Home' Nova National : December 2009 Contents novamagazine.com.au
Jo Buchanan sees lessons for
the West in the ceremonial
rituals that were so much a
part of ancient cultures.
The Lost Art
The term "rite of passage" describes
the ritualising of life's milestones
such as birth, engagement, marriage
and death. Modern day Western society is
deeply lacking in formal ritual or ceremony
and although we may not be consciously
aware of it, we suffer from this loss.
When change occurs in life, we are
encouraged to "get over it" as soon as
possible. After my mother died, I was
surprised at how some people assumed
that once the funeral was finished, I'd
immediately "get on with it". But her death
was not just a rite of passage for her. It
was one for me, too.
So I decided to create a personal
ceremony to ritualise her passing privately.
I began a morning routine to help deal
with my loss. Draping a white cloth over
a small coffee table, I topped it with a
crystal vase filled with pink roses, Mum's
favourite. Beside this, I placed a candle.
a black and white photograph of Mum
and me sitting on the sand at Sorrento in
1958 and a rainbow abalone shell she'd
treasured for as long as I could remember.
Each morning, I lit the candle and
played Mum's favourite music, Albinoni's
Adagio, which never failed to reduce me
to tears. But it was what I needed, for I
have never been one to cry easily. It wasn't
long before I felt at peace with her passing
and a comforting sense of closure.
Our ancestors performed daily
ceremonies to give thanks for rain, the
dawning and setting of the sun, the flow
of rivers and the yielding of crops. We in
the 21st century experience crises in our
lives no less deeply than our forebears, yet
we no longer practise nurturing rituals to
provide aid, hope and meaning to these
events. Even simple traditions from a few
decades ago are practised less. When I
was a child in the 1940s, my father insisted
on saying Grace before every meal. At
© NOVA DECEMBER 2009
bedtime, my sister and I were encouraged
to pray for family and friends.
For teenage girls in the 1950s, the
keeping of a "glory box" was standard
practice. Inside this glory box we stored
sheets, towels and household appliances.
It was a preparation for when we would
eventually experience the ultimate
auspicious ceremony, our wedding day.
A ceremony can be created
for supporting transition through
menopause, shifting into a new home,
manifesting a career opportunity or
celebrating baby's first steps. When
the daughter of a friend turned 16, she
solemnly composed a list of life goals and
invited a group of friends to help make a
"power object" that would ritualise her
emergence into adulthood. The power
object started as a small branch that
fell from a gum tree in her backyard.
Decorating it with hair ribbons, beads,
shells, seed pods and a childhood tooth,
she and her friends created an awesome
artefact. Holding it aloft, the 16 year old
reiterated her goals aloud, accompanied
by cheers. Then everyone jumped into
the pool. Not surprisingly, the ceremony
was repeated by each of her friends in
One of the most memorable
ceremonies in which I have participated
was time spent inside the King's Chamber
of the Great Pyramid in the middle of
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Picture montage by Janne Salo
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