So I was talking with my wife about guilty pleasures—I’ve been reading 19th-century period romance novels—and she immediately responded, “I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures.”
This is a woman who loves all kinds of books: Memoir, natural history nonfiction, novels from various eras. She also loves movies, many, though not all, of them of the romantic bent. And she loves the music she loves, no matter what anyone else says or doesn’t say.
As soon as she said that, about not feeling guilty, my mind flew to the Charge of the Goddess. “For all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.”
Love. Pleasure. Ritual.
I am a ritualist. I am stuffy and a stickler for some things in my ritual, but all ritual, done well, delights me. Roman Catholic liturgies. Ritual of ebbo for the Orishas. Wiccan ceremony. The familiar comforts of the rhythms of All Souls Unitarian. The dancing, singing, drumming, and transformation of a Fire Circle. All these are beautiful and grounded in my love for the arc of my life.
Love and pleasure. Ritual.
Ritual brings to mind several things.
It is something that reminds us of who we are and even who we hope to become.
Solar seasonal rituals tie us to the rhythms of birth, growth, repose, death, decay, and rebirth. They bring us into awareness of where we are and who we are and what we are doing to Earth in these desperately precarious moments. And they let us delight in Gaia’s turning around Sol, ever held together by the love of gravity.
Lunar rituals are similarly about change and stability. They are not only about Luna’s phases, but one can also bring solar calendrical names (Strawberry Moon, Wolf Moon, Hunger Moon, etc.) and other astrological questions to bear.
Ceremonies of passage and initiation bring us through the phases of life, as Luna passes through her own phases over the course of each month’s life. Infant dedications of all kinds, including those that are initiations for new parents. Rites of passage for adolescents. Marriage and divorce rituals, including handfasting and handparting the joining of two people’s Elleguas, secular marriage, and other traditions of marriage. And of course funerary rites of all kinds in all cultures.
We all live. We all die. In between, we may or may not take part in any other of the rites of passage that could be created or that exist for us. But those rituals all exist.
And there are rituals for fulfilling desires of other kinds. There are rituals designed to make us laugh, to delight in the glories of the body, to be astonished at beauty, to learn, and to feel the comfort of community.
There are rituals just for love and pleasure and nothing else. Just to worship. Just to orient ourselves in devotion. And these, for my money, are the purest rituals of all, the most pleasurable, the most loving.
But ALL acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals, the Goddess says.
Love and pleasure.
From the movie, Playing by Heart, “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”
Nonetheless, folks do it all the time. Why do you love them? That’s a face only a mother could love! I love you.
We do it all the time. In fact, sometimes we conflate love and pleasure: I love this strawberry parfait.
This combination of the ineffable “love” and the intensely personal “pleasure” constitutes ritual? Love + pleasure = ritual.
If something is ritual, it must be composed in some measure of love and pleasure. If something does not have love and pleasure, it is not ritual. Or no, is it the other way around? Or is it not an if…then statement at all?
The point, I believe, is that “ritual” in this sense means “worship.” And “worship” means to hold in the highest esteem, to honor as of ultimate value. All acts of love and pleasure are Her worship, then. All acts of love and pleasure are worshipful. (In fact, the immediately preceding words in the quotation are, “Let My worship be in the joyful heart…”)
And so where love and pleasure are mixed together—as, for example, in romantic love—so much greater the worship? So much greater the implied ritual?
When my wife is dancing to Taylor Swift while she cooks squash and Brussels sprouts and I come in and kiss her, it is indeed ritual. It is indeed worship. When I pet my beloved cat while I read my period romance, it is ritual.
It’s so funny to think of such things as rituals. As worship.
Furthermore, I think of this humor as pointing to something important.
Does our worship have love and pleasure in it? If it doesn’t, then why do we go to services, ceremonies, prayers, etc.?
Why do we go if our worship, our ritual is neither lovely nor pleasurable? Do we go only for the community, as though worship were nothing more than a social club? As though it is merely a place to see and be seen, to be around “like-minded people.” To speak and hear in an echo chamber.
Religious life should not be simply a community social event.
It can rouse us to engagement and delight. It can make us hope for love and joy, event actually to feel them in the moment! It can pierce our hearts with the necessity of justice and the conviction that we have a part to play in its attainment. It can give us both love and pleasure, and thereby be true worship.
What are your pleasures? And what are your loves? Where do you worship and why?
And need your pleasures be guilty? Truly? I bet you can let go of the guilt for some of them.
Just try it and see.