The Ritualist

What do most religious leaders have in common? Priest, pastors, nuns, monks, spiritual teachers and the like are people we often revere as guides, advisers and mediators between us and the Divine.  We witness ceremonies they often officiate as special events. They summon the  Divine to inspire us and hear our prayers. We respect and recognize their authority in the our respective traditions we have embraced to  practice and understand.

Whatever these leaders do to invoke the Divine are easily called a ritual. Anything religious, spiritual or sacred are dubbed as a ritual. The ritual leader has the power and authority to perform a ritual. Thus, we have accepted a common notion that rituals are only performed by a leader and they are the only ones who have the sole roles as authorities of a particular ritual.

I was in the island of Bali in Indonesia last May 2011, a month before I attended the a workshop entitled The Art of Ritual Making. Touring Bali was not just a colorful experience. It seemed to me as a prerequisite for the ritual workshop I was about to attend. In Bali, I witnessed the magic of rituals. Temples proudly stand here and there. Each family does a ritual in each household temples. When I asked how often do Balinese people do rituals, our guide and host Indra Udayana said “Oh, here in Bali, every day is a ritual!” In contrast with the Islamic Java, Bali is predominantly Hindu. Balinese women often perform the rituals, called pujas, although I occasionally saw men did rituals as well. They prepare incense, bright colorful flower petals and a small amount of water to bless and pay respect to their deities in the temples.  In my observation, they seemed to be very engaged in prayers and rituals. It was such a prelude in retrospect, because what I observed in Bali and what my spiritual mentor, Ms. Leah Tolentino taught in her ritual workshop both carried the same insight: rituals call us to become ritualists ourselves, tapping and bridging with the Divine within.

A ritual is about presence – that in the heart of every ritualist is a very human, Loving soul.

We often associate rituals with ancient and pagan practices, something outside our particular religious practice. We often label ritualists as witches, gypsies or paranormal freaks. The likes of Ian, a modern day ritualist who explores druidry – nature ritual practice of Celtic tradition – and who often feels  alone in his practice, finds abode of acceptance in the community of ritualists in the workshop. For him it was an affirmation that rituals are not about a certain practice; it is about presence – that in the heart of every ritualist is a very human, Loving soul.

Stereotyping people doing rituals is very common, since there are so many misconceptions. Nonetheless, a ritualist is no more than a person aware of the God within. “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, NIV). Bridging our humanity and divinity through our deep appreciation of  life is what a ritualist achieves.  “A ritual is to bring the best in humanity,” says Irina, a Russian-born women’s advocate. It was not a coincidence that she deeply appreciates rituals. Siberia, the largest region in Russia, is the place where native ritualists were first documented. Today, the word shaman is often a generic term for ritualists of native origins.

The pre-hispanic ritual traditions of Filipinos are always led by a babaylan, a term that uniquely embodies the ritualist in every Filipino. Known in many synonyms in different regions, a babaylan  is a ritualist whose profound role redefines our consciousness. My friend Mini, whose heart ensouls the modern babaylan, says that there are only three roles a ritualist/babaylan does: “Remembering who we are, reconnecting with others and with the Divinity, and recommitment to our sacred path.”

We often ask who we really are. This question has exploded from our curiosity since the beginning of consciousness. Now, both part and whole of ourselves is a ritualist by nature: we devote ourselves to strengthening human connections and discovering our divine purpose. Eventually, we will find that being a ritualist is beyond the notions of  ceremonial rites and functions. It is about celebrating the Loving rituals we all share. It is honoring our Loving selves through rituals beyond belief and traditions. It is about following our sacred path: leading ourselves and others to experience and express the Love within.

The Art of Ritual Making is set to be held on July 17.  For inquiries and reservation, please contact Ishilta at 0915 295-2826 or for details . 

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