Listen along to this article with additional commentary by author Zack Janson
Today, the term “ritual” seems to be in vogue to describe pretty much any habitual or ceremonial act. We have weekly “self-care” rituals. Every underground metal band, regardless of motivation or presentation, wants to call their show a ritual. The term has really become the same as “routine” or “intentional act”. There’s even a takeout app called Ritual.
When terms become more general, they start to lose some of their nuance. Nuance, of course, is an important part of discussing complex topics, especially when we speak of philosophy and spirituality. Therefore, it’s important to use our words carefully, and to carefully distinguish the terms we use so as not to conflate things that are superficially similar, but different in what they represent. Sorry guys, hanging out with your friends is not a ritual. Poker, spa visits, bar nights – even if they happen often, are very important, and make you feel good – none of these are rituals. Takeout is most certainly not a ritual.
That being said, there is a shred of authenticity left behind in these practices; It’s easy to point out what many modern “rituals” have in common. They are united by intentionality, repetitiousness, structure, by separation from normal behaviour and normal circumstances. Even a weekly movie watcher or smoker prepares for and experiences their “rituals” according to a strict set of intentional parameters. The movie snacks, the favourite smoke spot. The appointed hour. In the crucible of life’s chaos, it’s really not tough to get what makes these invigorating, significant experiences. Intentionality is grounding, and while these modern rituals have lost the transcendental overtone that actually defines true ritual, the martial aspect with which they are approached remains as a relic of what they used to represent.
Despite the difference in practice, little has changed in terms of why “rituals” are carried out. Man’s need for structure outside of what is immediate to him still exists. An essential aspect has been lost, however, in ritual performance: connection with the esoteric. When we think of a “ritual” in its classic sense, we are taken by images of “primitive” painted people, their heads spinning from entheogens, or of High Church liturgy, purple drapings and the pall of incense. This is the unspoken element that has been replaced by cigarettes and video games in the lives of many modern men. The exertion of the spirit is no more, the connection with a current that is unavailable during ordinary experiences with reality has somehow dried up, at least in the mainstream.
Herein lies the crisis of the modern world, the struggle with meaning and the vacuum that both Evola and Nietzsche spoke on from different perspectives – the crisis of a world without meaning does not begin or end with electric lights or iPhones, the sickness that so many feel in response to the present order of things is not a material issue. On the contrary, the material is a consequence of the esoteric; the lack of genuine transcendence is written all over the world that has left so many people with the feeling of alienation that characterises what many Perennialist philosophers call the Kali Yuga, or age of material, profane decadence. “God is dead”, as Nietzsche so famously stated, but what if there was a way to still maintain a rapport with the unseen that didn’t involve televangelism, vernacular language mass or made up Gardnerian Wicca-types?
We have an intrinsic affinity for the substance and function of true ritual performed separately from normal reality. We require, as human beings, the counterpoint of the sacred in order to balance out, make sense of, and ultimately to provide meaning to the profane. The need for this structure is inherent cross-culturally; the sooner we reintegrate the spiritual element of true ritual, the better for it we will be. The cast-off frame of a once valuable tradition across centuries and peoples can be taken up again as a living element, one that can be repurposed and weaponised for your own life. This is the crux: ritual can be re-integrated. It hasn’t disappeared, only become an atrophied part of the human experience in much of the world, almost endemically so in the West.
More esoteric currents can be explored, either in a solitary sense or through the framework of a religious tradition. Groups can be established with like-minded individuals. Practices which directly seek to engender transcendence, such as the more mystic currents of Buddhism, are applicable to even those who are largely unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the pomp of what we in the west would consider to be “spirituality” or “religion”. There is a way out of the iron cage – through the bars, through the alchemy of the spirit, through the pausing of the connection with the subwoofer and the bottle, not because of their inherent evil, but because connection with something far loftier than them is necessary
Check out and reconnect. For your own goddamn good.