Gowan on Myth
3.41 General Introduction
True myth is defined by Graves (1955:10) as "the reduction to narrative shorthand of ritual mime performed on public festivals. ... Their subjects were archaic magic-makings that promoted the fertility or stability of a sacred queendom, . . ." Graves goes on to point out that magic, supernatural or totem calendar-beasts figured in these rituals, and that to understand Greek mythology we must appreciate the matriarchal and totemistic system which held sway there before incursion of patriarchal invaders. An example of such a mythical beast was the chimera, with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail.
While Jung believes that myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, Graves holds that a "true science of myth should begin with a study of archaeology, history, and comparative religion" (1955:22).
Eliade concludes that the value of myth lies in its ability to evoke a numinous relationship through a priest or by proxy for a believer who is otherwise, however, incapable of any other relationship with the ground of being. He says (1969:59):
The myth continually reactualizes the Great Time and in so doing raises the listener to a superhuman and suprahistorical plane; which among other things, enables him to approach a Reality that is inaccessible at the level of profane, individual existence.
It may be seen that this indeed is the function of all parataxic representation, not only with myth, but also with archetypes, dreams, art, and especially ritual. For whether we consider ritual magic or the Mass of the Church, it is obvious that ritual has the common purpose of gaining merit and personal advantage for the celebrant and his constituency, through approach to the numinous element or some manifestation of it.
The archeology of man's developing social thought is preserved in myth. Recently acquired is the "loose and separate" consciousness of Western man which separates him from the continuum of nature in time, space, and personality. More primitive consciousness was not so differentiated; it was more dreamy and less clear. In myth we find remnants of images now less than precise, whose equivocal ambivalence was once an asset. In the dawning of consciousness, wherein myth abounded, it was easier to believe that man might
be metamorphosed into an animal or vice versa, that magical flight could conquer space, and that precognition could reverse time. The vestiges of these motifs in myth is testimony to the development of a conscious ego from a primal self which did not know itself as distinct from nature. The periodic developmental stage theory (Gowan 1972,1974) presents an ontogenic recapitulation of evolutionary phylogeny. The differentiation of ego functioning culminates in stage 5, (the Eriksonian identity crisis), as the individual correlate of the evolution of the personal ego in the species.
Eliade (1969:14) points out that this mythical repository in modern man has been relegated to the attic of the unconscious:
For the unconscious is not haunted by monsters only: the gods, goddesses, the heroes, and the fairies dwell there too; moreover, the monsters of the unconscious are themselves mythological, seeing that they continue to fulfill the same functions that they fulfilled in all the mythologies - in the last analysis that of helping man liberate himself. . . .
But images possess the disadvantage of not being categorical. Says Eliade (1969:15):
Images by their very nature are multivalent (i.o.). If the mind makes use of images to grasp the ultimate reality of things, it is just because reality manifests itself in contradictory ways, and therefore cannot be expressed in concepts.
Eliade (1969:57) tells us:
Myth is an account of events which took place in principio, that is "in the beginning," in a primordial and non-temporal instant, a moment of sacred time (i.o.). The mythic or sacred time is qualitatively different from profane time, from continuous and irreversible time of our everyday de- sacralized existence. In narrating a myth one reactualizes in some sort the sacred time in which the events narrated took place.
Myth, therefore is a way of bringing the numinous to the common man without involving him in an altered state of consciousness. Its sacramental character veils an inner numinous truth which is explicated by the ritual which the myth demands, and which action reaffirms the relationship between the present which is in time, and the numinous which is out of time.
Eliade (1963:18) says:
Myth as experienced in archaic societies:
(1) constitute the history and acts of the supernaturals;
(2) this history is considered to be absolutely true ... and sacred;
(3) that myth is always related to creation (it tells how something came into existence);
(4) that by knowing the myth one knows the origin of things, and hence can control and manipulate them at will (by) a knowledge that one "experiences" ritually, either by ceremonially recounting the myth, or by performing the ritual for which it is the justification;
(5) that in one way or another one "lives" the myth, in the sense that one is "seized" by the sacred exalting power of the events recollected or re-enacted.
Gaster (1950:11) traces the origin of myth as "a sequence of ritual acts, which ... have characterized major seasonal festivities." These as he explains (1950:9) are "derived from a religious ritual designed to ensure the rebirth of a dead world." He elaborates on the central thesis (1950:17) as follows:
Seasonal rituals are functional in character. Their purpose is to revive the topocosm (i.o.), that is, the entire complex of any given locality conceived as a living organism. But this topocosm possesses a ... durative aspect, representing not only actual and present community, but also the ideal of community, an entity, of which the latter is but the current manifestation. Accordingly, seasonal rituals are accompanied by myths which are designed to present the purely functional acts in terms of ideal and durative situations. The impenetration of myth and ritual creates drama. ... What the King does on the punctual plane, the God does on the durative. . . . The pattern is based on the conception that life is vouchsafed in a series of leases which have annually to be renewed.3
It would be difficult to state more clearly and concisely the central motivating elements of myth than has here been done. The concept that the topocosm needs to be renewed like an annual lease, and that since it exists on the transcendental (durative) level, it can be affected as if in sympathetic magic on the temporal (punctual) level, and finally that it is a living organism amenable to the efforts of man, is both good anthropology and excellent psychology regarding man's parataxic relationship to the numinous element.
In contrast to the void of the numinous element, but in no wise the antithesis of it, stands a conceptualization identified by Gaster (1950) as the "durative topocosm." It would be easy to say that this represents nature, seen in her anthropomorphic aspects, but that is too simple; another partial view would equate this conceptualization
to the goddess Ceres with all her manifestations of bounty, but even this does not capture the full "durative" aspect. For it embraces not merely the progression of the seasons, and the fecundation of nature, processes which eventuate at a given time and place, but the generative element in these processes which continues as in a procession or ceremony to provide the continual source and origin of what man merely sees as an outcome at a given time and place. It is the numinous clothed and housed in forms which we perceive as natural.
Thus Malinowski (1928:23) says:
We can find among the most primitive peoples and throughout the lower savagery a belief in a supernatural impersonal force, moving all those agencies which are relevant to the savage and causing all the really important events in the domain of the sacred. Thus mana (i.o.) not animism is the essence of "pre-animistic religion," and is also the essence of magic. . . .
The durative topocosm is generally celebrated as Sir James Frazer noted in "The Golden Bough"in cults and ceremonies of vegetation and fertility. As in totemism (Malinowski 1968:45) "This ritual leads to acts of a magical nature, by which plenty is brought about" and man by his rites certifies the renewal of the annual lease of the potential bounty of the topocosm.
Malinowski (1968:73) quotes Codrington as saying:
This mana is not fixed in anything, and can be conveyed in almost anything. (It) acts in all ways for good and evil . . ., shows itself in physical force or in any kind of power or excellence which a man possesses.
Ultimate reality, in the guise of the durative topocosm, cannot adequately present itself through a language of tensed verbs. Hence it must do so through a metaphor of continual recurrence; we should learn to recognize such usage in myth and fable as signifying the advent of the "spacious present" in which clock time is transcended. Such fables as Sisyphus rolling up the stone, which rolls down again, the Medusa which grows two heads when one is cut off, Brigadoon which keeps appearing one day every hundred years, ghosts which keep haunting a castle on an anniversary, are alike examples of an incident which "occur" in durative time, and which, therefore, seem to keep repeating in ours. A second example of the durative nature of this reality is the fact that mortals immersed in it (in fable) are apt to find that a shorter duration in it amounts to a
much longer elapse of clock time. Examples which come to mind include Brigadoon, Rip Van Winkle, and many fairy tales.10
Myth involves explication of psychic tensions which activate archetypes and dreams, but are now expressed in the ordinary state of consciousness in terms of images. Cassirer (1955:11:25-36) points out the development of image in the parataxic mode as follows:
The mythical world is concrete ... because in it the two main factors, thing and signification are undifferentiated. . . . The concresence of name and thing in the linguistic consciousness of primitives and children might be illustrated ... (striking example: name tabus).... But as language develops, distinct from all mere physical existence and all physical efficacy, the word emerges in its own specificity, in its purely ideal significatory function. And art leads us to still another stage of development. . . . Here for the first time the image world acquires a purely immanent validity and truth. . . . Thus for the first time the world of images becomes a self-contained cosmos ... severing its bonds with immediate reality, with material existence and efficacy which constitute the world of magic and myth; it embodies a new step.
Psychic tensions exist in a society as well as in individuals. The parataxic outlet for these tensions in the individual is art; in society it is myth and ritual. Myth of course is an example of the outletting of such tensions: Abell explains (1966:94):
Similarly a myth has not only its "active period of psychic eruption and imaginative overflow, but also its subsequent period of extinction and disintegration." A later form of extinct myth will differ greatly from the earlier expression of the active period and may retain little of the tension-imagery.
He continues (1966:96):
The action of eruptive and erosive forces in the sphere of the near myth can be observed in the phases through which every artistic movement seems destined to pass. An exploratory or "creative" phase is eventually succeeded by a stereotyped or "academic" phase. Artists, participating in the exploratory phase,
... work with feverish intensity and bring forth results that are dazzling, often bewildering and seemingly unreasonable to those who witness their cultural emergence.
Some writers, perhaps metaphorically, see myth as the record of a "social womb" in which primitive man, not yet endowed with full cognition, is protected from reality by a dreamy placental envelope.
Hall (1960: 10) points out that from an occult point of view mythologies and mythological characters may have developed from racial memories of super-identities who helped our species become human.
3.42 Examples of Myth11
Henderson (Jung 1964:101) points out that the "hero myth" is the most common and popular in the world. He says:
Over and over again one hears a tale describing a hero's miraculous but humble birth, his early proof of superhuman strength, his rapid rise to prominence or power, his triumphant struggle with the forces of evil, his fallibility to the sin of pride (hubris) and his fall through betrayal or a heroic sacrifice that ends in death.
Radin (1948) in Hero Cycles of the Winnebago notes four cycles in the evolution of the hero myth, calling them (1) the trickster cycle, (2) the hare cycle, (3) the red horn cycle, and (4) the twin cycle. The trickster sees his environment as a giver or withholder of good things, and craftily exploits it or appeases it to get what he wants. The hare represents a socialization of the trickster for he cooperates with his group instead of exploiting them. The third cycle Red Horn, is a younger brother who has envious brethren and who proves himself through endurance, thus raising his self-esteem. Finally, the twins are a pair of superhuman brothers who conquer heaven and earth, but finally sicken of their power, and either fall out or one betrays the other, and the death of one ensures. It is very easy to see in this hero myth parallels to the development of self-concept in the growing boy from a solitary exploiter of the world (in the third stage), through socialization in the fourth stage to identification with a brother in the fifth stage. Thus does ontogeny in the individual parallel phylogeny in the species.12
Henderson (Jung 1964:130) points out another universal myth that is often found in dreams of adolescent girls who are having difficulty accepting their feminine role as wife and mother. He says:
A universal myth expressing this kind of awakening is found in the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast. The best known version
of this story related how Beauty, the youngest of four daughters, becomes her father's favorite because of her unselfish goodness. When she asks her father for only a white rose, she is aware only of her inner sincerity of feeling. She does not know that she is about to endanger her father's life and her ideal relation with him. For he steals the white rose from the enchanted garden of the Beast, who is stirred to anger by this theft, and requires him to return in three months for his punishment, presumably death.
As Henderson points out, the rose is the (sublimated) sexual love between daughter and father, a love which really belongs to a younger rival (the Beast), whose bestial aspects personify the rejected overt sex from which Beauty is free as long as she is "daddy's little girl." But as the tale tells us, Beauty is required to make an overt sexual advance (kiss the beast), and when she does so, she finds that he is transformed into a wonderful prince.
A third example of universal myth comes from tribal Africa. In Hahn's book on Africa (1961) "Ntu" is the numinous element, never seen but in its manifestations which are Muntu (man), Nommo (the power of the word) Kuntu (Modes and Styles), and Hantu (culture). All of these are part of the topocosm, that durative world of which our own series of events in space and time is only a shadow.
These three examples of myth account for bravery in males, beauty and charm in females, and the numinous quality found in man and indeed in nature.
3.43 Myth and Animals
Because primitive man lived much closer to the animals than we do and had reason to fear and totemize some of them, it is natural to find that animals play a great part in his myths. Myths about animals fall into three categories: (1) the transformation of man into animal or vice versa, (2) the totemization of a feared animal, and (3) the nagual or animal-twin of individual men. These categories are of course interconnected. They all represent attempts to extract the numinous quality from the animal and incorporate it into the individual (in character) or in society (in totem).
One of the environmental penalties of modern urban life is the estrangement of mankind from the animals. We do not realize this until we revert to the farm in the country or visit a game park. Man in simpler times, whether hunter or agriculturalist, lived on intimate terms with the animals in his habitat. He hunted them, he was hunted by them, he used them, he had them round and often
in his dwelling, he played with them, lived close to them, and used anecdotes about them in his songs and dances. The importance of animals in the thinking of primitive man can scarcely be exaggerated; it is seen in myth and legend. The importance of animals in the farm life of man during the last millenium can be seen even in the different etymology and plurals of such ancient words as oxen, geese, mice, kine, deer.
One of the most important relationships of man to the animals in the hunting stage was success in finding game upon which sustanence and perhaps life itself might depend. Myth and ritual of the great hunter and the successful hunt thereby came to be very important.
Baumann (1954:149-50) explains the Lascaux Caves hunting magic dance pictures as follows:
These dances seem incredibly wild and grotesque. To an outsider the dancers appear to be quite beside themselves. And that is exactly what they are. Their burning desire carries them away while they are still dancing on the trail of the beast on which their thoughts are concentrated. In the dance their souls reach the utmost height of tension. Suddenly they let themselves go as the hunters' hand lets the arrow speed from the taut bow. They fall down; their bodies lie soulless, while their souls which have become arrows ... fly out and strike the beast.
But man was not only the hunter, he was sometimes the hunted. The universality of fear produced psychic tension which gave expression in myth. The prevalence of wolves as the primary predators upon our European ancestors is nowhere more noticeable than in the myth of lycanthropy as a projective defense mechanism. Wedeck (1961:171) tells us: "The werewolf appears in every culture and in every age. The ancients from Homer to Mela, from Varro and Virgil to Apuleius, Stabo, and Solinus testify to the prevalence of lycanthropy." The major predator explanation is reinforced again by Wedeck (1971:171) who points out that while werewolves are confined to Europe,
in some countries the change from man to animal involves another creature. In Malaya, for example, the human being changes into a tiger; in Iceland a bear; in Africa a tiger, hyena, or leopard; in India a tiger or leopard.
Let us remember that this fear of the supernatural animal is itself a totemization of an even more irrational fear of demons and monsters which plagued primitive man and is revealed in myth. But if animals
were first invested with these magic properties of transformation, the fear of them could also be totemized by making the animal a blood brother ("I won't hunt you, and you won't hunt me), and this process eventually led to the myth of nagualism. Let us trace this syndrome in detail.
Abell asks (1966:155):
Was belief in the monster myths a useless though spontaneous result of the tensions of Neolithic life or did it perform some positive psychic function? . . . . Freud observes that "the dream relieves the mind like a safety valve, and that as Roberts has put it, all kinds of harmful material are rendered harmless by representation in dreams." No doubt the same could be said about myth.
He continues (1966:156):
The myth centered tribal fears in a being so formidable that no man could be condemned for fearing him; an indirect way of granting the fears a social sanction.
Abell opines that the positive note in religious belief is a developing function in culture, little seen in early man. He states (1966:158):
It seems evident that the positive aspects of Neolithic tension imagery were relatively little developed, offering nothing comparable in vividness or intensity to the monsters who swarmed around the negative pole.
According to Salar (1964) a nagual has two definitions; (1) the animal alter ego of an individual, a "guardian-spirit" or "destiny animal" (Middleton 1967:71, who gives many other cites), sometimes with astrological significance. Saler states that some believe in an affinity between the human and animal in regard to character traits and destiny; and (2) that of a transforming witch (akin to our werewolf) who is able to change into animal form in order to do evil at night.
Oakes (1951:170ff) reports that the Guatemalan Indians of the highlands show traces of a belief in nagualism (animal co-spirits for humans). According to this belief each child has a nagual animal and their lives are closely connected. From this it is easy to go to the ability of chimans (shamans) to change at will into animal form, and she relates tales of this sort given by the natives. Whereas the animal form in Europe is generally the wolf (werewolves), the animal form in this location is the coyote. For more on nagualism see Brinton (1894).
Radin (1927:343) describes how the bear totem affects ceremonial treatment of the captured animal:
When a bear is caught, it is treated with all imaginable veneration and respect. First the hunter addresses a few words of apology and explanation to the animal. Then it is killed and dressed up in all the finery obtainable. . . . When a dead bear is dressed up, this is done as an offering or prayer to the chief of the bears, that he may send the Indians more of his children. ... In gratitude for the treatment accorded him, the bear forgives his slayers and enters their traps a willing and fascinated sacrifice.
Baumann (1954:152) speaking of the Lascaux cave drawings discusses nagualism as follows:
And just as every Red Indian felt he was bound in some special way to some animal, so also did every ice-age hunter. The guardian spirit dwelled in this one animal. Among the Red Indians the animal is called the totem. The ice-age hunter too had his totem animal, and he also tattooed the picture of his animal on his breast.
This process of "totemizing" the fearsome aspects of experience whether found in the natural world or in the numinous is extremely important as it shows how myth was used to reduce fear and irrational dread and to bring the experience into rational consciousness from the trauma with which it was first associated. It is hence necessary to discuss the totemization of myth.
3.44 Totemization of Myth
For a definition of "totem" we go to Malinowski (1928:24-5):
Totemism, to quote Frazer's classical definition: is an inanimate relation which is supposed to exist between a group of kindred people on the one side and a species of natural or artificial objects on the other, which objects are called the totems of the human group.
Malinowski (1928:25) quotes Durkheim as saying:
"In this the totemic principle which is identical with mana and with the God of the clan ... can be nothing else than the clan itself."
As man ascends in evolutionary development, he becomes more
conscious of the numinous element and of himself as apart from it. He also begins the totemization of the more dreadful aspects of the numinous element: indeed, the whole parataxic mode is a kind of veiling of the head of Medusa. There is also a kind of slow change in regard to man's relation to various manifestations of the generalized preconscious.
We thus have a historical progress corresponding to slow evolutionary psychic development which goes somewhat as follows in regard to man's relationship to the numinous element:
1. In the ancient world man is seen as the puppet of the numinous element, which behaves in a capricious and irrational manner toward him.
2. Second, man is seen at the mercy of devils and demons; while menacing, they have only the power to tempt him, and may not punish or torture him unless he sins; furthermore he may at least partially ward off their evil influence by faith in the mother church.
This Christian belief has its pagan correlate in the similar belief about monsters and mythical animals (cf. Beowulf). As time goes on, however, the man triumphs over the monster more often, and remains to tell the tale. Sometimes (St. George and the Dragon) there is fusion of the Christian and Pagan elements.
A further change reduces the Christian numinous element to ghosts and the pagan counterpart to witches, fairies, and animals with supernatural power (werewolves).
3. Third, as the numinous element grows less to be feared, the human will comes more to be respected, and Promethean man is in process of birth.
To trace this progression more clearly let H stand for the human protagonist, and let N stand for the numinous element in some presentation indicated by a parenthesis:
1. H the plaything and puppet of N (gods and demons)
2. H preyed upon by N (mythical animals) (Beowulf)
3. H wars with and sometimes conquers N (animals with supernatural powers (St. George and the Dragon)
4. H plagued by devils who tempt him, but can resist them if faithful to tenets of mother church.
5. H plagued by N (witches, ghosts) whose power is definitely limited, and who may by craft be defeated or limited.
6. H helped by N (saints) who as former humans lived good lives.
7. H helped or hindered by N (fairies) whose magic is severely limited.
8. H aided by N (now a talisman or thing) whose power is beneficent but limited.
9. H uses N in a psychological manner for alleviation of pain (as in hypnotism, biofeedback, etc.).
10. H becomes creative and meditative (section 4.3, 4.6) thus "gentling" the effect of N, and placing it under more control.
11. H understands orthocognition (section 4.5) and gains fuller use of N, now expressed as power over environment.
12. H becomes psychedelic (4.7) and N is expressed in very positive affect and knowledge.
This interaction ranges from the human individual being used and persecuted to his using and exploiting, in other words from passivity to activity. The N variable goes from gods and demons through mythical animals, witches, fairies, talismans, and finally to a broader concept of the numinous element as an impersonal force.
A talisman (Webster's International Dictionary) is a figure of a heavenly sign cut or engraved on a stone, metal, or ring sympathetic to the influence of the star, hence something that (is carried) to produce extraordinary effects, such as averting evil. "Talisman" connotes wider and more positive powers than "amulet." "Charm" may be equivalent to either.
Table VII Mythic Manifestations of Numinous Element
Whereas a talisman may well be a gem with general powers for good, amulet (Dictionary of Magic) is generally a specific against a particular calamity, such as black magic, imprisonment, loss of property, and the like. "The amulet may be a gem or the tail of a fox, a lizard, a mandrake root, or colored threads, a ring, nail, key, or knot." There are specific amulets against nightmares; also some amulets were considered particularly efficacious on certain days of the week or at certain locations.
The concept of a talisman is an end anchor of a sequence of continued totemization in three factor dimensions: 1) from very malignant to potentially beneficial, 2) from strong and uncontrolled will to weak and residing in an object, and 3) from very active in all aspects, to passive and useful only in certain prescribed instances. Psychologists will recognize these three factors as the three major dimensions of Osgood's Semantic Differential which is a distillation by factor analysis of all the adjectives applied to things, events, and persons. Table VII spells out the details.
Jaffe (Jung 1964:257ff) notes that even when the numinous element has gone through the full cycle from a dreadful and all powerful god to the relative immobility of a talisman, mysterious qualities still remain, making it a powerful symbol. She discusses three of these symbols, the stone, the animal, and the circle, and notes the long history of each as an object, as a talisman, and as a universal art symbol or mandala.
History shows the amelioration not only of the major presentation of the numinous (as noted above), but also in some of its specific forms. Hahn and Benes (1971:17ff) make this point clearly in the case of angels. They show that seraphs in the Bible are described as winged serpents with fiery bites. They further say (1971:21):
The word "cherub" comes from the Babylonian karibu designating a monster looking like the Garuda of Hindu mythology, that is a griffin or cross between a mammal and giant bird. . . . The cherubim of Moses and Solomon were sphinxes or griffins.
They note that Psalm 18 has God riding on such a cherub. These fearsome forms in the guise of mythical beasts are a far removal from the chubby cherubim that float over saints or the pale angels in the heavenly choir of more modern fancy.
While ancient and medieval man saw this process as concerned with the gradual freeing of himself from the onslaughts of gods and demons, we should not forget, looking at it from the stance of modern psychology, that what has happened is the gradual totemization of the numinous element from prototaxic states involving no cognitive
control from the individual consciousness, through parataxic states, to syntaxic states involving considerable such control. The decrease with respect to time is in numinous entropy, and the increase is in human will.
From a psychological point of view, once the feared and dreaded aspects of the numinous can be totemized, expressed, and externalized in myth, the symbol loses its frightening aspect and becomes benign, being used in intercession and prayer to the extent that it becomes habitual and hence seems friendly.
3.45 Myth and Ritual
Myth and ritual are especially closely connected, since ritual is often the celebration of the myth. Before we turn to ritual, it may be helpful to consider the connection more closely.
Myth is finally connected with ritual as Fontenrose (1966:50-1) states:
We do of course, find some fairly exact correspondence of myth and ritual, both in the Old World and the New. Wherever this happens, the ritual is in fact a ritual drama, and in every instance we may suppose that it was purposely designated to enact the myth. Surely ancient Greek tragedy ... and the Japanese No plays were constructed on previously formed myths.
In general, however, Fontenrose does not believe that the origin of myth is in ritual, for he sees many kinds of myth, some of which are mere story-telling, like folklore.
But as Henderson (Jung 1964:123) tells us, ritual as well as myth recapitulates for the individual, developmental process in the race. He says:
In tribal societies, it is the initiation rite that most effectively solves this problem. The ritual takes the novice back to the deepest level of original mother-child identity or ego-self identity, thus forcing him to experience a symbolic death. In other words, his identity is temporarily dismembered or dissolved in the collective unconscious. From this state he is then ceremonially rescued by the rite of a new birth. This is the first act of true consolidation of the ego with the larger group, expressed as totem, clan, or tribe or all three combined.
The construct of "ritual as the enactment of myth" presents myth as source. This concept is controversial; many scholars posit that the action, the ritual, existed and the tale was created from the need to account for this action.
Nagendra enters the controversy by saying (1972:32):
In fact the controversy whether myth is prior to ritual or ritual prior to myth arises only because the two are taken to be temporal relatives. If they are viewed as atemporal forms, the question of their temporal origin would not arise at all. When we say that ritual is acting out of a myth we do not suggest that the latter is prior to the former in point of historical origin. What we aim to emphasize is that ritual cannot be understood without action. And as the action must be logically prior to ritual, so myth must logically precede ritual.
Fontenrose points out (1966:57)
Myth narrates the primal event which sets the precedent for an institution. It may be a ritual institution or a cult. . . .
We shall explore this aspect of the relationship in our next section on ritual.
What's New with My Subject?
Ritual can be defined as social mimesis or imitation (in the Toynbee sense) of a numinous event in the life of one of its creative leaders. He says of it (1947:276):
Growth is the work of creative personalities and creative minorities; they cannot go on moving forward unless they can contrive to carry their fellows with them. . . . and the uncreative rank and file of mankind cannot be transformed en masse and raised to the stature of the leaders . . . the only means by which mankind can be set in motion toward a goal beyond itself is by enlisting the primitive and universal faculty of mimesis. For this mimesis is a kind of social drill . . .
Thus ritual (like the Christian sacraments) often carries on the vestige of a numinous experience, being the "outward and visible form of an inward and spiritual grace."
Most anthropologists, especially the earlier ones, in emphasizing the social and personal aspects of ritual tended to neglect or de-emphasize the numinous ones. As Turner (1969:3) points out, this is a serious mistake, for we should not read our values into those of a primitive society. He cites examples of Taylor, Robertson-Smith, Frazer, Boas, and Malinowski who did not make this mistake. We shall find that the magical-religious aspects of ritual in preserving man's individual
and corporate security is an important one.
Talamonti (1971) also considers the numinous element important in ritual. His abstract:
includes general observations of rites and their reason for existence. The psychic forces involved and the unexplainable effects which are derived are emphasized. There is the possibility that rites can aid "magical creativity," which is an act of the human psyche in relation to nature. Various rites are cited: those conferring blessings and others involving hate, as well as the diabolical, political, liturgical, and spiritual rites. In all of these, the power of the "collective mind" is evident. Rituals indicate the eternal need in man for autotranscendence "to break the barriers of the ego in order to become a part of something greater."
The essence of ritual is that some action takes place whose psychic significance is not fully cognized by the participant. He is therefore performing a mimetic act, and in this process of mimesis he, by proxy as it were, receives the benefits of the syntaxic knowledge of the seer who instituted the ritual in the first place.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna gives a famous discourse on right action:
The world is imprisoned in its own activity, except when actions are performed as worship of God. Therefore you must perform every action sacramentally and be free from all attachment to results.
It is this sacramental view of ritual in which each "outward and visible" action is an evidence of an "inward and spiritual grace" that should be emphasized.
The principal advantage of ritual is the ease of its kinesthetic approach to juncture with the numinous element which occurs, because the motor activity, decreed to take place in exact and unvarying fashion for a long time becomes habitual, and hence is reduced to the unconscious level. At this there is juncture with the collective unconscious, and the act becomes sacramental, that is "an outward and visible form of an inward and spiritual grace."
Nagendra (1971:103) says:
The experience of the numinosum thus consists essentially of the conscious ego's unconscious encounter with the archetypes. And since the archetypes are of bi-polar character, having both beneficent and dangerous aspects, the religious experience involves a danger too.
It is the function of ritual to protect this experience. He continues (p. 106):
We spoke earlier of the bipolarity of the archetypes and of the protective function of ritual. The experience of the numinous "whole" because of its overpowering nature constitutes a tremendous danger for the individual psyche. Human consciousness is too frail to act as an equal partner to the numinous power. Without a body of rituals and ceremonies, it would have been impossible for man in his infantile state of development to withstand the onslaught of the numinosum.
Nagendra (1971:110) declares:
After its birth the ego is left to its own to find out the modus operandi of coming to terms with its progenitor, the unconscious. In the first instance it tries to overcome its feeling of estrangement by a process of identification, unconsciously projecting the lost identity upon the outer world. Thus from the unconscious familial identity arises identity with parents. The claim of "mineness" upon things is thus a relic of the past unconscious identity of the ego and the non-ego. Now, insofar as the ego must rise above this identity in order to become one with the "whole," or to attain a state of self-realization, it must eventually destroy all claims of "mineness."
Nagendra (1971:113) says:
Ritual is ... a transcendentally necessary act, which means that the reality it symbolizes is neither social nor moral but metaphysical.
Nagendra (1971:170) points out that ritual is "the enactment of myth." He adds (Ibid: 175) "The myth has an 'archetypal' rather than a logical structure. The social view of ritual has been well explicated by Wilson (1954):
Rituals reveal values at their deepest level . . . men express in ritual what moves them most, and since the form of expression is conventionalized and obligatory, it is the values of the group that are revealed.
She concludes that ritual is thus the key to understanding society.
Turner (1969:93ff) describes ritual as society's way of emphasizing the importance of developmental discontinuities (such as sexual maturation). These rites de passage involve
(1) the separation of the ritualee from an earlier fixed point (such as childhood),
(2) a "liminal"
or boundary state (circumcision or menarche rites) in which the ritualee group is deprived of earlier rights or privileges and subjected to some ordeal (which tends to develop comradeship and in-group feeling), and
(3) reincorporation into society and investiture of new status, power, or privilege (adulthood).
Turner says of this process (1969:96):
What is interesting about liminal phenomena ... is the blend they offer of lowliness and sacredness, of homogeneity and comradeship. We are presented in such rites with a "moment out of time" and ... out of secular social structure which reveals some recognition of a generalized social bond.
Turner calls this bond "communitas," (the kind of civic egalitarianism and cooperation seen after an earthquake or other disaster), and he points out that it is the function of ritual to produce temporary communitas in the liminal phase as an antidote for the entrenched class structure. He also points out that budding saints (1969:200) seek this communitas in humility and meekness, and concludes (1969:203):
The structurally inferior aspire to symbolic structural superiority in ritual; the structurally superior aspire to symbolic communitas and undergo penance to achieve it.
A careful analysis of definitions of the term "ritual" by well known sociologists and cultural anthropologists resulted in three different insights into the meaning of the term.4 Some see ritual as a "rightness of routine ... .. a perfect form of drill"; others see it as "a prescribed series of manipulations," "a sort of proper combination to achieve some purpose," for example, the content of ritual; the third deals with its basic objective such as warding off evil, bringing good luck, or the propitiation of supernatural forces. The etymological source is taken from the Latin "ritus" meaning custom. This has led sociologists to believe that ritual is the routine of an organized religion.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969:1121) is in agreement with the sociologists, for the definitions listed are offshoots of the three propounded insights referred to above.
1. The prescribed form or order of conducting a religious or solemn ceremony.
2. The body of ceremonies or rites used in a church, fraternal organization, or the like: a system of rites.
3. A book of rites or ceremonial forms.
4. Often plural,
(a) a ceremonial act or a series of such acts, and
(b) the performance of such acts.
5. Any detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed,
(a) of or characterized by a rite or rites, and
(b) practiced as a rite such as a ritual fire dance.
Bossard and Boll (1956:14) in their second edition of Ritual in Family Living develop an interesting view of ritual.
Words tend to be known by the company they keep; sometimes that company becomes a jealous mistress, taking a word and keeping it for its own particular use and purpose. The word "ritual" is a case in point.
Ritual is just such a word. The students of religion have made use of it in three different manners: as the origin of religion, as a technique of magic and worship, and as a part of the ethical and control system of religion. Anthropologists are the other group who have featured the term, ritual, prominently. Their emphasis is mainly in the role of ritual in the development of religion; this results in ritual being everywhere interwoven with the discussions of totemism, magic, taboo, and myth. This development has resulted with ritual being identified in terms of ceremonial and worship.
Ritual is seen as a system of procedure by Bossard and Boll. This conclusion is the most popular one found in literature and common usage. Three characteristics are unvarying in their presence in a system of procedure as defined by ritual. According to Bossard and Boll these characteristics are (1956:15):
First ... ritual means exactness and precision. Second, there is the element of rigidity ... and finally, there is a sense of rightness which emerges from the past history of the process.
Bronislaw Malinowski, the social anthropologist responsible for taking anthropology from a discipline concerned with mere "origin hunting" to the status of an individual "science of culture" does not see ritual arising from social sources. S. P. Nagendra in his book The Concept of Ritual in Modem Sociological Theory (1971:73) quotes Malinowski as saying of ritual:
It arises from purely individual sources although it is always social by nature ... the principle of the ritual is bio-psychic.
Malinowski sees the function of ritual to lie in the role it plays in allaying anxiety and inspiring confidence in the individual as he moves and exists in "his life." He stresses the role that culture plays in a system of activities functioning in response to the basic needs of the individual.
There is evident a gradual drawing away from categorizing ritual
as a mere system of procedure. Nagendra (1971:81) goes so far as to declare that ritual acts
... stand in direct contrast to technical acts insofar as the former are purely symbolic while the latter are purposive.
According to Radcliffe-Brown (Nagendra 1971:81) ritual is essentially an "expressive mode of action" and "leaves the analysis of its meaning at the figurative level (metaphorical)."
Two basic psychoanalytic theories of ritual have come down to us from Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung. Both have as the central point the concept of the "unconscious" on the individual and collective planes. They both regard ritual as expression of the unconscious. Their separateness is in the symbolic content of ritual: according to Freud it is repressed material to be dismissed; according to Jung it is archetypal. Commenting, Nagendra says (1971:29):
The prototype of ritual in Freud's view is the obsessional act of the compulsive neurotic whereas in Jung's view it is the act of individuation.
Individuation can be defined as the process whereby the conscious and the unconscious of an individual learn to not only live at peace with each other, but learn to complement each other. Depth psychology, as evidenced in the words of Ira Progoff (1973:171) has this to say:
Ceremonials and rituals are the means provided by society for periodically drawing up the sums of energy attached to the symbols, lest the symbols sink back into the unconscious.
Ritual is not action for the fun of action, whether it be a mimetic ritual or one of more somber thoughts. It is, as Nagendra puts it (1971:36)
. . . the most primitive reflection of serious thought, a slow deposit as it were of people's imaginative insight into life.
If that is the case then one must agree with Nagendra as he succinctly summarizes (1971:121):
The purpose of ritual is ritual itself; partaking in its performance is an end itself, and upon the fulfillment of this end, depends the continuity of both the natural and social orders.
The definition of ritual that has been adopted for this discussion
is that made by Nagendra as his concluding theme in The Concept of Ritual in Modem Sociological Theory: ritual is symbolic action - the enactment of the myth. A. K. Coomaraswamy says in Nagendra's book (1971:13):
Ritual is the perfect performance of one's task, or conversely, the perfect performance of one's task is the celebration of ritual.
Symbolic actions are not governed by the laws of logic which govern ordinary actions. Nagendra quotes from A. K. Coomaraswamy's Hinduism and Buddhism (Nagendra 1971:13):
Ritual is not a matter of doing specifically sacred things only on particular occasion but of . . . making sacred all we do and all we are, a matter of sanctification of whatever is done naturally by reduction of all activities to their principle.