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Importance of Religious Rituals and Traditions

Importance of Religious Rituals and Traditions

When learning the culture, it is important to return to its genesis, as well as its primary and archaic forms. A ritual is one of such shapes. The culture appeared on the basis of a cult. Its grounds are sacral. It appeared at a temple and was connected with the religious life. It evolved in Ancient Greece, in the Medieval Ages and within the traditions of the early Renaissance. The culture would not be able to survive without the means of its transferring from one generation to another. The paper investigates the primary forms of its transmission, i.e. rituals and traditions.

Relation Between Mythology and Rituals

Lang states that one of the main theoretic issues to be investigated is the relation of a myth and a ritual (23-24). More generally, it is a problem of the connection between mythology and religion. The myth often explains the religious ceremony. The latter one reproduces the fiction itself. This interaction of two notions has caused a controversy on what is prior, i.e. a myth or a ritual. The majority of scientists tend to consider that the ceremony is the primary one. However, they do not deny a possibility of the opposite situation. The basis for the ancient religions was the participation in different ceremonies that were obligatory for all the members of a tribe. In many religions, the mythological content is secondary and even not necessary. For example, in Ancient Greece, the mythology did not form the basis of worshipping. It was unnecessary to believe in myths.

The system of rituals allows transferring the cultural values from one generation to another. It forms an idea about the general order of the human life. With the help of religious ceremonies, people are able to communicate using symbols. Due to the human psychology, it is necessary for an individual to see the outer attributes. The ritual activity relieves the transmission from the external perception to internal feelings. Symbols help to understand the nature of the world by placing the negative experience into the limits of the universe creation. There it receives the explanation and obtains an ability to relieve the negative emotions. Thus, the bad experience is perceived in a different manner; it may be explained and justified. Religious ceremonies are stereotypical. When the first one of them is performed all the following ones become foreseeable and help to relieve the feeling of fear. The negotiation of uncertainty exempts negative feelings, infuses a person with confidence, and, thus, anticipates the successful solution of personal problems.

Types of Rituals

The British cultural anthropologist Turner considers that “a ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors’ goals and interests” (105). Even if rituals are carried out randomly, each of them takes place under the influence of certain circumstances.

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The anthropologist divides ceremonies into the following groups:

  • Seasonal rituals that are devoted to the moment of the climate cycle changes or the beginning of such an activity as sowing or harvest gathering;
  • Ceremonies that depend on the circumstances caused by critical periods in the life of a separate person or the society in general (birth, maturity, marriage, death, etc.);
  • Rituals of disasters that are used to appease or banish the spirits cause diseases, failures, and injuries;
  • Other ceremonies that include divinations, dedication to priests, religious associations or secret societies, and those ones that accompany sacrifices to gods or the spirits of ancestors (Turner 105).

Sacral Origin of Rituals

According to Eliade, any ritual has its sacral model . The gods, cultural heroes or mythic ancestors put the beginning to all cults. The primitive people considered these actions to be sacral as they had been carried out by a god, a hero or an ancestor (Eliade 12-16). In Egypt, the priests based the cult on the actions of Tot, who created the Universe with the power of his word. According to the Iranian tradition, the religious ceremonies were established by Ormazd to commemorate the act of the Universe Creation that had lasted for one year. At the end of every period, he had rested for five days. Thus, it caused the establishment of main holidays. The person only repeats the Act of Creation. During one year, his/her religious calendar reflects all the cosmogonic phases (Eliade 12-16).

Eliade states that the sacral year continuously repeats the Act of Creation (17). A person becomes a coeval of cosmogony as the ritual transfers him/her to the initial epoch. Any ceremony is carried out at the sacral time when it was first carried out by a god, a hero or an ancestor. Except that, it is carried out at a sacral space that differs from the room of the ordinary world. It is important to sanctify a plot of land by moving it to the center. Due to this action, the sanctified space corresponds to the Center of the Universe as well as the time is related to the mythic time of the beginning (Eliade 17-21). This Center of the World may be a Sacral Mountain where the Sky meets the Earth, any temple or a palace, a sacral town or a royal residence. The temple is the most sacral place. It has its divine prototype. At the Sinai Mountain, Jehovah gave to Moisey an example of the temple he had to construct (Eliade 17-21). Cities also have a divine prototype. The archetypes of all the Babylonian cities are located in constellations. Sippar has its idea in the constellation of Cancer, Nineveh – in the Ursa Major, Assur – in the star of Arcturus (Eliade 17-21). Thus, the surrounding world has its divine archetypes understood as a plan, a form or a twin that exists on a higher cosmic level.

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However, not everything in this world corresponds to these prototypes. For example, desserts are related to another mythological model. They assimilate with the chaos that preceded the Act of Creation. Before possessing such a territory, people have to carry out a ritual that repeats the Creation or construction of sacral space. For example, in Veda ritual of the territory take-over, the construction of Agni credence provides the connection with the divine world. Space becomes sacral (Eliade 21-27).

Eliade states that all the constructive and productive activities are based on cosmogony (17). At certain districts of Asia, a village is based at the perpendicular intersection of two roads that mean the four sides of the Universe. The division of the rural area into four sectors corresponds to the division of the Universe into four horizons. The structure of the altar is similar to the form of the cosmic space (Eliade 17-21). This phenomenon may be found in different cultural contexts where the same scenario is repeated. Like an altar or a settlement, a house is sanctified by ritual actions. The dwelling is a Universe created by a person. It imitates the creation of gods, i.e. the cosmogony. Any construction of a new house repeats the creation of the Universe (Eliade 17-21).

The New Year reflected the reproduction of the Act of Creation that included the restoration of the primary time (Eliade 51-62). Thus, there were different acts of refinement and exorcism carried out. All the sins of the previous year were eliminated and physically destroyed. When taking part in the destruction and the creation of the World, a human being was created again as well. With every New Year, the individual became more free and clear because he/she had been liberated from the burden of sins and mistakes. Symbolically, the person was becoming the coeval of cosmogony. The ritual reproduction of the mythic time is a basis of all sacral calendars. A holiday is a reconstruction of a mythic event at the present time (Eliade 51-62).

The marriage observances also have a sacral model. Betrothal reproduces the divine union, i.e. such one between the Earth and the Sky. In Greece, the marriage rituals imitate the example of Zeus, who secretly had united with Gera. Demeter united with Iasion at the beginning of spring (Eliade 21-27). Thus, it became the symbol of the soil fertility. Eliade states that the mythic time contains some examples for every type of activity (21-27). The time and ritual of mythology include the explanation and justification of existing rules and norms.

A religious person reproduces the cosmogonic actions not only when he/she creates something, but also when it is necessary to save the harvest, win a war or perform a navy expedition. However, a ritual plays the most important role in medicine when its aim is the regeneration of the human being (Eliade 17-21). The ceremony returns an individual to the time of the Beginning with the goal to allow him/her to begin a new life, be born again, and be healed (Eliade 17-21).

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Psychological Relief of Religious Rituals

According to Rappaport, the ritual is a mechanism that relieves the perception of new issues (103). Every stage of the person’s life is accompanied by the ceremony that aims to provide the transition from one condition to another. With its help the one can resolve conflictual situations. The ceremony helps to eliminate a crisis (Rappaport 103). However, if it is inevitable, it establishes the highest personal values from the social point of view performing its most important function. The ceremony prepares the individual for a new period of development. The religious ritual is a psychologic defense from the difficulties of life and the sufferings. It provides the one with the support of representatives of the certain religious group. The members of the ceremony feel that it is a border that divides them from another life. This transmission is accompanied by the feeling of celebration and degeneration.

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Therefore, the ritual plays an important role in religion. It is one of key elements in the transmission and the beginning of a new period in the life. It is connected with such important moments as birth, marriage, healing, house construction, and holidays that are celebrated not only by religious people. The ceremony is a method of reproduction of a mythological event. It is connected with the divine world and directed towards keeping the order in the Universe. The myth explains and justifies a religious ceremony that has to be carried out. As for the ritual it reproduces the fiction. It is performed at the sacral time and in the sanctified place. The structure of the altar and the constructions symbolically repeat the cosmic space. Many of the ceremonies have a sacral model. It concerns, for example, the marriage that reproduces the sacral ceremony, i.e. the union of the Sky and the Earth. The reproduction of the mythic time has become the basis for all calendars. Any holiday is a restoration of a mythic event at the present time. For example, the New Year is the reconstruction of the Creation and the recovery of the primary time.