A moment or moments of time, where habitual or regular actions are repeated for a purpose. Frequently, rituals are used to formalize official activities, instruct or have a religious purpose.
Statements, ceremonies or other organized or improvisational proceedings can be rituals. We may participate in them automatically if trained to do so like genuflecting or saluting an officer. Rituals serve the purpose of bonding people through a unified activity. They build cohesiveness even amongst dissimilar participants and reinforce a shared ideal or sense of virtue.
A trial in court begins with the assembled folks rising for the entrance of the honored judge. In doing so, there is an acknowledgement of the authority and power accorded a judge by society. An oath is sworn by participants ritualistically to agree to the unifying elements of justice. The judge wears a robe and sits behind a desk, above and facing the other participants and controls the proceedings.
The peaceful transfer of power from one political entity to its opposite demands a formal ritual to clearly define the exchange. Our structure of governance would crumble without it.
Bureaucracies are composed of a series of formal rituals created to serve the purpose of running a business or government. The filling-out of a form hardly seems to be a ritual but the ritual of filling out forms is. I used to tell my students that half of their education was to learn how to deal with the bureaucrats administering the State-run University. I know that government procedures lack the symbolic significance of, say the ritual of a funeral, but tell that to the teenager getting his driver’s license or an immigrant becoming a citizen. Those folks place a lot of value on the ritual. Rituals here are rites of passage.
The power of the ritual comes from the symbolic meaning we give to it. In the Sixties, the ritual of burning one’s draft card was far more powerful than going to the county seat and registering for the draft. The formalized qualities of ritual can define a culture. The highly structured rituals of live theatre is evident in a European-style performance. The audience sits and watches a structured formal event performed upon a stage. Altered Conscience Theatre, and other tribal rituals sometimes known as “unconscious drama,” in contrast seems to have almost no formality. Its purpose is not solely entertainment, but intends to involve participants in the formation of self-transcendence. The event may have no plot or formal structure, its significance comes from the individual experiences of those participating.
A key element of these cultural rituals is improvisation. The story isn’t clear until the end of the improvisation, and it may never seem coherent at all to Western eyes. The act of doing provides the ecstatic emotional surge. I’ve rarely ever seen speaking in tongues so I can only surmise that it is a western-style simulation of a similar phenomenon. The goal of unconscious rituals is to leave the confines of the flesh and create art through that ecstatic state of being – like the Whirling Dervish in Turkey transcending the earthly plane through dance. Can you imagine the focused attention required to spin like a top yet leave your mind totally exposed to sensation? A western style preacher inserting gibberish into his sermon is not the same thing at all.
Let’s consider the expectations of the audience, in Western style theatre the audience will be entertained, edified, and humanity exalted, not through participation, but by observing and reacting. When the boundaries between performers and audience are broken, people become visibly upset. Say, as an example, the actors leave the stage and speak directly to audience members, insulting them for their looks. The conventions of the ritual have been broken causing alarm. Now, think of the first week of the Trump administration; he is upending all of our moral traditions and rituals isn’t he!
Obama, during his time in power, broke two of the most honored rituals favored by uneducated white evangelicals, the wedding, and fag-bashing. Trump was elected by white evangelicals as revenge for that violation of their privilege. Their response is that, since you broke our ritual we’ll get a rich professional doofus to break all your rituals until there’s nothing left to break. Then they stick their tongues out and blow a raspberry. “See how you like that!” The flaw in the “reasoning” is that the doofus isn’t really on their side.
He is more like the preacher spewing nonsense syllables as if in a state of ecstasy. Really folks, look at the artifice! The preacher is speaking to you through a microphone with a prepared script in the European tradition, in a well structured and choreographed production. There is nothing spontaneous about it. Even the moments of ecstasy of the audience have a scheduled beginning and ending point. You may call it speaking in tongues but it is truly FAKE NEWS. If you fall for it in church you’ll love it in a President.
When all the rituals are destroyed by Trump, his supporters will be worse off than before. The new rituals he creates in their stead will be incomprehensibly spoken in the tongues of the wealthy.
Our show must go on, but we should be aware of the artifice of theatre:
- Unconscious drama is a genuine experience that changes the participant through a true and personal ritualistic experience of self-transcendence. How that individual interprets their moment of ecstasy is another matter.
- Western Theatre (movies, TV) relies upon the willing suspension of disbelief. It’s fake, but observers know that and acknowledge the artifice, and expect to grow intellectually and emotionally from the experience.
- Faith causes you to ignore the fake and pretend it’s all real. Big mistake.