Integral Transformation: Part II – The Role of the Ritual Elder

It is only through a change in human consciousness
that the world will be transformed. The personal and
the planetary are connected.
– Robert L. Moore

During my graduate studies, I had the good fortune to study with Robert L. Moore, a professor of psychology, psychoanalysis, and spirituality at Chicago Theological Seminary. Moore, in his book, The Archetype of Initiation: Sacred Space, Ritual Process, and Personal Transformation builds upon the work of Victor Turner on the rites of passage involved in individual and social transformation by drawing upon his own experience as a Jungian analyst. (Click here to see my post on Turner).

Moore chooses to label the three elements that make up the process of ritual initiation as 1) submission, 2) containment, and 3) enactment. In this post I want to offer some of Moore’s comments on this process. I see them as vital to helping us understand how we can help facilitate personal and societal transformation.

The first of these elements, submission, involves the conscious decision on the part of a person to submit to the process the ritual or rite of passage is meant to invoke. However, as Moore notes, “Submission is not a popular value today.  Ever since the Enlightenment, when autonomy emerged as a central cultural value, submission has fallen on hard times” (p. 61).

The second element, containment, is for Moore a “special kind of space” in which “things can be said and felt…that will not be felt anywhere else” (p. 64).  The creation of this space, in Moore’s view, is the role of the ritual elder, a mature person who helps provide the containment vessel within which another person or group initiates into a new level of maturity.

It is important to note, as Moore does, that de-structuring without a container “gives you chaos.”  In fact, Moore goes on to add this ominous note, “I should say terror” (pp. 66-69).

Enactment is the ritual phase of “practicing.” It is the period in which the person or group can “try on” new ways of being. This may include experimenting with new images of self and others, and new worldviews. This is the advantage of liminal space, according to Moore. It lets the initiate “try on all sorts of new things in a playful mode.” During this period, a person or group can experiment with new ways of thinking and new behaviors. As  Moore explains:

You have loosened up the surface and controls of your ego. You have begun to sit a little looser with all these ideas you have had about yourself. You really thought you were one thing, but now you realize, “Wow, that may not be true at all!” So you sit a little looser to it, and then you try on other possible personas and self-images: images of parents, images of women and men, images of sex, and images of world, and so forth. You do not have to commit to any of them, for no external authority is pressing upon you. It has to feel right to you (p. 67).

Referring to the ancient symbol of the snake, Moore (2001) summarizes this process by saying that enactment is the period within which we shed our old skin and develop a new one (p. 69).

In a sense, writing the entries for this blog feels much like engaging in the ritual process of transformation for me. It allows me to engage the ritual elders I encounter in the books I ponder and write about here. I am grateful to the many authors who have and are helping me to journey through the rite of passage that is bringing me more and more toward being a planetary citizen.

Moore, R. (2001) M. J. Havlick, Jr. (Ed.) The archetype of initiation: Sacred space, ritual process, and personal transformation.  Bloomington, IN: Xlibris

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