Certain objects are capable of elevating daily habits into the realm of ritual. A coffeemaker can instigate of a morning ceremony of concentration. Checking one’s wristwatch can be a ritual reflection of one’s mortality. With a focus on the outwardly banal, my work looks for meaning in everyday activities, and power in common objects.
Understanding ritual as a means toward negotiating one’s identity in the world, this dissertation looks at the role objects and the designers of those objects can play in this process. The work unearths ritualism as an inherent quality of objects, and argues that designing ritual objects is a matter of understanding and amplifying their existing ritual properties.
Can Ritual be Designed?
Rituals are reiterated actions. Rituals are corporeal. And rituals are deliberate. These three qualities are the threads that run through ritual and tie them together as a category. While ritual seems mystical and untouchable each of these qualities reveals its as normal and attainable—thereby designable.
Through ritual we negotiate our identities, seeking out our place in relationship to others, self, society and the outside world. Be they rites of passage or religious ceremonies, all rituals function to this end—creating equilibrium between the individual and the whole. In this, ritual runs parallel to design. In a broad sense, both are in service of humanity.
Ritual & Mythologies
Rituals appear mystical through their alignment with what we understand to be universal truths. Yet, we do not and cannot comprehend the intricacies of human life, society, or the universe. Instead, we build myths—a composite of our knowledge, and the assumptions with which we reconcile the gaps. Ritual derives its form—its pace, chronology, composition and outcomes – from these assumptions, whether the ritual revolves around the sun, a deity or your mobile phone.
Objects are Inherently Ritualistic
As self-contained compositions of matter and in their positioning within our culture, objects are innately ritualistic. Through function they are active, and support our pursuit of equilibrium. We hold them, come into contact with them, and become invested in them corporeally. Through our choosing to own or use them, objects gain deliberateness. And they remind us of our convictions when we are attentive to the myths they represent.
Designing Ritual Objects
In ritual, objects are mediators. They influence and improve human experience—a purpose that closely corresponds with the purpose of design. Since ritual qualities are ingrained in objects, product designers need not invent rituals to surround their work. Instead, designers are best served by drawing from a product’s existing ritualism—communal mythologies or the logical corporeality of actions—and enhancing those qualities in their design decisions. Allowing the ritual object to gain its status as such in the hands of the user, and not the constructs of the designer.
The Universal Ritual
Everything in Nature ritualizes. The unfolding of a flower, the rhythm of the seasons, the orbit of the stars, are all in accordance with the cosmic laws that reverberate throughout all of creation.
The purpose of ritual is to imitate that ordered and harmonious movement of the universe so that we may become organized internally.
The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches that when the Unmanifested Divinity unfolds into creation, it fragments and becomes multiplicity, like a mirror shattering into pieces. The Inititatic Path is a process of regaining our latent unity and divinity, while living in this world of multiplicity and contradiction. The divine energy which assists us to unify and organize the disparate parts of ourselves is called the Christic force.
To Be Put In Order
Rituals as we know them originate in the internal worlds, the higher dimensions, and through rituals we begin to harmonize with superior patterns, so that our Essence may be educated.
“When a myth is enacted in a ritual performance or when a fairy- tale is told, the healing factor within it acts on whoever has taken an interest in it, and allowed himself to be moved in such a way that, through this participation, he will be brought into connection with an archetypical form of the situation, and by this means enabled to put himself ‘in order’.”
– The Gnostic Religion: Meditations in the Mythological Transcendence of the Rituals
Ritual of the Ego
Without these rituals we simply perform the ritual of the ego, which are the the habits of normal existence. In a sense we are always performing rituals, but the unconscious rituals based on attachment to the material, which will not ever elevate our consciousness.
The fall of mankind happened as an internal collapse, via a certain pathway in the opposite direction that the rituals and the light of God travel. To reconquer this lost light we have the rituals, the processes of psychological work, the labor of raising the Seven Serpents, a process that is simply the reverse or the natural solution to the process of dreams and shadows.
To remember the beautiful Essence that exists in our hearts and in our every cell, to love our fellow human beings, and to study the wisdom of creation, is to yearn for the influence of rituals that can edify the divine spark of God within. Our minds may not understand the rituals but our hearts do, our Essence does.
Ritualize to Harmonize
“The Tattvic currents, which are encountered in the cosmos in harmony with structural forces that produce the evolution and devolution of the universe, are manifested as a boundary of creation, and the first-born of Nature, in such a way that it raises an immense potency and transforms the willpower of Vira who proceeds to blaze on the live coals of Maha-Kundalini.”
– Samael Aun Weor, The Mystery of the Golden Blossom