In this lesson we will look more closely at ways in which rituals function to make conscious and validate the particular psychological energies that Jung termed archetypes, and to channel them into constructive and creative power for psychological and social ends. Ritual practices may be distinguished from mere customary practices in that rituals have a deep and emotionally “charged,” often sacred, quality of meaning. In this lesson we will look at the infusion of meaning (and the power that flows from it) in ritual, as we examine the psychological and social functions of ritual in particular cultures.
The Connection between Mythology and Ritual
The anthropologist Bronislav Malinowski analyzed mythology among the Triobriand Islanders as a social “charter”. In that mythological charter is the “moral structure” that provides the criteria for right action on the part of human beings. In many societies, mythology tells a story that is also enacted by ritual: this is why mythology (as we saw in the first lesson) is a particular class of folklore that has a kind of deep or sacred meaning. Ritual and the myth that tells its story take a good deal of their symbolic meaning their integrative nature. Wild-tame, spiritual-secular and death-rebirth are pairs that we normally think of as opposing in Western cultures that are integrated in ritual. Can you think of examples in your personal experience?
Ritual as Integrative
All ritual is both imbued with meaning and integrative, although this may vary depending on the culture to which a ritual belongs and the complexity and importance of that ritual within its culture. A several-day long Navajo healing ceremony to treat schizophrenia integrates the roles of the patient’s community members by having each of them exchange roles with one another during the course of the ceremony. (This ritual is so effective in its function that the National Institute of Mental Health has funded Navajo apprentices who learn it from their elders). Rites of passage of cultures around the world (which mark life stages of birth, puberty, marriage, mid-life, seniority, and death) are excellent examples of the integrative nature of ritual in that they not only help to integrate (by providing transitions between) various stages of an individual’s life, but they also reintegrate individuals into social roles commensurate with their changing life stages. Thanksgiving ceremonies, such as the “first fruits” or “first salmon” ceremonies practiced throughout Native North America, were integrative in that they honored the spirituality of the natural world.
Ritual Reinforces Values and Social Structures
The ritual practices in any society also tend to express and reinforce the values and social structures of that society. According to most pre-industrial worldviews, all of the aspects of nature (including ourselves) depend on one another in their reciprocal interrelationship; and their rituals, such as thanksgiving ceremonies and winter spirit dances express this. By contrast, in societies with hierarchical social structures, class divisions, and the domination of some persons over others (as well as of the human over the natural), rituals have quite a different structure.
The contrast between these rituals and those of more egalitarian societies is indicated by the contrast between priests or ministers (who figure predominantly in the religious lives of complex societies with more hierarchical rituals), and shamans (who figure predominantly in the religious lives of more egalitarian societies). In our religious rituals, priests and ministers tend to carry out functions ordinary people do not. They (as leaders) deliver sermons, they “lead” the congregation, they “perform” the sacraments, while others “receive” them. By contrast, rituals that involve shamans depend upon the involvement and participation–and often, the shared leadership–of others, often the whole community, as expressed in the Navajo ritual above. This does not mean that shamans do not go through special training and do not have particularly important roles. Shamans have central healing roles, and the contrast between shamans and doctors parallels that between shamans and priests. It is the shamans (rather than the patients) who are considered “at risk” in the healing rituals they are involved in, since such rituals characteristically consist of the shaman’s taking on and transforming the illness of the patient by “passing it through” him or herself. By contrast, we perceive our own doctors as personally distant from the persons whose diseases they treat. They characteristically assume a higher status than their patients by virtue of their “doctor” role. This is undergoing some change in the present day as a result of patient demand. Dr. Bernie Siegel, for instance argues that such distancing and hierarchy are good for neither the patient nor the doctor in the end. Instead, Siegel proposes a partnership-oriented approach to healing (in Love, Medicine, and Miracles.).
Rituals that take place in societies that emphasize social control also emphasize control and suppression, rather than the recognition, expression, and integration of individual impulses, needs and desires.
Ritual Deals with Power
This leads us to another point concerning ritual, and that is, that ritual always deals with psychological or spiritual power. In our own society, ritual’s dealings with power tend to reaffirm the location of power in our authority structures. In other societies, ritual tends to deal with “power” in a much different sense, a sense which seeks to reawaken, strengthen and then channel individual psychological and spiritual power. A sense of this “power” that reflects the feelings of those who have used such power consciously for thousands of years, is one of “mystery” (as in the Wakan Tanka or “Great Mystery” of the Sioux described in “Native Earth”). This, in turn, expresses a fundamentally religious attitude. The distinction the anthropologist Ruth Benedict makes between superstition and religion is helpful in understanding this point.
A Note on Religion versus Superstition
The religious attitude, as expressed in cultural values, personal behavior, or ritual itself, Benedict sees as characterized by personal intimacy and a sense of relationship. Superstitious behavior, by contrast, expresses a manipulative attitude toward the world, as it attempts to control it rather than to “speak with” it or “be present” with it. The latter relies on rote formulas and operates on a classical stimulus and response model. As contemporary psychology also sees it, superstitious behavior (the wearing of a red tie whenever one plays poker because one once had large winnings when wearing a red tie, for instance), comes about because of a stimulus (the red tie) and a response (the winnings) rather than because of any underlying understanding of the actual processes involved. Superstitious behavior indicates a distancing from the world around one rather than any intimacy with it, and as such, is directly opposed to the religious attitude. By this criterion, the ritual use of “spirit power” by Native Americans, which affirms an intimate relationship with the natural world, is religious behavior. And again, by this criterion, much of what we do with modern technology more closely approximates “superstitious behavior” than does the use of “spirit power” in Native American rituals.
Ritual as Archetype
There are at least two ways in which we may see this connection ritual and archetype.
First, a ritual is an enactment of an archetypal form of a desired kind of cultural behavior. “First fruits” ceremonies (such as the first salmon ceremonies and the first roots ceremonies among various Northwestern Native American groups) are classic examples of “modeling” for the behaviors they ritualize. In these ceremonies, the ritual treatment of the first salmon or the first roots of the season is the exemplary way in which all the salmon and all the roots taken in the rest of the season should also be treated. Many harvest ceremonies (such as that which Native peoples first shared with us, which has become our Thanksgiving Day) are ceremonies of this type, exemplifying the way in which all of the harvest taken from the earth should be treated. In the example of the first salmon and first roots ceremonies, we have explicit illustrations of ritual behavior acting as an archetypal model for particular types of cultural activities.
But all ritual (if more or less explicitly, more or less symbolically) is in some way a model for the everyday cultural actions it ritualizes. To give an example from our own culture of this ritual “modeling” process, the Catholic sacrament of communion provides a model, through its own experience, of the intimate interpersonal relationship between Christ and the believer, in which the believer bodily “ingests” Christ into him or herself. As another example, in puberty and initiation ceremonies throughout the world, initiates ritually enact “for the first time” that role in society they will assume with their new social status.
Second, if rituals are archetypal in that they provide idealized (and often, emotionally charged) models for relationships and behavior in their societies, they are also archetypal in that they consciously recognize, provide an acceptable structure for the expression of, and then channel archetypal energies of the collective unconscious. The calling up and channeling of these energies is one of the reasons why rituals are so psychologically potent–and why they may be used for good or bad purposes. The military rituals of the Third Reich channeled archetypal energies into a form that manipulated its participants, relegating their individual energies (and their individual responsibilities) to the state. By contrast, ceremonies such as the heyoka ceremony of the Sioux seek to revitalize individual responsibility, even as they awaken social alternatives, and foster empathy for and acceptance of different behaviors. Such rituals emphasize the potential expansion of human personality.
Ritual May Liberate or Control
This has led us to another important point about the relationship between ritual and archetype. As discussed in previous lessons, any archetype of the collective unconscious has its two aspects, its light or easily recognized and accepted aspect, and its shadow aspect. And ritual, in its own relationship to archetype, may provide a structure that either frees (as with the heyoka) or controls and manipulates (as with the Third Reich) archetypal energies. We can recognize rituals that might be termed oppressive, which manipulate archetypal energy, by their relationship to the social mores of their society. “Oppressive” rituals reflect only the accepted social structure and social mores. They are models of social convention. In such rituals, archetypes tend to be expressed only in their socially acceptable, rather than their “shadow” aspects.
By contrast, rituals which free archetypal energy will satirize, contrast with, suspend, or in some other way oppose traditional social mores in their own ritual enactment. Such “freeing” rituals often contain flagrant oppositions to normal social (and religious) behavior in their own enactment. Notable examples include the wild behavior of the hamatsa, the outrageous (and courageous) acts of the contraries of the Cheyenne as well as of the heyokas of the Sioux, the annual Iroquois ceremony (squelched by the horrified Jesuits who encountered it) which suspended all normal social restraints, and some of the humorous parodies of religious practices and the authority of the Pope (the enthronement of the “Fool’s Pope,” for instance) which Jung mentions as taking place in the European Middle Ages.
Rituals that free archetypal energies have two aspects. Firstly, they provide for the expression of archetypal energies within structures that are “safe,” both socially and psychologically. Within such “safe” structures, the society will not suffer for the breach of its rules, nor the individual suffer for his or her breaching of them, either in terms of social ostracism or in terms of the ego disintegration such free-form rule-breaking runs the danger of engendering. In this sense, ritual, for all the wild or rebellious enactment it may contain, is yet an extremely disciplined form of human behavior. There is no comparison, for instance, between the ritual use of Peyote by members of the Native American Church and the indiscriminate use of psychedelic drugs in a non-ritual context.
Even as it contains their expression, ritual also provides for the integration of archetypal energies into constructive and creative channels. We have an explicit example of this in the Cheyenne contrary ceremony, in which the “contraries” enact all manner of outrageous opposition to the normal order of things. During the “contrary” ceremony, the non-contrary (“normal”) audience must follow certain rules that establish intimate relationships between themselves and the contraries. They must take and eat meat from the hands of the contraries (which may be pulled directly out of the cooking kettles without any utensils to allay their heat). And in the ceremony as a whole, it is said that the audience must “face” the contraries and see, in the contraries’ behavior, possibilities within themselves. If they do this, it is also said that both they as individuals and Cheyenne society in general will grow very strong. If they turn away from the contraries, by contrast, both they as individuals and their society will weaken. (This material on the contraries is from George Grinnell’s The Cheyenne Indians, published in 1923).