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. "Modern life is moving too fast," she says. So, she's cooked up some rituals to slow life down a bit, and assembled them in an easy-to-use format in her new book, "The Joy of Family Rituals."
"Everyone has such tight schedules that unless you make room for structured family rituals," says Biziou, "you can go for weeks, or months, without truly connecting to one another." In her cookbook-style guide to nourishing the family soul, she offers rituals that make ordinary events like baths or meals less mundane, restore meaning to life passages like parenthood or adoption, and commemorate special occasions.
The book will have a familiar ring to readers of her recent bestseller, "Joy of Ritual," in which this guru of ceremony tells us how to ritualize even our morning sips of coffee and make the everyday sacred. Her new tome, though, is singly focused on the family, offering advice on tools of the trade and counseling ritualists-in-training to stock their ceremonial pantries with items that read like a New Age pilgrim's shopping list. To equip 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 you choose--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, for the most part, have their roots in ancient practice.
I flipped through the pages of "Family Rituals" trying to find one that my family could get through with a straight face. I realized that we already practiced quite a few: eating meals together, telling stories at bedtime, celebrating holidays with traditions handed down through generations, among others. Then, a puberty ritual caught my eye, and I read on, trying to imagine whether I could strip the bike helmet off my 13-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 woods with sleeping bag and tent, then leave him there. This part sounded okay: we had camped together, and a solo wilderness experience would be great for him--even if his adult relatives were ensconced in a nearby tent spying on him for safety.
Then things got a little iffy.
Inside the tent, I read, my husband or brother-in-law would need to light a 24-hour candle to mark the innocence of childhood, pour some sage oil into water, and sprinkle it around to purify the area. Then he would usher my nephew inside, leaving him to burn the candle all night (to signify his last day 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'd all be sitting around an altar strewn with a silver and gold candle (to represent the dual forces of masculinity and femininity), a daffodil (representing a new stage in life), and a geranium (for future happiness and protection). A ceremony would ensue and the whole thing would end with a feast.
The feast, I could imagine us handling with ease. As for the rest, I was deeply skeptical. There was the basic fear of my nephew and his tent going up in flames from the 24-hour candle. And, it all sounded far too contrived to earn the whole-hearted involvement that a ritual deserves. The sage oil, the symbolic candles, and animal powers were these really things that could ground a 13-year-old boy in thoughts about passages? Or, would they send him into one of the laughing fits that so often seize him and his newly teen-aged friends? Surely, these ingredients were all wrong for us. But were they right for anyone?
Maybe. Then again, maybe not. But Biziou's point is not to prescribe rituals; it's simply to inspire them. So, if you're truly planning to use this guide, you should approach it the same way a master chef approaches a cookbook: alter each recipe to suit your own tastes. Better yet, read the book to whet your appetite, then put it aside and concoct your own particular ritual brews for your family. And one small word of advice: think feast.