Ritual Technologies: Light and Beauty

Imagine being in a cathedral.

The hush, the dim light from stained glass windows and flickering candles, the faint scent of incense. The faint sound, perhaps, of sacred music through the profound silence. The architecture that sends the eye reaching up, up, to barely discernible vaults. Massive columns, larger-than-life statues of saints. Which, in turns, make the viewer feel small, insignificant by comparison to the soaring magnificence surrounding her.

That’s sacred space. The mind cannot help but to downshift into Present, liminal consciousness. Into the Ritual State, which is also known as “trance”.

These factors are not accidental. They were learned, over countless years, by those who meant for those who entered their holy structures to feel they were in the presence of the Sacred and powerful—in the case of the Catholic Church, a Sacred and powerful which dwarfed humans and which had to be obeyed and revered.

This effect is not supernatural: it is psychology. It is working with the mind to create a sense of portent and magic, of deep and sacred imagination.

Low light conditions such as moonlight, firelight, candlelight and the glow of stained glass windows tend to “turn off” cognitive thinking and encourage a more limbic/Present mental state. With less visual information available upon which to postulate what might happen in the future, the mind heightens its awareness of the Now. These conditions also make it easier for ritual participants to feel a little “anonymous”, and so less self-conscious about participating in ceremonial acts.

If you add beautiful ritual tools and furnishings to this low-light state, the senses can open into a delicious, childlike “oh YES” feeling that says that this is holy space, that profound things can happen here.

These tools and furnishings/altars (Focuses) don’t have to be expensive. I have made Yule Focuses with holly branches with their bright red berries, pine cones, candles floating in a bowl of water, and some Christmas ornaments. The point is to delight the eye and at the same time to evoke symbolic meanings that pertain to the ritual’s purpose, whether it is to celebrate a season, a wedding, the life of a loved one who has died, or some other hoped-for or recently occurred circumstance. Most of the time, a ritual will have one Focus, but in some cases there may be more, such as one at each of the points of the compass.

Beauty moves us. It thrills the part of us that longs for stunning sunsets and great vistas of mountains, that delights in the starry sky and the ocean. Being in appreciation of beauty is by definition being Present in the moment. So beautiful Focuses and ritual tools are a way to help us to drop into that liminal, Present space, where we can work with the magic of our own psychologies.

We are visual creatures. Working with our nature as visual creatures is a powerful set of ritual technologies which will help you as you craft your Atheopagan rituals.

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