Traditions and customs function like time capsules, a snapshot of the cultural narrative. The value of storytelling and cultural traditions is largely overlooked in the modern age, but these tools serve several essential functions in our lives. See how you can use them to make life more meaningful.
The Culture Snapshot
Customs and cultural practices communicate a message. These are markers and time capsules of information. In some ways, our traditions remain a legacy for future generations. It is a picture of a point in time.
Many of the best-known customs started as a story or an oral tradition. It wasn’t until forms of written language became a part of a culture that they documented them. Many ancient stories, customs, and rituals existed for eons in the oral tradition long before documented. The most popular stories are in the sacred texts of religion.
Many of these customs contain superficial meaning. But many of the symbols of these stories have intrinsic or hidden knowledge. The intent, content, and context are all critical elements of these stories. You divide traditions into several categories: personal, family, community, society, cultural, spiritual, and religious.
The purpose of your traditions are to;
- Preserve and safeguard essential rituals and practices
- Create context, connection, and continuity
- Are important reminders about past events
- Act as a culture snapshot and time capsule
The Value of Storytelling
Sometimes we create customs out of routine. Routines are habitual behaviors, and so traditions can become invisible. Customs or rituals have a range of importance. When we are mindful of our thoughts and actions, we are more likely to recognize them.
Sometimes the way someone delivers the story holds as much meaning as the content of the tale. The art of storytelling became a staple of religious orders. But, it all started with stories around a campfire. The intrinsic value of storytelling is its use as a mnemonic memory device. The best tales are memorable, and you can attach almost anything to the narrative.
Storytelling and Cultural Traditions
The context of tradition is also important. Many of the processes of spiritual exploration come from an ancient spiritual legacy. So, it is crucial to keep the original pattern intact.
Religions have adopted or appropriated some of these ancient processes. However, if the system keeps the processes intact, it serves to preserve and safeguard the tradition. The social artistry of the storyteller is essential to the message because how it is delivered can be as important as the content. Storytelling and cultural traditions go hand-in-hand. The value of the story is often in the way it is delivered. So, the orator’s skill in storytelling and the location also play an essential part in the value of storytelling.
Exploring Your Traditions Part One
Sit down for a minute and write a list of essential routines and customs. Holidays and special events are often sources of family tradition. After you make a list, leave room to add others. Once you start investigating, other personal and family rituals will surface.
After you develop your list, start to unwrap the content. An excellent way to start is with the storytelling and cultural traditions you recall from childhood. The formative years are the ground when many legacies take place.
Once you start, you’ll find you have more than you realize. For instance, taking part in a religious service on Saturday or Sunday is customary. It is a pattern of behavior that supports a specific cultural narrative.
Keep this list in your spiritual journal. If you don’t have one, then use this list to get you started. If you don’t know what a spiritual journal or book of shadows is, follow the link and get started. It’s an inexpensive and valuable tool for any level of spiritual explorer.
For example, it is a personal and family tradition to meet every week for breakfast after attending a religious service. See, that’s easy.
Preserve and Safeguard Cultural Heritage
The first purpose of tradition or custom is to communicate and safeguard a message or concept. The word tradition comes from the Latin’ tradere’ to transmit, “to hand over, and give for safekeeping.” Customs are patterns that protect the integrity of knowledge. It’s a way of ensuring the original intent and meaning. To do this, you incorporate symbols, stories, and rituals.
Many systems encode their most crucial knowledge into stories and legends. Customs can also be a way of coding “several levels of understanding” in one vehicle. Almost every religious symbol in use today has several layers of meaning. All the major religions borrow their traditions from earlier systems. It is these ancient cultures that created the original intrinsic meaning.
The older the tradition of the symbolism, the more historical authority and ritualistic power the symbol has. Then, the new religion adds layers of understanding to the public version. Only those in the most trusted levels learn about the hidden meaning. Some believe that the knowledge of Hermetics is in the way the teacher transmits the information. The culture snapshot only captures part of the story.
All the seated and moving meditation forms are processes that come to us because people safeguarded the methods for centuries. All mantras and sutras in Indian meditation systems began as oral traditions—the Vedas date from 1000 to 1500 BCE. So, the mantras and sutras’ formulas are among the oldest historical records of this kind.
The Roman Empire grasped the value of storytelling and cultural tradition. It combined all of the popular parts of the mystery religions of the Medditrainan to create a “Universal Religion.” We know this creation as Christianity.
Traditions Create Context, Connection, and Continuity
Another principal purpose of your traditions is to create social context, connection, and continuity. The way a family celebrates a holiday is a good example. If you celebrate Christmas in a certain way, you pass this custom along to your children. It’s a ritual that creates family continuity and identity.
We see this in many cultures. In some parts of Europe, Krampus (1) is just as part of the Christmas celebration as Santa Claus. Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as half-goat, half-demon. He punishes children who have misbehaved during the Christmas season, contrasting with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts.
When the entire community uses Krampus as a focal point, it brings people together; it creates social continuity. All the parents tell the same story, so the children believe in the fairytale. This time capsule and culture snapshot serve the community.
Simple functions also create continuity. Gathering on a specific day or time for a family meal is a way of creating a community. People also make community when they have the same traumatic experience. Survivors of any trauma will bond because they share the same life event.
Our Traditions Remain as Important Reminders
Another primary purpose of your traditions is to act as a reminder. Today we have smartphones and automatic calendars. In times past, the value of storytelling and tradition served as calendar reminders. Many cultures use the moon cycles as a source of reminders that help them get ready for planting, harvesting, hunting, and fishing.
The Sun and planets’ cycles became another way to track significant events like the solstices and equinox. Our birthday is one of the important reminders that many cultures celebrate. The dominant religions use this strategy to remind their acolytes when to perform rituals in services. Many cultures use the 13-month moon calendar instead of the astrological signs of the stars.
For example, The Adhan (2) is the call to prayer, which they play on a loudspeaker in Islamic communities. They say or play this five times a day from a minaret or tall tower, summoning Muslims for obligatory prayer. It’s a reminder that you need to pray. They regard those who pray publically as more devout and thus increase their social standing.
How Tradition Becomes A Culture Snapshot
A historical custom is a picture taken in the past. It captures the intent of the event. What one needs to do is to determine the elements of the tradition to understand its intrinsic purposes. You do this by breaking down the custom into story elements, rituals, and symbols. Then, we can derive the purpose and intent. We can do this with the two examples above, the call to prayer in Islam and the story of Krampus.
To understand a culture snapshot, you break down the time capsule focusing on one aspect at a time. Breaking it down by parts reveals each symbol. Then research each of the individual elements. If you explore a story, break down the story’s details into their significant concepts. Then search for those same concepts in other stories. You’ll be surprised by what you find—the same with symbols or rituals. You will discover tradition acts as a time capsule. All you need to do is open it up.
Here the value of storytelling can have several layers. It may communicate personal, family, inter-family, and societal messages.
The story of Krampus is a good example. Start with the persona of the entity. The name Krampus is of German derivation, which means claw; he is a large Anthropomorphic (half-man) figure with horns and hair. Legend has it that this is the demonic force that appears at Christmas time along with Santa. The relationship mirrors God and Devil mythos. Both are working together to reward those who follow the right path and punish those who disobey.
Exploring Your Traditions Part Two
We hope you created a list of traditions and customs. If not, please take the time to do so. Then, break them down into key elements. This exercise will help you see how everything links, just like in the story with Krampus and Santa.
Many people have the same elemental components in personal, family, cultural, and societal customs. Hold on to your list for a while. We’ll take another look at it in a moment.
Remember our example in part one? We meet weekly as a personal and family tradition to eat breakfast after going to a religious service. So, break it down to personal and family traditions. Weekly meeting. After a religious service. It may have other elements, like the brother or sister who refuses to along to the religious gathering. So, it can contain several messages, such as rebellion from the family religious tradition. Or, the message could be the courage it takes to go against conditioned social events.
I realize not everyone goes to the religious service, but everyone comes for breakfast. So, the breakfast meeting is more important to most of the family. So, the value of these events is different for everyone involved. The culture snapshot of the same event will be different for everyone.
Identify The Intent and Purpose of Traditions
We can determine the intent and purpose with the two examples above, the call to prayer five times a day, and the story of Krampus.
The stories of Krampus and Santa Claus are an example of contrasts. The obedient children are getting rewards, and the disobedient are getting punishment. It’s a coherent message, with the primary focus on creating a more obedient household. In the custom, Krampus beats rebellious children with reeds and carries them away in a basket. That’s how you use the fear of superstition to drive behavior.
The call to prayer in Islam is a way of demanding obedience. It tells people when and how to pray. If you can control when and how someone does something, you can also program thinking and values. So, both the call to prayer and Krampus are similar. They are ways to make people obey.
This snapshot shows how we weave different stories into the cultural narrative. It is impossible to separate the call to prayer from the belief system—the same with Krampus. Once you can spot the tradition’s intent and purpose, it is easier to trace it. It’s a process of analytical comparison, a scientifically based comparative religious study system.
Context and Consistency
The context of tradition is also important. Many of the processes of spiritual exploration come from an ancient spiritual legacy. So, it is crucial to keep the original pattern intact.
Religions have adopted or appropriated some of these ancient processes. However, if the system keeps the processes intact, it serves to preserve and safeguard the tradition. Ancient traditions place equal importance on the delivery and the content. Storytelling and cultural traditions go hand-in-hand. The value of the story is often in the way it is delivered.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Not all traditions are good or healthy. So, once we dissect the content, we must decide whether to change or remove them. For example, let’s say your family of origin has a tradition of going to religious services. You can dissect the value of this type of meeting and decide to remove it from your practice. In some cultures, this isn’t easy to do. Freedom of choice does not include freedom from religion.
The Good & Ugly Parts of Our Traditions Remain
Any tradition or custom that promotes sectarianism is an unhealthy tradition. We are creatures of habit. We love patterns because we are habitual by nature. It means it is easy to fall prey to those things which are habit-forming and unhealthy. Many things which are addictive cause us harm.
Religion is, by definition, a belief system that is a closed set of boundaries. They design spiritual tools to go beyond the limits of thinking and belief. Religious belief systems are made from mythologies, presenting arguments supporting boundaries of thought, faith, and values.
Not all religions are equal. Some religions have more harmful programming and more significant boundaries than others. For example, Taoism and Paganism have the least amount of programming and the fewest limitations. These systems allow you to explore and develop your path. Our traditions define us and future generations, so organized religion starts the programming early in life.
Whereas the extremist sects of Christianity and Islam have the largest, most complex, and contradictory boundaries. They also contain the most significant amount of harmful programming, including the justification of ethnic, racial, and gender discrimination to genocide. It all depends on how emotionally invested you are in their propositions. The real purpose of traditions like these is to stifle freethinking and protect their cash flow.
The Abrahamic traditions have such a great social reach that they impact our culture whether you follow them or not. You must expose yourself to self-hypnosis and group hypnosis programming or face harsh consequences. You must demonstrate your allegiance by attending religious services to reinforce self-hypnosis.
Western organized religions create boundaries for good reasons. First, to legitimize the belief system by claiming a unique space. Second, to safeguard and propagate its interests as a tradition. These religions do not care about your development. They care about political power and cash flow.
Worst of all, some religions are not transmitters of any process for developing human potential. They are counterfeits, substituting mythology for processes of development to create customers. Inconsistency is another major problem with the most popular organized religions. In one place, it talks about love. Then in another, violence includes genocide and the persecution of people who do not believe in their God.
We also carry forward ugly family traditions, and these are the behaviors that leave scars in our souls. We can overcome these obstacles, but it takes tremendous courage and diligent inner work. Many children carry forward traumas that cause them to act out in destructive ways. So, we have the responsibility to correct these and stop the cycle of abuse. Our traditions remain as a legacy.
The Good Traditions
Good traditions and customs are easy to spot. They promote the health and welfare of everyone and the planet. These need not be elaborate or lengthy. Personal rituals are the glue that holds us together. They fulfill the grand purpose of traditions by linking us to our heritage.
For instance, set a reminder to study a foreign language for 30 minutes every day. It becomes a learning tradition with benefits. Learning a new language is good for your mind’s health, and it opens the door for you to communicate with someone from a different point of view. It does not involve adherence to harmful religious programming.
These types of good behaviors are worthy of leaving as a legacy. Our traditions remain long after things have passed.
Processes for Spiritual Exploration
The dimensions of time and space are not barriers to our consciousness. We do not exist between our ears. The real you, the person you talk to inside your head, have no limits. Our consciousness has a foundation of pure awareness, enabling us to access higher states of consciousness. All we need are the keys to open our understanding, and these tools exist. We call these tools spiritual technologies.
Everyone has their way of awakening their spiritual gifts sleeping in their DNA. Awakening is a process. When we open them, it sets our spiritual walk into motion. It opens our minds to new potentials.
The research of consciousness and learning to access these spiritual gifts was the central goal of many ancient cultures. The analysis of consciousness and human potential was the primary purpose of many ancient traditions. The investigation of awareness is something many ancient cultures thought was necessary, and we enjoy the benefits of generations of research. These early pioneers give us several tools for exploring consciousness.
We call the processes of these early explorers spiritual technologies. These processes stand up to the test of science; they are repeatable and produce unique physiological changes. These tools enable us to reach higher states of awareness that differ from waking, sleeping, and dreaming.
We use a blended learning model incorporating those processes which are safe and reliable. We are not the first to use this eclectic approach. For example, Gurdjieff’s strategy was to adopt techniques proven effective. The research of these early pioneers stands the test of time.
Exploratory Exercise Part Three
By this point, we hope you have a list of your own personal, family, cultural, and societal traditions. And you have also broken these down into single elements. Now we break open the time capsule to see what this custom is all about.
We look at the intent, purpose, context, and consistency of breakfast after the religious service. I notice that we do not talk about the religious service’s content.
The best part of this tradition is the conversation after breakfast. We mostly talked about what we did as a family what we wanted to do. It’s an essential part of creating traditions of your own.
The only time religion comes up seems to be a dividing issue. So, I decided to prioritize the breakfast meeting rather than the cultural pressure to participate in a religious service.
The purpose of our cultural rituals is to link us to our unique heritage. Your traditions are like cultural DNA.
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(1) Krampus, Wikipedia
(2) Adhan, Wikipedia
(3) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia