Vala Publishing Cooperative Ltd., 2015
Reviewed by Hilary Norton
William Ayot writes about a journey of the soul that he himself has travelled. This is a journey from an unhappy childhood and adolescence, through a variety of difficult circumstances to places where he has faced his wounds and found healing and wholeness particularly through ritual.
The personal experiences described in this book make hard reading and I was almost inclined to put the book down. Very early on, though, it is clear that this is a precious story of transformation and healing.
As he writes about the power of ritual he uses some of the experiences he has had himself to illustrate the essential value of having ritual in our lives, especially as a tool for healing.
Fortunately for him William met wise adults who restored his battered trust in humanity. In the theatre he discovered a magic in the drama and a release of emotion. He made contacts and friends (like Mark Rylance who provides a foreword) who supported him in developing and becoming a teacher in the way of ritual. His own learning and growth shines through his writing. He quotes such teachers as Robert Bly, Joseph Campbell, James Roose-Evans, David Abram and many others who have had an influence on him. He has absorbed teachings from many medicine teachers and shamans and has also undergone his own series of initiations, not least some at Eric Maddern’s Cae Mabon in Snowdonia, known to many GreenSpirits.
William defines ritual as activities that bring about a change: “symbolic actions through which we can give our soul or psyche an important message”. He says that from ritual we can receive clear and potent messages; have a sense of belonging, but most importantly receive the gift of connection with Nature, with the other-than-human. Ritual can put us in direct connection with the mysterious, the numinous, the Other.
William shares with us experiences of ritual which contain the recurring elements of our lives; rituals that help us to get back into kilter with the world when things have gone wrong; and rituals of atonement and growth.
He offers thoughts about rituals taking place in “an empty space that invites the drama into being” explaining that the most important elements are those which add the mystery and magic of a place of threshold. I particularly liked what he writes about a shift happening in a ritual as a sudden “download” or and a slow discovery bring one back into alignment, and he has some interesting ideas about using a “decoy” as a representative of the soul.
He helps us to understand the mechanism of ritual, offering thoughts about the paraphernalia, smudging, the people involved (perhaps as mediators or witnesses), and the ritual spaces we use. He describes the different stages of the rituals from setting intentions, through preparation, invocation, action to closure.
I really like his description of one of the most meaningful rituals for him being making small offerings as a simple expression of gratitude for the ordinary things of life like food, a beautiful morning or a smile from a stranger all of which give him a daily sense of connection.
This book covers examples of rites of passage and initiation which feature all too little in our modern lives. He reflects that we have left our children to make up their own initiation ceremonies and we in the West have largely failed to address the need for rites of passage so many of our adults are unsure of themselves until they’re initiated through childbirth, sickness and ageing.
He uses Danny Boyle directing the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics as an example of one in a bardic role; achieving a triumph because of the adherence to the unwritten rules of ritual: holding intention, allowing for the spontaneous, paying attention to the detail, creating a magical narrative structure and holding viewers spellbound. This provided the audience with moments of true ritual.
This is not a book giving examples of seasonal herbs and recipes for people who want to have regular seasonal rituals to celebrate the Solstices and Equinoxes. This is a book for people who want to create ritual to heal and support themselves and people in their communities in moving away from detachment and alienation to realignment with the world around and with the “Other”. Ritual has the power to help people re-discover themselves, and to go connect more deeply with the numinous.
As William Ayot says: If you haven’t fallen in love with your own soul how can you possibly fall in love with another.