Dr. J. Granskog
NOTES ON ASPECTS OF RITUAL AND IDEOLOGY
Mapping the Field of Ritual (Grimes)
We need both inter-subjective and analytical processes to understand ritual. All
interpretive efforts are surrounded by implicit questions, making some explicit insures
grounds for discussion. The kind of questions one asks as well as the way one thinks
about those questions determine both the methods and style used in an investigation.
These then are used as a basis for our theoretical formulations. Theory defines how we
account for and sometimes predict regular patterns of co-variance and provides for the
criticism of methods. In order to conduct an investigation of ritual in the field,
anthropologists often will ask a number of key questions that help them define the
characteristics of the ritual event. These generally include the following kinds of questions
(Taken from Grimes, 1995. Beginnings in Ritual Studies, pp. 24-38):
1. Kinds of questions used to analyze ritual events:
a. Ritual space - Natural setting? Boundaries - rigid/flexible, clear? Permanence?
Access? History? Shape? Size?
b. Ritual objects - what & how many? Making & history ritualized? Nature of power
associated w/ it? Owned? Status of keeper?
c. Ritual time/timing - Time of day/season? More than one calendar? Coordination w/
natural cycles? Coincide/conflict w/ ordinary social time? Duration of ritual?
d. Ritual sound and language - Non-linguistic sounds? Presume literacy? Importance of
language to performance of rite?
e. Ritual identity - Ritual roles and offices of significance? What groups receive ritual
recognition? Who is excluded? Feelings while performing vs. after experience? What
emphasized - action, feeling, thought, or intention?
f. Ritual action - Kinds of actions performed? Parts of body emphasized? Senses used
most often? Activity or passivity most pronounced? Actions inner or outer directed?
2. Interpreting ritual Questions are aimed at uncovering indigenous responses, emic
categories. Interpreting (even in the questions asked) has an etic dimension. A number of
theoretical options that have been used include:
a. Describing ritual's phenomenology (Eliade, VanGennep);
b. Identifying underlying structures as a symbol system (Geertz), metalanguage
(Bateson), structure (Levi-Strauss);
c. Considering its social functions (Durkheim), covariants (Douglas), processes in social
fabric (Turner), roles (Goffman);
d. Considering how it is related to individual and group psychology and thus regarding
ritual as a set of archetypes (Jung); mazeways (Wallace); developmental stages
(Erikson);. or games (Huizinga, Caillois);
e. Explaining it as an ecological (Rappaport) or biogenetic (d'Aquili; Laughlin) operation
f. Tracing historically and theologically its precedents & consequences
g. Entering into imaginative participation and concentrating on style of constructing life-
worlds (Ricoeur) or ultimate realities (Tillich)
Modes of Ritual Sensibility – Grimes discusses 6 modes of ritual sensibility which
characterize the different ways in which ritual may function within our lives. These include
1. Ritualization - stylized repeated gesturing and posturing, the ritual part of ordinary life.
2. Decorum - from civic, social life, Goffman "interaction ritual", patterning that leads to
expectations that become part of tacit culture, conventionalized behavior.
3. Ceremony - less ordinary, more intentional, different from decorum in that is a large
group socio-political interaction; e.g, courtroom sessions, Turner's "social drama",
sometimes conflict ladden, power, a central consideration
4. Liturgy - any ritual action with an ultimate frame of reference and doing which is felt of
cosmic necessity, zen meditation, shamanic trance, spiritual exercise, "re-present" events
in enactments, "eventualize" structures.
5. Magic - pragmatic ritual work, means of influencing the supernatural/unknown
6. Celebration - root, play, form of expressive ritualized play.
Religious Specialists (Shamans, Priests and Prophets) and the Way of the Shaman
A. Definitions/ Overview of Religious Specialists -- Characteristics of religious
specialists—are present in almost all societies, however, the emphasis on religious
specialists is greater in food producing societies. The more complex the society, the more
likely it is to have religious intermediaries. An anthropological approach also focuses on
studying the functions of religion and its specialists within society. Roles become more
problematic with the issue of defining what is religion (vs magic and the occult). Significant
points of Turner's discussion of religious specialists, distinction between magic
(manipulation of an impersonal transhuman controlling power by magicians) and religion
(personalized transhuman controlling power--spirits, ghosts, ancestors, gods, etc.). Most
cultures contain a combination of both.
1. Priest - Priest is associated with functioning of a regularly organized and permanent
enterprise, full-time occupation, petitions supernatural (thru prayer, supplication) on behalf
of congregation/community; authority derived from service in sacred tradition (oft marked
by calendrical series of rituals); power is based on learned standardized ritual lore; are
usually found in agricultural or more complex food-producing societies. Priests rarely are
innovative, "dramatists" (office, role and script are sacred not the person) -- are institutional
2. Shaman and Medium - Usually contrasted w/ role of priest, shamans are usually
personally called (via a "divine stroke"), part-time specialists, predominate in foraging
societies; their primary role is as a curer for individual clientele (within the family context).
Emphasis is on their ability to manipulate the supernatural world. Their control over spirits
makes a shaman a distinctive type of spirit medium (medium - one is controlled by a spirit
and can serve as a means of communication with supernatural world). Operates in a
person to person fashion; shamans & mediums are classified together with prophets as
inspirational functionaries. Shamans usually work in small-scale, "folk" communities
(marked by mechanical solidarity); prophets come in when society is becoming more
stratified or impacted from without.
3. Divination and Doctors. Divination focuses on inquiry about future events directed to
deity who responds w/ tokens, or analysis of past events (e.g., to determine guilt).
Preliterate societies, divination and therapy (doctor/curer) are closely intertwined; illness
viewed as attack on soul by others--often denotes tension in social fabric.
4. Note distinctions between types of societies re: religious specialists. In complex
societies, religion is limited to its own domain and is often closely tied to politics.
B. Significance of Shamanic Perspective. Shamanism is a very old, coherent, broadly
diffused mental paradigm; draws its powers of persistence from its capacity to organize
knowledge about the world by way of a simple set of symbols and assumptions.
Premises: (a) spiritual force that all humans experience is ambient, of the world, cosmos
and everything in it; birth, death, illustrate capacity of spirit to move thru material forms.
Are two ways to view the divine: as a transcendent Creator out there (Eurocentric/Western
view) or as an immanent creation potentially manifest everywhere (shamanic view); (b)
shamanism can function as guide in complex societies as a way or organizing knowledge
about the world which can help us meet the challenge of rethinking our relationship to the
lifesystem that spawned us all (From: Freidel, Schele, & Parker, 1993, Maya Cosmos,
Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path, pp.12-13).
1. Langdon's (1992) discussion of shamanism and anthropology in the intro to Portals of
Power: Shamanism in South America summarizes some of the major issues addressed by
anthropologists. First major comparative ethnological study was by Eliade (1954). Key for
Eliade -- significance of estatic state/shamanic trance (relationship between shaman and
spirits - seeks to control them for specific purpose); focus on various forms and
expressions as a dynamic cultural-social complex in various societies. Langdon also
addresses issues of concern re: shamanism in anthro: (a) debates re: psychic stability of
shamans (need to look at collective representations vs. external behavior to understand
normality/marginality, is culturally relative); (b) effectiveness of role in therapy, (shamans
access altered states at will, fulfill needs of community, mediate between sacred &
profane); (c) problems in defining as a form of magic or religion -- early anthropologists
classed it as magic, distinguishing it from religion; need to recognize shamanism as a
central expression of the worldview of a culture that is not separate from the ideological
system of which it is a part.
2. Importance of symbolic anthropological perspective (work of Geertz, Turner, Douglas
etc.) in understanding nature and functions of shamanism, concern with symbolic
representations in ideological systems and rituals as well as their relationship to society
and human motivation. Shamans mediate between worlds and are thus liminal.
3. Langdon also notes that a key concept of many shamanic systems is concept of power
which enables shaman to mediate between extra-human and human and legitimizes
his/her various social roles w/in society. A South American shaman, for example, is
distinct from ordinary individuals in his/her power illustrated in (a) mastery of ecstatic state
leading to the (b) acquisition of auxiliary spirits thru this experience and (c) attainment of
4. Harner's main points; significance of cognicentrism (view that our way of knowing and
understanding things is the only viable/most "correct" one, that other views of the world are
thus less valid/"true", i.e., "superstitious"); concept of non-ordinary reality (N.O.R); means
of approaching non-ordinary reality; discuss major features of the shamanic journey,
significance of power animals, techniques used to restore power and extract harmful
intrusions. Summary work of Sandra Ingerman who worked with Harner for 20+ years
expands on usefulness of practical applications of shamanism as it has evolved in
contemporary Western cultures.
5. Note major features of Turner's concept of structure -- organization of statuses, roles
and norms, features of hierarchy, classification, differentiation, stability; and anti-structure
-- reverse of structure, exists outside structure, between structural categories (e.g. as seen
in 3 stages of rites of passage – (1) separation, (2) transition--liminality and communitas,
and (3) incorporation) and at the bottom of structure. Power of anti-structure lies in
perception of it with ambivalence (as the liberation of human spirit and a potential threat to