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In Custom and In Ceremony

The Irish great W.B. Yeats posed many interesting questions to the cosmos. Not the least of which was: why is the pay for poetry so incredibly shit?  On another, illness more lyrical day, hospital he asked:  how but in custom and in ceremony is beauty born? Personally, sales I think he was onto something.

The world, as you know, is groaning with the weight of Ugly and sustains relatively little Beauty. This could very well be, as Yeats’ query implied, down to a shortage of custom and of ceremony.  Or, more specifically to our era, a lack of appropriate custom and ceremony.  Our rituals tend to be terribly anachronistic and, just as lamentably, lacking in good buffet.

Weddings, baptisms, graduation ceremonies; all of these events tend, in Australia, to be either half-arsed or improperly grand.  The marriage ceremony in particular is often fruity and uneven and does not speak to its participants with any emotion that is more real and nourishing than a Happy Meal. Oh. Jesus. I hate weddings.  Particularly when Bride and Groom mash cake into each other’s face. What is this portion of the ritual alleged to represent? The mutual worship of gluten?

Weddings are crap. Twenty-Firsts, for the most part, are sodden in rum, bad pop and vomit. The formal end of High School is not much different and is only distinguished form the Twenty First  by the quality of spew. And, christenings? Well. What the mouth are they for? It seems terribly silly to moisten an infant. Actually, you really have to wait until you’re dead to enjoy a ritual that is truly stirring.

Funerals are, generally speaking, the only occasion in which a featured guest is properly respected. Although, even funerals can be about as appropriate to their honouree as a herding is to cats.  At a memorial I once attended for a very cranky atheist, Jesus was mentioned an awful lot.  And, we sung hymns. Well, I didn’t. Out of respect for the departed, I muttered, “Satan is My Dark Lord and Master” instead. It seemed only right. The Jesus stuff may have been an act of vengeance by the dead man’s wife.  Whatever the case, the service was not apposite.  There was no beauty born in this ceremony; there was the death of truth.

It is this dwindling in many of our rituals that can partially account for the crap state of the world.  The crapness of the rituals, and, by extension, the crap state of the world, is not entirely down to poor party planning.  It is not so much that the rituals are shit; although, for the most part, they are certainly. Rather, it is the life events that rituals recognise that are all completely wrong.

Weddings are generally meaningless. Tell me you haven’t been to one and thought, “I give these dicks three years”. Similarly, graduation is fairly meaningless. Unless one has several graduate degrees, higher-learning means squat. Similarly, turning twenty-one, being born or actually dying are all fairly everyday affairs.

We should learn to commemorate more special events in our rituals.

These may include rare occurrences such as squeezing money out of one’s parents; a feat I am yet to achieve. Or, avoiding low-nutrient, high-energy foods for a sustained period of time. It is very difficult to avoid hot chips and this temperance should be rewarded. As should making someone belly laugh, achieving visible biceps and reading that boring shit that Proust wrote.

These are all singular acts and achievements that are far more difficult than dying, getting married or being born. I urge you to celebrate.

6 Responses to “In Custom and In Ceremony”

  1. Sami says:

    … your point is well-made, since just *reading* this made me want hot chips.

    A friend of mine does a thing, every Monday, prompting folks to celebrate things that were awesome in the previous week. It’s a comment thread thing, and people join in to congratulate each other, whether this be for “… well, this week was shit, but I’m still here!” or “I got that assignment finished! On time, even!” or, well, anything.

    It’s pretty cool. I think, overall, people have a tendency to overlook the positive, and to under-rate things that they, and others, do. We praise little kids for their achievements, because we recognise that achieving pretty much anything at all is awesome when you’re still struggling with basic motor control, and yet somehow we stop doing this for ourselves and others when we and they are older.

    There should be more praise going around in general.

  2. YB says:

    I went to a similarly misguided funeral. X had died young, at 28, and had spent the last eight years doing the medieval thing & Irish trad music lifestyle very hard. However, the family ran the funeral without much consultation with the friends, and just before he had left home eight years before he had a greaser/Elvis phase. The funeral was run as if Elvis was his true passion. The five family members stumped up the money, but the 90 medieval/ Irish Music friends looked at each other knowing that he had burnt all his Elvis gear seven and a half years before. The ritual showed the frozen image the family still held.

  3. Helen Razer says:

    Indeed,Sami. We should celebrate the incidental, such as excellent facebook updates, with vigour.
    YB, isn’t this just the worst? You’d think at a funeral that the grieving would bring all their event management and sensitivity to bear.

  4. YB says:

    I respect the difficulties of the funeral, there was just extra sadness that they really had lost touch with their son.

    Back on topic, maybe we can invent a solem ritual. Renewal of drivers license ceremonies, where we continue to celebrate the quality of our eyesighe, and make ritual sacrifice to the speeding camera gods, and pray towards Detroit.

  5. Lara says:

    I heartily agree that most modern rituals are crap.

    But as a marriage and funeral celebrant, I have made it my mission to do ceremonies that are not crap.

    One of the reasons we exist is because couples wanted an alternative to stuffy church ceremonies, and yet 99% of weddings are clones of every other bloody wedding. I assure you, there are some people out there having interesting ceremonies. And they had better continue to, or I shall throw in the towel.

    Perhaps legalising same sex marriage will revitalise things?

  6. Davo says:

    Yep, “traditions” change – or do they? Am one of those ‘orrible old blokes’ who remember when the “traditional” ‘coming of age’ was actually 21.

    Nobody back then actually believed it .. but, granting a “licence to drive a motor vehicle” on public roads was thought appropriate .. and THAT was when motor vehicles were rather more .. um, sedate?

    I could go on .. and on ..

    But am guessing that the ‘younger people’ have to recognise, and take responsibility – for their own lives.

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