Traditions and customs function like a time capsule. They are a snapshot of the cultural narrative. These tools serve several important functions in our lives. See how you can use them to make life more meaningful.
The Purpose of Traditions
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 obvious or surface meaning and intrinsic or hidden knowledge. The intent, content, and context are all important 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 important 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 customs can become invisible. Customs or routines have a range of importance. When we are mindful of our thoughts and behaviors, we are more likely to recognize them.
Exploring Your Traditions Part One
Sit down for a minute and write a list of important 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. This is 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 safeguard the message. The word tradition comes from the Latin ‘tradere’ to transmit, hand over, and give for safekeeping. Customs are a way to 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 important knowledge into rituals, stories, and symbols. 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. This is because all the major religions borrow their traditions, customs, stories, rituals, and symbols from earlier systems. The earlier systems are the ones that originated the 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 major 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. This is 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. This 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 create community when they have the same traumatic experience. Survivors of plane crashes, wars, or even abuse bond because of the 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 keep track of the major 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.
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 custom. What one needs to do is to determine the elements of the custom. You break down the custom into a story’s elements, a ritual, and symbols. Then, we can derive the purpose and intent of custom. 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 parts. If you research a story, break down the story’s parts 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 find 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 your own traditions and customs. If not, please take the time to do so. Then, break down your customs into the key parts. This exercise will help you see how these elements link and integrate your life. Many people find they have the same elements showing up 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 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 disobedient 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 two different stories are interwoven 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. This is a principle 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. The investigation of perception, consciousness, and awareness is at the heart of many cultures. This investigation produced insight and tools that help us alter and change consciousness.
Above all, many of these tools stand up to the test of science. They are repeatable experiential phenomena. And, higher states of awareness also have unique, measurable physiological signatures. They differ from the basic states 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 tool 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 investigation. An example of this type of process would be the Shamanic Journey. We find similar processes around the globe. So, this is considered a universal process.
Religions have adopted or appropriated some of these ancient processes. However, if the religion 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. This means it is easy to fall prey to those things which are habit-forming and unhealthy. Many things that are addictive cause 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 boundaries of thinking and belief. Religious belief systems are analogous constructs of mythology, presenting arguments supporting boundaries of thought, belief, and values.
Not all religions are equal. Some religions have more harmful programming and greater boundaries than others. For example, Taoism and Paganism have the least amount of programming and the fewest boundaries. These systems allow you to explore and develop your path.
Whereas the extremist sects of Christianity and Islam have the greatest number of boundaries. They also contain the greatest number 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 true 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. In some cultures, you are required to expose yourself to self-hypnosis and group hypnosis programming or face harsh consequences. You must demonstrate your allegiance by attending religious services to reinforce the 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 own 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 a process to create customers. Inconsistency is another major problem with the most popular organized religions. In one place, it talks about love and, in another, justification discrimination of all kinds and violence including 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 traditions 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. This 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. This 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 awareness, and these tools exist. We call these tools spiritual technologies.
Everyone has their own 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 research of consciousness and human potential was the primary purpose of many ancient traditions. The investigation of awareness is something many ancient cultures thought was important, 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 approach 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. This is the most important part. This is the good part.
The only time religion comes up seems to be a dividing issue. So, I decide to make the breakfast meeting the priority rather than be pressured by the culture to take part in a religious service that is more entertainment-oriented than anything else.
The purpose of traditions is to link us to our unique heritage. Your traditions are like cultural DNA.
Interested in spiritual exploration? Check out the blended learning process at the core of our teaching process. It reflects what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey (3). Our learning options include both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions. Please consider donating and supporting our mission. This helps others learn the knowledge for developing their own path.
(1) Krampus, Wikipedia
(2) Adhan, Wikipedia
(3) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia