So, yeah, I do jabber on around spiritualist and gnostic practice. I circle in words and concepts without often zooming in to deal with the practical day-to-day matters that constitute my work. I don’t talk an awful lot about prayer or ritual, for example. That’s mostly because I am not sure about the value of such talk in this medium; it seems too fast and shallow.
If that sounds negative, I don’t mean it to. It just seems like the time in which ritual work unfolds and the time in which internet-use unfolds are quite different.
This brings me to something I want to talk about regarding practice and ideas of practice—time.
When I talk about time in ritual, I draw a distinction between it and the more abstract clock time with which we schedule and divide our days in much of the modern world. That time has its place, but the differentiation of the day into minutes, seconds, and hours is a bit removed from the time in which spiritual work tends to unfold.
I also draw a distinction between it and the time of natural cycles like phases of the moon, the cycle of the constellations through the night sky, and the seasons. Appreciating these do bring us a good deal closer to the time of ritual and ritual time often intersects with them, but they aren’t quite identical either.
It’s worth talking about that propadeutic role of natural cycles. Following these cycles inculcates a sensibility that makes ritual time more, well, sensible. The natural cycles are embedded in vital bodies, a movement that cannot be easily separated from the objects in which (and to which, and through which) it manifests.
It also inculcates us with a sense of substance, of something to which these changes happen. The stability in which natural cycles occur frame more durable changes. While there is often a stability to the forest as a whole, the observation of a forest over time also includes the falling of trees and the rise of saplings, the shift in animal and vegetable populations in relation to broader patterns we mostly only glimpse sidelong.
What’s more, the soul is embedded in these natural cycles. Our soul forms a link between several orders of time and in observing natural cycles we begin to develop a sense for one of those orders. That provides the foundation for a spiritual work which will help synchronize those levels in the soul. Appreciating natural cycles gives us a sense for how to insert ourselves within them.
The other kinds of temporality that enter into ritual work are what gives it a rhythm distinct from, and sometimes in opposition to, the natural cycles in which it is often embedded. The time of spirits, of dreams, of ghosts, of angels and devils, of God, cross and sometimes encompass ritual time.
Ritual time often develops in the field of the imagination. The archetypal psychology crowd (folks like James Hillman and Thomas Moore) gets this dimension of ritual time fairly well. You could do a lot worse than read Hillman’s The Dream & the Underworld or Healing Fiction. That Moore’s work will lead you to the likes of Marsilio Ficino surely won’t hurt you, either.
That imagination isn’t the key element of ritual time, though, and the archetypal psychology crowd’s tendency to identify the soul with imagination strips the soul of its role as temporal lynchpin. An approach to the soul that focuses on the imagination washes out its foundation in the natural cycles and drowns out the higher influences that would animate imagination.
It also tends to conflate ritual efficacy with affective result. The drama of sudden insight or cathartic tears are overvalued. Theatre and ritual have a certain filial intimacy and theatrical staging may help synchronize the imagination with the soul; however, the affect of theatre isn’t always necessary or desirable in realizing a syncrony of times in the soul. A rite may be simple, unadorned, without emotional impact, and still perfectly efficacious in providing the soul with a place to realize its destiny within the world of fate.
Actual rituals tend to take place at tipping points within the broader cycles of the soul. They provide ways to temper the process, intensifying or ameliorating it. They can be slow, they can be fast, they can take a few minutes or stretch over days, weeks, months, and even years. If we can appreciate them as intersections where we meet the soul as the crossroads of times as well as space, we can make better use of them, much like knowing which way the wind blows allows us to make more use of a ship’s sails.