Traditional rituals

Old Symbols, New Rituals: Adapting Traditional Symbols, Ceremonies and Blessings
June 17, 2018 – 06:23 pm
Traditional rituals over

Note:This article was originally published in 1994.

In the last ten years, there has been a growing awareness among women of the importance of life-cycle rituals, special celebrations and ceremonies marking important moments in our lives. We have moved from creating bat mitzvah rituals and baby-naming ceremonies for our daughters, to celebrating special birthdays (30, 40, 50, 60), as well as weaning, menopause, croning and . As we have become more comfortable with our ability to create these special moments, some of us have gone on to conceive ceremonies for mourning, for healing of pain from disease, divorce or separation, for recovery from rape, incest or physical abuse.1

We have invented new ceremonies, created new music and songs, new ways to celebrate. It has been important for many of us to make these new observances resonate with a sense of the tradition from which they are drawn. We have adapted traditional rituals and infused them with new meaning. We have expanded the meaning of traditional blessings. We have dared to write new prayers. We are in truth re-creating, re-newing, re-vitalizing our lives.

In this article I will present some ideas to help us make a new ceremony fit the special occasion in our lives while still retaining a sense of our heritage as Jewish women and our connection to tradition.

1. Create a Sacred Space

In the wilderness the Jewish people built a mishkan, a portable sanctuary. Both men and women participated in its creation, by weaving fine cloth, making ritual vessels, beautifying the holy place. Before we begin our ceremony we must create our own mishkan. Whether at home, in a backyard, a beach or a forest, consider how to make the space holy for the time you will be using it. You may want to physically create sacred space by forming a circle, delineating the boundaries with ribbons or flowers, drape fabric or around to define the area or have women in the circle hold or braid ribbons together. Some groups have indicated that the space was holy by washing the feet of guests as they entered barefoot, an act that is reminiscent of Abraham washing the feet of the angels. Some groups call up the spirits of our foremothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, as they face in each direction and create a spiritual circle. Flowers, fabrics. music, scents (be careful of people's allergies) are all tools to create your mishkan.

2. Create a Mood

Take the time to make the transition from the outside world to this special moment. Silence or subdued background music are helpful. Begin with a song chosen to set the mood you want to create—solemn, joyous, exuberant. It is wise to explain at the outset what is about to take place in order to alleviate any discomfort that your guests may have in this unfamiliar setting.

Your ceremony will have at least three parts: the opening, the body of the ritual, and the closing. They may be parts of a whole that flow naturally one into the next or totally separate units, connected by transitions of music or prayer. You may choose to follow a format similar to a traditional service, , or even a . Consider the amount of time your ceremony will take; the comfort zone seems to lie between half an hour or less for a simple ritual to as long as an hour and a half.

3. Select Components for the Ritual

The components of your service should be familiar, although you may choose to reinterpret them, present them in a new sequence, or create new prayers. The following list includes many familiar aspects drawn from ceremonies and services.

-Candle lighting
-Kiddush, blessing wine or grape juice. Remember guests who may be alcoholic, allergic or on special diets and provide an alternative drink for them.
-Challah, blessing bread. Find new ways of braiding or decorating it for this event
-Spices, for their sweet scent, as part of a service of separation based on Havdalah.
-Hand-washing, as we do at a seder.
-Foot-washing, as Abraham did for the angels.
-Planting a tree, a fruit tree or flowering tree, for the future generations particularly appropriate for births, birthdays, weddings, healing.
-Blessing special foods: first fruit of season, ceremonial foods i.e. Passover foods, Tu B'Shvat seder
-Giving a gift of charity.
-Making a vow of service or good deeds to the community.
-Changing a name as Avram and Sarai did when they became Abraham and Sarah.
-Donning a special garment such as a tallit or changing a garment from one dress to another, i.e. putting on a, a white coat given to men for their marriage and worn on Yom Kippur, Passover and later used as a shroud (this is very moving in a croning ceremony).
-Cutting. Tradition says that we "cut a covenant" (the brit or circumcision is such a cutting); some people make a vow and cut an apple which when cut across contains a star.
-Reading, studying and interpreting a text from Torah, classical texts,
from poetry, literature, women's journals, etc.
-Chanting from the Torah or other classic text. Try chanting in English as well as Hebrew.
-Storytelling, one person tells a story, or one person starts the story
and each person adds a piece to the story.
-Exchanging gifts or giving gifts
-Creating amulets
-Singing, learning new songs
-Dancing. Remember some of your guests may not be able to dance.
-Prayers and blessings, both familiar and newly created. Have close friends or family create blessings.
-Mikveh, immersion in water—hot tub, hot springs, pool, particularly
useful for any healing ceremony, particularly from abuse, addiction, divorce. In nontraditional settings, friends may surround the woman being immersed, hold her, float her, support her.
-Anointing, use of water or oil —i.e. put some on eyelids, say "I bless your eyes that you may see visions of peace, " on ears, "I bless your ears that they may hear the sounds of music and of joy, " etc. This has been very succeccful blessing a woman approaching marriage or childbirth.
-Guided meditation or guided visualization

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