I've been thinking deeply about formality in spiritual practice. While this conversation can certainly apply to any spiritual or religious practice, I speak about it here in terms of my own path, specifically the practice of magic.
There is this idea about magic needing to be practiced in sacred spaces (at an altar, by casting a circle, etc.) AND in a very specific way, and I have often thought about this concept and how/why magic has become so formalized.
Admittedly, I'm triggered by formality. I have a rebelliousness that questions authority and hates dogma. It's been clear for a while now that I need to examine my relationship to ceremony + more formal spiritual practices, and I can certainly see how, for many, it makes the practice more potent. But I am much more drawn to the idea that magic happens in our everyday moments as we walk through life, and the concept that ALL spaces can be sacred without needing to make them such in a formal way (i.e. God is in everything). And I'm interested in stripping down magic, prayer and other spiritual practices into their most essential forms without needing all the bells and whistles.
Tehya Sky writes, "When we begin to see the altar is all around us—in the rocks, the magic of numbers, the miracle of other people, the sound of crunching leaves beneath our feet, our morning showers—all of life is again meaningful, and each moment carries within it the invitation home."
Where do we draw the line between what is magic and what is not? If you believe that the words we speak and the actions we take are all magic (which I am inclined to believe), then is everything we do magical? Is the magic that is performed in a highly structured, formalized environment more potent than everyday magic? I can see how it can be psychologically powerful. So perhaps what ultimately matters is the mindset of the practitioner - such that if it is powerful and meaningful to that person in that moment, that is the most important thing? And whatever strengthens your BELIEF about what works/what doesn't is key?
Gosh, I could take this in so many directions - the power of groupwork, using symbolism and other ceremonial elements, trance states, the necessity of doing things "just so," etc...and I'm obviously not the first person to wonder about these things.
Although I roughly follow a pagan path, it's really my own version because I hate dogma and being told what to do. However, it's prevented me from taking my practice deeper because I am turned off by formality in the way some teachers and communities practice. This has been the case for me in all spiritual/religious paths I have explored.
As I play around with my discomfort, I sense it's probably wise to explore all levels of formality in spiritual practice. I'm just not totally sure how to do this (yet).
However, I'm not totally informal with my practice. I sit at my altar nightly and do spiritual work. I understand that entering that space and time in my day flips a switch in my brain - for example, the lighting of candles and incense alters me psychologically and provides spiritual boundaries to work in. I also have regular pratices around new and full moons, the wheel of the year, etc. I'm just playing around with the level of formality here that is NECESSARY to do the work.
So, I'm wondering what others think. Is your spiritual practice formal, informal, or something in between? I feel that most people I've spoken to who share similar spiritual beliefs just LOVE ceremony, and I've felt out of place in this regard. Ultimately, I believe that whatever works for you, works! But I am still curious to hear people's viewpoints on this because I do have a sneaking suspicion that it's holding me back from deepening my practice.