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Engaging Communities Supplemental #3 Ritual & Symbol

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Ethan Chambers

on 14 December 2013

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Transcript of Engaging Communities Supplemental #3 Ritual & Symbol

Write about why or why not you would
classify the pattern as a ritual, and if it is a ritual, discuss the meaning you think it carries. What actions are taking place to make these patterns? How do these actions reflect
the meaning or belief represented in the ritual?
This can be your own theory of what
it means to people at the site or what it means to you personally. Push yourself
here to examine multiple layers of action
and meaning, and how any rituals
you identify connect to
symbols and objects.
Question #2
Question #3
Engaging Communities Supplemental #3 Ritual & Symbol
Ritual - Public Practice
Ritual - Personal Practice
Inquiry; Self-Engagement
Petal #6
Petal #5
Rituals are often associated with organized religion: baptisms, weddings, funerals, but rituals may also involve the aspects of home and family such as: bedtime, reading a story to a child, or singing a song before sleep. The purpose of ritual is to make cultural beliefs visible and tangible --literally that means to see what is believed. Rituals can be both public (popular) and private (personal). They may be highly organized or spontaneous. Ritual is tied to the idea that your/our existence transcends linear time and connects one to something universal.
Petal #1
Petal #2
Ritual are meaningful manifestations of beliefs that are practiced with awareness of intentionality. Each action, set of actions, and symbols used in the ritual are representations of cultural beliefs. Ask yourself, what does the action of ritual reflect about beliefs? How do public rituals unite people in terms of what a society believes? How do rituals make beliefs manifest?
Petal #3
In public and private rituals, symbols and objects are used to represent an idea’s power. The cultural talisman (like a mandala, or a cross, or a Star of David) is intended to represent a belief or series of related beliefs. For ethnographic study it is the site specific symbol or object that is of the most interest -- symbols specific to the rituals in which they embody and/or represent-- and how these symbols or objects are used in a ritual space.
Petal #4
What are the repeated actions before after and during a ritual? Who participates? Who does not? Who does what? What do these actions mean within the context of the ritual? Where do you celebrate specific events or rituals? What happens the day of the ritual? Before? During? After the ritual?
What happens repeatedly during the ritual?
How does the ritual work? What cultural belief is being expressed in this ritual?

Mandala 1
Ritual - Public Practice
Relationships are the ways one interacts with the world, connects with others, in and out of the concept of time.

When studying the behavior of ourselves and of other people we can see that not every action is a ritual. Sometimes people just respond to life, and this response is not what is considered a ritual. When connecting a person or people to ritual we can see that the idea of relationship to an idea and or belief is at the crux of the action. What is the meaningful action that the individual engages in to create a ritual and what do those actions reflect about that person's beliefs?
Question #6
Now let's think about ritual and ethnographic study. First identify a space, or place where you can observe a ritual. Identify repeated behaviors and actions and take some notes. Now, take your initial thoughts, reflections, and notes, and record an initial overview of what happens. Try to identify sequences or patterns. Once identified, think about whether these are actually rituals, or simply a part of a habit
--the difference here concerns meaning
with how it is understood and created.
If you think something is meaningful,
don't be afraid to ask people at the site
what it means to them.
Question #1
Question #4
Question #5
While there are differences of opinion with
respect to individual perceptions of meaning,
make sure you focus on the difference in your
own field-notes between description, thoughts and feelings, and analysis. The simple act of separating
these kinds of writing serves to emphasize that
you are, at once, a participant in your site and a researcher. Yours is a complex subject position.
Do not lose sight of this even as you concentrate
on the action in your site. Actually work to address
this gap in the analysis section of your
field-notes. Why can you write about
ritual/symbol in two different ways?
How does that shift make you feel?
Do you feel more confident of
either type of writing? Why?
Petal #1
Petal #2
Petal #3
Petal #4
Ritual objects are representations of a greater reality. They are representations of another state of consciousness --a place not confined by the illusion of time. Do you have personal objects that tie you to the universal? Do you use a rosary? How about a prayer wheel? Do you use a dream catcher? or have a lucky charm? Do you draw protective Runes or sigils? What relevant symbols, objects, artifacts do you use that tie you to larger cultural beliefs? How do you use these objects? What do these objects mean to you? Your culture?
Your beliefs?
Petal #5
Beliefs reinforced are the practice of an idea until it becomes part of ones’ daily life. Layers of objects, symbols, representations, actions, and space express the importance an individual or a culture place on a certain set of beliefs and represent how we make meaning in our lives. What do rituals mean to you? How do your rituals tie you to other people? To the Universal?
Petal #6
Consider how a private ritual creates in you the feeling of connectedness to something larger. This expansive connectedness can be a connection to a spiritual force, and/or it can be compassion and love for the planet, animals, and all sentient beings. Choose a ritual that you do in a quiet space, such as closing your eyes in the sunlight, bowing your head in thanks, or meditating in your room.
Think about the quiet space inside of yourself as having value, as being a place of limitless connection and possibility. Think of there being a place
inside of yourself of infinite peace.
Mandala 2
Ritual - Personal Practice
Time is suspended in ritualistic space. Time is both living and dying and may be seen as a human construct. In many religions time exists as an illusion. What does time mean to you? How consciously do you go about your daily activities? Do you do things intentionally? When do you do what? What actions make up your daily life? Do your actions reflect your beliefs about time, about spiritual or cultural relationships?

Image of Avalokitesvara
Ma and Ni
Combined, "ma and "ni"
represent enlightenment,
altruistic intention, deep compassion
for all sentient beings and love.
Ma is represented by the color green.
Represents limitlessness,
it is unconstrained
that exists outside of time.
In Buddhism the sound of
Om moves though all realms.
It is represented by the color white.
Represents a place of dense matter
and negative energy.
In being spoken through the mantra,
the intent is to purify
the realm of negative energy.
Hum is tied to the realm of hell,
whose color is black.
These syllables combined reflect
the base of Buddhist teachings,
a realization of emptiness.
Dme is tied to the hungry ghost realm,
whose color is red.
Pa and Dme
"Pa-dme" represents the wisdom of the lotus.
Its wisdom is in realizing the impermanence
of all things, and living in and out of time.
Pa is tied to the animal realm,
whose color is blue.
Pa and Dme
These sounds are represented
in the human and demigod
realms respectively.
Ni is represented by the color yellow.
Ma and Ni

These syllables spoken aloud together form a mantra, or chant to be used in meditation to awaken Avalokitesvara within oneself, the embodiment of mercy and compassion. The mantra itself means 'Behold the jewel in the lotus', the jewel representing the soul, the void or the divine within oneself. By this practice, one can open one’s own ‘Buddha Nature’, which implies both a deep wisdom and an infinite compassion toward all things. It is this mantra, that when spoken during meditation in a perceived sacred space pulls all of the sections of ritual together with symbol. In this meditation, one experiences ritual time, performs ritual action, exists in a ritual space, experiences a relationship with the ‘divine’, is reciting from a symbol (the mandala itself), and reinforces or reimagines one’s belief.

Take some time to make some notes about how the mandala of Avalokitesvara is representative, is a symbol, an object of belief that is often engaged with in ritual space. Do you see how
this mandala and the syllables are both a personal and a public practice tied to larger, universal, cultural meaning?
Mandala 3
Mandala 4
Inquiry; Self-Engagement
In order for ritual to be effective, it must often take place in sacred space and time. This means there are at least two layers you need to consider when examining ritual: the course of action and the space in which it occurs. In addition, there is a relationship between ritual and symbol, a relationship that further complicates the location of meaning. In ethnographic writing, you are seeking to highlight complexity in order to avoid intimating that there is any one Truth, that there is any one reality. Because of the complexity of ritual, how it affects people, how and where folks find meaning, it becomes useful in coming to understand how to highlight complexity when you write about your research site. As you think about your observations and the responses of people at your site to your queries about the meaning and significance of ritual and symbol, focus on the issues, ideas and points where folks disagree, where they see things a bit differently. One of the best ways to highlight complexity is to identify conflict. Rather than working your exploration toward a right
or wrong answer, consider reasons why these multiple perspectives exist. If you see things one way, and your informants see them another, consider why that may be. Do not assume that either you or your informants have the “right” perspective. Rather, work to consider why these differences co-exist, how they co-exist and how this difference actually helps to characterize the meaning in the ritual or symbol.
You should also think about ways you can represent this complexity on the page. Can you present the different informant responses in different type-face? What rhetorical effect does that have? In other words, even though the main writing focus at this point is expanded field-notes, it is not too soon to think about how you might textually represent conflict. You could add some thoughts
about this in your analysis section of your notes.”

Link to chant (copy & paste) :
by Ethan Chambers, Lisa Wagner, Caroline Haughton and Taylor Pedersen
Click below to see a presentation on the Great Compassion Mantra of Avalokitesvara:
In sacred spaces time is suspended. In ritual spaces time is understood with respect to a pattern of behavior, and a series of "intentional" actions, rather than the ways in which we usually measure time in repeated actions: getting up, going to work, going to lunch, when we go home. These repeated actions are habits and while ritualistic they are distinguished from "rituals." Habits may be ritualized even as movements and actions that take place in a specific location, but they may not constitute “ritual” if they are not sacred. Do you think that there is a connection between belief and action?
While in the ritual, action exists as a timeless quality. It is the power of action tied to belief that gives people reasons to celebrate in a ritualistic forum --it is to engage in an action that is tied to a specific ritual/belief to make that belief manifest in and out of time. People do this in all kinds of ways, from holiday celebrations to daily practices like the honoring of ancestors or meditation. Think about how you engage in rituals each day? Do you say "grace" before you have a meal? Do you burn incense each morning? At holidays, do you decorate with specific symbols of the season that represent larger cultural beliefs? How are these parts of your personal ritual? How do these
actions tie you to something larger, universal?
Do you have a space where you feel tied to the universal power of connection? Do you create an atmosphere where a space is transformed or imbued with a certain vibe or feeling of connection? Does your house transform into a ritual space at the holidays? A place where you create magic?
What space do you create to tie behavior to belief? What makes this space special? Magical?
Is it the people? The objects? The event?
Action encompasses thought, choice and movement in the world. It may be represented by both doing and not doing. Conscious action, the participation in regularly repeated, patterned (social or personal) events, can be part of larger ritual practice. What actions do you do to tie you to, to reinforce, and to manifest your beliefs? At holidays, what role do you play? What does this mean within the culture of your family? Your community?
Your society? How do your ritual actions
exemplify your beliefs?
Space is crucial to a ritual, it may be seen as a sacred place where one chooses to access a practice of transcendence, or simply a place that ties people to a larger cultural context. Do you go to a sacred space to worship? What does this building or place look like? Is it a clearing in the woods? It is the water cooler at work? What makes a space important in terms of ethnographic work is how the space is tied to meaning. Think about what happens in the space and what this means to the way beliefs are being made manifest in this location.
Discuss how the rituals you find at your site connect to you on a personal level. Do you
participate in these rituals? Why? What do
they mean to you? How might that meaning
be different for other participants at the site? If you are not a participant, does this ritual compare to a ritual you are familiar with? Does it resonate with you in some (other) way? What is the larger cultural meaning of the ritual?
In these fieldnotes, you want to continually
ask, and attempt to answer,
the questions ...
“Why? Why? Why?"
One of the characteristics of ritual is that it reflects how people make meaning in their
lives. In considering ritual, then, you immediately open yourself up to consider the location of meaning in your site and what that meaning might be. Specifically, ritual links meaning with action and belief. Actions reflect belief and the beliefs reflect how it is we create meaning. To explore the meaning of rituals and symbols, ask about the significance of various behaviors and/or objects that you have noted as important. If they use words like, “meaningful,” “important,” “powerful,” in their description, use follow-up questions to get at the
specifics of such importance. What is that meaning? Why is it important to them?
In the same way you identify ritual (above), identify possible symbols and the creation of sacred space. If a symbol is a thing that means something, in your on-site observations and jottings, note how people interact with the “thing.” In your expanded field-notes describe your observations and write about what, to you, are the indicators that this is a symbol. Do you connect with the symbol in any personal way? How does the behavior of people at the site center around the symbol? What does it mean to them? What is the larger cultural meaning? Again, you should try to ask and answer “why?” on multiple levels.
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