take many forms, from simple to highly complex. They serve important psychological/spiritual
functions, and can be conducive either to mental health, or psychopathology.|
Assayag (1988) calls ritual "a form of symbolic
communication, definitively identical to spoken language and its functioning"
Gallanter (1989) contends all rituals deal with
the problem of transformations of state in human beings or, in nature.
Obvious Western culture examples of the former are christenings, bar mitzvahs,
weddings, and funerals.
Examples of the latter occur in nature-oriented
religions such as those of Native Americans, Celtic pagans and others.
The turning of the seasons is recognized as cause for celebration.
The great sabbats of European antiquity are Samhain
(Halloween), Beltane (May Day), Imbolc (St. Bridget's Day), and Laghnasadh
(Lammas.) Between each are the four seasonal equinoxes and solstices.
These eight turning points mark annual transformations in the earth's
being, as participants use the ritual to help internalize personal growth
and change within themselves.
Gallanter continues: "Two rituals of particular
relevance to new religions are those of therapy and salvation. Therapy
or healing rituals aim to renew a damaged identity and to direct themselves
toward the future... The combination of healing and salvation rituals
as a kind of rite of passage is probably what makes religious conversion
or induction, functionally speaking, such a powerful socializer of human
behavior. Renunciation, expiation, and cleansing manifest themselves in
such contexts. Individuals successfully transformed into new religions
emerge in a metaphorically transformed sense as individuals resocialized
into a new psychological world.
"The 'rite of passage' nature of such healing and
salvation rituals in new religions typically involves three stages: separation
(whether physical or psychological), transition, learning the new role
and worldview), and incorporation (adopting the standards of the system
and living by it). Moreover, they effectively impress on the initiate:
1) how a change in one's self is sequentially managed within a particular
structure with the assistance or guidance of a particular person or group;
and 2) how the outcomes can be ultimately attributed to one's own efforts"
(p. 215, emphasis added.)
Interesting examples of ritual in the mundane world
cited by Moyers (1987) in the context of Court proceedings: "...one of
my colleagues had been asked by a friend... 'Why do you need the mythology?'
She held the familiar, modern opinion that 'all these Greek gods and stuff'
are irrelevant to the human condition. What she did not know -- what most
do not know -- is that the remnants of all that 'stuff' line the walls
of our interior system of belief, like shards of broken pottery in an
archaeological site. But we are organic beings, there is energy in all
that 'stuff.' Rituals evoke it. Consider the position of judges in our
society, which Campbell saw in mythological, not sociological terms. If
this position were just a role, the judge would wear a gray suit instead
of the magisterial black robe. For the law to hold authority beyond mere
coercion, the power of the judge must be ritualized, mythologized. So
must much of life today, Campbell Said, from religion and war to love
and death" (p. xiv.)
According to Sharon
Devlin, quoted in Adler (1986): "The purpose of ritual is to change the
mind of the human being. It's a sacred drama in which you are the audience
as well as the participant. The purpose of it is to activate parts of
the mind that are not activated by everyday activity. We are talking about
the parts of the mind that produce the psychokinetic, telekinetic power,
whatever you want to call it -- the connection between the eternal power
and yourself. As for why ritual, I think that human beings have
a need for art and art is ritual. I think that when we became sapient,
we became capable of artistic expression. It is simply a human need" (p.
- Adler, M. (1986),
Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-worshippers and
other Pagans in America today,. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Assayag, J.
(1988), The basket, hair, the Goddess and the world: An essay on South
Indian symbolism, Diogenes, summer 1988, 142:113-135. Journal
of the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies,
- Campbell, J.
(1988), The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday.
- Galanter, M.
(1989), Cults and New Religious Movements: A report of the American
Psychiatric Association, Washington: APA.
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