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The Sacredness of Rituals,” by Kristina Dryža”

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    Kristina Dryža offers a profound perspective in “The Sacredness of Rituals,”this week’s contribution to JCF’s MythBlast essay series (click on title to read). Ironically, we weren’t able to prep a COHO conversation in advance as I spent the week off-grid on the spectacular Big Sur coast of California, participating in an annual springtime death-and-rebirth ritual I’ve attended the past fifteen years. (Come to think of it, I first connected with Kristina when we attended the same event some seven years ago.)

    As I type this early Sunday afternoon in California, it’s late at night where Kristina lives, in Lithuania; she likely won’t see this thread before Monday morning – so instead of opening with an exchange between the two of us, I have a question I’ll pose to everyone, including Kristina. You won’t need to wait for her to respond before sharing your thoughts.

    Kristina’s theme certainly captures the essence of Campbell’s thought on this subject, as reflected in the following quote:

    Mythology and the rites through which its imagery is rendered open the mind . . . to the mythic dimension of being — of nature — which is within as well as without, and thereby finally at one with itself. (Joseph Campbell, The Flight of the Wild Gander, 86)”

    We tend to think of rites as those accompanying critical transitions –– birth, coming of age, marriage, death –– sacraments all . . . but there was a time when ritual permeated every aspect of life:

    The archaic world knows nothing of ‘profane’ activities: every act which has a definite meaning — hunting, fishing, agriculture, games, conflict, sexuality — in some way participates in the sacred. . . the only profane activities are those which have no mythical meaning . . . Thus we may say that every responsible activity in pursuit of a definite end is, for the archaic world, a ritual.

    Every ritual has a divine model, an archetype . . . ‘We must do what the gods did in the beginning.’ ” (Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, 27–28, 21)

    Joseph Campbell makes the same point:

    “Well, the value of mythology in the old traditions, one of the values, was that every activity in life had been mythologized. You saw something of its relevance to the Great Mysteries and your own participation in the Great Mysteries in the performance — in agriculture, in hunting, in military life and so forth. All of these were turned into spiritual disciplines. Actually they were. There were rituals associated with them that let you know what spiritual powers were being challenged, evoked, and brought into play through this action.”  (Joseph Campbell, The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, New Dimensions Radio Interview with Michael Toms on audiocassette, Tape I, Side 1)

    My question is what are some of your rituals? I’m not speaking specifically of common collective rites (e.g. a communion mass, or prasad at a Hindu ceremony), but what do you ritualize in your own life?

    I trust that serves as a sound entry point into a wider conversation.


    …just as “…(there is) distinction between egotism and egoity” ,,,, is this the same distinction that exists between ‘pride’ & ‘self-esteem’?




    Here we are again! Hello dear friends!

    I have just returned from Punios šilas, not just Lithuania’s, but one of Europe’s most ancient forests. And I am sitting with Campbell’s eloquent words, “The Christ idea and the Buddha idea are perfectly equivalent mythological symbols. Two ways of saying the same thing: that a transcendent energy consciousness informs the whole world and informs you. To become aware of that, and to live out of that center instead of out of this mind center, is the salvation of your life. That means putting yourself in accord with nature.”

    As we enter a discussion on rituals I want to focus on our relationship, or lack of, to nature. Campbell presciently writes (and his words are massively more relevant today), “Economics and politics are the governing powers of life today and that’s why everything is screwy. You have to get back in accord with nature; and that’s what these myths are all about. Now in the nineteenth century sociological anthropologists had the idea that myths and rites were an attempt to control nature. Totally wrong. They are not to control nature, they are to control the society and put it in accord with nature.”

    Spending the day with 4/500-year-old oaks, I could really sense how nature was the first ‘link’ people followed as they tried to pattern and articulate their lives. But in modernity, it’s not about returning to nature per se, but rather to befriend it and enhance it … it’s about experiencing the inner sentience of nature. Metaphorically, the sense that the forest is walking us, as much as we are walking the forest.

    Along the way, there’ll always be order and disorder so that we may cultivate wu wei, a mental state where our actions are effortlessly in alignment with the flow of life. But can we learn to be still in the river of life and listen to what it asks of us? Because if we keep acting in misalignment to our true nature, we’ll keep compromising who we really are. Again and again. But not forgetting, however, that out of every disaster along the path of self-awakening, there is the potential for something surprisingly positive and life-affirming to emerge too.

    Signing off with huge FOMO that I wasn’t at Esalen with the gang this year – Kristina.


    the hubris exhibited in trying to control nature has, imho, resulted in more harm, albeit ‘harm’ as in ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’…

    George Carlin terms such hubris as ‘arrogant meddling’ and such arrogance has pervaded our economics and politics as JC has observed… from Carlin: An Earth Day Tradition: George Carlin on “The Planet” (

    so, when most of our existence is spent in the muck-and-mire of a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest world how does JCF advise us to proceed …. and please don’t say ‘follow your bliss’…?



    When I read the first part of the quote, (“Individualism is perfectly fine if the individual realizes that the grandeur of his being is that of representing something,”… ) I had the feeling that, at that moment, Campbell refrained himself from completing his thought. When I read the rest of the quote (“Even representing a system of ideals and images that the rest of the world and the environment doesn’t have; he still is the agent of something and he is a presence. But when the individual is acting only for himself or for his family or for his team, then you have nothing but chaos.”) I realized that he hadn’t.
    His first complete thought should have read: “Individualism is perfectly fine if the individual realizes that the grandeur of his being is that of representing something”…(other than himself). Which, of course, is an oxymoron. And would not have been very popular then or now. Smart man.

    Richard Sumpter

      Not long after Trump was elected I came to the conclusion that the main distinction between conservative and liberal boiled down to the apparent fact that the right privileges individual liberty and the left privileges the common good, albeit there are many nuances.  Having concluded this, I was  distressed that I was engaging in such a dual thinking modality.  Campbell was quite emphatic about this phenomenon in several places in The Power of Myth where he spoke on the “pairs of opposites”.  Individualism and common good should not be seen as either/or.

      In an effort to see this in a non-dual way I came up with an analogy using the act of breathing.  Breathing is one thing, but it is comprised of dual actions: inhale and exhale (which are not in opposition).  We cannot do only one and survive.  The inhale can be seen as the service of self, and the exhale as giving back to the community.  Similar to the hero’s journey, s/he goes forth (individually) and returns with a boon for the community.

      Another duality I have trouble resolving is history/time.  Most indigenous and nature religions see time as circular (cyclical).  The Judeo-Christian traditions see it as linear (having a telos).  I tend to view it like a slinky pulled apart.  It is both circular and linear.

      A fellow pilgrim.



      I love the way you employ breathing as a metaphor, with the inhale “in service of self and the exhale as giving back to the community.”

      Normally, my heart beats on its own — “I” don’t exert direct conscious control over the frequency or intensity. All other bodily processes — circulation, perspiration, metabolism, etc. — are similarly autonomic, or “unconscious.” Obviously, I am beating my heart, monitoring my internal body temperature, secreting the necessary hormones — but not the conscious, waking me.

      Breathing also occurs without conscious direction or intervention — yet it is different from other involuntary processes in that we can consciously control our breath. Hence breathing is that act where consciousness and the unconscious most clearly come together, and so has long served as a launching pad for subjective explorations of the mystery of Being.

      Which brings me back to your analogy. As you point out, we can’t just inhale or exhale – we must do both, and do – but when we are conscious of what we are doing, paying attention to breath, that takes it to another level.

      Meditation – which for me pretty much consists of just sitting and being aware of my breath – has become one of my longstanding personal rituals. I’ll light a stick of incense and sit in front of my altar to enhance the sanctity of the setting, but breathing in, breathing out, is the core of that ritual – one that serves as a metaphor for so many experiences in waking life.

      Nice distinction as well you make between the cyclical and linear time of nature vs. the Zoroastrian/Judeo/Christo/Islamic traditions, though that’s probably a conversation for another thread . . .


      Richard Sumpter


        I also use breath as a part of my meditation ritual.  It is a “way station” on the journey to “no thought.”  I find it very hard to achieve the blank mind that is aware of nothing, not even breathing.  I believe that it is in that no thought zone the we can be open to realizing our oneness with God and thus all creation.  I don’t know if or when this will happen, but I will “stay with the program” (ritual).


        Robert Juliano

          Kristina, thank you so much for this wonderful essay. Some thoughts:

          From January 30, 1916 to February 8, 1916, a figure of great importance in C. G. Jung’s confrontation with the unconscious delivered seven Sermons. That figure was named Philemon whom we might see as Jung’s inner teacher. Your discussion of the one who individuates only for oneself reminds me of Philemon’s fifth Sermon which is, in part, about holy community. Here, Philemon discusses the advantages of and the demands on the individual by the community, and the need for balance between the two:

          Man is weak, and community is therefore indispensable. … Absence of community is suffering and sickness. Community in everything is dismemberment and dissolution. Differentiation leads to singleness. Singleness is opposed to community. But because of man’s weakness with regard to the Gods and daimons and their invincible law, community is necessary, not for man’s sake, but because of the Gods. The Gods drive you to community. Insofar as the Gods impose community upon you, it is necessary; more is bad. In the community every man shall submit to others, so that the community be maintained, for you need it. In singleness every man shall place himself above the other, so that every man may come to himself and avoid slavery. Abstention shall hold good in community, extravagance in singleness. Community is depth, singleness is height. Right measure in community purifies and preserves. Right measure in singleness purifies and increases. Community gives us warmth, singleness gives us light.

          My comments on this Sermon in a set of notes I wrote on the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos (Seven Sermons to the Dead) included the following: When one is on the path of conscious individuation, in many ways, one leaves the community, though, not necessarily physically. Jung found that such a path is often accompanied by guilt. He wrote “Individuation cuts one off from personal conformity and hence from collectivity. That is the guilt which the individuant leaves behind him for the world, that is the guilt he must endeavour to redeem.” Jung saw guilt as relating the pair of opposites of community and individuation, and in order for the individuant to redeem his/her guilt, he/she must successfully bring back “values which are an equivalent substitute for his absence in the collective personal sphere.” This is because “what society demands is imitation or conscious identification, a treading of accepted, authorized paths. Only by accomplishing an equivalent is one exempted from this.” Failure to successfully bring back equivalent values makes individuation immoral. I believe that Jung attempts to strike a good and fair balance between individuation and community by recognizing the importance of both. There are times when individuation might seem to have the highest value, but this is compensated by the recognition that “the existing society is always of absolute importance as the point of transition through which all world development passes, and it demands the highest collaborative achievement from every individual.”

          There is a wonderful ritual which is described in the Black Books. On February 2, 1928, Jung’s Soul takes him to the abyss and tells him to describe what he sees. Jung sees an elongated building with a white cupola behind it, and he sees a long procession being led by an old man along a curvy path to the building. In the building, they enact a ritual centering on an “octagonal basin with blue water in the middle, directly below the opening of the dome.” Jung describes some of the ritual – “No images, no inscriptions—yet opposite below the colonnade, sitting, a life-size statue of a middle-aged man— ancient? Looks like a Roman. The train of people move in circles around the basin—singing —what do they sing? ‘Praise the water’?” Then, the following dialogue between Jung and his Soul takes place:

          Soul: “Do you recognize the old man?”

          Jung: “Yes, it is Philemon.”

          Soul: “The Roman is Antonius Pius, the Caesar.”

          Jung: “This is incredible. What should I make of this?”

          Soul: “Undoubtedly a religious service.”

          Jung: “But where? What country? What religion?”

          Soul: “Your land, your religion, water instead of wine, bread instead of flesh, silence instead of speech.”

          Jung goes on to describe more of the ritual, but two things stood out for me. Jung says that “they hold each other by the shoulder” and that “the water is calm like a mirror and each sees his face in it.” This reinforces, in my opinion, two essential qualities of the new religion: community and at the same time uniqueness of experience and revelation. Earlier, on January 8, 1922, Jung’s Soul emphasized the importance of establishing community, “otherwise the religion will not become actual. And it should become actual. But it expresses itself visibly only in the transformation of human relations. Relations do not let themselves be replaced even by the deepest human knowledge. Moreover a religion doesn’t consist only in knowledge, but at its visible level in a new ordering of human affairs.” Dr. Shamdasani wrote in a footnote embedded in this description that in the July 1923 seminar Jung delivered at Polzeath, Cornwall, this theme was discussed and Jung said “When we make individual relationships we lay the foundations for an invisible church.”

          This balance between individual striving on their own path and community is beautifully embodied in Jungian analyst Max Zeller’s dream of a new temple which he shared with Jung:

          A temple of vast dimensions was in the process of being built. As far as I could see—ahead, behind, right and left—there were incredible numbers of people building on gigantic pillars. I, too, was building on a pillar. The whole building process was in its very beginnings, but the foundation was already there, the rest of the building was starting to go up, and I and many others were working on it.

          Max Zeller then recounted his subsequent conversation with Jung:

          Jung: “Ja, you know, that is the temple we all build on. We don’t know the people because, believe me, they build in India and China and in Russia and all over the world. That is the new religion. You know how long it will take until it is built?” 

          Zeller: “How should I know? Do you know?” 

          Jung: “I know.” 

          Zeller asks how long it would take.

          Jung: “About six hundred years.”

          Zeller: “Where do you know this from?”

          Jung: “From dreams. From other people’s dreams and from my own. This new religion will come together as far as we can see.”


          Thank you for your comment rickkar1. Maybe instead of ‘follow your bliss’ I would offer to instead follow the trauma – individual and collective. Can we imagine our small selves as part of a bigger, collective system and so align with these vaster forces of life? Can we say ‘yes‘ to life as it is (people/situations/circumstances/ourselves)? And that this ’yes‘ also includes the spiritual dimension of life. In trauma, this ability to say ’yes‘ to life exactly as it is, is often impaired. I would suggest this as a starting point … and then just maybe … we can touch into Campbell’s words to “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.” KD


          Agree, Juan!


          Thank you Richard (fellow pilgrim). Your comment reminds me of the Tonglen meditation practice: And re: time loops, I loved the series ‘Russian Doll’ on Netflix. KD


          Gosh! Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing Robert. So many of us were wounded by relationships, but we’ll only be healed by relationships. Not sure what more I can add to your delicate, prescient post other than to say ‘thank you.’ KD


          Ritual: something simple…making a fire in a wood stove is nice. Well it’s not always simple but it connects me (first to my Dad who taught me how) and family memories sitting near warm wood fires…then it extends to the symbol and traditions of people all over the planet throughout time.
          This came to mind because didn’t you right an easy about The Threshold last fall Kristina? As well as making traditions?

          I have a question though it may be a bit broad and off topic. Near the end you mention what happens when “we are out of alignment with the cosmic powers of the universe.”
          And this reminds me of all the connections and references of certain orders associated with myths.
          For example myths that are born out of social orders. But I’ve begun to wonder if there are two different mythic forms? Those which are primarily tied into certain social orders? And those which are responding or referencing a Universal order? (Where there may or may not be guides in “the forest.” But there is still a guiding energy which calls, wakes and humbles the adventurer or small collectives of adventurers on the journey?)

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