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University of Winnipeg
Jane Leverick

Myth, Magic, and Shamanism 9/19/2013 3:02:00 PM What is a Symbol?
  A shared understanding about the meaning of certain words, attributes, or objects  Something that stands for something else o Prof can talk about her cat and the cat‟s blue eyes, we will have a sense of what a cat is and what cat eyes look like o Language will allow us to pass on culture…that is what makes us so successful -> language is a set of shared symbols o Ex. Swastika symbol  North America: memories/stories of Nazi Germany  Scandinavia: different perspective (symbol taken from folk lore of the changing seasons)  Buddhist: (reversed) symbol of luck + reincarnation  This means symbols can change, and this is normally due to a shift in power (“history is written by the victors”)  Language is a system of symbols o The symbols are sounds or visual Symbols Can Stand For:
  Emotions o Love/happiness (heart)  Complex philosophical concepts o Justice (scales) o Money (coins)  Physical objects o Paris (Eiffel tower) The Qualities of Symbols  Displacement o The ability to use symbols to refer to things and activities that are remote from the user  Often arbitrary o Nothing about the word “table” means four legs and a top o The names we choose to represent things do not always have a clear, literal link to the object -> there would be many choices for the name/symbol  Openness o A feature of symbols that one may create new symbols for new things o Language is not a closed system -> we can make new words that represent new things/ideas (computers, new ways of thinking) Religious Symbols  Religious rituals center on symbols and the manipulation of symbols  Key piece of expressive culture of religion  Symbols may be: o Words and sounds o Elements of music and dance o Elements of time and space o Movements (praying etc)  They just need to be shared, and be able to refer to something that isn‟t present  Examples:  Swastika  Pentagram  Christian Symbols Sacred Art
  Artistic representations o Giving us a window into the sacred to understand past/present world o Speak more than just the image itself  Illustrate and supplement religious texts o Ex. Illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages o Book of Celts  For many people this may be their primary place of interaction with the sacred myths of their community o Having a symbol/statue/shrine in the home (place of worship) The Meaning of Color
  Color is culturally specific o Stop signs are red o Green/yellow/red (stop/caution/go)  Color terminology is learned and varies from culture to culture  The meaning of colors varies in different cultural contexts o Can be close even though they differ  Ex. Rainbow  Queer family?  God promise?  Full color spectrum?  What are some cultural associations you have about color? o Black: mourning o White: virtue o Green: envy o Red: anger  Change in different locations/cultures Sacred Time
  Arbitrary divisions o This has to do with the story, the way that time moves in sacred space, etc. o Ex. Prof‟s coven will do rituals and it will feel like forever, but it will only be 40 minutes  Different from ordinary time o Every practice has a way of stepping into the sacred o Through ritualized movement, sound, etc o “time within time” or “time out of time”  Religious systems may view time as being cyclical or as being linear, moving from a beginning point to an end o Reincarnation o Start to finish (big bang, entropy, etc)  Rituals may be performed at certain times on the religious calendar (periodic rituals) o Religious calendars based on sacred stories o Liturgical year/cycle o Based on lunar calendar  Context specific and arbitrary Music  Music may be used to: o Set the tone o Transmit the message o Teach o Create an emotional state o Produce altered states of consciousness o Propitiate the gods (to sing in praise of)  Some notion of sound is used in most rituals  Many non-literate societies memorize sacred myths and teachings in the forms of poetry and songs o This is mnemonic o Oral tradition o Because it is not written down, it stays fluid and flexible o Same words, different tunes/beats/rhythms  Often alternate versions are harmonies, not the main melodies  Actual sounds may be sacred o May mimic nature Dance  Represents the supernatural  Tells the myths  Especially important in non-literate societies  A vehicle to perpetuate the beliefs and traditions  Every symbols has a meaning that portrays the sacred content and embodies it in us to get the point across  Often uses: o Costumes o Masks o Jewelry o Props o Sets Symbols, Myths, and Worldview  Symbols, myths, and worldview are expressed in the art, music, dance, and rituals of a given community o Rituals are about manipulating sacred symbols in a recognizable patterned way  Totemism: A religious system that assigns different plant and animal species to specific social groups and postulates a relationship between the group and the species formed during the period of creation. o Characters/animals speak to the creation story for that particular group/clan o Tribal/clan relationships o Acquired knowledge or relationships o The idea is that the animals stand in for that moment of the story (since we cannot be there)  Totem: A symbol or emblem that stands for a social unit o Canadian flag = totem?  Important to identity, but NOT sacred in terms of symbolism/sacred mythologies “Australian Dreaming: 40,000 Years of Aboriginal History” by Jennifer Isaacs  The expression 'Dreamtime' is most often used to refer to the 'time before time', or 'the time of the creation of all things', while 'Dreaming' is often used to refer to an individual's or group's set of beliefs or spirituality.  These Spirits also established relationships between groups and individuals, (whether people or animals) and where they traveled across the land, or came to a halt, they created rivers, hills, etc - there are often stories attached to these places. o Rivers represent footsteps on the earth o Snakes represent water rights o Complex relationship with the land can be read like the stories o For instance, an Indigenous Australian might say that they have Kangaroo Dreaming, or Shark Dreaming, or Honey Ant Dreaming, or any combination of Dreamings pertinent to their 'country'. However, many Indigenous Australians also refer to the creation time as 'The Dreaming'.  Honey ant dreaming, then big dreaming o Everything in the natural world is a symbolic footprint of the metaphysical beings whose actions created our world. As with a seed, the potency of an earthly location is wedded to the memory of its origin.  Totem beings o Once their work was done, the Ancestor Spirits changed again; into animals or stars or hills or other objects. For Indigenous Australians, the past is still alive and vital today and will remain so into the future. The Ancestor Spirits and their powers have not gone, they are present in the forms into which they changed at the end of the 'Dreamtime' or 'Dreaming', as the stories tell.  One of the totem beings from creation time is in there…he didn‟t die, he transformed and became that space  Changes the relationship to the land you‟re living on  Earth is no longer seen as a resource o The Aborigines called this potency the "Dreaming" of a place, and this Dreaming constitutes the sacredness of the earth. Only in extraordinary states of consciousness can one be aware of, or attuned to, the inner dreaming of the Earth. o Legends of the 'Dreamtime' are handed down by word of mouth & by totem from generation to generation o If the story gets lost, the totem itself (snake) still has a story o Each tribe has its individual dreamtime although some of the legends overlap. Most 'Dreamtime' originates with the Giant Dog or the Giant Snake, and each is unique and colourful in its explanation. check slides for ayers rock story Rituals and Religious Rituals  Ritual: a patterned, recurring sequence of behaviors o Ritual of making coffee: freezer, grind, brew, pour, drink o Importance/value, but no sacred significance o Coffee does not hold values/morals/cosmology  Religious Ritual: a ritual that involves the manipulation of religious symbols o If coffee bean is a sacred symbol, it would be a religious ritual o Something that you take that kind of care with, but the symbols are speaking to a shared set of values and carries meaning  Ronald Grimes - 'sequences of ordinary action rendered special by virtue of their condensation, elevation, or stylization'. o Condensation: making visible of something that speaks to more than just itself (just the important parts)  Condensed version of many things that portrays all of them/the ideas  Ex. Cross -> torture, the idea that Christ died for our sins, prayer, wine/bread, relationship with god, etc o Elevation: if something is put on a shrine and was spoken to regularly, asking for the gift of time/luck/prosperity/etc  Something above the ordinary; extraordinary o Stylization: rendering something in a particular way  Dances that tell stories; hand movements have things to say, and speak to someone who knows the meanings  How the cross is put together; crosses OR crucifixes?  Keys in definitions: repetition, formality (recognition), use of symbols as integral piece, creates or reinforces social bonds o This does not necessarily mea
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