Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Defining Sacred Space: Extraordinary Ritual

     A lodge room, well apportioned and ordered, is nearly vital to the ritual work of the Craft.  But why should this be so?  Why is the ritual more effective in a dedicated space, replete with beautifully made furniture and implements?  Why is ritual dependent on the repetitions of set words, perambulations, and motions?  It is because actions and settings are the foundations of what may be called a sacred space.  Robert Macoy writes: "We call that sacred which is separated from common things, and dedicated either entirely or partially to the Most High.  The ideas of truth and virtue, the feeling of a pure love and friendship are sacred, for they elevate us above common things and lead to God."
     A sacred space then is one that is removed from the ordinary and mundane; a place where an individual is more inclined to receive a spiritual, mystical, or transcendental experience.  A sacred space is unique and special, because care has been taken to make it so.  Everything in a sacred space serves to point the initiate towards deeper meaning, as it highlights the symbolic nature of the initiatic experience.
     Practically all initiatic systems begin in a similar way.  The candidate is stripped of his quotidian clothing and is garbed as a petitioner:  He must be cleansed of his past and dressed in the appropriate manner to begin anew.  He is enjoined to leave worldly matters and substance behind, as such has no place in the space in which he is about to enter.  He may be blind folded:  By being deprived of his dominant sense, he enters a near mystical world of sound and touch, populated with the fantasies of imagination.  And this path is begun with an invocation to deity, which reminds him that he has left the doubting world and entered a space where the mystic is not only possible, but should be expected.
     But creating such a space is not always an easy task.  It requires thoughtful preparation.  In order to create an environment conducive to the esoteric experience, those who participate in ritual must display conscious thought and purpose in all their actions.  Solemnity and seriousness must be borne in every step and every spoken word.  However, ritual must also flow freely; memorization and recitation sublimated in familiarity, and delivered effortlessly.  The actors must do more than play a part; they must adopt their roles and feel that they are living them.
     But the actions of those within the sacred space do not take place in a vacuum.  Where such things take place can be just as vital to the experience as the conduct of those involved.  External factors weigh heavily on the candidate.  If he is blind folded, music and incense can inform his senses that he is in a special place, and a unique situation.  If his eyes are unbound, lighting becomes a point of paramount significance in creating a mood.  A man feels very differently about his surroundings when they are lit by candles rather than by harsh fluorescent bulbs.  If the furniture and ritual implements are shabby, they will draw his attention away from the ceremony.  There should be such art work visible as elevates the aesthetic experience.  Visual elements should be present everywhere that lead the candidate to contemplate the language of symbols and to search for depth of meaning.
     Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to detract from the sacred space.  The bumbling of those ignorant of their roles quickly breaks the spell, and seems to say that they do not care, and if they do not care, perhaps it is because they do not believe in the efficacy of their own ritual.  Such doubts will encroach upon the mind of the other participants and pull them away from the transcendental.  Any flaws in the environment will also leap out with the same result.  Ritual cannot be put on pause while furniture is moved, or forgotten tools scrambled for.  But what shatters the sacred space faster and more thoroughly than anything else is the jocularity and banter that so often self-consciously accompanies the breaking of character.  This self awareness reminds everyone that the so called real world still exists, and causes it to forcibly intrude on every participant.  If the core aspect of a sacred space is that it is apart from the mundane and banal, the intrusion of the outside world is a deadly poison to it.
     If care is taken to create and sustain a sacred space, the results are more than worth the effort.  The candidate, the participants, and the observers are, for a time, pulled out their normal lives and granted a vision of the sublime.  The partaking of the sublime cements the experience in the heart and mind, where it truly matters.  And if that experience is life-altering, those who felt it will constantly come back for more.  And not only for themselves:  They will yearn to share the experience with others, and can there really be any better way to promote the growth of a Lodge?
     Seeking and creating sacred spaces is a time consuming effort, to be sure, but the rewards of the realization of such as space can be immeasurable.  

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