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Ritual and Ceremony


Ceremony has been a part of human life since humans have been on Earth. Ancient peoples were religious, though not in the sense by which we define "religious" today. Religion and spirituality were so intricately entwined in everyday life that they were intrinsic in everything the people did.
Although the words ceremony and ritual are often used interchangeably, I think that ritual is a formal rite that has been practiced the same way down through time, while ceremony can be less formalized  Rituals often represent & preserve tradition - religious, cultural, familial - passed down from generation to generation. In the poem, "Planting a Sequoia", by Dana Gioia we see a tradition/ritual from Sicily which he now performs here in America. Though his ceremony is significantly changed from the original, it certainly recalls that ritual.
Ritual and ceremony can empower people. They might mark an occasion, initiation, unification or reconciliation.  But, they can also be a time of contemplation and can be cathartic or healing.
Write a poem about a ritual or ceremony.

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Old souls glisten in the sun
Weathered from the impact of life
Desperate for knowledge they were-
The open hearted ones.

The ocean speaks to them
Telling stories of ancient times
Sending their experiences to the east
Maybe Basho was correct in that
Our wisdom is inside of ourselves.

Their footprints leave fragile marks
The soles of their feet touch souls after
They have walked upon these sacred grounds
The spirits of the ancient ones still haunt them.

Crying out loud as the wind encircles them
Raising their hands up to meet the moon
She is their sister, and the sun is their father
Mother is nature and religion is of the forefathers…
They live in all of them, so genuine and beautiful…
Closely tied, they are one, fingers crossed…
The wind sings softly now gently saying,
"This circle is never broken."

Brandi Stratton


When I was a med student.
I had a big Buick that cost two hundred.
I parked on First Avenue.

The girl I remember best
Lived at 800 Riverside Drive.
What could be nicer than a country drive;
Over the George Washington Bridge,
On to the Palisades Parkway
For occasional glimpses of the New York side
Those River towns,
Of factories and Victorian red brick.

Finally Bear Mountain
But away from the Lodge
To the Seven Lakes Drive.
Where one might park on the side of the road.
Then through those woods
That were without rangers.
And you swam in the nude
At the foot of a small water fall.
Jane said, "I'm free
As in California,"
While I added, " only forty-five minutes
From the G W bridge."

Then back to my apartment
Sure that Charlie
Who studied anatomy
Wearing heavy workman glove
So he couldn't bite his nails
Was at in home in Brockton. Mass

Jane and I over looked the city
The coming lights on the bridge to Queens,
The ever moving cars
On the East River drive.
As laughs, and life and loving tears.
I cannot chose,
Move on, pass by.

At that time making a meal
Was not the thing.
For ever studious students.
"But steak's OK, and roasted mushrooms.
And frozen spuds."
Good wine was cheap
With great Italians even cheaper.
Barolo, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto d'Alba.

What an innocence it had.
And what sadness I have
That my rituals of love
Did not continue on.

Edward Halperin


Dogs move, the day begins.
This is the beginning
that repeats
and is new
and reverent
with every morning.
The flame is lit
libation unleashed
the two savored together
in a morning¹s few moments
that sliver of time
before the garments of responsibility
settle securely on shoulders
aching to resign.

Maureen Owens


Has always and only meant
precisely enough to cover
the eyes of a corpse a trick of
faith by which the earth
in every place is made the same
it awaits the dead with a
promise of return it takes the weight
of one life and measures out
a universe of yearning in its place

It is so despite the politics
granted it has its own life
absorbs its own blood with no need
of transport to foreign corners
holds fast to buildings and accedes to
paving over explosions
taxed planted uprooted all according
to municipal regulations
but this is only in this world it still
knows what it must do
in the other world as far back and
far ahead in the future as thought

In the dream that wakes me and
doesn’t disappear instead becomes
my name in the intimate language I
do not have to understand
Who calls my name if not in that
language with its peculiar
foreignness rough against my child’s face
an unshaved grandfather or the
taut hand of a father caught
just in that moment of annoyance and
exuberant fondness that only in his mother-tongue
do words expect and embrace us

This cannot be a dream if it is my name

This soil is already on my eyes before I need it
waiting good grave that it is if only a few ounces

Ira F. Stone
note: the poem refers to the custom of being buried with soil from Israel on one’s eyes


Count the spiders.
Count the webs.
Count the cookies and the crackers.
Count the papers and the rags.
Count the girl in the middle of her voices
in her oh so numerical head counting backwards,
ninety-five, ninety-four
and counting, counting
one, two, three . . .
There's always something.
There's always something,
but one can't count everything.
One can't count

poison -
that's what she told the doctor,
and one doesn't count tapping three fingers
three times on a thigh to ward off bad thoughts,
or taking two steps sideways when spotting an omen
like red lipstick, or holding all breath for sixty seconds
(not one second under, not one second over) when one feels, feels
there's a trap-

door in the floor.
One can't count everything,
not anymore. Of course,
one can't count

but if you ask,
one can tell you exactly how many steps
from the green rug to the sisal mat and back again,
though that's not counting,

"that's keeping score."
That's what she told the doctor.



The device fills my eye.
All here know its purpose
yet it's partly hidden,
as if to conceal its intent.

We will have to watch
the work it does
with wide straps
to finish the ritual.

But the low railing
of its silver tubes
are draped in green,
as if to conceal its intent.

It looks solid,
but workmen come
and take it apart
to finish the ritual.

They carry each piece
to the back of a truck
and close the gate,
as if to conceal its intent.

Marvin Lurie


Again, I spend the night rereading your letters.
It has become my habit this winter
when the room is cold despite the fire
and the moon is in me.

You write of love with pieces of poems
and songs, fragments of our conversations.
I am looking in that familiar hand
looking for the missing words.

Moth to flame
these paper wings
fold upon themselves.

I take the letters and return them to their box,
to their place on the shelf, blow out the candle,
breathe in the smoky plume.
We walked so far we had no time to return.

Pamela Milne


Appointed hour and holy place

They bade me disrobe
On the small carpet
The color of dead leaves
Anxious to appear steady
My hands fumbled
When the last garment had been shed
Unable to look the elders in the eye
I knew nay felt their eyes upon me
As prescribed in the ancient texts
I turned towards them
The very eldest
A man I had seen only occasionally
So weak two others supported him by the arms
Came forward
The dark bowl in one hand and in the other
A small sponge plucked from the sea
Just after the previous full moon
His hands too trembled as he daubed the thing
He withdrew it
And made the first mark from my heart to right shoulder
After dipping again
He placed it over my heart
Then made the second extending to right hip
Once again the sea sponge was dipped
Placed over my heart and drawn down to left hip
The three orange anu-kai having been made
The sensate aspects intensified
Though the air was warm and heavy
The anu-kai chilled me as they dried
We stood in silence for an eternity
Then the old man mumbled words
Familiar in rhythm but new nonetheless
He touched me lightly on the forehead
And was helped away
The high Kroton stepped to me
Nodded to begin the drumming
Took my left hand in his
Anointed it with the oil-that-ends-pain
And pressed the thorn into the center of my palm
A small pool of blood formed
It was and is still
Time to enter

Michael Z Murphy


There were not many vegetarians
before refrigeration came along
back when domestic and wild game
contributed fresh meat on the table
birds rabbits turkey and deer were there
as were hogs chickens ducks and opossum
taking game and critters a purposeful sport
but the distasteful job of killing hogs and cattle
was one for the head of the family.

Shocking flashbacks of my father's ax hitting
the cow's head to stun and kill the creature
tying its legs to a double tree a large "Y" tree limb
cutting its throat for bleeding and sure death
hoisting the double tree with strong rope to hold
the carcass for butchering its many parts
the sharp curved knife slicing open the belly
dislodging yards of warm intestines pouring out
spilling into a heaped pile on the ground.

Daddy hollering to me "Pick up them guts boy!"
my refusal to touch them is met by his grabbing me
by the neck forcing my wide-eyed young face into the pool
an early baptism into ways of survival without choices
the day I became a man without tribal ceremony
and acceptance by peers and elders
the day I understood that fathers
do despised work to feed families
earning a woman's love while
nurturing their mutually created young ones.

F. William Broome


In mid-December, she makes stollen,
rubs oil into the length of the wooden table and
arranges her bowls for the 53rd year.

Eight batches, that¹s what she used to do;
this year she can manage only three, and Jack,
who brings the salt from its niche on the pantry shelf,
measures the butter in clumsy lumps.

When the dough rises to the lift the red towel,
she punches it down for a second rising.

She makes tea and writes Christmas cards;
Jack stays near the wood stove, nodding;
his tea, on the windowsill,
grows cold.

Her hands ache to roll dough, to
shape loaves --
their plump middles and
tapered ends.

She keeps a list in her mind:
cut holly,
bring ornaments down from attic,
have someone remind Jack about gifts.

In the evening,
kitchen still warm,
she cuts thick slices from one loaf.
He spreads butter, asks her,
Maggie, when did you make
this bread?

Sara Bauer