The Thirteenth Moon: On Ritual
Full moon energy has been present over Dec. 28, 29, and 30…the thirteenth full moon of this year. A thirteenth moon is special, only occurring about every three years. Yet, the number 13 sparks polarized responses. In European traditions, the number 13 has many superstitions around it. Yet, in many Indigenous and Eastern traditions, the number 13 is especially powerful and/or lucky. Thirteen signifies coming into sacred balance, the balance point or unifier between dualities of light and dark, death and rebirth. Thus, it has been considered the number related to transformation, a reconciliation of opposites.
The thirteenth moon has long been associated with the Sacred Feminine, as the cycles of the moon have always guided and influenced the life of women, particularly their menstrual cycles. Some manifestations of the Divine Feminine, such as Venus, Freya, Sophia, and even Mary have been associated with the number 13. As it is a prime number only divisible by itself, it has also represented purity. Some spiritual traditions have considered it the highest level of spiritual evolution or self-actualization, through thirteen steps or cycles.
Scholars claim that when female knowledge and esoteric traditions were being suppressed in the European Middle Ages, peaking during the Inquisition, fear of the number of 13 was instigated. There was much knowledge lost among Europe’s peoples at this time, from healing knowledge, knowledge related to planetary and earth cycles, female knowledge related to birth, growth, death and regeneration shared in rites of passage, to indigenous myths and spiritual traditions related to the land.
Since the late 20th century, knowledge from pre-Christian traditions is now being reclaimed from small fragments, in unique ways that speak to our time. In helping to resuscitate this knowledge, we can be in touch with previous ways of thinking and being that had a sense of harmony with life-giving processes.
One aspect of this reclamation is understanding the importance of ritual which, in the past, permeated social life. Mythology scholar Joseph Campbell considers myth, ritual, and ceremony as integrated. Rituals often incorporate myth, and ceremonies may include multiple rituals and a retelling of myth. Macquire (2002), a sociologist of religion, helps us define myth, ritual, and ceremony.
Myths are considered the Big Stories by which a group understands the nature of reality, their position in the cosmos, their group’s history, and the individual and collective behaviour valued by that group. Ritual consists of repeated symbolic actions that represent spiritual meanings. They can be undertaken personally or collectively. Space and time are transformed into a locus of power and wonder, as symbols are activated, and a spiritual experience is catalyzed through ritual. Rituals can include postures, movement, bodily motions, sounds, focusing of attention, and levels of consciousness, perhaps using various aids from drums to bells.
Ceremony has a performative and participatory aspect. Ceremonies can be the re-enactment of history or cosmological stories, the conducting of important rites of passages, or the facilitating of a direct experience of the Sacred.
As philosopher of religion William James (1902) suggests, rituals put one into “contact with the mysterious power of which [one] feels the presence”. In short, the primary purpose of ritual is contact with the Sacred, a pondering of the ultimate meaning of life, which then guides moral action. While some rituals integrate us more meaningfully into society, they also have the potential to transform us into our personal path of becoming, not only finding our gifts but finding a path into wisdom.
Sociologist Max Weber (1930) explored how modernity and industrial society disenchanted Western culture. Along with growing rational thought, scientism, secularism, and bureaucracies, was a related loss of sacred values, mystery, emotion, and a sense of higher causes. Newtonian science gave us a new cosmology, eclipsing religious ideas. Religion and science separated, and over hundreds of years, religious participation declined, along with a fragmenting of moral community. With various forces, we lost important ways of living ritually and therefore effective ways of dealing with death, illness, marital or family issues, work meaning, and important life passages, such as having children or moving into elderhood. To some extent, this explains the yearning for community, for deeper meaning, and the rise of therapy for finding these meanings.
Religious sociologists now suggest that the West is paradoxically both secular and sacred, with a high level of interest in mystery, in lesser-known spiritual traditions, in questions of life purpose and rites of passage. Philosopher Charles Taylor (1991) explains we have turned away from external religious authority and formal traditions toward finding one’s inner authority and a direct experience of the Sacred. Interestingly, this same phenomenon occurred around 1000 AD/CE, also a time when mysticism and other forms of direct-contact spirituality flourished (as in this Creation mandala by Christian mystic Hildegard of Bingen). This was also a time in advance of an epochal shift, from medieval to modern.
In my own research, I found that people are seeking: places of sanctuary, often in nature; a deeper awareness of profound mysteries; a sense of connectedness; new spiritual practices; and a spiritually-guided philosophy of living. Many are letting go of the demands of the treadmill and changing destructive ways of thinking in favour of relationship building, paths of respect and cooperation, contemplative practices, and finding a sense of purpose beyond self-interest and self-aggrandizement. The people I interviewed see themselves as part of a larger unnamed spiritual movement, which as one said, “gives us courage to let our truth out and live it”.
Ritual is important…if we wish to nourish our human spirit, draw deep from a wellspring of hope, connect our inner and outer realities into a vibrant and whole way of being, reconnect to the highest human virtues, and restore the sense of Sacred Mystery in our lives. As Thomas Moore (1996) suggests, moving back into enchantment helps us hear the voice of the Earth and learn to live as kin with all beings. Such ways of knowing include intuition, imagination, emotion, creativity, and body knowledge, all feeding our dessicated souls. “It is the task of our soul work to open ourselves to a wide variety of influx, to enrich our souls and expand them by receiving the many gifts life has to offer.”
Theologian Matthew Fox (2011) says, “ceremony is necessary for our survival” as it has been from our earliest human beginnings, for we are creatures of meaning-making. When ritual or ceremony is undertaken collectively, it builds a sense of communitas or deep community bonds and belonging. We live in complex societies now, so people are hybridizing ritual and ceremony from multiple traditions, in a way that still feels honoring to their own traditions while embracing the symbols and traditions of others, including their own partners and friends. It is a time when we do not need to condemn the beliefs of others or retrench into right/wrong moralism. We can engage in a deep reorientation where we reinvent what is meaningful across difference. This is part of our work in this historical moment, which echoes across the ages, needed whenever peoples moved and/or encountered others.
Small Daily Acts of Ritual
One small step of ritual after another rehydrates our spirits. Each month I have been suggesting small rituals that reconnect us to the places we live and those we engage with. As Moore says, these small acts give expression to the voices in the natural world and the voices deep in our hearts. They anchor us beautifully in our experience of being human.
This coming month, especially as we move into a new year, invent one small ritual for yourself that would feed your soul daily. This can be just a small thanks for waking up another day, lighting a candle every day with symbolic meaning for yourself, designing a small home altar, saying thanks for at least one meal, singing a song each day, to watching and honouring the movements of the sun or moon every day.
Commit to a ritual of your own making that focuses on gratitude and mystery, rather than petitions. In this way, we can revivify the sense of enchantment that brings us into tune with the mystery behind all life.