionally translated as the "wood" element also known as the rising transformation. Embodying this element, it would be appropriate for such an event to take place in the springtime morning, in the east, with green being the dominant color.

Rising element attributes include idealism, social consciousness, flexibility, co-operation, new ideas, growth and expansion. I would suggest an emphasis on trees in this proposed new ritual.