Traditions and customs function like time capsules, a snapshot of the cultural narrative. These tools serve several essential functions in our lives. See how you can use them to make life more meaningful.
The Purpose of Traditions
Your Traditions or customs are practices that communicate a message. These are markers and time capsules of information. 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 documented them. Many ancient stories, customs, and rituals existed for eons in the oral tradition long before documented.
Many of these customs contain apparent or surface meaning and intrinsic or hidden knowledge. The intent, content, and context are all critical elements. There are several kinds of traditions, including 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 cultural snapshot and time capsule
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.
Exploring Your Traditions Part One
Sit down for a minute and write a list of essential routines and customs. 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 is, follow the link and get started. It’s an inexpensive and valuable tool for any level of spiritual explorer.
For example, let’s say 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 because all the major religions borrow their traditions, customs, stories, rituals, which are typologies 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 hiding in this way.
All the forms of seated and moving meditation are processes that come to us because of being safeguarded 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.
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 much a part of the Christmas celebration as Santa Claus. Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as half-goat, half-demon. During the Christmas season, he punishes children who have misbehaved, which contrasts 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.
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.
Traditions Act 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, 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.
Tradition As A Cultural Snapshot or Time Capsule
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.
Learning how to take a cultural snapshot is a matter of focusing on one aspect of the custom. Break it down by parts. 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.
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 the key elements. This exercise will help you see how everything links. Many people find they 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 you go to a religious service. So, break it down to personal and family traditions. Weekly meeting. After a religious service.
When I think about it, 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.
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 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 some tradition. So, it is crucial to keep the original pattern intact. Above all, many of these tools stand up to the rigorous tests of science. They are repeatable experiential phenomena. And, higher states of awareness also have unique, measurable physiological signatures. They differ from the primary forms of consciousness, waking, sleeping, and dreaming.
These processes do not require belief in a religion. All you need to do is follow the process. Most of the tools that focus on self-development come from Eastern traditions. So, if the practice is both constant in its form across different cultures, it is worthy of investigation. If the intent is to develop potential, it is worthy of study. An example of this type of process would be the Shamanic Journey. We find similar methods around the globe. So, this is considered a universal approach.
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 Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
The Bad and the Ugly Parts of Tradition
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.
The problem is, 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 constructs 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.
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 everything from 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.
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.
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.
Now we look at the intent, purpose, context, and consistency of our weekly meeting for 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 talk about what we did as a family what we want 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 decide to make the breakfast meeting the priority 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