Do we perform Ritual or Ceremony?

I really don’t know if this topic has ever been discussed or mentioned here in the forum, but on occasion it has definitely grabbed my attention when people interchange these two terms together as if they were the same. I know many will regard them as synonymous, and only acknowledge their individuality through the meaning placed on them. I believe however, their distinctions are a product of application, and not just a matter of semantics.

So what is the difference between ritual and ceremony? Well lets first look at ritual as we tend to get involved in this more, and on a somewhat daily basis. We wake up in the morning and may want a coffee so we put the kettle on, grab a cup blah blah blah. This gives us our coffee. We take the dog out for a walk, we go to work etc. All of these actions could be said to be ritual or routine if you like. Rituals in magic are no different other than the intention or outcome required, and therein lies the answer?

A ritual is basically performed to instigate an outcome, it therefore deals with structure and the building of ideas and thoughts into a reality. This of cause reflects the future, not the past. The present here is only focussed upon as a means of changing it, to become something else instead. Ritual also tends to be a solitary practice (barring group ritual) as the magician is trying to initialise his personal needs or desires.

Ceremony however, tends to be performed out of appreciation for something, to honour what has already passed. Ceremony is also a mark of celebration, which brings people together as opposed to ritual being somewhat of a solitary affair (usually).This main aspect of appreciation and honour will tend to highlight the present moment in time and also remember past events. Ceremony seen in this respect is therefore not designed to project ideas into the future, or manifest a result as the case may be, but to honour instead.

In the army, they teach you how to fire a gun, which is of cause a ritual as it tries to achieve the outcome of killing the enemy and defending yourself. These same armed forces however come together every year in November to mark the ending of world war 1, and to remember all those people who died doing their duty for their country. This occasion (poppy day) is ceremonial without a doubt.

Some events however tend to have a mixed approach of both applications? A wedding for example usually contains a formal gathering of people for the purpose of celebration in honour of the ‘happy couple’, which is very much ceremonial… and then there’s ritual involved with the exchange of rings as an act of bonding thereby projecting ideas into the future to suggest their loyalty for each other.

A funeral also contains both elements - Here we have a formal gathering of people and usually, a service of sorts conducted by a priest which is ceremonial. We are also at this stage lathered with stories about the deceased which is in memorial once again and therefore, brings in the past as the future is never prominent in ceremony.

A funeral however does have all these ceremonials wrapped up in one big ritual, which is to try and get you to acknowledge, understand and let go. This of cause is ritual as its intention is designed to allow us to manage the grief and move on into the future, which is very ritualistic as it promotes ideas into a future context.

(It is always sad for families in the above scenario who have no idea of the whereabouts of their loved ones when for instance, a young girl has disappeared for years. Her mum and dad cannot get a closure on this terrible situation so the parents here could easily become trapped in the past. Not knowing like this stops any acknowledgement of death and of cause, the hope that she could be alive keeps them in that cocoon of restraint. The formal acknowledgement of death (ritual) here is delayed and therefore, both parents may find it difficult to move on with the rest of their lives.)

So to end this little excursion of mine into the distinction of ritual and ceremony, I would say that out of the two, ritual is relied upon the most as it keeps us functioning and moving forwards in life but we must never forget to honour who we are and where we came from. Ritual does appear to be the guiding force but many will of cause forget the past and have no appreciation for the present and so, ceremony gets taken for granted here, or amalgamated with ritual.

So I do believe ritual and ceremony not only serve a specific purpose in our lives, they should also be understood and used differently in our magical practices as well, which can only occur when we recognise their distinctions and NOT just treat them as the same.

I agree, they’re not the same. I always viewed a ceremony as an observance of something and if someone happens to be doing something ritualistic during the ceremony, it’s usually just one person that was designated to do so while everyone else simply watches. Like a candle lighting ceremony at a church during christmas. The pastor may be performing the ritual of lighting the candles and reading select bible verses as he does but the rest of the crowd is engaged in the ceremony of watching.

I didn’t read all your post as I’m exhausted, but you’re largely correct. A ritual is any prescribed series of actions with an end purpose in mind. Getting ready for work in the morning by doing the same series of things, or the same things in an arbitrary sequence, at very least, is a ritualistic manner of preparing oneself for the day. Obsessive-compulsive behavour is also ritualistic.

Ceremony is generally secular, or at least can be without a problem. As you way, weddings, funerals, or simply receiving an award at school for doing well is all ceremonial, bu not necessarily ritualistic! Those which are ritualistic need a set outcome, so tend to be religious, such as a religious wedding being both ritualistic and ceremonial. A secular wedding is certainly ceremonial (even if it’s just down at the registry office, albeit less obviously so), but needn’t follow a prescribed ritual format to be valid.

Here’s another element… Magic:)

Ceremony may be ritualistic such as non-magical Satanic ritual (the performance of a Black Mass on Halloween or something similar), or it may be magical in the case of Western Ceremonial magic in the style of, say, Hermeticism and / or the Golden Dawn (as an example). Both examples are ceremonial and ritualistic, but one is magically-focused while the other is cermonially-focused. The term “psychodrama” is often used to describe the Satanic form of ceremony given above, and extends to all kinds of non-magiical ceremonial ritual.

Conversely, sigil magic is ritualistic, but not ceremonial (generally). I can’t think of any form of magic which is not ritualistic, actually. Can you? I’d be interested to find one. As mentioned, sigil, and I suppose any form of postmodern magic would not be ceremonial, necessarily, but the very fact that it is magic still requires it to be ritualistic. Even wishing upon a star is ritualistic!

Lemme know if you think of an example. In answer to your question, though, we would “always” perform ritual, but that ritual may be ceremonial, and / or magical, depending on our tradition(s) and the purpose of the ritual itself. I say that I am “performing ritual” when somebody asks what I’m doing on Saturday night, but I also tell people that I’m “playing with magic”. The former example includes the possibility of ceremonial Satanic psychodrama instead of magical ritual, while the latter includes the possibility of magical ritual which is not necessarily ceremonial, such as sigil or chaos magic.

It serves the purpose of identifing holidays like Halloween (which is coming up!) in that I’ll tell people that I’ll be performing ritual. Sometimes they ask if I’ll be “doing magic” for the event, and I’ll say no, but I’ll be performing ritual. Other times, if they ask if I’ll be “doing a ritual” (yes, they’re idiots) to help with some new venture in my life, I’ll usually say no, but that I’ll be playing with magic at some point. It just helps keep things clearer for myself, as I’m sure it makes no difference to most other people, as they wouldn’t know the difference anyhoe (and by that, I mean your average mundane civilian).

Hope this has been of some use:)

Kind regards, Tj.

p.s, names are another good example. My ceremonial name is Tiberius James cos it sounds cool, but I don’t have a magical name, yet. And RavensAscent makes a good point… Ceremony tends to be for others’ benefit, not the practitioner. But that raises a question regarding the difference between psychodrama (which is self-therapeutic), and ceremonial performance as a spectacle only, with no intentional therapeutic qualities.