Victor turner, "Forest," T 417-429.docx

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Western University
Classical Studies
Classical Studies 2200
Kendall Sharp

Classical Mythology 2200 The Forest of Symbols – Victor Turner October 7, 2013 • Victor Turner was an anthropologist whose thinking has greatly influenced out ideas about ritual • Ritual – a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors’goals and interests • Different dimensions of a ritual – a concept useful to those of us interested in rituals as a part of the study of mythology  Exegetic – the way an insider explains the ritual to someone outside the society  Operational – the way an anthropologist, who is outside the society, records what is done in the ritual, and how the participants behave and appear to feel  Positional – the way an anthropologist, who is outside the society, describes the connections between the symbols found in a ritual and other symbols found in the society and culture – when anthropologists try to understand ritual, they try to fit it to categories they can use to compare the rituals of different cultures • Seasonal or cyclic and contingent rituals • Cyclic Rituals are those “hallowing a culturally defined moment of change in the climatic cycle or the inauguration of an activity such as planting, harvesting, or moving from winter to summer pasture” (i.e., a Thanksgiving parade celebrates the harvest at the end of the northern growing season) • Contingent Rituals are those “held in response to an individual or collective crisis” (i.e., ceremonies performed at birth, puberty, marriage, death, and so on, to mark the passage from one phase to another in the individual’s life cycle” • Also rituals or affliction “performed to satisfy or exorcise preternatural beings or forces believed to have afflicted villagers with illness, bad luck, physical injuries, and the like” • Rite of Passage – in our society, an example would be initiation into a fraternity or sorority – this might include hazing, or a test period in which the pledge must follow the orders of someone who is already a member of the organization – from his book The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual • Liminality – allows those taking part in the ritual to see and understand their society in a new way – comes from On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as Experience Introduction to Rites of Passage • Such rites indicate and constitute transitions between states • Van Gennep has shown that all rites of transition are marked by three phases: separation, marginal or liminal period, and aggregation • Separation – comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group either from an earlier fixed state in the social structure or a set of cultural conditions (a “state”) • Liminal – the state of the ritual subject (the “passenger”) is ambiguous; he passes through a realm that has a few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state • Aggregation – the passage is completed; has rights and obligations of a clearly defined and “structural” type, and is expected to behave in accordance with certain customary norms and ethical standards • The subject of a passage ritual is, in the liminal period, structurally, if not physically, “invisible” • “a neophyte is structurally dead” – the “neophytes,” the persons undergoing the initiation, are treated as “dead” by those in charge of the ritual because they are in between”: they have given up their previous status and have no yet achieved their new status • Neophytes are commonly secluded, treated or symbolically represented as neither male or female, no status, property, insignia, clothing, rank, position • “set of relations” – Turner is describing a sense of interrelatedness felt by initiates going through the liminal period together. He calls this feeling “communitas,” from the Latin word for community. The shared suffering and indignities inflicted during the ritual make those who go through it feel connected during and after the experience, regardless of differences in their rank, age, kinship position, and sometimes even sex Play as a Characteristic of Liminality • Liminality is the comain of the “interesting,” or of “uncommon sense” • The study of masks and costumes inAfrica and Melanesian initiation rituals, demonstrates the imaginative potential unlocked by liminality, for maskers typically appear in liminal sites sequestered from mundane life • The serious games which involve the play of ideas and the manufacture of religiously important symbolic forms and designs (icons, figurines, masks, sand- paintings, murals in sacred caves, statues, effigies, pottery emblems, and the like) are often reserved for authentically liminal times and places • “symbolic types … generated from liminality” – Turner argues that society supports certain liminal creatures who live in it, but are strictly speaking, not part of it. Depending on the society, they can include priests, clowns, court jesters, and other creatures who are tolerated despite, or perhaps because of, their ongoing challenge to the hierarchical structures and values representing the essence of society. Their experience represents a different sort of liminality, a permanent or long-term low status on the edges of society, not a stage in a journey or a rite of passage The Liminoid: Changes to Liminality in Modern Society • We don’t all share the same belief system, and we don’t assign social status or roles within the community according to our beliefs Work and Play in Traditional Society • “different explanatory stress” – Turner shows a traditional society does not separate work and play. Play is an aspect of work in such societies • It is a universe of work in which whole communities participate, as of obligation, not potation • Some rites, such as those of sowing, first fruits or harvest, may involve everyone, man, woman, and child, others may be focused on specific groups, categories, associations, etc., such as men or women, old or young, one dan (Rank) or another, etc. • “Sooner or later, no one is exempt from ritual duty” – in traditional societies, there is not much freedom of choice about rituals. On the other hand, Turner will show that participation in rituals tends to be optional in contemporary societies • Liminality, the seclusion period, is a phase peculiarly conductive to such “ludic” invention • “ludic” – refers to play and to play-like or playful activities that may be part of work • “there are undoubtedly ‘ludic’aspects in ‘tribal,’etc., culture” – Because members of tribal societies relate all of their activities to work, this does not mean that their members never have fun
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