By Barbara Biziou
St. Martin Press, 176 pp.Like others, Barbara Biziou considers modern families to be teetering on the precipice of crisis, if they haven't already fallen over the edge. "Modernlife is moving too fast," she says. So, she's cooked up some rituals to slowlife down a bit, and assembled them in an easy-to-use format in her newbook, "The Joy of Family Rituals."
"Everyone has such tight schedules that unless you make room for structuredfamily rituals," says Biziou, "you can go for weeks, or months, withouttruly connecting to one another." In her cookbook-style guide to nourishingthe family soul, she offers rituals that make ordinary events like baths ormeals less mundane, restore meaning to life passages like parenthood oradoption, and commemorate special occasions.
The book will have a familiar ring to readers of her recent bestseller, "Joyof Ritual," in which this guru of ceremony tells us how to ritualize evenour morning sips of coffee and make the everyday sacred. Her new tome, though, is singly focused on the family, offering advice on tools of thetrade and counseling ritualists-in-training to stock their ceremonialpantries with items that read like a New Age pilgrim's shopping list. Toequip a household for oncoming ceremonies, you'll need candles, says Biziou,"to welcome the Spirit and to symbolize a connection with inner light."You'll also need colors--found in fabric scraps, flowers, or any object youchoose--to evoke feeling. (If you're after healing or harmony, go for green.If you're craving clarity, choose turquoise.) Add some scents and sounds,food and drink, objects and artifacts, and images or figurines of animals.Then, you're ready to rumble with Biziou's New Age take on rituals that, forthe most part, have their roots in ancient practice.
I flipped through the pages of "Family Rituals" trying to find one that myfamily could get through with a straight face. Irealized that we already practiced quite a few: eating meals together,telling stories at bedtime, celebrating holidays with traditions handed downthrough generations, among others. Then, a puberty ritual caught my eye, andI read on, trying to imagine whether I could strip the bike helmet off my13-year-old nephew long enough to engage him in a rite of passage.
According to the book, his father or uncle would escort him into the woodswith sleeping bag and tent, then leave him there. This part sounded okay: wehad camped together, and a solo wilderness experience would be great for him--even if his adult relatives were ensconced in a nearby tent spying onhim for safety.
Then things got a little iffy.
Inside the tent, I read, my husband or brother-in-law would need to light a24-hour candle to mark the innocence of childhood, pour some sage oil intowater, and sprinkle it around to purify the area. Then he would usher mynephew inside, leaving him to burn the candle all night (to signify his lastday as a child, says Biziou) and contemplate his personal"power animal"--a creature, say, "with the leadership qualities of a lion"or the "broad perspective of an eagle." In the morning, he would emerge from his tent and bring the still-burning candle to a circle of his elders. We'dall be sitting around an altar strewn with a silver and gold candle (torepresent the dual forces of masculinity and femininity), a daffodil(representing a new stage in life), and a geranium (for future happiness andprotection). A ceremony would ensue and the whole thing would end with afeast.
The feast, I could imagine us handling with ease. As for the rest, I wasdeeply skeptical. There was the basic fear of my nephew and his tent goingup in flames from the 24-hour candle. And, it all sounded far too contrivedto earn the whole-hearted involvement that a ritual deserves. The sage oil,the symbolic candles, and animal powers were these really things that couldground a 13-year-old boy in thoughts about passages? Or, would they send himinto one of the laughing fits that so often seize him and his newlyteen-aged friends? Surely, these ingredients were all wrong for us. But werethey right for anyone?
Maybe. Then again, maybe not. But Biziou's point is not to prescriberituals; it's simply to inspire them. So, if you're truly planning to usethis guide, you should approach it the same way a master chef approaches acookbook: alter each recipe to suit your own tastes. Better yet, read thebook to whet your appetite, then put it aside and concoct your ownparticular ritual brews for your family. And one small word of advice: thinkfeast.