Barely Controlled Ritual

“I would suggest that, among other things, ritual represents the creation of a controlled environment where the variables (i.e., the accidents) of ordinary life may be displaced precisely because they are felt to be so overwhelmingly present and powerful.

Preparing for the Sun Dance by Howard Terpning

Ritual is a means of performing the way things ought to be in conscious tension to the way things are in such a way that ritualized perfection is recollected in the ordinary, uncontrolled course of things.”

— Jonathan Z. Smith, “The Bare Facts of Ritual”

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4 thoughts on “Barely Controlled Ritual

  1. Eric M. Cherry

    Off topic (of this post, not of the blog)…

    I’m reading “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution” by Francis Fukuyama. In the third chapter, “The Tyranny of Cousins,” the author appears to link ancestor worship to the transition of people from family bands to large tribes.

    To quote: “It is not obvious, however, why you should want to cooperate with a cousin four times removed rather than a familiar nonrelative just because you share one sixty-fourth of your genes with your cousin. No animal species behaves in this manner, nor do human beings in band-level societies. The reason that this form of social organization took hold across human societies was due to religious belief, that is, the worship of dead ancestors.”

    Does this idea seem accurate?

    – emc

  2. admin Post author

    There is a much better case for ancestor worship and lineage differentiation during the Neolithic transition from foraging to agriculture than there is for such a process at any time during the Paleolithic. So the answer is yes, it seems fairly accurate. We certainly see something like this at Catal Hoyuk (see Ian Hodder’s Catal Hoyuk and Lisa Lucero’s Maya articles under the Resources tab).

    There are some, including Matt Rossano and perhaps even Jesse Bering, who argue that “ancestor worship” developed during the Upper Paleolithic. There is of course no archaeological evidence for this and we cannot infer it based on ethnographic analogy. Hunter-gatherers don’t pay much homage to ancestors or lineages.

  3. J. A. LeFevre

    I don’t see hunter-gatherers performing what we (westerners) call worship either – they pay respects to and may expect some form of interaction with spirit agents, but I am not familiar with ‘worship’ in pre-neolithic societies.

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