What is Kheprian Ritual?
In 1996, I started something which has grown into what can only be described now as a spiritual path. Over time, it developed into House Kheperu, and House Kheperu itself spawned the Kheprian system and many Kheprian-inspired systems, such as the Kherete Path. A significant part of House Kheperu’s yearly practice involves regular rituals. But I think many people develop misconceptions about what these rites and rituals are, simply based on the term “ritual.” Specifically, I think it’s important to note that our rituals are not precisely religious in nature. I define religious ritual as a rite or ceremony devoted to worship of a God or gods. And gods really don’t play a part in Kheprian ritual. Our rites are more about community. I designed them very intentionally to be that way.
It’s no secret that religious studies played a role in my undergraduate work. It was during classes with Dr. Joseph Kelley and Paul Nietupski that the seeds of Kheprian ritual as it is performed today were sown. Drawing upon the works of anthropologist Victor Turner and mythologist Joseph Campbell (not to mention a healthy dose of the theories of Carl Jung), I designed a ritual system that is a-religious, in the sense that it is not focused on the worship of any God or gods. Instead, Kheprian rituals, and especially our seasonal rites, are expressions of community and identity. They are celebrations of the group and the people that make up the group, and they serve to reaffirm why we choose to call ourselves a group in the first place.
Reading Victor Turner’s work on Rites of Passage was the main source of inspiration for me: his fundamental premise is that ritual is a psycho-social function of human groups which fulfills necessary needs for affirming identity and community. Boldly stated, ritual is any set of formalized actions which celebrate and contextualize peak experiences of individuals in relation to their their community, such as the passage from childhood into the adulthood, the turning from one year to the next, or the binding of individuals into a familial bond.
There are loads of secular rituals celebrated throughout the US, and most people never think of them as rituals because they lack any overt religious trappings. But consider the rite of intoxication on one’s 21st birthday in the States, or throwing the first pitch across home plate at a baseball game. One is a coming of age ritual, the other is a seasonal rite celebrating the beginning of the baseball year. Tradition, symbol, and even a certain amount of solemnity, are attributed to these and other secular rites (though the solemnity rapidly deteriorates to Dionysian revels with the 21st birthday rite). There is often a certain way of doing things, and the rite becomes a communal expression of what binds that group or society together in shared values and experiences.
For Kheprian ritual (and by extension, the rites and rituals I designed for the Sanguinarium and the greater vampire community in the early 2000s), there was no desire and no need for us to gather together to mark shared worship of an externalized divine being – our rituals are not like going to Church in that sense. Our rites are focused on our sense of community — what defines us as a group and why we choose to be a group in the first place. In this respect, it was necessary to find common themes and experiences shared by that community, and to build the rites around them.
As many of us recognized and were sensitive to the shifting tides of energy that move through the solar year (and frankly, the idea of getting together for formal ritual more often than that seemed unworkable for us), I chose to build the seasonal rituals around the Wheel of the Year. And while the peak dates of the solar year, based on the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarters, are shared in common with the more widely recognized Pagan Wheel of the Year, still, we did not share the same experience of these holidays as traditional Pagans.
The Pagan Wheel of the Year is inspired by an agrarian society and focuses on the season’s relations to natural changes as pertains largely to the impact of those seasonal changes on crops (notably, the word paganus, from whence comes Pagan, refers to people who live in the country and therefore led rural lifestyles). We’re not farmers, and we really don’t share that deeply-felt connection to the natural world. That particular interpretation of the Wheel of the Year, with planting and harvest rituals, was definitely not going to work for us. It held little to no relevance to our collective personal experience. And so to further make the rites relevant to the social expression of House Kheperu, it was necessary to find out how we experienced these solar dates as a group, to discover how these temporal markers were relevant to our experience of the physical and numinous worlds.
Admittedly, the first drafts of the Kheprian ritual system were based upon my personal experience and observation of the energetic shifts throughout the year – but they were redacted over the life cycle of our group as more perspectives were added until the ritual system developed into what we have now: eight seasonal dates, divided into a lightside and a darkside of the year, one half devoted to spiritual concerns and rituals related to death, rebirth, spiritual transformation, and spirits, and the other half devoted to life, here-and-now concerns, mundane identity, and our place in the current physical world.
As I relate so thoroughly to the darkside of the year, I would never have been able adequately to develop a complete ritual system were it not for the contribution of my co-High Priest, Aarin, who leads the House through the more grounded but no less important lightside of the year. Together, we devised a balance between the otherworldly experiences of our spiritually diverse group and the sacralization of ordinarily secular issues such as career, family, and mundane identity.
Each rite marks an important point in the passage of time throughout the year, and uses those temporal markers to highlight an issue of identity and community relevant to the House and its beliefs: the vows we have taken as a group, the numinous connections we feel bind us together as a Family, the spirits that have touched our lives from the Otherside, the habits or qualities we have chosen to grow beyond in our lives, our sense of personal transformation through energetic alchemy, our celebration of personal identity in this life, now.
As you can see, while our rites may share the same calendar as the Pagan Wheel of the Year, they bear little resemblance to the originally agrarian rites adapted by Pagans for use in their modern practices — even though I still personally have a soft spot for the Pagan celebration of Samhain, not to mention the secular and no less delightful celebration of Halloween.
Our rites are performed through a process which I labeled “living ritual” as I developed this system in the 90s. Living ritual is a flexible system inspired by my extensive work in improvisational theater – largely unscripted, yet with a loose, functional guideline for the general form and ultimate goal, living ritual acknowledges the uniqueness of each rite based upon its individual moment in time and the specific collection of individuals participating in the rite.
Living ritual is a very “this moment, now” system that favors spontaneous expression over standardized recitations, providing a loose guideline for the performance of the rite, but allowing the exact combination of words, symbols, and ritual actions to be determined as needed by the ritualist in the moment of the ritual itself. To provide a certain amount of structure, rites are bookended by short formulaic statements, the Kheprian Charge and the Family Prayer (the Charge is derived from the opening sections of our foundational text, The Psychic Vampire Codex). Both of these are statements of identity and intent, similar in nature to the Catholic Nicene Creed (although significantly shorter) in that they express in ritualized language who we are, what we choose to believe, and how this defines us as a community.
These brief recitations at the very beginning and the very end of our rites provide a sense of stability and familiarity for each rite. This then allows for a more flexible expression within the framework provided by the “prayers.” Over time, certain traditional actions and statements have emerged for each rite, but even these are allowed to (and encouraged to) change as the needs of the group change. Some may change within the same rite should a different expression feel right, better suiting the mood and energy of the group at the time.
Although our ritual system is a-religious in the sense that it is designed to answer the social and psychological needs of the group over any sense of formalized worship, we are nevertheless still a spiritual society. Our perception and experience of energy in the phenomenal world is the prime shared thing which binds us together, and energy – as a numinous substance not accepted as “real” in a physical or scientific sense of the world – is by default part of a spiritual experience and thus a spiritual worldview.
That energy, and the sense of an enduring, energetic form – an immortal soul – possessed by each individual participating in the group, is the foundation of our worldview as Kheprians. All other beliefs follow from it and rely upon its existence. We do share a sense of inherent order in the universe – with the sort of awe-inspiring but largely impersonal complexity perceived in fractals – but as for gods (or goddesses), or the sense that any of us are bound to worship other beings, that is not a part of our system. Any such worship is left up to each individual member, should they feel the need to pursue a devotion to divinity in their private, daily practice. Our first and foremost dedication is to the Self and the constant process of personal transformation that enriches the Self from one life time to the next.
— M. Belanger