A ritual is a formalized, predetermined set of symbolic actions generally performed in a particular environment at a regular, recurring interval. The set of actions that comprise a ritual often include, but are not limited to, such things as recitation, singing, group processions, repetitive dance, manipulation of sacred objects, etc. The general purpose of rituals is to express some fundamental truth or meaning, evoke spiritual, numinous emotional responses from participants, and/or engage a group of people in unified action to strengthen their communal bonds. The word ritual, when used as an adjective, relates to the noun 'rite', as in rite of passage.
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Rituals may express a part of a larger social doctrine, or simply of a personal one. In religion, a ritual can comprise the prescribed outward forms of performing worship, the cultus or cult of a particular observation within a religion or religious denomination.
Although ritual is often used in context with worship performed in a church, the actual relationship between any religion's doctrine and its ritual(s) can vary considerably from religion to religion. Ritual often has a close connection with reverence, thus a ritual in many cases expresses reverence for a deity.
Religious rituals have also included human sacrifice and other forms of ritual murder.
Rituals have formed a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. The earliest known evidence of burial rituals dates from around 20,000 years ago. (Older skeletons show no signs of deliberate 'burial', and as such lack ritual.)
- Wikipedia (2004).  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual). Retrieved Jan 17 2005.