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Chapter 4

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University of Winnipeg
Jane Leverick

Ritual 05/10/2013 5:03:00 PM Ritual and Myth  In some ways rituals resemble plays; actors (shamans/priests), words (prayers/spells/sermons), sets (altar), and props (candles/books/masks)  In small scale societies, rituals often do not have all of these elements  Rituals can be an important form of entertainment in some societies, where the audience is an active participant  Ritual is often based on myth, when the instructions to perform the ritual are stated in the myth o Myth provides elements for the development of the ritual o What came first? Debate  Societal mythologies consist of stories that reflect their underlying worldview; everyone in the society accepts and is familiar with their religion, thought not everyone can articulate the philosophical content; also true of rituals  Often rituals are public, where the entire community will participate to a degree; rituals are the vehicle by which good/evil + social behaviour is imparted to the group  Participating in a ritual is a means of acceptance of the ritual The Basics of Ritual Performance Prescriptive and Situational Rituals  Prescriptive rituals: rituals that are required to be performed; by religious text, a deity, or based on tradition  Situational/crisis rituals: performed due to a particular need of individual/community o Spontaneous, i.e., members going off to war or engaging in dangerous activity (9/11 gave rise to many rituals, such as flag hanging, flower arranging, informal altars, etc.) Periodic and Occasional Rituals  Periodic/calendrical rituals: rituals performed on a regular basis (part of religious calendar) o Can be daily (i.e., salaht prayers of Islam, which is also prescribed by Mohammad) o Can be weekly (i.e., Sabbath candle lighting in Judaism) o Diwali: originally Hindu, now all over India -> oil lamps, fireworks, on darkest night of Kartik month (associated with mythical events; Rama, Sita, Lakshmana retuen to kingdom of Ayodhya) o Passover: Jewish commemoration of exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (also seen as spring agricultural ritual) o Shavuot: Jewish commemoration of the beginning of the wheat harvest, and the giving of 10 commandments to Moses  Occasional rituals: rituals performed when the need arises (marriage/death) o Some rituals can be both periodic and prescriptive, such as a Sunday morning church sermon o Many rituals associated with nature impact on agricultural cycle, i.e., pest control or rain A Classification of Rituals Technological Rituals  Rituals that attempt to influence or control nature; to bring about rain for good crops, to get fish to take bait, for locating animals o Hunting/gathering rites of intensification  To influence nature in the quest for food  Can include periodic rituals (seasonal cycle) and occasional rituals (rain drought)  “first-fruit ceremonies” reaffirm the rights of particular social units to specific foods and areas of gathering  i.e., Cahuilla of southern California ritual: individuals gather small amounts of food, and kin groups eat ritual portions over 3 days/nights to thank the supernatural  fertility is central theme; successful crops in the spring, or birth of wile animals; rituals to thank the animals for being caught  i.e., Lakota of north-central USA: uncontrollable buffalo killed; hunters gather round and perform thanking ritual, thus ensuring continuous success of the enterprise (buffalo income)  i.e., Inuit of Arctic coast: creation of seals is subject of important creation myth -> seal hunt success depends on benevolence of the Mother of the Sea (if ritual is not done properly, there may be storms or ice breaking)  placing fresh water into the mouth of a dead seal to appease the spirit o Protective rituals  Rituals designed to protect the safety of people involved in dangerous tasks, such as hunting/fishing -> may also be prescriptive, done every time  i.e., Trobriand Islanders of New Guinea; ocean trading journeys -> captain is expert on navigation and does rituals like making the canoe fast or more seaworthy  i.e., Vikings “blooding the keel” -> ritual human sacrifice to protect ship  i.e., western practice of breaking a bottle of wine before a voyage  i.e., Yorumba (Nigeria, west Africa); Ogun, god of iron - > taxi drivers have his symbol on their cars and often do an animal sacrifice to ask for protection o divination rituals  rituals that seek information Therapy Rituals  Rituals that focus of curing o Depends on cause of illness; cause frequently discovered through divination  Many technical solutions have been put into place, even by traditional healers; plants, setting bones o Anthropological study of medicinal plants is ethnobotany  i.e., Navaho: (worldview stresses balance and harmony) -> when balance is upset, it is due to human actions; specific nature of the transgression will determine how the illness will manifest itself o separate specialists for diagnosis and treatment: hand tremblers diagnose (female), and healers cure (male) o whole family or even community will gather for ritual (1-9 days); prayers, medicine, songs, herbs, sandpaintings  ikaah = sandpainting; means a summoning of the gods  ikaah is a portion of the Navaho mythology, usually a hero character + story recounted in long, complex, chants -> relationship between ritual, myth, worldview  if prayers are not answered, there must have been something wrong with the ikaah Cause of Illness Therapy Ritual Object intrusion Massage and sucking to remove object Spirit intrusion Exorcism Soul loss Soul retrieval Breach of tabu Confession Witchcraft Anti-witchcraft rituals Spirits and gods Sacrifices and offerings Anti-Therapy Rituals  Rituals that bring about illness/accident/death  Directed towards own community member means they are behaving in an unacceptable manner; they will be identified through divination + punished  Directed towards enemy means an objective of society o i.e., Yanomamo of northern South America; warfare with spears/arrows + rituals that send illness-causing spirits into the bodies of their enemies o i.e., Australian Aborigines; cursing ritual (bone pointing) -> sorcerer points bone at victim while reciting a death spell o i.e., Fore of New Guinea; sorcerer takes clothing item of victim, places in a bundle underground; kuru disease Ideological Rituals  Serve to maintain the normal functioning of a community; codes of proper behaviour, define good/evil/morality + articulate worldview o Social rites of intensification: normally prescribed and periodic rituals, such as Sunday morning church, Sabbath, and salaht; frequent elements include reading sacred text, sermon, discussion of moral issues, deity prayers  Some rituals can be more than one category, i.e., funeral (rite of passage for dead individual, social rite of intensification for those who remain)  Swazi of East African Cattle culture area: death of a king has potential of precipitating a major crisis; prosperity is bound with health/virility of the king, and he must avoid contact with death; death is kept secret until heir is found, and then revitalization and rejuvenation rituals take place  Jewish reading of kaddish after death (kaddish not only for death); gathering together after a death can also be seen as reaffirming important group ties Rites of Passage  Societies consist of a series of positions or status o Mother, father, mayor, blacksmith, doctor -> one individual can have multiple statuses o Status is referring to social position, not rank o When status is changed, the individual’s social relationship with other members of society is altered; changes can be hard, and marked by rites of passage (show legitimacy of change)  Birth ceremonies: baptism (Catholicism), circumcision (Jewish) -> in societies with high infant death rates, the child may be kept secret (a nonperson) until it survives for a certain length of time, then ceremony o Jewish circumsicion: marks that a male child becomes a member of the Jewish community; known as Berit Mila (cut the covenant with God)  Performed by specialist (mohel) + includes formal naming of the child -> female ceremony brit bat (covenant of daughters) only includes naming  Childhood to adulthood ceremonies: confirmation, quinceaneras, bar/bat mitzvahs (coming of age)  Marriage/death  Initiation into social groups: fraternity/political office  STRUCTURE: 3 stages -> separation, transition, incorporation o Separation: the individual is removed from his/her former status; abrupt or over a period of time  Ex. Leading up to a western wedding; engagement party, choose a dress, invitations, mail registry, rehearsal dinner, then finally the wedding when the bride is “given away” o Transition: activities take place that bring about the change in status; introduced as Mr. and Mrs.  Ex. The actual wedding ceremony (minutes to hr) o Incorporation: the couple reenters normal society, but in a new social relationship; reception/party/display of gifts/thank you notes (several hrs)  Coming of age rituals o Marks the transition between childhood and adulthood  i.e., menarche ritual  may initiate a separation phase, as menstrual blood is polluting and dangerous to men; woman may be segregated into special menstrual hut or enclosed area  may also occur as a group ritual several years before the onset of puberty  ex. Yanomamo girl is segrated into hut, eats
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