Ritual

Ritual

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A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbol
Symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ic value. It may be prescribed by a religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 or by the tradition
Tradition
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

s of a community
Community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers.

The field of ritual studies has seen a number of conflicting definitions of the term. One given by Kyriakidis (2007) is that Ritual is an outsider's or "etic" category for a set activity (or set of actions) which to the outsider seems irrational, non-contiguous, or illogical. The term can be used also by the insider or "emic" performer as an acknowledgement that this activity can be seen as such by the uninitiated onlooker.

A ritual may be performed on specific occasions, or at the discretion of individuals or communities. It may be performed by a single individual, by a group, or by the entire community; in arbitrary places, or in places especially reserved for it; either in public, in private, or before specific people. A ritual may be restricted to a certain subset of the community, and may enable or underscore the passage between religious or social states.

The purposes of rituals are varied; with religious obligations or ideals, satisfaction of spiritual or emotional needs of the practitioners, strengthening of social bonds, social and moral education, demonstration of respect or submission, stating one's affiliation, obtaining social acceptance or approval for some event—or, sometimes, just for the pleasure of the ritual itself.

Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present. They include not only the various worship
Worship
Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. The word is derived from the Old English worthscipe, meaning worthiness or worth-ship — to give, at its simplest, worth to something, for example, Christian worship.Evelyn Underhill defines worship thus: "The absolute...

 rites and sacrament
Sacrament
A sacrament is a sacred rite recognized as of particular importance and significance. There are various views on the existence and meaning of such rites.-General definitions and terms:...

s of organized religions and cults, but also the rites of passage
Rite of passage
A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person's progress from one status to another. It is a universal phenomenon which can show anthropologists what social hierarchies, values and beliefs are important in specific cultures....

 of certain societies, atonement and purification rites
Ritual purification
Ritual purification is a feature of many religions. The aim of these rituals is to remove specifically defined uncleanliness prior to a particular type of activity, and especially prior to the worship of a deity...

, oaths of allegiance, dedication ceremonies, coronation
Coronation
A coronation is a ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch and/or their consort with regal power, usually involving the placement of a crown upon their head and the presentation of other items of regalia...

s and presidential inaugurations, marriages and funerals, school "rush" traditions and graduations, club meetings, sports events, Halloween
Halloween
Hallowe'en , also known as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the night before All Saints' Day...

 parties, veterans parades, Christmas
Christmas
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, liturgically closing the Advent season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days...

 shopping and more. Many activities that are ostensibly performed for concrete purposes, such as jury trial
Jury trial
A jury trial is a legal proceeding in which a jury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact which are then applied by a judge...

s, execution of criminals, and scientific symposia
Academic conference
An academic conference or symposium is a conference for researchers to present and discuss their work. Together with academic or scientific journals, conferences provide an important channel for exchange of information between researchers.-Overview:Conferences are usually composed of various...

, are loaded with purely symbolic actions prescribed by regulations or tradition, and thus partly ritualistic in nature. Even common actions like hand-shaking
Handshake
A handshake is a short ritual in which two people grasp one of each other's like hands, in most cases accompanied by a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands.-History:...

 and saying hello
Hello
Hello is a salutation or greeting in the English language. It is attested in writing as early as the 1830s.-First use:Hello, with that spelling, was used in publications as early as 1833. These include an 1833 American book called The Sketches and Eccentricities of Col...

 may be termed rituals.
In psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

, the term ritual is sometimes used in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior systematically used by a person to neutralize or prevent anxiety; it is a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder.

Ritualistic behavior in animal kingdom and early human prehistory


Ritual actions are not characteristic of human cultures only. Many animal species use ritualized actions to court or to greet each other, or to fight. At least some ritualized actions have very strong selective purpose in animals. For example, ritualized fights are extremely important to avoid unnecessary strong physical violence between the conflicting animals.

According to Joseph Jordania
Joseph Jordania
Joseph Jordania is an Australian-Georgian ethnomusicologist and evolutionary musicologist. In some early publications his name was spelled as Zhordania...

, the initial function of ritualistic behaviors in human evolutionary prehistory was to achieve the altered state of consciousness
Altered state of consciousness
An altered state of consciousness , also named altered state of mind, is any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking beta wave state. The expression was used as early as 1966 by Arnold M. Ludwig and brought into common usage from 1969 by Charles Tart: it describes induced...

 in hominid brain, in order to transform individual hominids into a group of dedicated individuals with a single collective identity
Collective identity
The term collective identity may refer to a variety of concepts. In general however, these concepts generally pertain to phenomena where an individuals' perceived membership in a social group impacts upon their own identity in some way. The idea of a collective identity has received attention in a...

. In this state (which Jordania calls battle trance
Battle trance
Battle trance is a term denoting a specific altered state of consciousness that characterizes the psychological state of combatants during a combat situation. In this state, combatants do not feel fear or pain , and all the individual members of group are acting as one collective organism...

) hominids did not feel fear and pain, they were religiously dedicated to group interests, were not questioning orders, and could sacrifice their lives for the common goal. This state was induced by ritualistic actions: loud rhythmic singing, clapping and drumming on external objects, dancing, body and face painting, and the use of specific cloths. The same kind of ritualistic actions are still widely used in order to achieve the psychological unity of participants in various religious practices, as well in military forces to prepare soldiers for the combat situations

Ritual actions


There are hardly any limits to the kind of actions that may be incorporated into a ritual. The rites of past and present societies have typically involved special gestures and words, recitation of fixed texts, performance of special music
Music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, songs
Singing
Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, and augments regular speech by the use of both tonality and rhythm. One who sings is called a singer or vocalist. Singers perform music known as songs that can be sung either with or without accompaniment by musical instruments...

 or dance
Dance
Dance is an art form that generally refers to movement of the body, usually rhythmic and to music, used as a form of expression, social interaction or presented in a spiritual or performance setting....

s, processions, manipulation of certain objects, use of special dresses, consumption of special food
Food
Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals...

, drink
Drink
A drink, or beverage, is a liquid which is specifically prepared for human consumption. In addition to fulfilling a basic human need, beverages form part of the culture of human society.-Water:...

, or drugs
Psychoactive drug
A psychoactive drug, psychopharmaceutical, or psychotropic is a chemical substance that crosses the blood–brain barrier and acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it affects brain function, resulting in changes in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior...

, and much more. Religious rituals have also included animal sacrifice
Animal sacrifice
Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practised by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature...

, human sacrifice
Human sacrifice
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings as part of a religious ritual . Its typology closely parallels the various practices of ritual slaughter of animals and of religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice has been practised in various cultures throughout history...

, and ritual suicide. Ritual lamentation—song performed with weeping—in many societies was regarded as required to ritually carry the departed soul to a safe afterlife (Tolbert 1990a, 1990b; Wilce 2006).

Religious rituals


In religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, a ritual can comprise the prescribed outward forms of performing the cultus, or cult, of a particular observation within a religion or religious denomination
Religious denomination
A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.The term describes various Christian denominations...

. 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 organized religion to non-institutionalized spirituality, such as ayahuasca
Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca is any of various psychoactive infusions or decoctions prepared from the Banisteriopsis spp. vine, usually mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine-containing species of shrubs from the Psychotria genus...

 shamanism
Shamanism
Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. To quote Eliade: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy." Shamanism encompasses the...

 as practiced by the Urarina
Urarina
The Urarina are an indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon Basin who inhabit the Chambira, Urituyacu, and Corrientes Rivers. According to both archaeological and historical sources, they have resided in the Chambira Basin of contemporary northeastern Peru for centuries. The Urarina refer to...

 of the upper Amazon. Rituals often have a close connection with reverence, thus a ritual in many cases expresses reverence for a deity
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

 or idealized state of humanity.

Social functions


The social function of rituals has often been exploited for political ends. Alongside the personal dimensions of worship and reverence, rituals can have a more basic social
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 function in expressing, fixing and reinforcing the shared values and beliefs of a society.

Social rituals have formed a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. The earliest known undisputed evidence of burial
Burial
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.-History:...

 rituals dates from the Upper Paleolithic. Older skeletons show no signs of deliberate "burial," and as such lack clear evidence of having been ritually treated. Anthropologists see social rituals as one of many cultural universals.

Rituals can aid in creating a firm sense of group identity. Humans have used rituals to create social bonds and even to nourish interpersonal relationships. For example, nearly all fraternities and sororities
Fraternities and sororities
Fraternities and sororities are fraternal social organizations for undergraduate students. In Latin, the term refers mainly to such organizations at colleges and universities in the United States, although it is also applied to analogous European groups also known as corporations...

 have rituals incorporated into their structure, from elaborate and sometimes "secret" initiation rites, to the formalized structure of convening a meeting. Thus, numerous aspects of ritual and ritualistic proceedings are engrained into the workings of those societies.

Anthropological studies


Of particular interest to anthropologists has been the role of ritual in structuring life crises, human development, religious enactment and entertainment.

Among anthropologists, and other ethnographers, who have contributed to ritual theory are Victor Turner
Victor Turner
Victor Witter Turner was a British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage...

, Ronald Grimes, Mary Douglas
Mary Douglas
Dame Mary Douglas, DBE, FBA was a British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism....

, and the biogenetic structuralists. Anthropologists from Émile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

 through Turner and contemporary theorists like Michael Silverstein (2004) treat ritual as social action aimed at particular transformations often conceived in cosmic terms. Though the transformations can also be thought of as personal (e.g. the fertility and healing rituals Turner describes), they become a sort of cosmic event, one stretching into "eternity."

See also


  • Ceremony
    Ceremony
    A ceremony is an event of ritual significance, performed on a special occasion. The word may be of Etruscan origin.-Ceremonial occasions:A ceremony may mark a rite of passage in a human life, marking the significance of, for example:* birth...

  • Civil religion
    Civil religion
    The intended meaning of the term civil religion often varies according to whether one is a sociologist of religion or a professional political commentator...

  • Habituation
    Habituation
    Habituation can be defined as a process or as a procedure. As a process it is defined as a decrease in an elicited behavior resulting from the repeated presentation of an eliciting stimulus...

  • Liturgy
    Liturgy
    Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    Obsessive–compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions...

  • Processional walkway
    Processional walkway
    A processional walkway is a ceremonial walkway in use since ancient times. Common functions of a processional walkway are for religious, governmental or celebratory purposes....

  • Rite
    Rite
    A rite is an established, ceremonious, usually religious act. Rites in this sense fall into three major categories:* rites of passage, generally changing an individual's social status, such as marriage, baptism, or graduation....

  • Ritualization
    Ritualization
    Ritualization is a behavior that occurs typically in a member of a given species in a highly stereotyped fashion and independent of any direct physiological significance....

  • Ritualism
  • Religion
    Religion
    Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

  • Collective identity
    Collective identity
    The term collective identity may refer to a variety of concepts. In general however, these concepts generally pertain to phenomena where an individuals' perceived membership in a social group impacts upon their own identity in some way. The idea of a collective identity has received attention in a...

  • Battle trance
    Battle trance
    Battle trance is a term denoting a specific altered state of consciousness that characterizes the psychological state of combatants during a combat situation. In this state, combatants do not feel fear or pain , and all the individual members of group are acting as one collective organism...

  • Sexual ritual
    Sexual ritual
    Sexual rituals fall into two categories: culture-created, and natural behaviour, the human animal having developed sex rituals from evolutionary instincts for reproduction, which are then integrated into society, and elaborated to include aspects such as marriage rites, dances, etc...

  • Superstition
    Superstition
    Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events....

  • Myth and ritual
    Myth and ritual
    In traditional societies, myth and ritual are two central components of religious practice. Although myth and ritual are commonly united as parts of religion, the exact relationship between them has been a matter of controversy among scholars...

  • Religious symbolism
    Religious symbolism
    Religious symbolism is the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork, events, or natural phenomena, by a religion. Religions view religious texts, rituals, and works of art as symbols of compelling ideas or ideals...

  • Reverence (emotion)
    Reverence (emotion)
    Reverence [rev-er-uh ns, rev-ruh ns] is defined by as, "A feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.". The word comes from the late 13th century Old French term reverence which derives from the Latin "reverentia 'awe, respect,' from revereri 'to revere,' from re- ,...



Further reading

  • Durkheim, Émile. (1912) The Elementary Forms Of The Religious Life.
  • Durkheim, E. 1965 [1915]. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: The Free Press.
  • Malinowski, Bronisław. (1948) Magic, Science and Religion. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Gennep, Arnold van
    Arnold van Gennep
    Arnold van Gennep was a noted French ethnographer and folklorist.-Biography:He was born in Ludwigsburg, Kingdom of Württemberg...

    . (1960) The Rites of Passage. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Douglas, Mary. (1966) Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo
    Purity and Danger
    Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo is the best known book by the influential anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas. In 1991 the Times Literary Supplement listed it as one of the hundred most influential non-fiction books published since 1945...

    ". London: Routledge.
  • Turner, V.W. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Harmondsworth: Penguin. —. 1967. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
  • Turner, Victor W.
    Victor Turner
    Victor Witter Turner was a British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage...

     (1969) The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.
  • Erikson, Erik
    Erik Erikson
    Erik Erikson was a Danish-German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on social development of human beings. He may be most famous for coining the phrase identity crisis. His son, Kai T...

    . (1977) Toys and Reasons: Stages in the Ritualization of Experience. New York: Norton.
  • D'Aquili, Eugene G., Charles D. Laughlin and John McManus. (1979) The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Smith, Jonathan Z.
    Jonathan Z. Smith
    Jonathan Zittell Smith is a historian of religions. His research includes the theory of ritual, Hellenistic religions, Māori cults in the 19th century, and the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana...

     (1987) To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lawson, E.T. & McCauley, R.N. (1990) "Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Staal, Frits
    Frits Staal
    Johan Frederik Staal is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and South & Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley....

     (1990) "Ritual and Mantras: Rules Without Meaning". New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
  • Tolbert, E. 1990a. Women Cry with Words: Symbolization of Affect in the Karelian Lament. Yearbook for Traditional Music
    Yearbook for Traditional Music
    The Yearbook for Traditional Music is a peer-reviewed academic journal on the subjects of music and dance research. It is published by the International Council for Traditional Music, once a year in December...

    , 22: 80–105. —. 1990b. "Magico-Religious Power and Gender in the Karelian Lament," in Music, Gender, and Culture, vol. 1, Intercultural Music Studies. Edited by M. Herndon and S. Zigler, pp. 41–56. Wilhelmshaven, DE.: International Council for Traditional Music, Florian Noetzel Verlag.
  • Bloch, Maurice. (1992) Prey into Hunter: The Politics of Religious Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Grimes, Ronald L. (1994) The Beginnings of Ritual Studies. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
  • Bell, Catherine. (1997) Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Rappaport, Roy A.
    Roy Rappaport
    Roy A. Rappaport was a distinguished anthropologist known for his contributions to the anthropological study of ritual and to ecological anthropology.-Biography:...

     (1999) Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Perniola Mario, Ritual Thinking. Sexuality, Death, World, foreword by Hugh J. Silverman, with author's introduction, Amherst (USA), Humanity Books, 2000.
  • Silverstein, M. 2003. Talking Politics :The Substance of Style from Abe to "W". Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press (distributed by University of Chicago). —. 2004. "Cultural" Concepts and the Language-Culture Nexus. Current Anthropology 45: 621–652.
  • Seijo, F. 2005. The Politics of Fire: Spanish Forest Policy and Ritual Resistance in Galicia, Spain. Environmental Politics 14 (3): 380–402
  • Wilce, J.M. 2006. Magical Laments and Anthropological Reflections: The Production and Circulation of Anthropological Text as Ritual Activity. Current Anthropology 47: 891–914.
  • Fogelin, L. 2007. The Archaeology of Religious Ritual. Annual Review of Anthropology 36: 55–71.
  • Kyriakidis, E., ed. 2007 The archaeology of ritual. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology UCLA publications
  • Bax, Marcel. 2010. 'Rituals'. In: Jucker, Andeas H. & Taavitsainen, Irma, eds. Handbook of Pragmatics, Vol. 8: Historical Pragmatics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 483–519.
  • McCorkle Jr., William W. (2010) Ritualizing the Disposal of Dead Bodies: From Corpse to Concept. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.