A ritual is a structured series of actions, performed in a particular order using specific objects, words or movements. Rituals of all kinds, ancient and modern, are seen in cultures from all over the world; where there is community, there is also ritual.
Humans construct rituals for all manner of reasons; for celebration, comfort, ceremony, catharsis or religious belief. From the individual to the collective, personal or public, ritual permeates every facet of our existence.
Some rituals are rooted in nature and seasonal changes or the calendar, creating a link between the past and future. Some allow participants to have a transformative experience, marking or creating a personal change; whether they are moving into a new stage of life or connecting with another person or community through marriage or initiation. Some offer a means to explore spiritual beliefs and to express reverence, creating a deeper connection with a deity or ancestors.
Carnivals are thought by anthropologists to allow communities, framed year-round by social tensions such as class, race and gender, to invert their normal social order through masking, play and performance. This creates an environment where social stressors can be played out collectively, and an experience that is elevated and distinguishable from the everyday.
Ritualistic qualities can be found in even day-to-day activities, such as how we choose to greet each other or dance together. These customs and habits can help us carve out sense and order from the chaos of our lives.
Many of us also have private rituals, that we enact through repetition or routine; whether it’s getting ready to go out, marking an anniversary or lighting a candle for a loved one there is a deliberateness, a level of choice, in ritual that offers significance beyond a simple action.
For LightNight 2019, we will consider ritual as a universal phenomenon, spanning the breadth of human history, and also as an artistic process by which we shift our state of mind. Ritual offers us an active and creative process by which to create shared meaning, understand the world, and define – and transcend – our place within it.