“People love ritual as humans are ritualistic beings.” – Orunmila
Not too long ago I saw an old Star Trek Voyager episode that had Kes, played by Jennifer Lien, suddenly and seriously injured while visiting the inside a religious temple on some far away planet on the other side of the galaxy in the Delta Quadrant. Kes had ventured up to the alter area when she impacted a sudden force of energy. Like most of the main characters that sustained some sort of potentially fatal injury in the world of television serials, Kes wound up in Voyager’s sickbay clinging to life. The holographic doctor, played by Robert Picardo, was helpless. The alien metaphysical science slash religion was beyond the artificial doctor’s comprehension or skill to diagnose and develop a solution. It looked like curtains for Kes.
But Captain Kathryn Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew, appealed to the priest of the temple for their assistance. Kes’ injury was a result of the spiritual entities that they worshipped. The captain put all her logical thinking and scientific knowledge aside to follow her hunch that these people could help.
The captain was led to a chamber where three other people, two men and a woman, were waiting. The captain asked were they waiting to talk to the gods. The people were kind of eccentric and appeared to be rather clueless. They explained that they had been waiting. Janeway listened to the people but didn’t have the patience for their nonsensical exchange. Janeway pounded on the door. When the priest answered the door Janeway asked if she could skip this part of the ritual and continue her test of faith without having to wait with the people in the room. The priest understood her emergency and granted her wish.
To make a long story short the people in the room were the spiritual entities that the priest worshipped. But because they were nothing what Janeway expected they were dismissed. Janeway left the room and went on to perform a series of task and answer a series of puzzle that had nothing to do with anything. But she felt like she was fulfilling their rituals. Finally the captain discovered that she had wasted a great deal of time performing rituals with absolutely no meaning. Once her expectations were satisfied she was led back into the room with the spiritual entities. The banter continued but her questions were eventually answered. Kes was saved and Voyager continued to next week’s episode. But the message behind the episode stayed with me.
Most devotees of Ifa, as well as a number of other religions, are expecting a series of ritualistic steps and procedures with just about everything that happens as part of our spiritual development. For many practitioners, expectations regarding something as simple as getting a reading can involve a convoluted ritual that does nothing but confuses the issue at hand. Something as totally natural as somebody dying can call for a series dances, prayers and songs to be chanted all night long to assure the person’s soul receives the proper goodbye. And let’s not forget the spread eagle greeting process some devotees have to go through when meeting someone with an elevated sense of ego fueled by a spiritual title obtained in some previous ritual
But rarely do our spiritual associates require any ceremonial procedure with things that are such a natural part of our existence. It is human nature for people to do things with rote ceremony and formal procedures. Indeed, in order for a devotee to prove their worthiness they must learn rote prayers, songs , dances, chants, food preparation, proper dress and costume, greetings, hierarchy, and a ton of other inconsequential trivialities that add no meaning to what is real or to what is truly important.
Every night, every morning, every time we get ready to sit down and share a meal, every time we score a touchdown or hit a homerun, we feel some obligation to give thanks and to praise our spiritual belief system with rote prayer and gestures. Give the Supreme Being of your belief system the praise because he or she or it is the only one that is truly praiseworthy. But if the all powerful Supreme Being is truly supreme then what could our prayers do to affect her or her or its behavior? Not much is for sure. But part of the ritual of being a parent is to teach our children the good habits of prayer and praise for our spiritual belief system. Not to participate in this rote ritual of religion is to not participate in the ritual of being human.