In the technically brilliant sterility of our modern age, I believe we’re aching to find new ways to make meaning in our lives. Truly transformative ceremonies and rituals allow us to infuse a sense of the sacred into our ordinary lives, to recognize major life events in profoundly satisfying ways, and to remember our connection to our deepest selves and to each other.

While I was researching my master’s thesis 10 years ago, I discovered that each discipline—anthropology, religious studies, psychology, drama—had their own definitions of “ritual.” The one that most resonates with me is actually a blend and focuses on the notion of ritual as “transformance”—transformative performance. Ritual becomes transformative when we direct our intention and attention to create a particular outcome, when we activate all our senses, and when we participate in powerful, symbolic actions. Sharing bread becomes an act of community building; throwing a rock into a stream signifies the letting go of old wounds; lighting a candle sheds new light and hope in a time of uncertainty.

A ritual is more likely to move us deeply, to begin to propel us toward wholeness, if it contains several important elements.

1.Clear intention. What is the purpose of the ritual? What do you want to accomplish? The more focused you are, the more powerful and evocative the ritual.
2.Creating sacred time and space. How do we set this enactment apart from our everyday lives? We must physically create the time and place away from the bustle of our daily routines—in effect, constructing the “container” within which we may encounter the quieter, deeper parts of ourselves.
3.Use of symbols. Symbols are the language of the unconscious. If our intention is to make a shift in some area of our lives, superficial Band-Aids won’t work. We must begin at the source, somewhere deep in our psyches, and tickle the core issues to the surface. Symbols serve to focus our attention on the work of the ritual and to evoke powerful memories and emotions.
4.Stimulating all five senses. Some of us resonate strongly with visual symbols, while others respond more to auditory or kinesthetic stimuli, like music and dancing. Ingesting special “brews” or ritual food activates our sense of taste, while scented candles and incense tickle our olfactory senses and directly trigger our limbic systems, the emotional centers of our brains. By integrating all these modalities into our ritual, each of us can find meaning, regardless of our sensory strengths or weaknesses.

Once we understand the key ingredients of transformative ritual, how do we go about structuring it in a way that is both easy to enact and powerful in its experience? Clearly, there are as many ways to create meaningful rituals as there are people to produce them. The recipe I offer here is one I have worked with for many years, drawn from my early teachers and mentors and my own research into the power and magic of ritual.

1.Purification: Cleansing the ritual space and ourselves. This can be done using incense, water, or essential oils, to name a few options. For instance, “smudging” is a common practice in many Native American traditions which involves using a feather or your hands to surround yourself with the smoke and aroma of burning sage. However it is done, it is the first step in creating sacred space.
2.Ritual invocation: Stating the purpose or intention. Verbalizing with clear intention what we wish to accomplish provides a solid foundation on which to build all the ritual actions that follow. Whether our goal is to celebrate a rite of passage (birthdays, menarche, retirement), to heal an emotional wound, or to honor our unique gifts (just a few examples), we must express that intent in order to begin to manifest it.
3.Creating sacred space. This can be done in conjunction with the purification process, simply by walking the perimeter of our ritual space with burning incense. Or, in a group ritual, we can also define our space and our purpose by inviting everyone in the circle to share who they are and why they are there. Whatever method we use, the intention is to create an energetic container which holds ritual time and space apart from our ordinary reality.
4.Invoking the directions/elements: Honoring fire/water/air/earth energies. When we face each direction and invite the energies of each of the four elements into the circle, we recognize and honor our connection to nature and the world around us. It reminds us also that we embody those same elemental archetypes within ourselves.
5.Meditation: Concentrating awareness inwardly. Guided visualizations, silent meditation, and focused breathing are just some of the ways we can move from outer space to inner space. It is a powerful way to deeply ground our intention on the internal plane.
6.Work of the ritual: Creating something tangible or sharing stories. Ritual “play” can be as whimsical as creating valentines for ourselves to promote self-love or creating a web of yarn within a circle to celebrate our connectedness. Or, it can be cathartic, like smashing an egg (outdoors, of course!) filled with our rage over the abuse we have experienced, or perhaps simply sharing our feelings about topics that are often taboo in the rest of our lives, like anger or death.
7.Raising energy: Usually by sound and/or movement. We bring life to our ritual work in many different ways: by dancing, drumming, chanting, or toning. This is truly the part of the ritual when we most fully and literally embody the energy we have created up to this point.
8.Grounding energy: Renewing our connection with the earth. Once we have raised energy, it is necessary to ground it; otherwise, we will leave the ritual feeling spacy and disoriented. We can do this simply by placing our hands on the ground and breathing deeply, visualizing our connection to the earth. Or, we could ingest some form of ritual food at this point, or clasp hands in a circle—any action to tactically, physically feel firmly “planted.”
9.Opening the circle. Every ritual must have a clear beginning and ending. At this point we can thank the elemental energies for supporting us in our ritual work, acknowledge the shifts that have occurred, and begin to reflect on how we can use these ritual gifts to make a difference in our lives. In a group ritual, this is also the time to engage in some final, fun grounding, in the form of hugs and feasting!

Through all of these stages we see how the four key ritual elements—clear intention, safe and sacred space, symbols, and sensory stimulation—can be woven into the overall experience.

Enacting ritual with a clear structure in mind should not stifle creativity, but rather enhance the feeling of operating within a safe, sacred, energetic container. With those parameters in place the magic woven during its enactment becomes a spontaneous and unique cocreation of everyone present—even if it’s only you!

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Deborah Roth, MA, PCC, is a certified Life Transition Coach and Relationship Coach whose passion is to guide individuals and groups to the next level of success and fulfillment in their lives, work, and relationships. Her approach is holistic and incorporates helping each client fully realize and honor the connection between his or her mind, body, and spirit. She is also an interfaith minister licensed to perform weddings and loves designing creative, meaningful ceremonies to mark other important life passages as well. You can learn more about her programs and workshops and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter at