Requirements: Read below lecture, view videos/articles (your choice). Response should be between 300-400 words long and meet criteria outlined within lecture. MLA in text citations.

Rites of Passage

The Mythic Underpinnings of Life-Cycle Rituals

Author of the Learning Resource, “Rites of Passage” posits four roles that rituals play in society to usher members into various stages of their life cycles. (See below.) These are based on the work of the anthropologists Bronisław Malinowski, Arnold Van Gennep, Clifford Geertz, Mary Douglas, Victor Turner, and others.

Name THREE life cycle rituals that you have experienced (either as a participant or observer) and identify which of the four roles was most prominent in each ritual. Then, identify a myth that underlies each one, and explain the connection between the myth and ritual. Divide your key post into three parts, and state clearly in each section the life-cycle ritual, its social role, and its attending myth.

The four roles that rites of passage serve in society (according to our Learning Resource article, Rites of Passage) are:

to give humans a sense of control over natural processes that may be beyond their control, by making it appear that natural transformations (e.g., birth, puberty, death) are actually effected by society and serve society’s ends;

to “fence in” the dangers perceived cross-culturally to be present in transitional periods (when individuals are in-between social categories and therefore call the conceptual reality of those categories into question), while at the same time allowing controlled access to their energizing and revitalizing power;

to convey, through the emotions and the body, a series of repetitious and unforgettable messages to the initiate concerning the core values of the society into which he or she is being initiated through the carefully structured manipulation of appropriately representative symbols, and thereby to integrate those values, as well as the basic premises of the belief system on which they are based, into the inmost being of the initiate; and

to renew and revitalize these values for those conducting, as well as for those participating in or merely watching, the rituals through which these transformations are effected, so that both the perpetuation and the vitality of the belief and value system of the society in question can be assured.

You should study these Week Three Learning Resources about life-cycle rituals as background information to incorporate into your discussion: Rites of Passage and The Life Cycle [overview articles]; Circumcision, Becoming an Adult, Initiation through Trials, Symbols of Release [Joseph Campbell videos], Plato, Socrates and the Cave Allegory [relevant to your educational rites of passage]; and Norse Myths: Death and the Afterlife [relevant to funerals you have witnessed].

Resources:

http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/ps/i.do?i…

https://umuc.equella.ecollege.com/file/dd237bb8-9b…

http://www.stthomasu.ca/~parkhill/rite101/ireps/ge…

https://youtu.be/5kh1JEb94as?list=UUDbqOEUayaHX7sZoRn3jeAg

https://youtu.be/aGx4IlppSgU?list=UUDbqOEUayaHX7sZoRn3jeAg

https://youtu.be/SzhIQqVL6Vc?list=UUDbqOEUayaHX7sZoRn3jeAg

https://youtu.be/Zzj8aE1KPPQ?list=UUDbqOEUayaHX7sZoRn3jeAg

http://www.maasai-association.org/ceremonies.html

https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Rites_of_Pas…

http://norse-mythology.org/concepts/death-and-the-…

http://www2.hsp.org/exhibits/Balch%20exhibits/rites/lifecycle.html

The Learning Resources of Week One introduced you to the distinction between myth (a special kind of story) and mythology (the study of myths). Your Discussion treated four functions of myths, originally outlined by Joseph Campbell as: Mystical, Cosmological, Sociological, Psychological. As a reminder, let us review the four:

The Mystical Function highlights the religious ability of myths to convey deep experiences of the unseen worlds.

The Cosmological Function highlights the etiological ability of myths to explain how our world came to be.

The Sociological Function highlights the cultural ability of myths to create charters for structuring society.

The Psychological Function highlights the pedagogical ability of myths to structure personal experience, for example, in terms ofculturally-approved life stages.

Week Two focused on the type of Origin Myth that describes a creation of the world. These are Cosmogonic Myths, otherwise known as creation stories. In the Week Two Discussion, you identified particular examples of nine types of creation story according to MartaWeigel’s analysis, namely:

Accretion / Conjunction

Secretion

Sacrifice

Division / Consummation

Earth-diver

Emergence

Two Creators

Deus faber (God the maker)

Ex nihilo (Out of Nothing)

In addition to the Cosmological Function of explaining the creation and destruction of the cosmos, creation stories can also be understood in terms of their Sociological Function that pertains to the impact of myths on society. In this regard, we discussed the power of stories that tell of “first times,” and considered Mircea Eliade’s suggestion that specialists in the sacred are often granted immense authority in shaping a society. In our discussion, some people exemplified the Sociological Function of creation myths in terms of the Aryan hypothesis, which hinges on the myth of Aryan supremacy developed by Hitler and others on the basis of the Indo-European foundation of Germanic culture. During Week Six we can return to this particular subject in a discussion devoted to analyzing the positive or negative impact of myths on cultures.

Now, in Week Three we explore how myths are used in society to shape personal experiences through rituals that mark out criticalstages in our lives. The discussion treats the Psychological Function in terms of the experiential underpinnings that myths provide for rites of passage. In looking at rites of passage, we also encounter the Sociological Function of myths to see how this type of ritual is culturally sanctioned to produce a specific identity for us. We will see that myths shape both individual experience andsocial identity. Next week we will deal more with these facts of individual and social identies in exploring the portrayal of gender in myth.

The Learning Resources article on Rites of Passage from the International Journal of Social Sciences defines a rite of passage as a ritual in

a series of rituals that conveys an individual from one social state or status to another—for example, from adolescence to adulthood, from single to married, from student to graduate, from apprentice to a full member of a profession, from life to death—thereby transforming both society’s definition of the individual and the individual’s self-perception. [http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE|CX3045302291&v=2.1&u=umd_umuc&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=b03dcfdd7b2054f83664d7536eead0bb]

The academic field of Anthropology has contributed much to mythologists’ understanding of the ways that myths are linked to rituals that move people from one stage of life to another. The anthropological work of Bronisław Malinowski, Arnold Van Gennep, Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, and Mary Douglas neatly complements and informs the mythological work of Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, and others. I would note that I studied with both Mircea Eliade and Victor Turner at the University of Chicago—both of whomimpacted my understanding of myth, ritual, and religion.

Our Week One Learning Resource, The History of Mythology only covers, among these five anthropologists, the work of Malinowski because Leonard is focused on myths rather than on the relationship bewteen myths and rituals. Nonetheless, we should know their names and key concepts; so here is a brief overview of their work:

Bronisław Malinowski (1884-1942) Malinowski, from Poland, is considered to be the founder of the field of social anthropology. Here is a passage from the encyclopedia Brittanica that helps us understand his contributions relevant to our rites of passage studies:

Conversant with continental European social theory and especially acknowledging his debt to Émile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, and others of the French sociological school, he rejected their abstract notions of society in favour of an approach that focused more on the individual—an approach that seemed to him more realistic. His functional theory, as he himself explained,

insists . . . upon the principle that in every type of civilisation, every custom, material object, idea and belief fulfils some vital function, has some task to accomplish, represents an indispensable part within a working whole. (“Anthropology,” in Encyclopædia Britannica, 13th ed., suppl., p. 133.)

Only by understanding such functions and interrelations, he held, can an anthropologist understand a culture. In keeping with his concept of culture as an expression of the totality of human achievement, he examined a wide range of cultural aspects and institutions, challenging existing interpretations of kinship and marriage, exchange, and ritual.[https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bronislaw-Malinowski]

From Malinowski we learn that all aspects of culture work together to enrich society and shape identity and experience. In Week Three, we focus on the interrelation of myth and ritual in society in connection with rites of passage.

Arnold Van Gennep (1873-1957) Van Gennep bears a Dutch name taken from his mother. He was the first to articulate the notion of “rites of passage” and classify a type of ritual in terms of their social function of marking stages of life. He coined the term in French, developing his concepts in a book, Les rites de passage, published in 1905. Here is a Wikipedia summary of the three phases through which each rite of passage takes a person:

Rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation, as van Gennep described. “I propose to call the rites of separation from a previous world, preliminal rites, those executed during the transitional stage liminal (or threshold) rites, and the ceremonies of incorporation into the new world postliminal rites.” HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rite_of_passage” l “cite_note-5” [5]

In the first phase, people withdraw from their current status and prepare to move from one place or status to another. “The first phase (of separation) comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group … from an earlier fixed point in the social structure.” HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rite_of_passage” l “cite_note-6” [6] There is often a detachment or “cutting away” from the former self in this phase, which is signified in symbolic actions and rituals. For example, the cutting of the hair for a person who has just joined the army. He or she is “cutting away” the former self: the civilian.

The transition (liminal) phase is the period between states, during which one has left one place or state but has not yet entered or joined the next. “The attributes of HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality” o “Liminality” liminality or of liminal personae (“threshold people”) are necessarily ambiguous.” HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rite_of_passage” l “cite_note-7” [7]

In the third phase (reaggregation or incorporation) the passage is consummated [by] the ritual subject.” HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rite_of_passage” l “cite_note-8” [8] Having completed the rite and assumed their “new” identity, one re-enters society with one’s new status. Re-incorporation is characterized by elaborate rituals and ceremonies, like debutant balls and college graduation, and by outward symbols of new ties: thus “in rites of incorporation there is widespread use of the ‘sacred bond’, the ‘sacred cord’, the knot, and of analogous forms such as the belt, the ring, the bracelet and the crown.” HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rite_of_passage” l “cite_note-9” [9] [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_van_Gennep]

We will see that Victor Turner gave special emphasis to van Gennep’s notion of liminality. The experience of liminality in the course of a person undergoing a rite of passage allows the myth that accompanies the ritual to exercise a Psychological Function.

Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) Geertz was a U.S. born anthropologist who was influential in the field of symbolic anthropology. He defined culture in this way:

[C]ulture is “an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes toward life” (Geertz 1973d:89). In an alternative (and more quoted) formulation, Geertz states, “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative in search of meaning” (Geertz 1973f:5).[http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/theory_pages/Geertz.htm]

Geertz’s notion of “thick description” is paramount for us, because it alerts us to the impact that myths—often embodied in rituals—have on the creation of cultural and personal meaning.

Thick description is a phrase that Geertz borrowed from Gilbert Ryle; it is set apart from thin description by the former’s attention to the meaning of actions. In the classic example, one boy’s eye involuntarily twitches, while another boy winks. The physical phenomena are the same, but a wink is the stuff of culture, whereas a twitch is not. In researching a culture, the ethnographer must record the winks, not the twitches. [http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/theory_pages/Geertz.htm]

In our HUMN 351 Discussion this week, we aim to provide thick descriptions of our personal involvement with rites of passage.

Victor Turner (1920-83) Turner was a British cultural anthropologist whose trademark concepts of “liminality” and “communitas” areimportant for us. Here is a succinct explanation of these two key concepts:

Liminality

Turner explored Arnold van Gennep’s threefold structure of rites of passage and expanding theories on the liminal phase. Van Gennep’s structure consisted of a pre-liminal phase (separation), a liminal phase (transition), and a post-liminal phase (reincorporation). Turner noted that in liminality, the transitional state between two phases, individuals were “betwixt and between”: they did not belong to the society that they previously were a part of and they were not yet reincorporated into that society. Liminality is a limbo, an ambiguous period characterized by humility, seclusion, tests, sexual ambiguity, and communitas. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Turner]

Communitas

Communitas is a HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin” o “Latin” Latin noun commonly referring either to an unstructured community in which people are equal, or to the very spirit of community. It also has special significance as a loanword in cultural anthropology and the social sciences. Victor Turner, who defined the anthropological usage of communitas, was interested in the interplay between what he called social ‘structure’ and ‘antistructure’; Liminality and Communitas are both components of antistructure. HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communitas” l “cite_note-1” [1]

Communitas refers to an unstructured state in which all members of a community are equal allowing them to share a common experience, usually through a rite of passage. Communitas is characteristic of people experiencing liminality together. This term is used to distinguish the modality of social relationship from an area of common living. There is more than one distinction between structure and communitas. The most familiar is the difference of secular and sacred. Every social position has something sacred about it. This sacred component is acquired during rites of passages, through the changing of positions. Part of this sacredness is achieved through the transient humility learned in these phases, this allows people to reach a higher position.[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communitas]

In describing our personal experiences of rites of passage, we can analyze the extent to which we experienced communitas as we underwent liminal conditions in moving from one life stage to another.

Mary Douglas (1921-2007) Douglas can be credited with bringing anthropological questions into analysis of the everyday life of people of western cultures. The following comment by Ronald Hendel shows her importance to our subject of our own experience with rites of passage:

Mary Douglas, more than any other modern anthropologist, explicitly revoked [the so-called father of sociology, Emile] Durkheim’s exemption for modern Western societies from anthropological study. She argued that our thoughts, habits, and categories are also entangled in our social environments, in ways of which we are largely unaware. Douglas described this dimension of culture in various ways—as “implicit knowledge,” “cultural bias,” or “thought-styles”—and regarded it as the task of anthropological investigation to show how modern lives are shot through with practices, commitments, and habits of thought that are shaped by our social environments. In other words, our “forms of social life” and our “forms of moral judgment” are deeply interrelated, each supporting and ratifying the other, without our conscious awareness that this is so. This is the implication of Durkheim’s great discovery, which Mary Douglas has developed in various areas—in economics, risk theory, and even biblical studies. In so doing, she took on the delicate task of critiquing one’s own cultural bias, the social environment of one’s own commitments.[http://www.jhsonline.org/cocoon/JHS/a085.html]

This week and in weeks to come, we should be asking questions about our own cultural biases or thought-styles in connection with the study of myths.

Our Learning Resource article, “Rites of Passage” identifies four roles that rites of passage serve in society, based on the work of several anthropologists. We use these directly in the Week Three Discussion to see how myths impacted our own lives:

to give humans a sense of control over natural processes that may be beyond their control, by making it appear that natural transformations (e.g., birth, puberty, death) are actually effected by society and serve society’s ends;

to “fence in” the dangers perceived cross-culturally to be present in transitional periods (when individuals are in-between social categories and therefore call the conceptual reality of those categories into question), while at the same time allowing controlled access to their energizing and revitalizing power;

to convey, through the emotions and the body, a series of repetitious and unforgettable messages to the initiate concerning the core values of the society into which he or she is being initiated through the carefully structured manipulation of appropriately representative symbols, and thereby to integrate those values, as well as the basic premises of the belief system on which they are based, into the inmost being of the initiate; and

to renew and revitalize these values for those conducting, as well as for those participating in or merely watching, the rituals through which these transformations are effected, so that both the perpetuation and the vitality of the belief and value system of the society in question can be assured.

Have a great time with our Week Three Discussion—always making effort to incorporate concepts to which you have been exposed in this lecture and in the learning resources.

 
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