Editor’s Note: Westhampton holds a Fall Festival each October, which begins with a town-wide interfaith service. EarthSpirit Board Members Katie and Chris LaFond have been part of planning and officiating that service since 2019. The following is the reflection that Katie offered at this year’s service, on October 16, 2022.
Patterns, routines, rituals. It is a Thing humans Do. It helps root us in time and space, helping us understand our roles in family and community. It helps us save energy as we anticipate events and lets us relax into appreciating the changing elements; new babies and puppies, and the amazing dessert that Aunt Beth has been talking about.
Merriam-Webster defines routine as “a regular course of procedure,” and it defines ritual as “done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol.”
In my pagan home, these words are used fairly interchangeably, but I suppose that our routines are personal, and our rituals are the customs we become accustomed to within The EarthSpirit Community.
When I ask my friends what the difference is between routine and ritual, they often describe ritual as being solemn, and routine as being synonymous with boring.
In my family’s home, I honor routines as a way for us to make sure that our needs are met, and that I’m lucky to have clothing to fold. There is beauty in routine. Most days, I carry gratitude for my daily routines; the washing clean of dishes in anticipation of delicious shared meals tomorrow, and the stacking of wood for cozy wintertime fires. On harder days, routines let me relax into their familiar shape when I’m feeling overwhelmed or sad. If routines and rituals are serving us, they feel good, and they nourish us.
Sometimes though, our routines and rituals aren’t serving us, and still we cling to patterns, because they’re familiar and the familiar feels safe. Changing patterns means creating new paths and that takes energy. It doesn’t feel safe. You don’t always know where you fit in.
Sometimes we choose to change the pattern, and we feel like since we chose it, we’re not allowed to be upset, or to need to rest or ask for help sometimes. Change still takes energy. It is still a process of grieving old shapes, stretching, and growth can be painful. Sometimes the pattern changes without choice, when things we took for granted are taken away, or when Death visits our home. Sometimes the change is joyful; we marry the love of our life and we get to create new patterns together built on love and hope. Whatever the case is, be patient. People will expect old patterns and will be confused and might be hurt that patterns are changing. We do our best to build new, resilient patterns of vitality, meaning, and potency.
In The EarthSpirit Community, the rituals in the Pagan calendar give shape to our year. Some of our pagan rituals are solemn. Samhain when we recognize our beloved dead is often a quiet, solemn observance. It is also true that love, joy, and pleasure are pagan values and our rituals support that. The Beltane Maypole where we join earth and sky and hope for a fertile growing season, the Web Ritual where we weave a web of community that represents the unseen bonds we sustain with all beings of the Earth, and Handfasting ceremonies when pagan couples get married are joyful rituals.
Paganism honors the Sacred Earth and we do our best to have our rituals reflect natural cycles. It would be disingenuous to say that one of our rituals is either all solemn or all joyous. We are like a tree, growing and dropping dead branches, and letting old leaves go, and reaching for the sky.
There are solemn elements within our joyful rituals, and we often dance and sing in gratitude for our lives at the end of our Samhain ritual as the last autumn leaves fall.
“It’s the blood of the ancients that runs through our veins, and the forms pass, but the circle of life remains.”