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|Rituals of Shelter||32|
|Ritual for the Female Face of God||35|
|Rituals of Movement||57|
|Rituals of Celebration and Honor||67|
|Rituals of Community||75|
|Rituals for Peace||111|
|Rituals of Healing||133|
|Rituals of Loss||159|
|Moon Rituals/Rituals of the Body||170|
|Rituals at the Wall||181|
|Rituals of Age||195|
|Sources and Acknowledgments||224|
There is a combination of domesticity and danger when one thinks of performing rituals. My childhood kitchen and dining room were the locales of the first ceremonies I witnessed. Over the dining room table the Sabbath candles would be lit by my mother and grandmothers. Each had her own candlesticks, brought, in my grandmothers' case, from Russia. The tabletop would be flickering with flame. The women closed their eyes with the traditional prayer, then made three concentric circles, the first fanning the face, the next reaching out, the third a wide encompassing movement. My mother's movement was different, a bringing in of the circle, closer and closer. I could hear whispering as private wishes were added to the traditional prayers.
If I asked what they wished my mother, shy in her life, would simply say it was for the family. Then, at a later time, she would add, "I'm bringing in the light." My Big Baba, the taller of my two grandmothers, would say, fon mir, tsu dir, tsu di ganze velt-from me, to you, to the whole world. Both sets of circles ordered my life for a long time.
Besides the candle-lighting, there were two other household rituals. Over the porcelain top of the kitchen table I would watch the making of strudel dough. The women of the family, my mother, aunt and two grandmothers, would pull the dough thin between them, talking, laughing, shaping. More than raisins, apples, walnuts and cinnamon, I understood that essential ritual elements were family and continuity.
A feather and candle were used in a ritual performed annually before Passover. My Little Baba, the younger grandmother, would go through our house, her search illuminated by a candle. I saw the candle reflected in the mirrors as she passed from room to room. She used the feather to brush away any detritus, the leaven of the previous year, from the house.
These magical three influence me to this day. Though I have used feathers and candles for other ceremonies as well, my wishes still encompass the self, the household and the world.
The danger of performing ritual is best expressed by the anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff, in Number Our Days (E.P. Dutton, NY):
All rituals are paradoxical and dangerous enterprises...dangerous because when we are not convinced by a ritual we may become aware of ourselves as having made them up, thence on to the paralyzing realization, that we have made up all our truths; our ceremonies, our most precious conceptions and convictions-are mere invention.
Occasionally, I have performed rituals unsuccessfully. The participants look at me curiously afterward. My artifacts were wrong - a black hood, a black candle-and brought the wrong feeling to the group. And yet I persist, taking out my wands for one group, the gauzy lavender-pink material for another. Sometimes my artifacts get worn. The blinking lights on the styrofoam stars of one wand work erratically; the star has been broken from the handle of another. With one thing or another, with holiday candles, feathers, strudel dough, the Sacred Schmata, an eagle feather from Wilma Mankiller, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, something is bound to work.
My life is full of calendars and circles. When we meet, we sit in a circle lit by a candle, perhaps the air around us brushed by an eagle feather. Circle means ring, circus, for we live at risk, soaring, bruising. We are comic, clownish in this entertainment of life.
I am no longer dwelling in the home of my parents, though I still dream of that safe place. All the candlesticks have been placed in the sink for the night so that no curtains will catch fire. The strudel has been baked and is stored under a towel, on top of a tall cabinet, out of easy reach. The feather will be replaced with another by my grandmother as she goes through the house once more, making sure all rules are obeyed and her family is safe.
We live both in and out of the past.
We live partly by invention: invent, to stumble, to come upon.
Our lives are in and out of control.
Whether our public performance is in the circle or figured on the calendar-from kalendae, account book-there is accounting of ourselves, for we number our days.
This book attempts to alay the fear and self-consciousness of public performance. It is also written to reclaim our authority to select events and declare holidays. The ceremonies and their stories that follow are based on tradition, with some beginning a new tradition. Their purpose is to repair the order of things, to mark ourselves on the calendar. We need rituals that help us shout and become bubbly with joy. We need rituals that deal with painful experiences one cannot get through alone. The ultimate purpose of ritual is two-fold and contradictory: to maintain the status quo, to step in place, and conversely, to change, to alter. How can we have effect, alter ourselves and the world around us?
These are the questions I have asked since childhood: What do I brush away? Who are you to me? How do we, living on this earth, repair the world?
How do we bring the light back home?