The Importance of Practice for Perfect Ritual
Authored by: Gary Roberts
Edited and Reviewed by: AC Ransom & Jason Lee
In a basketball game, each subject (player) is given unlimited time and freedom of movement before each free-throw attempt. The only instruction they are given is that they must shoot the ball from behind the free-throw line and in front of the three-point arc. The shooter can loft his cowhide globe from anywhere they wish behind this painted line. If you are a fan of the sport, you have seen various methods and movements used by players to focus their efforts in hopes improving their effectiveness and chances of making the 1-point shot.
Specific examples of basketball free-throw ritual include one of my all-time favorites, Karl Malone (Utah Jazz, 1985-2003 and L.A. Lakers 2003-2004), had a well-known pre-free-throw tradition. Each time he came to the line, you could see him speaking to himself under his breath, and he seemed to say the same thing, every time. The formal prework worked well for him as he is known to be one of the better percentage of free-throw shooters in the NBA (.725).
Other notable high percentage free-throw shooters in the NBA also had their pre-shot rituals. Richard (Rip) Hamilton (Washington Wizards 1999-2002, Detroit Piston 2002-2001, Chicago Bulls 2011-2013) would always take two standing dribbles that landed directly in front of himself. He would then take a third dribble off to his right side before making his free-throw attempt. It worked well for him as he had an 88 career free-throw percentage. Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns 1986-1992, Philadelphia 76ers 1993-1994, Utah Jazz 1994 – 2000) used to do this funny thing where he would rub the side of his face with his right-hand several times before tossing the ball at the hoop. Those repeated movements worked well for him as he hit the mark 87 percent of the time and achieved a career-best 95 percent average during his last year of play with the Utah Jazz.
Other sports have rituals too. In baseball, pitchers wind up their arms and step off the mound with practiced precision, hoping to always get the ball past the opponent at the plate. When serving the ball in tennis, players bounce or lift the ball in practiced ritualistic prose to place the ball with exact precision on the opponent’s side of the court. Even warmups before an event are ritualistic. The players do the same stretches the same way every time to achieve the desired outcome. In the case of sports, it is a win. The player is trying to accomplish a “cause and effect” by committing to their ritual.
As a species, humans are committed to ritual. Humans find meaning and comfort when we make the same repetitive motions. Birthdays, the daily greeting, or periodic attendance at a holy festival or service all help to ground ourselves and bring meaning to what we are.
Ritual is the cement that holds society together. Ceremony forms an essential aspect of our social structure, a means by which people find their place in society. One purpose of ritual, when combined with religion, are actions, which “regulate our relations with special [spiritual] beings.” The social attachments that people develop and the objects that serve as symbols of that bond, such as a religious text or the national flag help strengthen commitment and purpose.
In Freemasonry, the ritual is the center piece of what we do. Like our operative brothers, we practice our craft and go through the same movements and motions, hoping for a perfect outcome. In operative masonry, that is the perfectly laid out ashlar. In speculative masonry, the hope is to create a much-improved, upright man and mason.
A modern Masonic guide states that ritual is “a practice done in a set and precise manner to produce a result with a symbolic signification... It can be viewed as a formula that creates a hidden code to be discovered by those who are in search for the truth.” Masonic ritual, in its general form, has been used for hundreds of years to create an “idealized reality of a perfected Man” in each of the members of the Lodge. Bro. Wilmshurst, in The Meaning of Masonry, states:
Masonry is a sacramental system, possessing, like all sacraments, an outward and visible side consisting of its ceremonial, its doctrine, and its symbols which we can see and hear, and an inward, intellectual and spiritual side, which is concealed behind... and which is available only to the Mason who has learned to use his spiritual imagination and who can appreciate the reality that lies behind the veil of outward symbol.
In other words, there are two sides to Masonic ritual: the outward and the inward; these are likened to the great Mystery Schools of ancient Babylon and Greece, where there existed and were performed Lesser and Greater Mystery ceremonies. In general, the legends contained in Freemasonry parallel those from the old Mystery schools; and, Freemasonry by its attestation across the ages teaches a system of morality.
“The manner in which one approaches the ritual of Freemasonry is perhaps the single most important aspect of observing the Craft.” Hammer goes on to state that a room filled with men dressed to the nines if they perform the ritual poorly, cheapens the ceremony in the eyes of the candidate and conveys to the Brothermen that the symbology and meaning associated with that ritual are unimportant. A poorly built ashlar will fail and be a burden on those for whom the work was performed and those associated with them.
“In order to have the ritual perform its “magic,” the physical, emotional, and mental formation of the sacrament must not only be as ‘good as we can make it,’ but also involves positive intention and perfect cooperation by each participant. When Freemasons achieve synchronization in these three areas, the ritual will provide the most constructive outcome possible. The partaker of the ritual does not know what awaits her, but the presenters do; thus, the onus of a well-done ritual lies mainly on those that are performing it.”
The effects of correctly performed ritual are flawlessly illustrated in the poem entitled “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.” The violin in the Master’s hand provides a melody so sweet that it’s value changes right before the eyes of the auctioneers. So too should the value of the man, whom we call brother, change as we, master masons and protectors of our speculative craft, perform and perfect the ritual that is the central part of our craft.
 Karl Malone, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 October 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Malone
 Richard Hamilton, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 August, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Hamilton_(basketball)
 Jeff Honacek, ESPN, https://www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/346/jeff-hornacek
 The Power of Superstitions and Rituals in Sports, Liam Blackwell, https://believeperform.com/the-power-of-superstitions-and-rituals-in-sport/
 The Power of Ritual, Casper ter Kuile, Published June 23, 2020.
 Durkheim, E., & Cosman, C. (2001). The elementary forms of religious life (New ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
 Wilmshurst, W. L. The Meaning of Masonry
 Hammer, Andrew (2010). Overserving the Craft. Mindhive Books.
 Wilson-Slack, Kristine, The Effect of Masonic Ritual: Part 1, https://www.universalfreemasonry.org/en/article/effect-of-masonic-ritual-part-i
 Welch, Myra. https://barbados.org/poetry/masters.htm