1. Why are rituals important? What benefits do they provide that something like silent prayer and meditation do not?
Rituals are important because they provide a form to convey meaning to us through manipulating symbolic objects and enacting specific activities with the purpose of initiating transformation. You can design a ritual to initiate a life change or attitude, facilitate a change already in process, or name and claim a change or transformation that has already occurred. Prayer focuses on communicating to the divine, and silent meditation on receiving communication from the divine. Spellcraft is a process of communication with the divine when you ask the universe to align with your desire for something, and then experience the universe responding by manifesting your desire.
Rituals are about consciously creating an experience that you wish to receive—whether created and provided by others or especially through personal rituals created by the process in my book—and may include invocation (similar to prayer in some ways), meditation, and spellcraft. When a woman takes an abstract idea or issue in her life through the ritual making process, she must choose what would physically represent her idea or issue. Doing this causes her to have to move from the abstract to keen focus as she puts her issue into a physical symbolic form. When she actively interacts with these symbols in ritual, the purpose of the ritual becomes more tangible, and therefore, more personally transforming. Involving her whole self in ritual engages all of her senses and gives her unique access to greater knowledge beyond the cognitive level. When a woman creates a ritual from remembering the white crystals of her first snowfall, a warm full moon ocean breeze, the first touch of her newborn, the ritual is truly hers. This process of ritual creation is authentically from her and about her. Her ritual becomes a beautifully powerful experience in self-intimacy.
2. How do you define a “rite of passage?” Why is it important to mark one with a formal ritual?
I define a “rite of passage” as any life passage or transition that an individual believes to be significant and deserving of conscious attention. When consciously created and enacted, ritual can be transforming; linking the past, present and future into a continuum that can be observed, felt and learned from. By using ritual to mark our life passages we can “connect the dots” of events in our lives to see the pattern in what may have previously felt like a random series of events.
I have come to understand that human beings internalize attitudes or beliefs about ourselves, our bodies, our sexuality and life in general based on how we ourselves (and others) respond (or don’t respond) to a life experience. In the aftermath of a significant transition or event, we often formulate life decisions, consciously or unconsciously. These decisions influence us from our present into our future, affecting our behavior, actions and choices. Unexamined, negative, subconscious decisions can have devastating and far-reaching effects. Through ritual we can reach back into the past and revisit past experiences, making different decisions based on new awareness and marking milestones that were not recognized as significant at the time.
3. We seem to be a culture that is becoming ever more obsessed with youth and beauty, and preserving a youthful appearance for as long as possible. What would you say to a woman who is reluctant to celebrate her true age, or to think of herself as a “crone?”
Croning rituals are a wonderful way to create an alternative paradigm. Active, aging women who celebrate their maturing beauty challenge the dominant culture’s idea of eternal youth and provide a visible role model to younger women. Let us honor and celebrate “out loud” the beauty of each stage of womanhood. Just as we celebrate all the aspects of the goddess, we must have the courage to celebrate and appreciate all the aspects of ourselves.
4. Can Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries be used to create rituals that are inclusive? For example, what if one wanted to create a ritual to celebrate the birth of a baby but wanted to include friends and family who are Christian, without alienating or scaring them?
Regardless of religious practice or cultural background, my book helps the reader create rituals that can be relevant and accessible to everyone. Though my book is written from a Wiccan perspective and specifically for women, people who practice different religions and men will still find it very useful. Of course, sensitivity and inclusiveness are important when inviting people to a ritual who are new to goddess spirituality. When I facilitate a baby-naming for families who are Pagan with Christian grandparents or relatives, I explain what is happening in broad language that everyone can understand. Here’s an example:
“Our altar has symbols of the 4 elements that make up the Universe: earth, water, fire and air. Incense represents air, the mind and inspired ideas. Fire, the candle’s flame, represents our life force, the passion of life and creativity. The chalice represents water, our flowing emotions, feelings of love and compassion that connect us. Salt, earth, represents the physical universe, our bodies, strength and stability. The universal power that animates and binds all of these forces together is known by many names. We call it spirit. We are all gathered here today to bring in the spirit of love, through our love of this family and the new child we welcome.”