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6.8: Ritual

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    102853
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    What Are Rituals?

    According to Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition; by Emily Shultz and Robert Lavenda, a ritual must fit into four categories. These four categories are:

    • a repetitive social practice
    • different from the routines of day to day life
    • follows some sort of ritual schema
    • encoded in myth

    Rituals often have its roots in myth and religion, tying itself to ancient practices between the divine and humans. However, a ritual does not have to be religious in nature; graduation ceremonies and birthday parties are rituals as well.[10] Religion can be defined as concepts or ideas and the practices associated with them. These practices hypothesize reality beyond that which is instantly available to the senses. Religion is a type of worldview, a collective picture of reality created by members of a society, and exists in many forms. As time passes and cultures change, religions evolve and change as well. In many cultures, religion is practiced through rituals.

    Every society has their own rituals; an action performed as a common practice. Some of these practices can be a result of religion beliefs, or society ideas or expectations. For example, in the United States, when a person dies, family members and friends of the person attend a funeral; a ceremony in which they honor the dead person right before they are buried or cremated. Rituals can vary by geography, culture or personality and are practiced just as varied.

    Ancestor worship

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Confucian temple in Kaohsiung, Taiwan

    Ancestor Worship is defined as a religious or spiritual practice which revolves around the belief that the deceased continue to have a presence after they die, and contribute to the spiritual quality of their living relatives. Most religions have some form of ancestor worship, and consider the connection they have to their ancestors a significant component of their belief systems. This type of worship can often be confused with the worshiping of gods and deities, but it is an entirely separate practice. Many cultures see ancestor worship as non-religious; something that simply strengthens bonds with family and offers the proper respect for deceased loved ones. Others base a person’s social status on who their ancestors were and how high on the social hierarchy they were in life. Ancestor worship is mainly performed so that, by placating one’s ancestors, they may be taken care of in life and death. In return for the blessing by ancestors, worship insures that the ancestor’s spirits may be at peace. Other rituals that can sometimes accompany this type of worship include: sacrifice, elaborate burial ceremonies and the preparation of specific food dishes.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): This is a couple at their traditional Thai wedding ceremony, an example of a commonly prevalent life-cycle ritual.

    Jewish Mourning Rituals

    Many different religions or cultures have varying rituals following the death of a person. Burial and mourning rituals may differ even among the same religion. The following are commonly accepted burial and mourning practices in Judaism:

    After people have died, their eyes and mouths are closed. They are then placed on the floor and covered with a sheet, while a lit candle is placed by their head. The body is not to be left alone until burial, and it is seen as a good deed to sit with the body and to read psalms. Before burial the body is cleansed and clothed in a simple white shroud. The coffin is traditionally a simple cedar casket constructed without the use of metal due to the belief that people should decompose back into the earth, returning to dust after death.

    The mourning process is divided into three sections, each increasing in time and lessening in intensity. The first period of mourning is called "Shiva." This period of mourning lasts seven days starting from the day of burial. This mourning period applies to the immediate family of the decease. It involves mourners rending their clothes in an outward sign of mourning. This is often the time when friends prepare meals for the family of the deceased and sit with them to comfort them. A second period of mourning is called "Sheloshim" and takes place from the 7th day after the burial till the 30th day. During this time the immediate family of the deceased should not cut their hair, shave or attend parties. The third mourning period lasts until the anniversary of the death. During this time mourners do not attend public parties or celebrations, but can cut their hair. However, mourning may be suspended during important Jewish holidays in order to take place in the celebration and prayer.[16]

    The Components of Rites of Passage

    Rites of passage are rituals in themselves. Rituals that mark a person's transition from one social state to another. So, the following components help in the ritual of passing from one state in life to another. 

    The Elders, Knower’s or Guides: [that help the novice during the parts of or all throughout the liminal stages]

    • The Separation: from home or community; in route to the sacred place, in which the novice experiences his or her ordeal.
    • The Sacred Place: can be a recreation of the original archetype, it is the place where human and the spiritual will commune.
    • Trials and Tribulations: are those hardships that the novice will endure, such as disorientation, chaos, training, deprivation, chanting and-or altered states of consciousness.
    • Revelation: the revealing of inner meanings, the explanation of myths and transcendental knowing.
    • Symbolic Death: the personal identity of the novice in the pre-liminal stage has been transformed, the old identity of the novice has died and no longer exists.
    • Resurrection and Rebirth: the novice has been recreated, with a new identity and status.
    • Reincorporation: where the novice returns home or enters into a new community, along with their new status.
    • A celebration is often common to commemorate the completion of the rite. [17]

    In the 2002 film Whale Rider, a story of modern day rite of passage in a traditional Maori village and into the Whangara culture of modern day New Zealand. In the Whangara myth, their presence on the island dates back a thousand years to one single ancestor “Paikea”, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding the back of the whale to the village shore. Since then, the chiefly leadership role has been passed down to the firstborn male of the first born male, establishing a patriarchal society. “Pai” is the film's 12-year-old protagonist, who after the death of her twin brother, and her mother at childbirth is now in her own mind, destined to be the next Whangara chief. Pai’s father has exchanged his traditional culture for a life in Europe. In her quest to fulfill her destiny Pai faces the many challenges of this patriarchal tribe and all the elements of the rite of passage are in the plot of the film: 

    The “elders” or “knowers”: Pai’s elders are her grandfather, her grandmother Nanny Flowers and her uncle Rawiri.

    The separation: Pai’s grandfather, "Koro" who is the tribal chief, blames her for the death of the chosen one and as the personification of the curse upon the tribe whose ancestral chain has been broken. The grandfather ignores her at home and further alienates Pai by forbidding her from participating in the warrior rituals with the rest of the male initiates.

    The sacred place: There are two sacred places in this film; the first one is the unfinished chief’s canoe of her father and the beach. The canoe stands above land on blocks. This is where Pai seeks refuge and calls out to her ancestors. She is visited by an elder, her grandmother, Nanny who unlike her grandfather, supports Pai’s quest. The second sacred place is the beach, where she has her sacred encounter with the whale.

    Trials and tribulations: Pai sets out to seek the ways of the warrior by sneaking onto the training compound, only to be caught by her grandfather, and to be humiliated in front of her male initiates. In one very important scene, Pai is being honored at school and dedicates as a gesture, a traditional tribal performance to her grandfather. Her heart is broken when he fails to show up.

    Revelation: A truth is revealed to her Uncle Rawiri one afternoon, as Pai retrieves the lost sacred artifact (the whale tooth) of her grandfather. (The “tooth” was tossed into the bay, during a training session with the aspiring young chefs.) ‘The one who gets my tooth back to me is the one” “Koro” announces (Whale Rider, 2002.)

    Symbolic death: Near the end of the film, Pai has her sacred encounter with the beached whale. She climbs up onto the back of the lead whale, in an attempt to get the whale to re-enter the water. The whale responds and off she goes with the whale into deeper waters. She almost drowns and is hospitalized for a few days. This is Pai’s symbolic death. It is during this time that her family is remorseful, especially her grandfather and reconsiders his point of view on who should be chief. Resurrection and rebirth: The film fades from a lonely scene of Pai in her hospital bed to a vibrant ceremony of Pai in the finished canoe of her father. With her grandfather by her side, the fully crewed canoe is ocean bound. Pai is dressed in traditional clothing and proudly wearing her grandfather’s whale tooth necklace.

    Reincorporation & Celebration: The film stops at the re-birth stage, but the last scene in the film doubles to fulfill the stage of celebration. It is safe to assume Pai will fulfill her duties as the new chief.

    Pilgrimage

    A pilgrimage is a journey on behalf of ritual and religious belief. Often pilgrims try to obtain salvation of their soul through this physical journey. Most times the journey is to a shrine or a sacred place of importance to a person's faith. The institution of pilgrimage is evident in all world religions and was also important in the pagan religions of ancient Greece and Rome. Pilgrimages attract visitors from widely dispersed cultural backgrounds and physical locations, offering them the opportunity to be brought together because of the origins of their faith.

    Relevant to so many different cultural contexts, there is no single definition to describe to the act of pilgrimage. However, similarities are noticeable. Pilgrimage usually requires separation from the common everyday world, and in displaying that separation pilgrims may mark their new identity by wearing special clothes or abstaining from familiar comforts. Frequently, pilgrimages link sacred place with sacred time (i.e. The hajj always occurs on the 8th, 9th, and 10th days of the last month of the Muslim year).

    The location of sacred sites and shrines often represent some great miracle or divine appearance, they may also appropriate the places that are holy to older or rival faiths. A factor that unites pilgrimage locations across different religions is the sense, variously expressed, that a given place can provide privileged access to a divine or transcendent state. Some of the most visited religious pilgrimage sites in the world are The Vatican in Rome (Roman Catholic Church), the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico Catholic Church, and Mecca in Saudi Arabia (Islam).

    Hajj

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Pilgrim at Mecca.

    The hajj is the fifth pillar of faith in the Islamic faith. It occurs on the 8th to 12th day of Dhul-Hijah, which is the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Members of the Islamic faith are encouraged to perform the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in their lifetime. However, religious law allow exclusions on grounds of hardship.[18] It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world.[19] Once a person has successfully completed the pilgrimage to Mecca he/she will receive the status of Hajji. Mecca is known by Muslims as the dwelling place of Adam after his expulsion from paradise and as the birthplace of Muhammad (570–632), the prophet of Islam.[20] Its yearly observance is held on the holy day Eid al-adh'ha as a memorial of Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son on Divine orders.[21] Millions of Muslims from around the globe gather to perform practices which are must not for choice.

    Pilgrims converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform the following rituals:

    • They walk counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka'abaa" the black box" which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer
    • They kiss the Black Stone in the corner of the Kaaba
    • They run back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah
    • They drink from the Zamzam Well
    • They go to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil
    • They throw stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil.
    • They shave their heads and.
    • They perform a ritual of animal sacrifice.
    • They celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha. [22]

    The Huichol's Pilgrimage for Peyote

    The Huichol are an indigenous group of maize (corn) farmers who reside in Sierra Madre of northern Mexico. Maize, along with deer and peyote-which the Huichol have linked together-are key ingredients for their way of life. Peyote is a rare cactus found in Mexico containing the chemical mescaline which induces hallucinogenic experiences if ingested properly. "In Huichol religious thought, deer, maize, and peyote fit together: Maize cannot grow without deer blood; the deer cannot be sacrificed until after the peyote hunt; the ceremony that brings the rain cannot be held without peyote; and the peyote cannot be hunted until maize has been cleaned and sanctified." [11] Here, Schultz shows the connection between three of the most prominent cultural symbols for the Huichol; and of those items, peyote seems to act as the metaphorical backbone that triggers the Huichol's religious practice. However, a pilgrimage must be first undertaken to find the peyote; beginning an approximate 350 mile trek.

    The location the pilgrims of Huichol are destined to find the peyote is a representation of "Wirikuta, the original homeland where the First People, both deities and ancestors, once lived." [12] After they have "captured" the peyote plant -shooting two arrows into it- a shaman places peyote buttons, a piece of the plant located in the very center of the cactus, in each pilgrims mouth. The pilgrim then chews the peyote button to ingest the mescaline. The group then begins to gather peyote for the rest of the community.

    The pilgrimage for peyote is an example of a culture actively holding onto their past. Instead of allowing their traditions to fall through the cracks, the Huichol use a holistic experience to preserve their religion and culture.[13]

    Rituals of Inversion

    Where the standards of everyday society are inverted and/or suspended, otherwise solid social codes are ignored. Two examples include Carnival and Halloween

    Carnival 

    The Carnival celebration occurs as a way to let loose before the strict rules of religion are set in place for lent. Typically, during Carnival everyday customs, rules, and habits of the community are inverted. Kings become servants, servants become kings, women dress as men and vice versa. The normal rules are overturned and indulgence becomes the rule. The body is granted freedom and obscenity are expected. Work and diets are omitted as people take to the streets to eat and party the days away.[23] A common thing to find during Carnival are masquerade balls, where men and women can wear masks of animals, creatures, and other people and in trying to figure out who the various attendees are, a risqué behavior is to be expected.

    Carnival is a festival traditionally held in Roman Catholic and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodox societies. Regardless, many people participate in the carnival tradition today. The Brazilian Carnaval is one of the best-known celebrations today, but many cities and regions worldwide celebrate with large, popular, and days-long events. Festivities are held in hundreds of different countries worldwide.

    An example of Carnival in the United States is Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras occurs in February right before the season of Lent. It was first introduced by the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville to the territory of Louisiane which now includes the states Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Ever since its introduction Mardi Gras has been celebrated in that area of the United States for many years. It's common to see people wearing minimal clothing, flashing for beaded necklaces, and partying in the streets. Much of this behavior is overlooked by police who only react when it is taken to the extreme or is in the more "family friendly" areas.

    Halloween

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Inversion on Halloween

    The Celtic celebration Samhain, pronounced “sow-in”, was the yearly culmination of the summer and harvest months and the beginning of the winter season marked by cold and death.[14] This “Feast of the Sun” was a time for all Celtic clans spanning across Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France to gather comfort and support while giving thanks to their many divine beings. Traditionally, large bonfires were built and people gathered to offer food and animals as sacrifice to the many deities. The Celts, pronounced Kelts, were polytheistic and offered gifts to specific Pagan Gods throughout the year. After the celebration had ended, people would relight the hearth in their homes with fire from the communal and sacred bonfire. This fire was thought to protect the people especially on the night of October 31, when the ghosts of the dead and otherworldly spirits were believed to return to earth.

    As Christianity and Roman rule began to spread through the Celtic lands, the holiday of Samhain or “Halloween” would be reinterpreted and designated as three holidays known as the Eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’ Day. All Saints’ Day, November 1, was created as a memorial for all saints and martyrs recognized by the Roman Catholic Church while All Souls’ Day, November 2, is a day to honor the dead. These church-sanctioned holidays were similarly celebrated with bonfires, parades, and costumes consisting of saints, angels, and devils. The idea of Satan is a Christian concept that did not exist in pagan beliefs. In order to believe in one idea of ultimate evil (the Devil) the Celts would have had to believe in one concrete idea of ultimate good (God), but they worshiped several Gods. These traditions went under further construction as further generations began to relocate away from ancestral grounds.

    Sacrifice

    A sacrifice is an offering of something of value to an invisible force, and is done in many cultures and religions. To thank the invisible or cosmic forces in hopes of getting them to perform in a certain way or to gain merit in their religious group (Shultz & Lavenda, 2009) are some reasons to perform sacrifices. Sacrifices are also made out of selfless good deeds. The word "sacrifice" in Latin means "to make sacred." Some examples of sacrifices are: Money, goods, services, animals and humans.

    In pre-Columbian Mexico, the Aztecs sacrificed hundreds of humans in accordance with their ritual calendar in what is referred to as a human sacrifice.[15] It was thought that in order for the sun to shine everyday a certain amount of human hearts had to be sacrificed. The most common sacrifice was for the sun God, Huitzilopochtli, in which a knife is used to cut under the ribs to get to the human heart, which was then forcibly removed.

    During the Bronze period of ancient China, sacrifices were very common in the worship of ancestors. It was believed that when a person died their fate was decided by spirits. In order to invoke these spirits a beautiful bronze vessel was filled with wine and water as an offering. It was to be placed outside of the city during a time of need as a offering to the Heavens. This is an example of a goods sacrifice.[24]

    In the Hmong Shamanism tradition, shamans would sacrifice animals to try and retrieve lost souls from the clutches of evil spirits. This was because animal souls were thought to be linked with human souls. In their tradition, evil spirits, known as dabs, would steal a persons soul and make them ill. When this happens, a chicken, pig, goat, or cow would be sacrificed and the animal's soul would be given to the evil spirits in exchange for the human soul, and this would make the person well again.[16]

    Altered States of Consciousness and Trance States

    Altered States of Consciousness(ASC’s) is any state of awareness that deviate from ordinary waking consciousness. These hypnotic states may be induced by therapists, magicians, and/or spirit guides conducting seances, practicing meditation, or drug-induced hallucinatory experiences. This form of ritual and healing practice is typically not embraced by mainstream North American cultures as a part of typical, everyday life meaning altered states are not institutionalized.

    Trance States or Behaviors are more difficult to characterize. Other than an altered state an often inward oriented states of thought, there is most times a change in body image, emotional expression, rejuvenating feelings, and increased sense of self. "There is evidence for shared physiological processes during different forms of trance as well as other ASCs... Trance states involve both amplification of certain internal cognitive processes as well as a decoupling of sensory processing." [17] Trance states usually involve a journey of the soul.

    Trance and Healing

    All cultures have developed practices to heal the ill. In many cultures, when home remedies fail people often turn to a specialist of some sort. Many cultures including those exposed to Western medicine resort to "magico-religious" healers such as Shamans or spirit guides. Trances and various altered states of consciousness are mainly associated with shamanistic healing practices. Trance states can be induced by a variety of activities such as singing, drumming, dancing, chanting, fasting, sleep or sleep deprivation, and psychoactive drugs.After a person is in a trance state, they may collapse and have intense visual experiences and hallucinations while unconscious.

    Examples in History

    • Cannabis Sativa has been found in charred vessels and pouches in burial sites of Indo-European groups in the iron age such as the Dacians and the Scythians. It is believed that Cannabis Sativa and melilot(Melilotus sp.) was used for spiritual purification processes.
    • In the Southern Pacific, Maori shamans or religious specialists used “Maori Kava”(Macropiper excelsum) in religion based rituals. Polynesian groups like the Hawaiians and Tongans employed “awa”(Piper methysticum) to aid in communicating with late ancestors.
    • The Olmec used hallucinogens like the psychoactive venom found in the marine toad ‘’Bofus Marinus’’ parathyroid gland or used native tobacco (‘’Nicotiana rustical’’). Bones from this extremely inedible toad have been discovered in trash deposits in San Lorenzo, while the kneeling figure known as ‘Princeton Shaman’ has one of these amphibians depicted on top of his head. [18]

    This page titled 6.8: Ritual is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

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