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Engaging Communities Module 3: Ritual and Symbol

Module redesign for Engaging Communities, created by Stephanie Jurusz, Justine Fitton, Amanda Clark, and Brittany Tomaselli
by

Suzanne Malley

on 4 January 2014

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Transcript of Engaging Communities Module 3: Ritual and Symbol

Module 3: Ritual and Symbol
Exploring Ritual
We are all familiar with ritual in some way, and there are multiple types of rituals in our everyday lives.

These types include:

Religious
Secular
Public
Private
Secular
Public
How Does Ritual
Work?
Rhetorical Considerations
Writing About Ritual
and Symbol
What Are Rituals?
Rituals are
enactments
in which people participate in communal demonstrations of highly valued beliefs, ideals, and myths.

Rituals are regularly
repeated
, patterned
social events
that shape our relationships to other people and to our culture as a whole.

In a ritual,
cultural beliefs become visible and tangible
.

Elements of ritual are:
an action/set of actions
symbols
behaviors
What Makes a Ritual?
What are the ritualized actions in this scene?
What are some symbols?
How does this demonstrate cultural beliefs?
What happens before, during, and after?
Who participates? What are their roles?
What ritual actions or behaviors do you recognize as “typical” for this ritual?
Ritual vs. Habit
Ritual is a meaningful pattern of behavior.

Not every action represents or reflects a belief. Sometimes people just do things repeatedly. Habit is something that is simply repeated, but does not necessarily signify a value or belief.


Examining ritual can be extremely useful for ethnographic inquiry because of the connection between belief and action.
Ritual, Place, and Space
With a ritual, there is an assumed relationship made possible by specific qualities of
place
and
space
.

Space is both a
location
and an
atmosphere
—a result of the relationship with a place and the people in it. Space is defined by:
Actions
Behaviors
Beliefs
Expectations

Space is vital to the success of ritual—if it does not present/create the correct atmosphere, the actions won’t represent the
meaning of the belief
.

Space becomes
sacred
.

Without the sacred space, the actions lack the “magical” quality of connecting meaning to action.

How Space Creates Ritual
Ritual and Time
Part of the “magic” in ritual is a transcendence of linear time.
Time flies by or is feels magically suspended.
These are characteristics of sacred space.
Time is not measured in terms of hours on the clock, but as a series of actions or behaviors that flow into one another.

Exploring Symbol

There may not be a ritual associated with each site. In that case, look for symbols.

Symbols are objects or artifacts in a site imbued with cultural meaning or are talismans intended to represent belief.


1. Identify the ritual/symbol

2. Examine the multiple layers of meaning
3. Connect to a personal level (self reflexivity)
4. Highlight complexity
The following prompts may assist you in framing your expanded fieldnotes about ritual and symbol:

• Begin with a simple identification of repeated behaviors and actions and revisit some of the questions presented earlier in this module.

• Record an initial overview of what happens and try to identify a sequence—is this a habit of behavior or a ritual? Why do you think this?

• If you think something may be meaningful, ask people at the site what it means to them.

• Do you have a connection to the ritual on a personal level? Can you compare/contrast it to a ritual you have been a part of?
• If you think you have identified a symbol, note how people interact with it and what you think are indicators of its symbolic status.

• What do you think the symbol means to the people at the site? What is its larger cultural meaning?

• How does the symbol relate to a ritual or a sacred space?

As you consider ritual and symbol at your site, think about the connection between meaning and complexity—highlight complexity to avoid conveying that there is any singular Truth.

One of the best ways to highlight complexity is to identify conflict. At your site, where did people disagree or see things differently in regards to meaning?

Think about differences between your perspective on meaning and that of your informants—why do you think this difference exists?

Runes are examples of symbols in many cultures (especially pagan religions) that when drawn, painted, traced, or visualized release specific energies.

Traditionally many runes were carved onto objects (such as weapons to make them more accurate) or marked on goods and in the home for protective purposes.
An example of a runes system is the Eldar Futhark (a common system of Viking runes, shown below).
Uruz: (U: Auroch, a wild ox.) Physical strength and speed, untamed potential. A time of great energy and health. Freedom, energy, action, courage, strength, tenacity, understanding, wisdom. Sudden or unexpected changes (usually for the better). Sexual desire, masculine potency. The shaping of power and pattern, formulation of the self. Uruz Reversed or Merkstave: Weakness, obsession, misdirected force, domination by others. Sickness, inconsistency, ignorance. Lust, brutality, rashness, callousness, violence.


Algiz: (Z or -R: Elk, protection.) Protection, a shield. The protective urge to shelter oneself or others. Defense, warding off of evil, shield, guardian. Connection with the gods, awakening, higher life. It can be used to channel energies appropriately. Follow your instincts. Keep hold of success or maintain a position won or earned. Algiz Reversed: or Merkstave: Hidden danger, consumption by divine forces, loss of divine link. Taboo, warning, turning away, that which repels.
Berkano: (B: Berchta, the birch-goddess.) Birth, general fertility, both mental and physical and personal growth, liberation. Regenerative power and light of spring, renewal, promise of new beginnings, new growth. Arousal of desire. A love affair or new birth. The prospering of an enterprise or venture. Berkano Reversed or Merkstave: Family problems and or domestic troubles. Anxiety about someone close to you. Carelessness, abandon, loss of control. Blurring of consciousness, deceit, sterility, stagnation.
The Nordic runes also served as an alphabet. Click on the interactive site button at the website below to see what symbols make up your name.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/write-your-name-in-runes.html

Runes are only one example of a type/use of symbols.
A symbol can be anything that evokes meaning.

To determine if something has symbolic meaning,
examine how people use, interact with and talk about the object.

Symbols can be universal or site specific.

In the example of runes, without ritual the runes themselves signify letters. The magic of the ritual of engraving on an object or surface is what gives the runes their power.


Listen to this NPR interview to hear about the relationship between ritual and enjoyment.

http://www.npr.org/2013/06/20/193488219/what-makes-rituals-special-join-us-for-a-google-conversation
http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/meanings.html
http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/meanings.html
http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/meanings.html
Full transcript