Element of Ritual: Disorientation

Before the ritual process can bring people to a new path in life, it must ensure that they cannot find their way back onto their old paths. Like Hansel and Gretel in the forest, ritual participants may attempt to lay breadcrumbs to undermine the process of transformation, to backtrack into familiar territory. In response, designers of ritual experiences must send forth agents of disorientation to consume, like a flock of hungry birds, every little landmark that points the way back home.

As ritual participants are separated from familiar territory, their sense of direction in time and space falls apart. Deprived of the orienting cues that define the dimensions of their familiar identities, they lose track of their place in the larger scheme of things.

What happens to people who go through ritual transformations isn’t as simple as just becoming lost, however. Ritual participants undergo a fundamental shift in their experience of the nature of space and time, so that these basic dimensions become fluid and subjective, without clear units of measurement of the sort that would be found outside ritual context.

Of course, in an externally objective sense, the physical reality of time and space retain their characteristics in the places where rituals occur. The perception of time and space is what changes, so that ritual participants focus on what happens in the present moment, and pay attention to events that take place within the ritual’s liminal sphere, rather than thinking about what is happening elsewhere.

This alternative, unquantified sense of reality allows ritual participants to perceive their surroundings in new ways, drawing connections between the things they encounter in a manner that doesn’t follow the linear structure of life outside of ritual. So, the disorientation inherent in the ritual process sets the stage for creative visions that provide the foundation for innovations that extend far beyond the ritual context.