Unpublished essay where I observed a women circle ritual from my undergraduate psychology and anthropology university studies. I share my essays to track my growth and evolution through my research process and writing but also to inspire other academics at different stages of the journey. I have currently completed my Bachelor of Arts double majoring in psych and social anthropology and am currently working on my Masters of Arts Social Anthropology.
Essay submitted: 15/01/2022
The ritual that I observed was a new moon cacao ceremony. I came across this ceremony on Facebook. The purpose of the ceremony was to celebrate the first new moon of 2022. The advertising of this ceremony, was stated that we would be using the new moon energy to release energy from 2021 and to connect in with our spirit guides via cacao and meditation to set our intentions for 2022. This cacao ceremony was also marketed as a womans goddess circle with limited tickets available to 15 women only.
The ceremony was being held at a private hall up on a hill in Christchurch. It was a beautiful summer evening and on arrival to the hall I was greeted by a group of women waiting outside the hall. We had already been advised prior to the event via email that we would need to wait outside whilst she cleared the energy from the hired space and set the intention for the ceremony. The other woman who were already waiting outside upon my arrival were very friendly and inviting a lot seemed to already know each other and having sat and attended a ceremony together before. The air was filled with excitement and nerves, it's undoubtable that's something exciting was about to happen, everyone seemed upbeat and excited.
My first reflection of my own observation was that the woman attending were not what I had in mind, I didn't even know I had already stereotyped the attendees of the ceremony before arriving but much to my surprise there was a diverse group of women. The woman ranged in age, ethnicity and seemed like everyday woman like myself not the vision of barefoot witches which is what I had pre-visioned.
The host greeted us outside the ceremony and all the woman began to line up. Each woman was greeted with a long embrace and welcomed inside. All of a sudden, I could feel an overwhelm of emotions in my body, as I approached the front of the line, I was also greeted with a long embrace and then I was advised to go inside and choose any spot that I intuitevly felt called too
As I entered the hall there were no lights on, just candles burning in a large circle on the floor in the middle of the hall. Around the candles were an arrangement of tarot and oracle cards, crystals, and flower petals all strategically and beautifully placed to form a circle. Around this was 16 yoga mats that all had cushions and blankets. I could smell an array of smells like incense and sage, and softly in the background played soft mellow meditation music.
I chose my space and eagerly waited for the ceremony to begin. Once everybody was seated and comfortable the host welcomed us here. She ran through an agenda first explaining how the evening would go. It started by explaining to us the moon phase that we were currently in, the new moon in Gemini and the qualities and power astrologically this represented. She then explained that tonight we would be releasing all the old energy from 2021 using ceremonial cacao to connect in with our spirit guides during a 20-minute unguided meditation followed by some time to journal and set our intentions for the new year and then space to share if we choose too but there was no obligation.
We then were all invited to light a candle, speak our name into the circle and one intention we had for the evening and to place our candle into the circle to connect us all in sisterhood. An array of words were spoken into the circle and this ice breaker lightened my nervous energy.
After this the host explained to us that we would be consuming a small cup of pure ceremonial cacao, she warned us that the taste was very bitter, but it was a heart opening plant medicine that would help us to connect in deeper in our meditation and receive clarity. She told us the ceremonial cacao we were using that evening was imported directly from Peru and explained the beautiful and intentional rituals the farmers undertook whilst growing and harvesting the cacao. The farmers sing and pray to the essence of the plant, “goddess mama cacao” whilst working with it. She then spoke about all the nutrients and antidepressant properties cacao had. Physically the plant helps to pump blood faster through your heart but on a spiritual level the plant has been used for years in celebration and opening the heart and connecting to spirit guides but also community.
After drinking our cacao, we got cozy on our yoga mats. My heart did begin to race a little and a sense of comfort washed over me. As the intense meditation music played, which was strategically picked for this journey to provoke emotions, I was overwhelmed again by emotions, I didn’t see any spirit guides as such, but thoughts came to me of past things I thought were resolved and I felt an urge to cry. At the end of the meditation time the host began to welcome us back into the room with more lighthearted and mellow meditation sounds and invited us if we felt called too, to stand up and move to help shift the energy out. I was here for the full experience, so I decided to stand up and sway gently even though it felt way out of my comfort zone. After a few minutes the whole group was up and moving, it felt free, empowering and liberating, it truly felt like a community.
After this we were given some time to pick up some tarot cards and journal about anything that came up for us during our meditation and then an offer for an open circle to share. As each women shared, it became apparent of the deep trust that was in the room, some shared deep meditations where they had seen spirit guides or loved ones passed over, others like me had just thought about unresolved issues and some had intense visualizations to the future, there was lots of laughter and tears. At the end everyone held hands and the ceremony was closed off by everyone speaking an intention into the room for the year ahead.
Grimes states that ritual is meaningful, and usually it’s the enactment of traditional but can be invented with self-generated ritual or a self-created ceremony (Grimes, 1992, pg. 2) and in my observation this is what the cacao ceremony had been, there was some Pagan, Shamanic ties but overall, it was a mix of different rituals from other religions to create something of its own.
Rites of passage are often quite complicated and can have a variety of emphasizes within them (Davies, 1994, Pg 6). I also believe from my observation that each particular part of the rite of passage also comes down to the individual experience. When breaking down the rites of passage into the three stages it was easy to reflect back on my observation but also my physical participation to see the three stages of the rites of passage, but again this is reflective from the experience I had and from my lens, another participant from the ceremony may have a completely different experience and thus see the rite of passage and phases slightly different.
(Bowie, 2006, Pg 139) First stage of the rites of passage: pre-liminal is the separation from the previous state, place, time or status. There could be a few pre-liminal states associated with this ceremony I thought when I reflected back on my observation. The first being the separation of the new moon and the new year, separation of who you were in 2021 and transitioning to who you will be in 2022, or the energy, status or identity of self.
There is also the pre-liminal stage of self before the ceremony, and the separation of identity, on arrival you are welcomed into the ceremony, women's circle and begin to leave who you were upon arrival or anything prior to that moment, stresses of the day, family obligations, this rite of passage begins the transition into sisterhood, connection but also the passage to your end transformation.
The second stage of the rites of passage: Liminal is the middle, which is neither one thing nor the other (Bowie, 2006, Pg 139). I reflect this to the time in which the cacao is consumed, here you begin a journey where you are not one thing or another but in the middle stage of the ritual, the ceremony, here is where the help of supernatural powers, spirit guides, or the essence of goddess mama cacao is invoked, asking for safe passage, guidance and clarity during this transition (Davies, 1994, Pg 1). The meditative stage of the ceremony, under the influence of the cacao is the transition from what you were into the passage of what you will be. I found this in my thoughts of things I had yet to release that were deep down bothering me.
The third and final stage of the rites of passage: post-liminal is the integration but in a transformed condition. Reflecting back to the experience this stage was as we were invited to move, reintegration back into the body out of the mediative state to ground back into the present and then the next part of this stage in reflection to the ceremony was the journaling, acknowledgment of the experience and transition of self and identity, finally the final part of integration is when the ceremony was closed off and the transition complete.
Earlier I mentioned the diverse group of women who attended the ceremony, this was where I first noticed communitas, even upon arrival before formal welcoming into the ceremony there was a resonance between all the attendees, unobstructed by sociocultural divisions of status, reputation, and other niches (Turner, 2022, Pg 7.) This again when everyone began to share their experience, there was a deep trust that was felt in the room and just a space of connection.
There are numerous definitions of ritual but nearly all of them emphasize repatition, formality, symbols and the capacity to intensify bonds within a community (Myers & Mono, 2022, Pg 1) in this case this ritual was the rite of passage into the sisterhood community and into the new year.
There were many symbols or symbolic actions I observed within the ceremony, the first being the embrace at the beginning of the ceremony, then again when we all lit a candle and spoke our name into the circle, this symbolized the beginning of the ceremony and ritual. Other symbols associated with this ritual was the cacao, crystals, tarot cards and also the lack of direct lighting and the use of candles, all helped to set the scene and into a meditative state, I believe the low lighting also helped to create that safety feeling, it feels less vulnerable when you are not seen as brightly in my own opinion. Rituals have a very important role in healing (Bowie, 2006, Pg. 138) and the low lighting accompanied the healing transition.
This ceremony would fall under the New-Age spirituality religion bracket, neo shamanism where western culture is merging a range of shaman rituals to create something new, I have this observation simply because there was a range of rituals or actions within this one ritual: Cacao, New moon, Meditation, Spirit guides, Tarot Cards and Crystals, it had a very new age feel to it and no real background or intention to this specific ceremony.
Rituals are dramtic and can be seen as performances (Bowie, 2006, Pg 138) and I think also the limited spaces of tickets that were sold for this event really heightened that sense of drama being apart of something exclusive, a sacred community, being apart of the liminaity together, the transformation that noone else knows because they weren’t apart of the ritual.
The music also played a huge part in the ceremony and creating the ritual, each song symbolised a different part of the journey, a new emotion to bring forward. Upon enetering the ceremony we were welcomed with soft mediation music but as we drunk cacao and entered the meditation to greet spirit animals the music changed, it became louder, more aggressive, more confronting and then softened again when the meditation was ending.
New age spirituality is very popular in western societies where we see more traditional religions but a more lack of community with our modern and fast paced industrialized lives. Unlike eastern societies where a lot of these rituals come from there is a real lack of belonging to a community, on a spiritual connection I believe and I think this is what the participants of this ceremony were mainly aiming to achieve, that sense of belong, connection, sisterhood. Participants in a religious ritual are able to express group solidarity and loyalty (Myers & Mono, 2022, Pg 7) and this is reflected by the vulnerability and connection created by the ceremony.
Ritual is of crucial importance to all human societies and particpating in this ceremony and observing untraditional ritual and process of communitas and liminaity in a modern western setting was fascinating.
Bowie, F. (2006). Ritual Theory, Rites of Passage, and Ritual Violence. Anthropology of Religion: An introduction. 138-173.
Davies, D. (1994). Introduction: Raising the Issues. Rites of Passage. 1-9.
Grimes, R, L. (1992). Reinventing Ritual. Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 75(1), 21-41.
Myers, J., & Mono, P. (2010). Ritual. Magic, Witchcraft and Religion: A reader in the Anthropology of religion. 83-86.
Turner, T. (2022). Contemporary Cultural Performance: An Introduction. Massey Week 4 Reading materials. 1-38.