Inventing new rituals

by Narkissos 28 Replies latest jw friends

  • Narkissos

    One tragic mistake (I think) in the modern Western world is to reduce the notion of religion to beliefs or doctrines. And perhaps morals.

    Ritual is actually more central to religion, in a wider historical and geographical perspective, than any of the above. It is an ambiguous act, gesture, susceptible of several interpretations, which refreshingly breaks for a while the endless flow of talk in religion. I like that.

    Traditional Christianity brought us basically two rituals, or sacraments: Baptism and the Eucharist. Those were interpreted differently in early Christian writings, yet the act itself was capable of uniting people regardless of their interpretations. And the early Christian writings attest to a number of possible other rituals which were forgotten except in some fringe circles or situations, e.g. the washing of feet, laying on of hands, "holy kiss," anointing, or the Gnostic erotico-mystical ceremony of the "bridal chamber" (the content of which is debated).

    Rituals, like symbols or metaphors, tend to wear out in time. They must be refreshed through reinterpretation, or renewed through syncretism (borrowing from other religions) or invention.

    Let the crazy among us (you know who you are) play creating rituals. I thought of two possible ones lately:

    (1) A mirror ritual: facing a mirror until you really "see yourself" (more difficult as it may seem). Then shout and smash the mirror (a bit costly but it may get sponsored by the mirror industry should it become popular). Then keep silent for a while or start the Hindu-Buddhist "om" (getting syncretistic here).

    (2) A greeting ritual: instead of shaking hands or hugging, gently put your hand on the cheek of the next person and look him/her long enough to really "see" each other. (I sometimes daydream of doing that to people in the street, but I'm not yet crazy enough.)

    Can you think of others?

    Of course if you are not that crazy you're welcome to discuss, or perhaps tell about extant foreign rituals (religious or not) that you have seen and enjoyed...

  • jgnat

    Story-telling in song, interweaving our own tribal or family history in the telling.

  • MuadDib

    I tend to think of rituals more from the anthropological perspective - as dominant or group symbolism, participation in which secures an individual's status as a legitimate member of a given social group. Baptism is an important ritual in Christianity, as you mentioned, since it affirms one's status not only before God (which might be worth nothing) but before the other believers (which is worth everything). But there are many, many more. As JWs or ex-JWs we're all familiar with the song and prayer combo as a ritual to legitimize religious proceedings: performing the ritual once signifies the commencement of formal religious activity during which our behaviour must conform to certain standards, while performing it again in reverse order signifies that this activity has ended and a different mode of social behaviour now governs our interaction. Service is another ritual activity signifying legitimate participation in the social circle: people who don't go in service regularly are "weak in the truth" (ie undesirable members of the group) while those who regularly participate are held up as models of socially acceptable behaviour. And the JWs regulate sexual behaviour through ritualization by deeming it a sin unless the participants' union is formally acknowledged by God - and, again more importantly, by other members of the congregation, the primary social group.

    The social dynamics involved in group interaction essentially force participants to behave in a manner conformist to the standard demanded by the dominant symbolism simply through fear of rejection and alienation by others. To participate is to be safe and secure; to behave differently is to be alone. For our purposes the corollary to all of this, of course, is the WBTS' clever method of forbidding Witnesses from participating in secular or "worldly" rituals that would affirm their legitimate membership in the rest of human society. Witnesses don't participate in birthday rituals, holiday rituals, political rituals, or even "safety valve" type rituals like office parties. This encourages Witnesses to see the congregation as the only social group to which they legitimately belong - hopefully ensuring their continued loyalty to the organization - while simultaneously encouraging them to view other normal human social activity as delegitimized.

    So I would actually say that the mirror ritual and the greeting ritual aren't really rituals at all, unless widely adopted by other people as an essential set of behaviours that define legitimate social interaction. I don't know that it's actually possible to create any truly new rituals as they will all take the same essential form: they will confirm some kind of higher governing authority over one's behaviour or perception (irrespective of that authority's true nature) and dictate what is socially proper to do, think, say, etc. I say the hell with ritual: let's all do our own thing.

  • jgnat

    I am cool with ritual now.

    My dad is anti-ritual, and I see how his stance has weakened our family bonds.

    Also, the ONLY EVENTS from their childhood that my adult children remember were when we performed some sort of habitual family ritual, like making home-made Christmas cards every year.

  • Satanus

    Interesting topic.

    A ritual is a formalized, predetermined set of symbolic actions generally performed in a particular environment at a regular, recurring interval. The set of actions that comprise a ritual often include, but are not limited to, such things as recitation, singing, group processions, repetitive dance, manipulation of sacred objects, etc. The general purpose of rituals is to express some fundamental truth or meaning, evoke spiritual, numinous emotional responses from participants, and/or engage a group of people in unified action to strengthen their communal bonds.

    The comfort that people get from them may have a lot to do w the communal bonding. The long looking into peoples' eyes that you mentioned would certainly do that, except that most people would get really nervous cuz they aren't used to it. It would reduce fear and tension from aloneness. They also help to make people feel connected to the world in a general way. The fraternal societies make great use of ritual.


  • Narkissos


    You make excellent points from a sociological angle. Rituals only exist as repeated within a given social structure. What I proposed is nothing more than a game in imagination -- certainly not a brainstorming for starting a new cult (albeit I might think it over again... he he...).

    I find the feature of mutual recognition more convincing than authority though -- unless you mean a pretty evanescent and undetermined imaginary authority. The Christian rituals started in a cultic nebula which was remarkably devoid of any central, human authority.

    There is no culture or sub-culture without rituals. However the rituals may be symbolically rich or poor (the JW ones strike me as exceedingly poor, univocal, and hence comforting subjection to an explicit authority). A secular culture works with mostly worn-out rituals which give you the impression of "doing your own thing" when you are actually going through the motions of a forgotten script, therefore with an impression of meaninglessness.

    What I like in living rituals is their open symbolical power (their meaning is not explicitly fixed once and for all, or at least the act exceeds any dogmatical meaning).

  • jwfacts

    I am waiting for you to release a book Narkissos, is one on the way?

    I personally like the ritual of African tribal religions and some Born Again religions where people dance in a frenzy until they collaspe in a spasming heap of spiritual enlightenment. Looks like fun, though I am yet to partake.

  • jgnat

    jwfacts, if you like evangelical frenzy, you'd probably be interested in the "Toronto Blessing", an outbreak of "Holy Laughter." I've just finished reading an excerpt of "The Tipping Point" and I wonder instead if this kind of phenomenon is some kind of organizational epidemic.

    I witnessed a speaker bring our entire church in to a frenzy of holy laughter. I and the pastor were the only two in the room who did not partake. The experience actually turned me off from these kinds of revivals, as our church services magically doubled for the three days the speaker was there. Then the "camp followers" mysteriously disappeared when the speaker moved on. I was unpleasantly reminded of the crowds who followed Jesus for the free bread.

    On the other hand, it seemed to do no harm.

  • lisaBObeesa
    For our purposes the corollary to all of this, of course, is the WBTS' clever method of forbidding Witnesses from participating in secular or "worldly" rituals that would affirm their legitimate membership in the rest of human society.

    Interesting stuff, MaudDid....I enjoy reading your posts. What you are saying here is, for me, a new way of looking at how I was raised. I was raised without all the riturals that affirm my legitimate membership in humans society. So that explains I feel like I am an outsider, always.

  • Think

    Elders should wait at KH doors and wash the feet of the sheeps, this is in the bible, why they not doing this ???

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