The Power of Ritual: The Creation of Sacred Time and Space in a Profane World

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 19, 2013 · 35 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood


Earlier this week we explored the nature of ritual and posited that its current scarcity may be at the root of the restlessness, apathy, alienation, and general boredom many modern day men experience. It’s our determination that without ritual, life often seems flat and devoid of rhythm and texture.

Now, we are not suggesting that rituals be reinstituted on a society-wide basis; we’re quite pessimistic about putting a cat back in the bag once it’s been let out. Rather, what we hope and recommend is that individual men find a place for ritual in their lives through their own chosen communities and social groups. This can be done by seeking out institutions – be they lodges, clubs, sports teams, churches, or fraternities ­– that provide a rich, satisfying ritual experience. You can also achieve it by making a few of your little, everyday routines more ritual-like. Everything from family traditions to your morning cup of joe can become small rituals if you intentionally cultivate that character for it. How to do this is something we’ll talk about down the line.

You might even consider the possibility of creating your own rituals that involve others – an initiation to your club, a rite of passage for your son, an oath of loyalty among friends. I’m still chewing over the viability of this idea, but I can’t see any reason why you couldn’t. Since our current culture prizes “authenticity,” us moderns are very dubious about setting up or scheduling such a thing, believing “real” rituals are pulled from the ether and evolve naturally and organically. But if one examines most rituals, even those that seem quite mysterious and ancient, you will find that they were in fact created by someone, or a group of someones, very intentionally, deliberately, and self-consciously. Or they developed from behaviors that once had a practical purpose, but gained ritual status after that utility was lost in the mists of time. Those rituals with origins we cannot definitively trace strike us as inherently more real, but that is because no one was around to record how they were created. Had someone been there, maybe they’d just find a guy, sitting in a hut, dreaming up a new ritual. At any rate, a subject for another day.

Today we’ll begin a discussion as to why you might consider seeking to participate in more rituals. What power does ritual hold? How can ritual transform and enrich a man’s life? I had intended for this discussion to be encapsulated in a single post, but as always, underestimated the amount of material to cover. Plus, since this is such a deep, meaty topic, I thought it best to do three “shorter,” easier to digest installments rather than one mega post.

In this installment we will be discussing two different ways of looking at the world: the sacred and the profane. This post will be much more esoteric and specifically religiously-oriented than the next, but it is impossible to discuss ritual without understanding its most basic underpinnings. While the sacred and profane are rooted in religion (and the lack thereof), as Mircea Eliade, the professor who made these categories famous, wrote, “they are of concern both to the philosopher and to anyone seeking to discover the possible dimensions of human existence.” So pretty much everybody.

The Sacred and the Profane

We would argue that today’s world often seems flat and one-dimensional because modern existence lacks a layer of the sacred and exists solely on the plane of the profane, i.e. secular, in a more religious term. For Eliade, the sacred and the profane constitute the “two modes of being in the world.” The sacred represents fascinating and awe-inspiring mystery — a “manifestation of a wholly different order” from our natural (or profane) everyday lives. Traditionally, the religious man (and here we’re really talking about those who live/d in premodern societies) seeks to experience the sacred as much as possible, for he sees it as the realm of reality, the source of power, and that which is “saturated with being.” For the religious man, the profane feels unreal, and leads to a state of “nonbeing.” In contrast, the nonreligious man refuses any appeal to mystery or to the supernatural. As a humanist, he believes “man makes himself, and he only makes himself completely in proportion as he desacralizes himself and the world.”

If you’ve ever felt a sense of “nonbeing,” it may be because the modern world has become desacralized, or as Max Weber put it, “disenchanted.” In a traditional society, all of man’s vital functions not only had a practical purpose but could also potentially be transfigured into something charged with sacredness. Everything from eating to sex to work could “become a sacrament, that is, a communion with the sacred.” In the modern world, such activities have been desacralized; we live in a thoroughly profane world.

While Eliade associated the religious man with the sacred and the nonreligious man with the profane, he argued that even “the most avowedly nonreligious man, still, in his deep being, shares in a religiously oriented behavior.” What he meant was that even a man who doesn’t believe in the supernatural realm experiences things like a wedding, a mountain top, or the birth of a baby as extra-ordinary. He still fills movies and books with the “mythical motifs — the fight between hero and monster, initiatory combats and ordeals, paradigmatic figures and images (the maiden, the hero, the paradisal landscape, hell, and so on).” The nonreligious man still seeks renewal and rebirth in different forms. Rather than sacred, however, he would call these things significant or special. If he seeks a life of greater texture, he has just as much need as the religious man to interpose such significant experiences with everyday life, and to seek to make such extra-ordinary events as distinct from his workaday world as possible.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” ~John Muir

As an example, the famed naturalist John Muir believed in the sacred, religious beauty of nature. In fact some experts have theorized that he abandoned his Christian roots altogether and became solely a congregant of the church of nature. He turned away from the traditionally religious, and injected the spiritual, or sacred, into his own life, in his own way. He created ritual for himself by climbing trees in the middle of storms and by exploring the ever-changing worlds of glaciers. Just because you aren’t religious in the traditional sense doesn’t mean you can’t inject sacredness into your life.

Sacred Time

One of the potent powers of ritual is its ability to set off certain times and spaces as sacred, as “something basically and totally different” than the profane. Let’s talk first about the idea of sacred time.

Eliade argued that all rituals at their core are reenactments of the primordial deeds performed by God, gods, or mythical ancestors during the period of creation. In imitating the gods, it is as if the original events are happening once more, and the ritual releases some of the potent, transformative power that was present at the very beginning of the world. The rituals are able to re-create and re-found the world, re-sacralizing time and beginning it anew, so that each ritual restores freshness and strength to a worn out world.

The Abrahamic religions have a less cyclical and more historical, linear view of time than some faiths, but their rituals also allow the participant to “periodically become contemporary with the gods” and the faith’s heroes. When a Christian participates in the Eucharist or a Jew in the Seder, they are reliving the original Last Supper and the Exodus. The sacred power that was present during the original event is re-created. It is an experience of ritual remembering that connects the participant not only to the original actors, but to all those who have performed the same ritual throughout the ages. In this way past and present are integrated, providing the participant with a sense of continuity; profane time is subordinated and sacred, eternal time emerges.

The power of ritually-created sacred (or at least significant) time applies outside the realm of religion as well. Think of an institution that draws on past traditions to inform its current identity and code of behavior. In such a case the ritual may not release sacred power when reenacted, but simply serves to refresh members’ minds about the founding events and the groups’ basic values, inspiring the inheritors of the legacy to carry them on. For example, the Fourth of July, if intentionally ritualized, can serve as a time to reflect on the founding values, of, well, the Founders.

Sacred Space

Rituals cannot only set apart particular times as sacred, but certain spaces as well. In religious traditions, these sacred spaces are places where the veil between humans and the transcendent are thin, facilitating communication between heaven and earth. When you step into a sacred space, you can leave the profane world behind. Time is also transcended (as just discussed) and you can travel back to the past to participate in your faith’s founding events.

Entering into sacred space, you enter into a state of “liminality” — a state of being in-between – neither here nor there. Dr. Tom F. Driver explains how this allows you to become someone different than who you are in your “normal” life:

“When people engage in ritual activity, they separate themselves, partially if not totally, from the roles and statuses they have in the workaday world. There is a threshold in time and space or both, and certainly a demarcation of behavior over which people pass when entering into ritual. The day-to-day world, with its social structure, is temporarily suspended.”

Rituals cannot only sacralize a general environment, but the physical objects within that space (the people too, but we’ll talk about that next time). Elements that in your profane life would be merely ordinary, take on a new meaning and can become a cipher through which the sacred is revealed to you. Jonathan Z. Smith describes this process:

“When one enters a temple, one enters marked-off space in which, at least in principle, nothing is accidental; everything, at least potentially, is of significance. The temple is a focusing lens, marking and revealing significance…

The ordinary (which remains, to the observer’s eye, wholly ordinary) becomes significant, becomes sacred, simply by being there. It becomes sacred by having our attention directed to it in a special way…

The sacra are sacred solely because they are used in a sacred place; there is no difference between a sacred vessel and an ordinary one. By being used in a sacred place, they are held to be open to the possibility of significance, to be a see as agents of meaning as well as utility.”

Rituals can get us to see everyday things in a new way. Wine is just wine, until it’s the Blood of Christ. A handshake is just a handshake, until it is used to reveal secret truths. Shoes are just shoes before you remove them to step on sacred ground. As you ponder the meaning of these symbols, they can, as Eliade puts it, “take you past the particular, into the universal” and grant you new insights into truth.

Where is sacred space?

When you think of sacred space, houses of worship most likely first come to mind. As you step through their physical thresholds, which are often accentuated by soaring arches or gigantic doors, you move not simply between the street and the sanctum, but between two modes of being – the sacred and the profane. Removing your shoes as one does before entering a mosque or making the sign of the cross with holy water as you enter a cathedral helps tangibly mark this passage.

Many churches today, in an effort not to make potential members uncomfortable with a physical structure and rituals they are unfamiliar with, have modeled their buildings and services on the edifices and entertainments of popular culture, making the transition from the outside world into the sanctuary as seamless as possible. In theory, this does limit the potential for worshippers to experience the manifestations of the sacred as “something basically and totally different…like nothing human or cosmic.” It has been said that sacred ritual disorients to reorient, and modern worship often skips the first phase.

At the same time, however, buildings are actually not the central element that makes possible “irruptions of the sacred” (Eliade’s wonderful phrase). Ritual, not actual physical structure, is what creates sacred space, so that it can be found anywhere one finds worshippers ritually tapping into the divine, from a church to a trailer park to a grove of redwoods.


If you often find yourself asking, “Is this all there is?” you may be due for an immersion in the sacred. You may need to find a place for ritual in your life, even if it’s as simple as declaring part of your morning as sacred time or a room in your home as sacred space. If you wait for life to hand you texture and meaning, you’ll feel flat forever. The modern world exists solely in the profane dimension; to access the sacred, the pathway is ritual. And beyond just giving the individual a sense of meaning and connectedness, ritual also mediates and builds the bonds of community and brotherhood. It’s to that topic that we’ll turn in our next post.

Read the Entire Series: 
The Rites of Manhood: Man’s Need for Ritual
The Power of Ritual: The Creation of Sacred Time and Space in a Profane World
The Power of Ritual: Building Shared Worlds and Bonds That Transcend the Everyday
The Power of Ritual: The Rocket Booster of Personal Change, Transformation, and Progress
The Nature and Power of Ritual Series Conclusion: On Ritual Resistance



The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion by Mircea Eliade

Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions by Catherine Bell

Liberating Rites: Understanding the Transformative Power of Ritual by Tom F. Driver

The Bare Facts of Ritual” by Jonathan Z. Smith


{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kip Nichols December 20, 2013 at 2:02 am

Brett & Kate, this is a great series so far and I look forward to further articles and insights on this subject. This highlights the need as a man to dedicate himself to something. I think that what makes something sacred or “set apart” is its dedication. The alternative is the profane or undedicated. Ritual to me has always meant a dedicated action, the mechanics of which may be relatively and perfunctorily learned, the meaning and true understanding of which require effort and time to discern. Is the place sacred because it is where ritual takes place or is it saanctified forvthevritual

2 Carl Jung December 20, 2013 at 5:13 am

Thank you for this thought-provoking article! I like what you say about the price we pay when we lose contact with the sacred and the ways that ritual can rebuild a bridge to another mode of being.

However, I’m not fully convinced that all ancient rituals were created deliberately and self-consciously. While some may have originated with a “guy in a hut dreaming up a new ritual,” perhaps the key word is “dreaming”- a state where the unconscious expresses itself through symbolism.

This unconscious and symbolic origin of some rituals may be what allows them to communicate powerfully and therapeutically with our unconscious.

3 NF December 20, 2013 at 9:05 am

I didn’t know until later that I had an amazing coming of age ritual that lasted between 13 and 15. At 13, I was still a boy soprano and sang this song (yes, controversial) in my church youth concert:

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;


Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance.


In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Between an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.


Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard I from above,
To call my true love to my dance.

The next year, I had an excruciating voice change. I laid low in the choir, no solos, just a little background cello work, only to come back the next year at 15, with a brand new low bass voice singing a song that started “since Christ was a man…” I asked my choir director if that was deliberate, reminding him of what I sang two years earlier, and he smiled knowingly and his eyes twinkled without saying anything….it was what we made of it. I skipped confirmation…I want to make a ritual in the woods for myself, dad, and brother, working out the details.

4 J Dub December 20, 2013 at 10:12 am

Friends, along the lines of this discussion, I cannot recommend highly enough this book by Josef Pieper, “In Search of the Sacred.”

5 Matt December 20, 2013 at 11:12 am

Thank you for this very perceptive series on a significant hole in modern lifestyles. I completely agree the American culture has become (or maybe has been for some time) completely profane.

In fact, I believe our world-oriented mindsets have made some people afraid of ritual. I’ve tried to learn about a variety of religions and other cultures during my college life, but each time I get near I suddenly become afraid of learning about the sacred. My Catholic friends once invited me to their Mass, and during it I acted like a child who know’s he shouldn’t be there–going through the motions and hoping nobody notices me.

Now whenever I’m speaking with people about their beliefs, I never follow up on invitations to see and learn about their rituals. It seems to me my focus on worldly goals (inherited from my family’s attitudes) makes me feel like an offending intruder in other people’s sacred spaces.

6 Matthew December 20, 2013 at 11:36 am

I think this is such an important post, distinguishing between the sacred and profane in modern society. I do agree that adding rituals into your own life is important to build a richer life. However, are there different levels of “sacredness?” For example, a regular morning coffee and the sacrament of the Eucharist can both be rituals, and following the argument in the post are both sacred. But I think religious and non-religious people would both agree that they are not on equal planes, and I am wondering why this is so?

7 Jeffrey Kaplan December 20, 2013 at 11:45 am

Interesting article. I appreciate the secular stance on what could potentially be an incredibly polarizing topic, as there is little beyond religion and politics which can create more dissention between individuals that I know of. I also find it intersting considering the notion of the sacred as an agnostic. I find myself identifying with many of the topics presented not based on historic ritual, but rather by phenomenological experience. I try at least at some point every day to rest my stream of conciousness and simply experience the world around me as it exists, with as little of a lens that I can muster. Of course, this process is interminably impossible; I can never fully withold my own lens of the world. But in an effort to do so, I have created a ritual that has established some sacredness in my day while not forgoing my religious beliefs or lackthereof. And I find myself a better man for it.

8 Troy December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm

This is an excellent article, and I think it lines up quite well with your summary of ‘The Power of Habit,’ which I also enjoyed.

9 Kathleen December 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I just reread William Bridges: Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Please consider discussing this book in a related ‘rituals’ article. AOM is such a great venue for these sorts of discussions. Thank you.

10 Brett McKay December 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm


I actually wouldn’t say that a morning coffee can be sacred. What I said is that both taking the Eucharist and enjoying a cup of coffee are rituals. But not all rituals are able to create/release the sacred. There are other functions and benefits to rituals too, which we’ll talk about in the next two posts and that would apply to the cup of coffee.

11 E.J. December 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm

@ J Dub, glad you mentioned Pieper. I would also recommend another book by him called “Leisure: The Basis of Culture”

12 Rich December 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm

As someone with an interest in ideas of the sacred/profane as well as a sociologist, I think it’s important to note that the interactions of the sacred and profane were realized and explored by other writers well before Eliade’s work (like Durkheim, Weber, Mauss, Bataille, Freud, and Jung to name a few). Similarly, Eliade’s academic work was very apt to criticism–namely that it was extremely overgeneralized and simplified (for example, seeing the sacred and profane as diametric opposites when their relationship is much more complex than that). This is not to state that rituals and ritualism aren’t important, but merely that the action and effect behind the rituals are extremely complicated and you could have picked a much better scholar to explore these facets through.

13 Jake Vazquez December 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm

For me the profane and sacred are all in one place… my toilet.

My toilet room is separate from the sinks and shower/tub. Some men have offices or man caves, I have a toilet room. 2 feet by 4, with a small window.

In my toilet room, I have bookshelves on two walls, from floor to ceiling. I built a small fold-up table for writing.

Recently, I made the squatting foot raise, which means not only emptying out completely,

but that also I can stay in the toilet room longer, w/out my legs going numb as before.

I’m a security guard at a strip club, so temptations are plentiful, and my ability to focus requires hormones and certain bodily fluids be flushed out regularly.

Coincidentally, as many men know, the moment after this flushing out is the most peaceful, so after that certain ritual,

I follow it up with some sacred musings, writing or reading wisdoms of all forms, these days many from mystics new and old.

In a way, the profane leads to the sacred, and it all happens in my toilet room.

14 Enzo Selvaggi December 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm


Umberto Galimberti’s work may be of interest to you.

He speaks extensively about the Sacred, and the loss of the Sacred in Christianity today.

I believe his latest work on the topic is “Cristianesimo”, etc.

Thanks for the good thoughts and discussion!

Happy Christmas!


15 Nick K December 20, 2013 at 5:38 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I feel that the multi-dimensional view of life has been absent for a very long time in modern culture. Creating a degree of peace in a divided man may not always be possible in the realm of the profane.
Thank you for this thought provoking article.

16 Annette December 20, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Hi, i am a woman, what you may say are you doing on this website? Well all my life i have been interested in the deep art of thought and conversation, i felt more at home to discuss the topics rather than cooking or knitting. Each milestone i wanted to make special, when i finished a term of school or the year, dates and times could be important. When my girls were born, i looked into rites of passage, to equip them. for instance especially 12, to ‘talk’ about how they felt i parented, to close chapters before opening new ones, to leave baggage behind. Then i had boys, THESE FOREIGN BEINGS, but i loved them so i wanted to be equipped to let them grow into men, not forms of women. Sadly their father was not comfortable with himself and able to lead them. I took rites from different races to see, i wished my boys could go with men to the bush and sing at campfires and shout and learn to listen to their soul. For my oldest when he turned 13, we went to a lovely lunch, i bought a really expensive glass of wine and asked his father to go into the vineyard and talk to his son, he didn’t know what i meant and say no, i then took my son into the vineyard and told him about how the grapes where part of a cycle of life and that wine is made, there are cheap wines and expensive wines. I then held up the glass to who i believe is God and thanked Him for my son, He then took a sip and so did i and then we poured out the wine over the vines as a thank offering. My son remembers it and i do too. i wish western boys had a rite of passage not just get drunk, drive fast cars and have lots of sex. My younger son when he was turning 13, my husband had left us by now. i asked the men in his life, his teachers, relatives, young pastor and the church to hold a saturday get to gether as a BIG BIRTHDAY BASH aka non-jewish barmitzvah, Men had a chance to print and read out dreams for him and then all the men stood in a circle with him in the middle and prayed for him. I believe it saved my son from the effects of feeling abandoned by the male figure in his life and unlike his brother has stayed emotional more stable, (could just be personality), ANYWAY i just wanted yous to know that their are women who appreciate this kind of discussion to help their son understand what it like to be male and that i can get tips on how to let them be men. Thanks

17 Jim December 21, 2013 at 1:15 am

My favorite ritual (thanks to AofM) is shaving with a straight razor in the mornings. It is calming, and gets me focused like nothing else.

18 Jeremy E Grenemyer December 21, 2013 at 1:31 am

Great post and great series. Looking forward to the next one.

19 Joshua Jordan, KSC December 21, 2013 at 2:24 am

Rather than allowing others to craft your rituals for you, why not make your own? You can start by doing your Liber MMM and Liber KKK work from Liber Null & Psychonaught and Liber Kaos, respectively. Cave ne cadas.

I suggest you maintain a working temple in your home; I suggest you dedicate a room to this. I also suggest you journal your experiments as you did your experiments in your science courses in high school and college. Buddhism — for example — is, largely, a series of experiments many of these written down and passed on. In this way, Nagar Juna was a wiser man than the Buddha, but only because he stood on the shoulders of the Buddha.

If you’re lucky enough to achieve real skill and attract attention or find others like yourself, you may join a society, order, or group that has records of experiments that you can work with. Oaths of secrecy are common with such groups and approximate a copyright. Anyway, by the time you get to that point you will recognize the prudence in keeping certain of your doings secret.

20 Joshua Jordan, KSC December 21, 2013 at 2:26 am

@Brett, actually, you can use a coffee for that purpose. You can also use it for scrying. In fact, you can do pretty much anything you want and it all works just the same. Chaos Magic Theory proves this point time and time again for any who have the balls to dispense with traditions and do their own work.

21 Andy December 21, 2013 at 2:38 am

The connotation that meaning of the words sacred and religious are somehow intertwined and connected is wrong. They are two separate things. It’s like inferring that some one with good/proper moral values and actions is “christian” . That could not be further from the truth. The Judaic Christian oppressive overview is overwhelming. Religion can be removed entirely from situations without it being missed in the least. Although many religious views can be sacred, Sacred ones need not have anything to do with religion.

22 Tim the Enforcer December 21, 2013 at 7:02 am

Brett and Kate,
Look, what you are doing IS bringing back ritual, and guiding lost men to find the sacred & profane.

Thank you for the article and the above.

Cat, get the hell back in the dang bag!

23 Nate December 22, 2013 at 4:49 am

In Chinese thought, rituals (rites/li) are extended to encompass things including greetings, where to sit, ways to get to know a neighbor as well as how to sacrifice to your ancestors. The nation was essentially non-religious for thousands of years, yet maintained a strong feeling of sacredness and meaning throughout.

I think that you would really enjoy reading Fingarette’s Secular as Sacred, and if you’re pressed for time, only read the chapter “The Holy Vessel” (Ch. 5?). We covered it briefly in one of my lectures about Confucian rituals. I think this is a working link to part of it if you’d like to skim the chapter:

24 Ron Clark December 22, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Great article, I truly enjoyed it. in addition, I love your website! AMAZING!!!!

25 Bill December 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I am a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles.  We do have a series of rituals for opening and closing meetings; initiating new members; installing officers; and funeral/memorial services, among others.  I am also a member of the competitive Ritual Team for our local Aerie, which performs various aspects of the ritual ceremonies at conventions and are judged on the accuracy of their actions and recitations (think of what used to be called “compulsories” or “school figures” in figure skating).

In the ten or so years that I have been a part of this team, I have found a greater attachment to the organization; partly because I am hearing the words, the ideals, and the charges being placed upon new members more often than most and they have a chance to sink in through repetition if nothing else, but also because as I hear these words repeated I also have a moment or two to reflect on the fact that these are, more or less, the same words heard, the same vows made, the same pledges given by each and every man of this organization who has passed before me.  I am no longer just myself; I am one in a legion of men who have discharged their obligations over the prior 100 years and it gives me that internal drive to prove that I am worthy to be counted among their number.

This is what it means to be a part of a group, whether it’s a bunch of drinking buddies, a fraternal or charitable organization, or a member of the military.  Too many people today do not have to make a commitment, a promise, a pledge, in order to be a part of something; just pay your money and sign your name on the dotted line.  That is not becoming a member; that is joining a mailing list.

26 EasternLight December 22, 2013 at 8:19 pm

@Brett & Kate,
Thank you both for a tastefully done article on a subject that might have been polarizing to your readers. The sacred (and the ritual surrounding it) is not a subject that gets much attention in the public square these days and it’s nice to see an article with “why not?” as the subtext. Approaching that broad question would take some time (feel like taking a run at it?) however; I’ll try to posit a few quick points regarding this “fear” of the sacred that exists in our current popular culture.

First, a theme used often throughout your work on this site, in searching for the sacred, one must be intentional. Man needs make a conscious decision to turn through ritual towards the sacred, and our current generation of men back away from any such definite choice. Second, sacred ritual makes an affirmative statement of belief. Sacred ritual by its very performance says “This is how to truly encounter the Divine.” Therefore points one and two say I choose to do this because I believe it to be true. Finally, and perhaps lowest on the scale of popularity, is the idea that sacred ritual points its participants towards the divine. If this is the case, then we are no longer the final arbiters individually of what is good and true. Nobody wants to hear that. It means that a right and a wrong exist, and for gosh sakes, we all just want to do . . . . . what we want to do.

27 Roberto Salinas December 23, 2013 at 1:18 am

I am all about this article. I couldn’t agree with you more. I would like to know where the picture for this article comes from. Perhaps a name or some way I can find it.


28 Tom December 24, 2013 at 9:02 am

Roberto. The wood engraving can be found here

Also, this really is a fantastic article. It holds pretty much all of the information we try to convey to the new initiates of our Masonic Lodge, from the Ritual to the use of the Lodge Room (sacred space). Really fantastic. Look forward to more like this.

29 Chris January 1, 2014 at 6:14 am

@ Andy
You’re right, in this day and age but think of religion as a ritual. When the sociologists pondered sacred vs. profane and ritual, society was heavily tied to religious doctrine because it was the only thing society had to explain the “how and why”. However as time passed, societies progress which make changes (new scientific findings) in the range of norms (acceptance). Moving along in time folks tie their new accustomed rituals, which maybe were profane in the past, to achieve the sacred.
Rituals are acts to separate ourselves from the forbidden (profane). Sacred is not a fact of defining good/evil, see it as a mere goal or “destination”.

30 Carlos L January 2, 2014 at 11:36 am

As a man of science… I find this a tedious read. Too much talk of religion and spirituality. I am as un-religious as possible and yet still find plenty of mystery in this universe. Any time I see another galaxy, or distant star, or newly discovered planet. Humanity is too complex a creature to tie all of its woes to things like lack of spirituality or rituals.

“… wedding, a mountain top, or the birth of a baby as extra-ordinary.” I don’t agree with this.

-Marriage is a social construct; one that seems to be failing miserably.

-There are currently dozens of mountain tops on this planet. There have been millions more before we existed. Science can explain exactly how mountains are formed, and how mundane their formations are in context.

-child birth, while precious, is NOT extra ordinary. It literally happens thousands of times per hour.

The piece seemed to romanticize too much for my taste.

31 The Denizen Society January 3, 2014 at 1:09 am

Really dig this post, there’s nothing more valuable than creating rituals and creating automated habits in your life.

32 Fredrick Maxwell January 7, 2014 at 9:59 am

@Carlos L

It could be equally true that you’re over intellectualizing the subject. What he seems to be talking about is the simple wonder that could come from just experiencing these things. Of course there are plenty of mountains, and babies are born every day, and you have to consider the emotional context that goes with marriage.

I too am a man of science and religion,but emotion still exists and sometimes the very basic things in life can still inspire wonder. That seems to be the point that Brett is making.

33 Coelacanth January 13, 2014 at 4:50 pm

@Carlos L

I grew up in a family of doctors and engineers, and can understand your position as it is not very far off from my own, especially when I was younger. I am an atheist. But I think you might actually agree with the author in deeper ways more than you think, but just might have been turned off by some of the religious terms. These terms cause a gut-revolt reaction in me, so I sympathize.

Being astounded at the vastness of the earth from the top of a mountain is not that different than feeling wonder at discovery of a new galaxy, one is slight more expercientiential, one more intellectual, but to each his own.

While marriage as we know it might not be working that great right now, pair bonding is a natural state for many animal species, and if it was only a social construct as opposed a social construct build upon a natural inclination among human I doubt it would be quite so prevalent.

Our family is a family of atheists, but we do have certain family rituals, and we love them and draw strength from them. I love what Brett and Kate our suggesting here, which is that humanity craves rituals of some kind in the same way we crave meaning, and that the secularization of the world has left holes in this very basic need. If you ritual is thinking about the stars, that is wonderful, and I think that’s all he is saying. It doesn’t have to be religious, or even spiritual. Just emotional, thoughtful, profound.

34 AKBenjamin January 15, 2014 at 7:35 pm


I have to agree with Coelacanth. My family is an atheist family and we see the scientific method as the most efficient way to understanding truth. At the same time we also try to incorporate a respect for mystery and ritual into our lives. For instance, we do not pray before a meal, but we do take time to recite our family motto, close our eyes and think about where are food is coming from and then we take one long deep breath with our eyes closed as we all hold hands together. We never skip this. No distractions are allowed. Nothing spiritual about it really, but it does center us and it creates a sacred space before we eat our meal together.
It’s one thing to understand the science behind the earth’s H2O cycle, but its another to hike up a remote valley, through the mist, past the moose, past the snow fields and witness the dew drops collecting on the grass that hangs over the creek. Deliberately seeing, hearing, smelling all this at once can make the water cycle suddenly very real. Doing this ritual every spring equinox with your son, can make it both sacred and educational. It helps hammer home the idea that we are a very small part of a very big and complex system of life.
Science and sacredness do not necessarily need to be exclusive.

35 Michael L January 20, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I’ve found my sacred places wherever I find privacy – mainly in train cars and on the shore of the Great Lakes (If I can see the other shore, it isn’t the same). There is something about privacy and disconnection from other people that gives me a feeling between Elation and Peace, and it’s the closest spiritual experience I have with myself in a “Place” that could qualify as “Sacred.” I have security in those places, as well as control.

I’m loving your site.

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