Rituals, Habits, Beliefs, & Traditions

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

(Samuel Smiles, from his book Self-Help, 1859)



We are creatures of habit; stuck in our beliefs, playing out age-old rituals…traditions handed down from ancestors and passed along to future generations.  Those rooted in religion or culture wield the power to shape our destiny, casting our lot by their identifiable nature; defining and molding us into who and what we are. Performed throughout our day…every day, some are simply comforting in their routine, such as beginning the day with a steaming cup of coffee.

By definition,  the generally accepted meanings of ritual, habit, belief, and tradition are:

Ritual: “any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner. “
“a prescribed code of behavior regulating social conduct, as that exemplified by the raising of one’s hat or the shaking of hands in greeting. “

Habit: “an acquired behavior or pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary (the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street).

Belief: “something believed; an opinion or conviction (a belief that the earth is flat).”

Tradition: “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.”

Throughout the ages, dance rituals have told stories of great feats and honored heroes. Centuries ago, the Greek hero Theseus entered the labyrinth and slew the dreaded Minotaur beast who feasted on the flesh of those chosen for sacrifice. Later in the story, Theseus escaped with those youths condemned to death, and traveled to an island where he played out his conquest in a choreographed dance of the labyrinth, retracing the adventure of his heroic quest step by step.


Maypole Dance

Around the globe, rituals involving dance continue to be celebrated; although their original intent and meaning may have been forgotten with the passing of time. The yearly Maypole dance, for example, is performed in several Germanic cultures. While historians and folklorists may debate its symbolism, the frivolity remains as entertainment regardless of its true ties to the past.

The habits and rituals we perform are far too many to name. We’ve grown accustomed to their presence…so much a part of us that they often go unnoticed, content to play their part in the background of our lives. Some are cultural or global, others are uniquely personal…some new, some old; but all are important to how we define ourselves in the moment, and how history will remember us.

Prayers at bedtime

Prayers at bedtime

Beliefs direct our thoughts. An idea is formed in the mind. At first it might appear vague, or fleeting. But, as we give it attention and further thought it takes hold and fills in the details.

Habits become rituals through belief. The mere repetitive nature of performing the act itself creates an attachment in our minds, which manifests as psychological and physical need. Daily rituals are habits that have taken on a unique pattern. Many provide comfort by their familiar structure, in contrast to our otherwise hectic lives; they are known, controllable, reliable entities.

Take for example, the simple act of brushing one’s teeth before bedtime. Over time, its repetitive nature becomes ingrained within our very being. If the pattern is interrupted, and we go to bed without brushing our teeth, there is a feeling of discomfort; something is out of place in our life, a small wrong must be righted. So, we arise and once more complete the task which has become a habit. It takes time to form a “good” habit; to train ourselves to follow a new behavior, to become comfortable enough with it to become routine and natural…while at the same time feeling unnatural or uncomfortable to skip. Through attention and performance, we can just as easily slip into bad habits.

Developing and performing habits and rituals over time creates cultural understandings and identities; unique patterns that weave together with an affinity to cross boundaries. When similar beliefs recognize traits within others we form a bond and become what is the whole of humankind. Those who are open to understanding and accepting the beliefs of others will be enriched by the experience.

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”
― W. Somerset Maugham – from his memoir, The Summing Up (1938).

Note: Word definitions (ritual, habit, belief, tradition) taken from dictionary.com

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