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Topic subjectPurpose of Rituals
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12086, Purpose of Rituals
Posted by Solarus, Wed Jul-11-01 11:54 AM

In organized religions and all spiritual systems, there exist certain actions called “rituals.”

What is the purpose of the ritual?
Is the purpose clearly conveyed when performing the ritual?
Does the ritual actually reinforce the desired behavior?

I would argue that these are the questions one must ask when analyzing the effectiveness and utility of ANY ritual. I stress “ANY” because rituals are found in every aspect of life. Brushing one’s teeth every morning can be a ritual. Going a certain way to work or school can be a ritual. Rituals are abundant in ALL life (including non-human). Let’s look at the definition for “ritual”:

1 : the established form for a ceremony; specifically : the order of words prescribed for a religious ceremony
2 a : ritual observance; specifically : a system of rites b : a ceremonial act or action c : a customarily repeated often formal act or series of acts

“A customarily repeated often formal act or series of acts,” is the definition that I am using in this piece.

The master of any craft understands the benefit of rituals as they are the only way to become adept at a certain craft. Repetition allows one hone one skills and input the repeated action into one’s subconscious thus making the action or information, “second nature.” See here: http://www.okayplayer.com/dcforum/DCForumID1/3249.html

Rituals (theoretically) are to do the same thing within religious and spiritual systems. I say “theoretically” because this does not always happen. The goals of any system and the desired forms of behavior are reinforced by rituals. Problematic rituals are usually the result of a loss of meaning and effectiveness of the desired goal that it is supposed to be reinforced within the system. One could also argue that problematic rituals are the reflection of a larger problematic system, but that is another subject for another day.

Using the questions posed at the beginning of this post we will analyze a set of Afrakan rituals as told by Dogon sage, Ogotemmeli to French anthropologist, Marcel Griuale in Coversations with Ogotemmeli. We will also look to see how the “God is IMMANENT” concept is conveyed through the prescribed rituals. The rituals that we analyze are those concerning a very controversial aspect of many traditional Afrakan customs, “animal sacrifice.”

What is the purpose of the ritual?

“The object was rather to create a movement of forces within a circuit composed of the sacrificer, the victim, altar and the power invoked. In the case of the ordinary service of a power like the Nommo, Son of God, or of the God Amma himself, the mechanism could not be clearly seen…’

‘The effect of every sacrifice,’ he said,’ is the same as that of the sacrifice to Lebe. First one feeds and strengthens oneself, and then, by means of the Word, gives strength and life to all men…’

‘The altar gives something to a man, and part of what he has received he passes on to others,’ said Ogotemmeli. ’A small part of the sacrifice is for oneself, but the rest is for others. The forces released enter into the man, pass through him and out again, and so it is for all…’ As each man gives to all the rest, so he also receives from all. A perpetual exchange goes on between men, an unceasing movement of invisible currents…’The Word,’ said Ogotemmeli,”is for everyone in this world; it must come and go and be interchanged for it is good to give and to receive the forces of life.’”

We can see the “God is IMMANENT” concept clearly reverberating in this passage. Each aspect of the ritual is a force. The power that is invoked ultimately, stems from the movement of all of these forces in cohesion with one another. The sacrifice is not for the “worship” of some particular thing, object or “God” but rather, a unification of “things” to empower oneself and all things. The only “worship” that occurs is the appreciation for the IMMANENCY of IT (Amma) and the Word (Nommo) that flows through and within all things.

As for these:

Is the purpose clearly conveyed by performing the ritual?
Does the ritual actually reinforce some form of desired behavior of prescribed by the system the system?

We cannot truly answer these two questions unless we do a systematic analysis of Dogon culture and its people over a period of time to see if they ideals are truly being understood and expressed. Therefore these questions will have to be left unanswered.

Rituals can be beneficial to the system when they fulfill their purpose. However when they become meaningless and do not fulfill their purpose then they are no longer of use. Instead they have just become dogmatic and cause adherents of a particular system to not follow or fulfill the goals of the system. Instead one finds the adherent to consistently be contradictory to the principles of the system, whilst the system remains nothing more than a novelty. Repetition is important, but MEANING is fundamental.


Further Readings:
Conversations with Ogotemmeli by Marcel Griaule

***Words of Wisdom***

"Every time you rise from your sleeping state, you have been reincarnated. Every time you recover from a bad experience, you have been reincarnated. Every time you have been given a new lease on life, you have been reincarnated. Every time you breath in and out, take in the fresh breath of life and feel the divine intelligence flowing in and around you, you have been reincarnated."- Mfundishi Bakari

On "love":

"I am in love everyday, whether I am with someone or not. Why? All love is based on a search for spirit. For me love is timeless, transcendent, peaceful, freeing, soul-based, unifying, and enhanced evolution. This is the basis of my activism."- Nettrice, the embodiment of Oshun

"Since we all make up the rules as we go along, love can mean many different things to many different people. But, for me love is a total commitment to understanding that is not limited to just people but is open to the totality of life. As long as we approach love from a fear based mentality and perceive it through veils of guardedness and anxiety, it will always be restricted by our fears."- Mfundishi Bakari