‘We need our rituals’…so the sentiment goes.
We all have them. Each and every one of us. Wherever we are on this earth, whatever lives we lead. They may not be universal in their characteristics but they are universal in the fact that they appear in every civilisation, every community, every society. Past and present. Small and large.Whether we are aware of them or not our lives are full of these acts that have been defined, identified or categorized as rituals at one time or another. Most have become modified over time and now simply fall into the category of a routine or a habit. Many continue to exist ‘disguised’ as a religious or nationalistic practice. There are those that have evolved into being the foundations of a limitless number of social interactions at all levels, all the way from the individual to global.
However trivial, however routine, however consequential, these acts are undeniably embedded in our lives. Many a behaviour that makes us the ‘social animals’ that we are, are actually the continuation of or a remnant of a ritual way back in time. A large number of these have had their origins traced back to the the earliest Ancient civilizations which seem to have depended and thrived on rituals. Anthropologists and a wide spectrum of academics involved in ritual studies suggest that some may even go all the way back to the Stone Age. The artwork discovered in caves that reveal symbols believed to be depicted to ward off evil forces, probably shadows as well as sounds from their surroundings they did not understand and were fearful of, support these views.
Celebratory or commemorative occasions or proceedings such as a wedding, a funeral, a periodical event such as a religious festival, religious pilgrimage, carnivals, Thanksgiving are all rituals…. Decorating a tree for Christmas, putting on make-up, tattooing, forms of greetings both physical and verbal are also derivatives of rituals that were once practiced. A few examples from a limitless list, were it to exist.
Rituals.. The diversity is overwhelming..There are those that are imposed upon us by the culture we were brought up in or the culture in which we live in, by traditions, by religion or any kind of spiritual belief. Those that are determined and/or dictated, partially or wholly, by our geographical, social, economical and political environment. Those that we choose to adapt into our lives ourselves. Mostly innocent and with good intentions… Some with adverse consequences (smoking tobacco has its own ritualistic origins). Those that we are convinced bring us happiness, those that give us the access ‘to belong’. There are those that enable us to share, those that we use as ‘tools’ to pass our experiences and our wisdom to the generations ahead.
Rituals pass down generations just as our genes do. The mode of transmission is obviously different but genes transmit data and so do rituals. Evolution process via natural selection sorts out the good and bad among the genes. The beneficial ‘good’ genes survive whereas ‘bad’ ones are weeded out albeit not completely. Just as many a ‘bad’ gene failed to survive, many a ritual have also disappeared. Being beneficial guaranteed continuity for both the gene and the ritual. Just as a number of ‘bad’ genes managed to remain on the genome, so did many a sinister, harmful, cruel and divisive ritual. ‘The bad’ and ‘the ugly’… Religious sacrifice of animals is one. Female circumcision, so cruel, so horrific is another. Sexual predatory, racial hatred,abuse all in the name of a ritual…the list goes on and on. Cults use rituals as mind control. There are societies in which rituals are used as a disciplinary social code. There are rituals, thinly veiled and presented as traditions, which encourage the transfer of prejudices as well as keeping them alive generation after generation. Extreme views and hatred flourish. Divisions become more and more marked.
By all means lets have our routines, rituals, traditions whatever we may choose to call them…They enrich our lives, link the past and the present, contribute to the well-being of the mankind and the environment we live in. At the same time, lets be aware that there are practices that are nothing more than disguised rituals out there that inflict pain and suffering and are used as means to manipulate and dominate.
Rituals…The good, the bad and the ugly.
No natural selection here.