Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review Article

by Kellee Uhr

Driver and ritual as social change

The transformative power of rituals and their role as an agent for social change is the key argument this chapter. Driver defines his use of terms such as ritual, transformation, magic and religion and sees these four elements as interrelated tools to assist in the dynamic of social change (1991, p.166). He argues that the key goal of religion is to transform human desire of the external or literal world and through the processes of ritual this desire is acted out. The term magic is defined broadly as an application of knowledge and is quickly argued that it exists within the socio-cultural frameworks of reality (1991, p.168). Driver explains this as “one person’s magic is another person’s religion” (1991, p.167). Ritual, by utilising magic, assists societies and the individual in a process of change by transforming individual subjectivities, society and the natural world (1991, p.172). Driver uses Van Gennep’s position of linking magic and religion as a powerful tool for spiritual existence as a supporting point to his argument.

To give his argument context, Driver uses two case studies from Korea and South Africa. It is important to remember that Driver’s own socio-cultural framework is that of a western paradigm. Considering this, Driver’s recount of the Korean healing ritual looks at the behavioural traits of the participants (a family) and likens the possession element to a process of role playing. Driver is not negative towards this ritual, but analyses it from a perspective that is not the same as the participants. Driver then explains the South African ritual of exorcising apartheid. This Christian based ritual with an expressed socio-political context is more broadly community orientated than that of the Korean ritual. Driver argues the South African ritual supports his argument of transformation as a tool for social change in the face of political issues. Using these examples, Driver places ritual as an important tool in the continued survival of cultural difference and the history of a community in the face of social change and progress.

Hume and Australian Aboriginal worldviews

The key theme in Hume’s article is the concept of timelessness in Australia Aboriginal cosmology portrayed through the central theme of The Dreaming. The Dreaming is a spiritual reality to which historical and cultural significance is attached (2004, p.238) and provides the link between humans, land and living elements of the land (2004, pp. 237-238). The timelessness of The Dreaming is what pertains to the Aboriginal worldview.

Hume outlines the translation of the word ‘dreaming’ and explains that due to various regional dialects the word itself is a common English translation. This translation brings Hume to argue that there is a relationship between dreaming in sleep and The Dreaming. Through dreaming in sleep, Aboriginals are able to move into another reality and Hume backs this argument up with references to academic research. He claims that an individual’s own worldview and cultural positioning can allow interpretation of a dreaming experience to not be specific to an Aboriginal Australian and claims that Westerners may one day experience this concept under certain circumstances (2004, p.249).

While not using the term ritual, Hume describes ceremonial performance as a medium to access The Dreaming. Through music and dance, the ceremony becomes a process by which the invisible is given material embodiment (2004, p.250). The re-enactment of histories and ancestors is a way for Aboriginal communities to “live again” (2004, p.251). Hume’s uses Csikszentmihalyi’s flow experience and the lack of distinction between self and environment and past, present and future and Schutz’s ‘mutual tuning in’ concept as frames of reference for his argument.

Hume’s article does not specifically use terms such as ‘ritual’ and ‘transcendence’, instead taking a heavily referenced approach to language and theory. While I find Hume’s lexical approach to the concept very linear and one dimensional, the argument gets stronger when using examples of how ritual performance is used to access spiritual power. Hume’s closing point is that ritual acts are a means to access indigenous spirituality that is intrinsically tied up with the environment.

Rountree and issues with authorship in feminist witches’ rituals

Rountree’s chapter ‘Ritual as artefact’ begins with an outline of a Winter Solstice ritual in New Zealand. Rountree describes many aspects of the ritual including drumming, personal meditation, sacrifice and costumes. Rountree’s participation in this ritual leads into her main argument – the embrace and appropriation of cultural ritual in the New Age Goddess movement and specifically feminist witches’ rituals.

Rountree argues that through the use of many historically recognised myths and mythologies (caves, drumming) the New Age ritual invokes and imaginative connection to early goddess-worshipping societies (2004, p.164). Through this connection participants have an emotional response to the ritual, personifying imagery and experience. The extraction of a diverse number of sources, especially indigenous cultures from non-Western traditions, can be seen as outright appropriation. Rountree argues that this extraction not only removes the cultural significance of the act but also removes the act from the intended religious meaning (2004, p.166). Rountree frames this argument with many contemporary witch and Pagan responses to this issue ranging from ‘universal human heritage’ and a colonialist position (2004, p.167). Rountree points out that often the inclusion of ‘other’ cultural artefact into ritual of new age movements is a mix of nostalgia, ignorance and naivety.

Rountree’s argument towards the issues of authorship and the decontextualising of religious cultural elements highlights the need for sensitivity when developing rituals in any neo-religious movement. Rountree’s own involvement in rituals makes her argument strong and provides an insight into ritual that is experienced, not watched or researched like Hume or Driver.

The continued survival of cultural difference and history in the face of Western progress is a constant theme when researching shamanism and altered states. Ritual practice allows communities to continue tradition and celebrate cultural difference. Hume and Driver take a Western-dominant view of the importance of ritual in indigenous communities and argue the significance of the practice is important for future communities. The issue of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation is key to Rountree’s chapter on the neo-goddess movement.

Reference list

Driver TL 1991, ‘Transformation’ in The Magic of Ritual: Our Need for Liberating Rites that Transform Our Lives and Our Communities, HarperSanFrancisco, New York.

Hume L 2004, ‘Accessing the Eternal: Dreaming ‘the Dreaming’ and Ceremonial Performance,’ Zygon, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 237-258.

Rountree K 2004, ‘Ritual as Artefact’ in Embracing the Witch and the Goddess, Routledge, London.

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