Pt 2 Elements and Levels of Ritual

The debut of this presentation is scheduled for Saturday, April 14th at the League of Utah Writers 2018 Spring Conference.

This is the second part in the three-part series “Creating Fictional Rites and Rituals.” If you’ve missed the other parts, here are some handy links:


Rituals can be categorized by how much they impact the person participating. Rituals can be simple, but loaded with consequence. The opposite it also true, a ritual can be elaborate and highly public, but hold little meaning. A ritual’s weight rests in the significance to the person participating.

Levels of Ritual

Mundane Ritual – Regular tasks that aren’t thought about much, but when aren’t done the person feels off balance for the rest of the day.

  • Morning Ritual
  • Making the first cup of coffee
  • Opening of meetings
  • Serving of food

Significant Ritual – An important event that if not completed properly will change the person’s life. Most observed rituals tend to fall in this category.

  • Wedding vows
  • Baptisms
  • Driver’s License
  • Asking to Prom

Critical Ritual – Part of an initiation where failure to complete the ritual results in rejection and possibly death. Tends to end up in speculative fiction a lot.

  • Indiana Jones Grail Test
  • Monty Python Bridge of Death
  • Brisingr Trial of the Long Knives
  • Wheel of Time Aes Sedai Final Initiation


Elements of Ritual

A ritual contains five distinct elements. Generally, the more elaborate and important the ritual, the more elaborate each of these elements become.

Central focus – The goal of the ritual

Unique venue  – The place where the ritual fits best

Ceremonial dress and/or items – What is required to complete the ceremony, including foods.

Prescribed actions – What those participating in the ceremony must do

Music/sound – What the ceremony sounds like, if there is music, chanting, or drums. Silence is a sound and many rituals take place in respectful silence.


Matador Dressing Ceremony

Matador.jpgMatadors are famous for their distinctive dress, called the Traje de Luces (suit of lights). In order to be prepared to face death in the ring, a Matador will take his dressing ceremony very seriously. He always dresses in the same order, with the same people helping him. He faces a large mirror and watches as he transforms from ordinary citizen to a celebrity. The pants are extremely tight, like a corset, which not only protects the Matador from bleeding to death if gored, but also mentally gives him additional focus, all of his distractions are pressed away and he is ready for the ring. As he dons each piece he grows more confident and gathers the courage he will need to face his bull.

This is one of the few real life rituals I would rate as crucial. If the Matador doesn’t feel prepared, his lack of focus could kill him. The focus of the dressing ritual revolves around transforming the Matador into a fearless fighter. It happens in a dressing room, which in itself isn’t all that special, but the fighting ring he will enter is a highly specialized venue. The act of dressing in the suit and donning the other items unique to bullfighting are what create the ritual. I imagine many fighters have a specific playlist they listen to help mentally prepare themselves, if not, they most likely observe a respectful quiet.

Fictional Rites and Rituals

Let’s take what we’ve learned and apply it to a fictional rituals – the same is true, although in fiction we are allowed to stretch our imagination more, and make the stakes higher.

Star Wars Victory Celebration

Victory_Celebration_ANH.pngThe Rebel Alliance has won a great victory over the Empire by destroying the Death Star. While they could have just given Luke and Han their medals, they needed to make it a significant event. The troops are organized and wearing their military dress uniforms, they are in what looks to be a special place, a fanfare is playing, every one knows just how important the victory was.

This is an example where there’s a lot of fanfare and fuss over a fairly mundane task. However, not being blown up by the death star is a big reason to celebrate and is highly significant to everyone involved. I would rate this as a significant ritual for this reason. The focus is to applaud the bravery of Luke and Han, who risked their lives for the Alliance. This also encourages a greater sense of devotion in all present.

This space they are using is beautiful and carries with it the somber feeling of a huge church. The different troops are outfitted in dress uniforms and those on the platform are wearing formal clothes. Chewbacca gives the call for the troops to stand at attention while a triumphant fanfare plays.

Writing Exercise: Research a fictional ritual and identify the level of ritual and each of the five elements.

Want to talk about your favorite ritual with me? Tell me about what you learned in the comments below and I’ll respond!


Missed part one? Here’s a link.

Part three, where we discuss how to create our own fictional rituals, is now available.

Want to see other presentation notes, look no further.

Don’t want to miss a post? Click the subscribe button on the sidebar or “like” my author page on Facebook. Prefer Twitter? @JodiLMilner

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About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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2 Responses to Pt 2 Elements and Levels of Ritual

  1. Pingback: Pt 1 The Difference Between Rite and Ritual | My Literary Quest

  2. Pingback: Pt 3 Creating Fictional Rites and Rituals | My Literary Quest

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