Being offerend a spontaneous crowd surf, after hosting a kind of a Haka with all the men at the festival.

How to design a Ritual

The essential parts that create the experience

“When you start working with rites, the rites are magic and sacred. When you progress on the road, rites are but plain exercises. In the end rites are magic and sacred again.” (a opposite variation of a famous Zen saying)

Initiation as empowerment for individual and society.

Rites de Passage have the power to open the initiates up to the magic and sacred of all that exists. If anything, they give new meaning and understanding about your place in the world. You may discover the paradox that baffles our minds in a very positive way: You may even discover what purpose that purpose is.

Our society is slowly starting to recover from the damage done by the age of rationality. Rationality declared information holy and forgot about our own body and soul as points of reference in our growing to full potential. We started to rely on scientific facts to show us the best ways trough life, even if our experience said something else. The Churches reacted with protecting themselves and demanded we’d leave the tending of our souls to the church, rather than be ourselves inquisitive spiritual beings. The question is not which facts, religion or belief system is the best, but With this question as starting point we can renew our spirituality and discover there are still many vibrant wisdoms and beliefs around the world. In this article we will focus on the conscious use of Rites de Passage. In our opinion the Rites de Passage are a very powerful answer to that question and traces of it can be found back in almost all belief systems.

“Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is for the character” James Russell Lowell

Why we need Rituals

Almost all of us assume we have to do special things in order to achieve something. Very often we are consumed by the ambition to surpass ourselves and do some kind of magic in our lifetime. We daydream a lot about that.

If our magic thing would be something obvious like playing the flute, playing ice hockey, or something clear it would be easy. But most of our true talents aren’t something they teach you at school. We may be naturals in outstanding listening, energizing or connecting people. So how can we get in touch with what defines us, without reaction to others, without trying to achieve anything, without doing something special, just by being our essential self?

In our society with its ever increasing amount of lonely people, suicides and stress is the summit of disconnection, the Rites de Passage can be the summit of connection. Lets look for a moment at the description of a vision received by someone who took part in such rites.

“I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw, for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all the shapes all things in the spirit as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the centre grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and father. And I saw that was holy.” Black Elk, a famous shaman of the Oglala Sioux.

And this is not just an image that was seen with the eyes only. It was felt with the heart as a living experience. It is interesting to see that the image of the world tree is also part of our Western mythology. Vision Quests often offer connections to the collective unconsciousness. The Vision Quest is a very powerful Rites de Passage when Native American youngsters, mostly boys are send out alone into the wilderness in search for a vision. This initiation helps them make the transition to manhood and clarify their special gift or purpose for their tribe.

Leading the activating opening part of the festival, setting a playful positive mood where we make the festival together.

Rites de Passage in action

So what are the building blocks that will help us to create such a empowering experience?

Some rites like the Vision Quest are ages old. But it is no use to just play out original rites that make no connection to our own beliefs and society. The ability of starting our own fire with only twigs and grasses at our proposal my be useful in a primitive culture, in ours it is not. On the other hand, to persistence, determination and improvisation (also needed to make that fire happen) are. So if a clear and direct link can be made to what is of use to us in our lives, we can make use of primitive rituals. The choice to do so does not necessarily have to be clear to the participants, but they must feel some necessity about what they are doing and experiencing and at some point be able to make the connection to their daily life.

sometimes whole villages but more often special facilitators chosen and trained for the job, This is not about knowledge being transferred by people who pass on some book knowledge as, alas, quite a few trainers are accustomed to do. First they have to create, what some call, sacred time and place. There’s quite a difference if a boy gets the foreskin from his penis removed alone in a hospital and coming home to a politely interested family (I admit, it is often not as bleak as this) or gets it removed amongst all male members of its tribe and who have afterward festivities organized to celebrate the occasion. Do not underestimate the assurance we would get when a whole village dresses up just for us, to celebrate our reaching adulthood. The excitement with which our parents applaud us upon receiving a diploma is hardly comparable.

To create such strong focus points all kinds of rituals, cleaning, special clothing, celebration, acting out can precede or follow upon the actual ritual or initiation.

This one only goes for rituals such as nature quests and other happenings lasting longer than a few days. Modern facilitators need therefore to be aware that participants in our modern society will often return to a society that often welcomes them with shrugs, amazement, bewildered curiosity or even hostility. The creation of a network of people that reconnect on basis of the insights and experience should therefore always be part of the program. One or several return meetings are considered essential.

Secondly almost all initiation rituals follow a same set of phases, the classical formula of all rites. Note that these rites start with death and end with birth, a bit in the way a caterpillar dies to the world inside a cocoon and returns as a butterfly. The following steps are often not as straightforward presented as here. It is our Western mind that wants to offer them separated, but in reality any step or exercise is very integrated with some aspects that come before or after.

The talk at the ‘sacred fire’ which we need to keep burning together. Some rules are given, some warnings (like, careful with young kids near the pond), some programming and who the team are.

Losing (West, Death)

Before being reborn, we have to let go of the old and be open to the new. In this phase we are separated from all friends, relatives and all other normal surroundings of our daily life; our former life gone. During this stage we may even go through a symbolic death. In this ‘death’ we have to prepare and become a worthy candidate for the second phase. It creates an openness to receive. It tests and challenges their commitment to go through the process of change. As a candidate we must be committed to the fact that our lives and outlook upon it may change very drastically. Think of it as a wedding. We also should be aware of any prejudice expectations we might have about the process. The more open we enter the rite, without ambition, fears or pre-conceited answers the better it is.

Meditation, intensive group work, solitude help as a preparation to bring about this death of all roles we played before. When asked to let go of them, we will meet a lot of fear. Quite a big part of our life is filled with role playing, even if we are not aware of it. Because when playing the games we think have some kind of control over life. We play roles to impress people, to convince them were good or nice, or because we fear being hurt if we are just ourselves. Those are the shields that hide our real gifts and talents. But do not worry, often these games are some deformation of our true talents.

To losing your old self belong the following work forms: Re-enactment, burning, cleaning, destroying symbols or possessions, symbolic ritual, solitude, initiation, dreaming, offerings, psychological work into old behaviour, bio-energetics, personal history sharing and discovering the main theme in it.

Masculine energy can be fun, when we play with it. It actually makes men softer when you do it right.

Test or Trial (North, Initiation)

The most well known test in rites of passage is hardship. This phase is the caterpillar in the cocoon and having to stay there until it is changed. This is where our ego’s only can be of service by staying out of the way or offer us some willpower and trust. Endurance (of pain), determination, resourcefulness and such are tested now. Pain, shortage and such may be part of the test. Especially in indigenous societies where hardship is part of life this has a big role. For us who are more blunt to our feelings we often use hardship to get in contact with our feelings or prove male vigour. In the Netherlands, where bachelors on bachelor night have to traverse the street in diapers, we could even see this as part of the testing. All pretence stripped away with booze and embarrassment.

Riddles, paradoxes, strange tasks may also be part of this phase. Catch a bird without using weapons whatsoever. Find the castle of the winds. Tasks that will demand you use a different mindset than you used to have.

During this phase the stripping away of all previous games played is deepened at the same time we have to put everything we have learned so far into action. Its like burning the flesh from the skeleton and at the same time proving that we will not die now that they are gone. The bare you will be the only resource left to you. Only then we can start to build upon the trust that the nothingness that comes after is in fact full of messages and meaning.

To test and trial belong the following work forms: Physical and mental challenges like trials, tests, riddles, sports, hunting, tracking, trekking, fighting, solitude, deprivation, searches, survival.

The Human Herd meditation. When we are deeply present together, we can get into another state of being.

Receiving (East, Birth)

Within the cocoon the caterpillar changes into a butterfly and leaves the cocoon to dry his new wings in the wind. This phase is the threshold. We are between death and being born. We do not do this, it is being done to us and we have to let it happen. Often this is the phase of execution of the ritual. This may contain (prolonging of) solitude and or a test amidst your society depending on the rite or culture it is part of. Here you will receive new visions, make new individual commitments and prepare for the next step.

Most important in this transition is the moment of uncertainness. When things are loose and there’s nothing more to hold on to, than change can take place, if we are open to what comes.

By now we may wonder where the magic is. The initiation can only create the space for that. Whatever is really sacred, magic and beyond our common understanding of the world, rites can help us on the way. If done properly everything around us will during this phase turn into a symbol, a message loaded with meaning. We may find helpers, like totem animals, have special dreams and discover a new sense of direction, anything even a true vision about our destiny. And to be honest, sometimes its only wind, heat and dust. But even these uncomfortable weather conditions can contain loads of messages meaningful for us modern city dwellers. Lessons that (re)connect us to a deeper source that we can learn once again to live from.

Alas, often knowing your true destiny is very scary too. Think of the poem made famous by Nelson Mandela which said: “more than the darkness we fear our own light.” We may fear that once we know what we have to do, life is over, that we end up as workers in the factory of realisation. Or we may fear that if we just trust in following our heart, who knows what we might change around us. Our influence will be beyond our control (as it always is).

Especially Western school systems destroyed following your harts wishes as road to fulfilment in life. It told us there is but one good answer to each question. It told us in order to be free you must choose a goal that will bring success and go for it. It placed true answers outside us. But our essence is our destiny. It is already there, it this phase the essence of that will be acknowledged.

This phase is affirmation at its strongest. The feeling that we are not alone, are one with all, have spirits on our side, that there is mystery and we have a purpose has a tremendous importance for our feeling at home in our body, our situation and in the world. We need this affirmation not only from nature but very much also from our fellow man. A warm and trusting group with experienced facilitators who can help give meaning and acceptance to dreams, signs and visions are of critical importance. That is why the next phase builds on this one.

To receiving belong the following work forms: Visualisation, dreaming, trance work, dance, singing (from the inside out), meditation, body work like massage & reiki, celebration, gifts, observation, offerings and at the core of it all is solitude, being away from all influences to receive a vision which to call your own.

The symbolic portal to open and close the festival around.

Sharing (South, Communion)

The butterfly takes for the sky. This phase is birth. We are being reborn as a new person to the world, different than before. Now we must prepare and commit ourselves to putting the new us into action amidst our society.

This part might start during or overlap the receiving. Sharing is a very powerful instrument to connect our vision to the group of society we belong to. It places us in the centre, the centre of our people and or all of nature. Here we tell our story or make an oath, thus make ourselves known about who we really are and what we stand for. The stories of others are also helpful. It helps to understand that we are not alone. Every man has to walk the same road and sharing our theme’s trails and dreams works very affirming. We can see in each others eyes that we have changed. We can affirm the change and vision. Facilitators are very important during this phase to help us clarify dreams or images we do not understand. We can help each other to be grateful and expressive about what we have gone trough. This strengthening is especially important in modern rites, where upon return things might be very much like before and not at all that receptive. This is where the official initiation ends and where the work begins. Sharing can be continued after the return with return meetings or special support groups.

To sharing belong the following work forms: Singing, storytelling, pledging, group work with dreams and visions, group work, group games, dancing, bodywork, bio-energetics, social rituals, feasting, celebrating, presentations, theatre, re-enactment,

Vision (Above, Story)

Vision takes place throughout the rite, especially before, during the receiving and before returning. This is about finding and having found your heart and spirit and seeing where they want to go and where the ego has to follow, to be of service to. It is what you get and keep in touch with. It is about clarifying it to be able to see how it connects to daily life.

Vision takes place before you enter the process. There might be some evaluation about where in life you are and what questions are most important to you in this phase in your life. In a wedding the question is do we wish to commit for our whole life to this other person, in a training it may be about our professional career.

Vision is the pivotal moment during the receiving. It is what you receive, may it be dreams, visions, insights, connections or whatever experience. Vision is being in touch with your heart and seeing where it wants to go.

At the end it is important that not all is put into clear rational understanding. That would kill the richness that lies beyond mental conclusions. But we have to clear our vision about our purpose, give it some name to work from and to make it possible to explain. The world around you wants to understand through explanations. A good evaluation can help us to stand strong towards the world that wants us also to be the way we were before.

To stay in touch with our vision we may be bonded to our totem animals, create images or wear a wedding ring.

Vision is not only work forms, vision is also the experience itself, trance, visualisation, dreams etc.: Received Visions may be in poetry or an other expressive way of writing, painting, sculpting, music, singing, sharing, even finding a stone or symbol, choosing or receiving a new (hidden) name, theatre, re-enactment, celebration, exchange of rewards and presents with meaning.

The symbolic closing of the portal. Take the fire within you and bring it home.

Return (below, action)

In some societies the return is integral part of the ceremonies. Here the sharing and return are one and the same. Mostly though it is only after the sharing we return to the normal society we belong to. Changed. Different. Married, perhaps. Here we have to put our vision into effect into our society.

What can we do to help this change? We can share our experiences. We can stay in touch with those we met who have experienced the same. These brothers and sisters of the heart can be very important to stay in touch with your vision. They will recognize the problems of keeping the flame alive and the consequences of doing that.

We can tell about it to the people who weren’t there, learn to speak from our heart whoever we are with.

The return is often the hardest part. When I started intensive personal studies in a city at the other side of the country, I felt I changed very much. I had become a different person. But when I came home, I felt myself immediately drawn into all old patterns. This was a very physical experience. I had no answer to it then. So my new freedom at that moment existed only in the new context. Only very gradually I learned to harmonize my new me into my old family life. Changing within our family and with loved ones is the hardest thing to do. Running away is not going to help. If we can change within these relationships we truly achieved a lot. When people start to react different to our actions we know we are on the right track.

Or another possibility is the risk of inflation. We come back having seen the light and all others have turned into toads living in darkness. We may start teaching our vision as the vision for all. Or we may turn very disappointed for not being recognized as someone special favoured by the Gods. Sorry, everyone is.

Recognize the new potential and try to live it. That is hard enough. Find one or more circles, work where our special talents, new commitments, vision can be put into practice.

To return belong the following work forms: voluntary work, art, changing jobs or interests, taking up fitting hobbies, change patterns of old behaviour, return meetings with other initiates,

Walking the Blade (inside, now)

In the end it is all about ourselves. This is the inner practice. We have changed and follow a vision. That does not only ask of us to bring it to earth or into practice in our society. We have to keep the flame burning in ourselves. I call this inner practice Walking the Blade. There is a path before us. We have made a inner connection towards it. We will feel it if we hurt this connection and when we strengthen it. Everything we do will be either more on the path, or away from it. The more we are focussed and aware the smaller the blade will become. In the end we will walk or dance on the sharp edge of a knife. Every misstep will feel hurtful, even the little ones. But being on it is a glorious feeling. Everything will become simple, here and now. Even ordinary life can have moments of exhilarating flow. That is how precise we can become in doing what we have to do. That is why walking the blade takes a warrior mind. That why we, who fear pain often seek ways to deafen our feelings and hide away. Seeing how off track we often are can be very painful.

Of course we will step off the blade, more often than we want. I do it. I do it a lot. Sometimes we might even run away from walking the blade and responsibility. When this happens treat yourself with compassion. There is no good and bad, only being on, more towards and more away from the blade. Accept your weakness and wait for the call to step back on the blade. It will come. We have helpers that will remind us. They will show us that we have started playing games again. It is the friend who makes a remark about your marriage, or a troubling dream.

What we have experienced in the ritual we can use everywhere if we want to bring change about. We can stay more aware when we are sucked into family games or our own mind games and try to keep out of them. First we have to die. Here it may mean we change our behaviour right trough the fear of how other people will react to it. Experience the emptiness. Then wait for something new to arise. And then be reborn by sharing your vision.

Also we would do well taking more time to just be ourselves. Just be. Be. Be here now. Eat a ice cream, read a book, go dancing, go to work. Life is like that too. If we acknowledge this the magic can return at unexpected moments. Then, one day we may experience that life itself has become a ritual with power. We may not know where we will end up, but we will recognize the better roads to walk and know that we walk with the universe. What more can we ask for?

To Walking the Blade belong the following work forms: meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga, work outs, daily practice, dreaming, art, sharing with friends, speaking from the heart, eating an ice cream, whatever feels right.

Some of the mentioned work forms might need some clarification.

is used to symbolize something very big, sacred, complex by something small, symbolic or understandable story which contains all the elements of the bigger thing. Rites may be images out of myth or legend and recreate them, often with the participants in important roles. Metaphors can make you understand you are walking the path of every hero. They can help you to use and understand symbols you receive. You might see metaphor as the language of the spirit.

is a necessity especially for societies where co-dependence is daily reality. There you have to be able to trust and rely upon your neighbor in times of crisis. Hardship will train willpower and endurance to sustain yourself and those that rely on you trough trouble.

is hardly a commodity in our society, but I am convinced of its teaching powers. Confusion helps to get rid of all old paradigms and beliefs. It is at times when none of those offer any help that new and deeper truths rise up. It helps to get unstuck and open for the new.

is different level of psychology awareness or a different state of mind. By reaching this state of mind, just like with confusion, new and different insights and physical possibilities are attainable.

can help build up towards such states of mind. Quite a lot of modern research seems to substantiate this. Special rhythms seem to resonate with certain mind waves and so induce trance.

Opening ritual in which all participants made their own little performance at the start. Thus they saw how everyone brings something else to the festival and how everyone contributes.

Living with vision

looking forward by being where you are

Having returned from a Rite de Passage, like the Vision Quest, doesn’t mean we’re done for the rest of our lives. During it we pass all kinds of transitions, big and small. Beginning with birth and ending with death life offers them in abundance. This article spanned these rituals from wedding to Vision Quests. We hope it will help you considering seeking them out when turning points in your life occur. These rituals are especially very suitable to turning points like the end of puberty when you take your first independent steps towards your own destiny, for those who are starting their careers and for those going through the mid life crisis. People that make deeper connections at these points of transformation will make more connected choices in life and can have a more profound contribution to the society they live in. It is up to us to make each transition as conscious as possible.

Jamie Sams, a female Native American teacher, calls every life a sacred path. I would like to end with a few lines out of one of her poems.

“I am here to dance the dream In my unique human shape To celebrate my uniqueness And to ask nobody to follow any norm”

It is my vision that we would do well to take more time to discover and follow our hearts and vision. That we act in touch with what our special contribution to society is. We may never (mentally) understand what we contribute to the whole, but if we contribute our uniqueness to the fullest, we can start to trust that we have meaning to the whole. We may learn that the magic of life is within us all and that we all are beautiful story that is being told right now.

NB: Most pictures where taken at Open Up festival in the Netherlands and most were shot by Elles de Vries.

NBB: Though this training isn’t focussed on ritual design, many elements will surely pass.

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Towards a revolution we all want to dance in, for a flourishing planet.

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Floris Koot

Floris Koot

Play Engineer. Social Inventor. Gentle Revolutionary. I always seek new possibilities and increase of love, wisdom and play in the world.

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