|Authentic rituals combine the aesthetic, the sacred and the medicinal in varying proportions and without discrimination amoung them. This combination creates a model, a replica, in which circumstances may be forcibly perfected or variously, manipulated for the benefit of the individual or community.
Circumstances upon which the model is based may be anything in the environment which is thought to be worth controlling or influencing; the model may be represented in effigy form, or re-created in a verbal formula with the idea of coercing it, beseeching it, propitiating it or disarming it through adoration. The original may be the environment itself, in which case the ritual becomes a replica of the natural world as a whole, to be manipulated or transfigured, with the intention of influencing communal and personal destiny.
Rituals combine art, medicine and religion.
Rituals are controllable replicas of larger events, circumstances and situations.
Rituals are employed as a way to maintain balance and control in the face of fear and chaos.
The essence of ritualistic philosophical thinking, which provides a rationale for the means used to cope with sickness or other misfortune, is the belief that the universe is an all-inclusive unit in which each element, from the tiniest object or creature to the most stupendous, including man himself, is interrelated in an orderly but delicate balance governed by the principle of reciprocity. As long as this balance is maintained, humans enjoy a state of harmony, beauty, blessedness, normality and goodness. These terms refer to whatever circumstances or entities are favorable to people as opposed to all that is unfavorable or evil, this is the basic value concept of ritual.
Every ritual is related to a particular group of causative or etiological factors and also to certain supernatural powers, personalized as beings somewhat like humans or capable of assuming human form. In ritual every object or phenomenon, real or imagined, may be personalized and endowed with power and thought of as persons. Every thing or process then has an anthropomorphic inner form or essence, a Holy form. Once a thing or process has been personalized it can be dealt with.
It is man's responsibility to maintain harmony between himself and the Holy People. These Forms are for the most part indifferent to humans but may be persuaded or coerced to help cure or correct misfortune. The ethic of reciprocity operates here, for prayers and offerings are designed not to glorify or thank the Holy People but to attract and obligate them.
Ritual rests on two principles: anthropomorphism and reciprocity.
Rituals have two major functions: to create or correct. When circumstances are perceived to be out of balance or incorrect, ritual is employed to set matters right. Relationships and connections between humans and the Holy People govern a person's welfare. Rituals connect and control. The major instrument in ritual is reversal--to reverse what is or has been into what will be. All rituals by their very nature are attempts at reversal. And lastly all ritual is intended to reduce anxiety, and a ritual's ability to accomplish this is the measure of its success.
Realize that what we're presenting here is a finger, not a moon. We will use the form and format of Navajo thought and methods because they contain and exemplify what we're trying to convey. In this case they serve as a metaphor only--a finger pointing to a moon--a way to talk about things.
The first two categories are reverses of each other as are the last two. The first two categories are also reverses of the last two. The first two deal more with cosmic matters and the last two with individual matters, though a broken arm, for instance can be treated by any of the four. A causal determination must first be made in regard to the injury. Was the individual out of balance with the cosmos? (Holyway) Was he hexed? (Evilway) Is he out of balance in his life? (Lifeway) Is he out of balance in his body? (Injuryway)
Global issues such as weather or community are dealt with by Holyway or Evilway, while for more personal issues any of the four can be used. Any successful ritual contains elements of all four categories in differing proportions. In a sense, a ritual just reshuffles the order in which the different Ways will be applied. An interplay between general and specific is constantly at work: general to specific or specific to general. Therefore it is conceivable that a problem such as acid rain could be treated with Injuryway (a regional problem being turned into a local problem). Again reversal is the key.
To design a ritual the following ritual elements need be included and in the order shown.
1. Causal Determination
2. Story Line
3. Creation of Sacred Space
4. The Holy People are notified
5. The Holy People are obligated
6. All participants are invited in and instructed.
7. Main Action
The universe is an all-inclusive unit in which all elements from the tiniest object or creature to the most stupendous, including man himself, are interrelated in an orderly but delicate balance governed by the principle of reciprocity.
Excessive activity of any kind is dangerous. Lack of harmony or imbalance is the cause for misfortune or evil. Man's responsibility is to keep out of the way of the Holy People and not displease them in any way. Knowledge is the only true power.
Trained practitioners possess knowledge which can control dangerous things, restore universal harmony and establish immunity to future contagion from the same sources.
Requirements and Guidelines for the Ritual Practitioner:
1. All skills, abilities, equipment and materials should be mobile. The simplest raw material plus memory and skill (the brain and hand) create whatever is necessary to accomplish an outcome.
2. Practitioners usually do not follow any religious calendar, but perform whenever their services are needed.
3. Nearly every item in the universe may be personalized, endowed with power.
4. Supernatural Holy People are attracted to the scene by invocatory prayers and offerings and by repetition which compels them to come. If they are pleased they must restore harmony, they have no choice. The act of being pleased restores balance, it is balance, it is beauty.
5. Prayers and offerings are designed not to glorify and thank the Holy People but to attract and obligate them.
6. All Holyway chants contain both invocatory and exorcistic elements.
7. All things are of equal importance. Large or small, complex or simple, concept or detail.
8. Chants deal with causes not symptoms. A practitioner is to be a master of causality, understanding and manipulating causation.
9. Repetition enhances and amplifies power.
10. The original upon which a model is based may be anything in the environment which is thought to be worth controlling. It may be represented in effigy form and re-created in a verbal formula, with the idea of coercing it, beseeching it, propitiating it or disarming it through adoration. Or the original may be the environment itself, in which case the practitioner's work becomes a replica of the natural world as a whole, to be manipulated or transfigured with the intention of influencing communal and/or personal destiny.
11. Any error committed by the practitioner is serious as he is manipulating vast and powerful forces.
12. Sandpaintings are not created for any aesthetic purpose, but to act as magnetic fields and diffusers of supernatural power. They are a place of entry for the Holy People.
1. Attract the Holy People who come to admire their likeness.
Within cultures which are ordered more by reciprocity than retribution, ritual takes place before the actual event it anticipates and attempts to direct future events. Rituals never take place after the fact and so are never celebratory. They do not fill a function of thanksgiving.
Ritual is, at its heart, elaborate and detailed planning.
People who are poor at planning are often drawn to ritual as a magical replacement for their own shortcomings.
If you plan and act well, with thorough and thoughtful intent, you'll be participating in ritual as surely as any tribal person who ever lived.
It should be apparent by now that ritual isn't an outside power but instead an algorithm, a device to organize and clarify an individual, community or situation. Additionally, it keeps the practitioner on track, organized, and confident.
Rituals are precise procedures which create structures into which we can apply ourselves.
The origin of all rituals was a human mind solidly in the Wind Quadrant.
A partial list of ritualistic definitions, practices etc.
Approaching a new place or experience is done in stages (usually four) with a pause between stages for singing.
So what are we saying? That ritual is a systematic, pragmatic method for solving problems (personal and otherwise) with a huge dose of necessary beauty thrown in. It draws on the personal and profane, the mythic and mysterious. It offers a way to think about problems and their solutions. Ritual is a means by which many threads at many levels can be woven into a meaningfully powerful tapestry.
The Thunder Boy story in The Structure of Delight (pp. 240-242) is an example of a Story Line or narrative mentioned above. It's direct concern is the treatment of depression and so is applicable to all instances of melancholy. Coyote's intent is to shift Thunder Boy's physiology from the Water Quadrant to the Fire Quadrant and finally, as the story ends, to the Earth quadrant. This is the story's underlying psychological path.
In brief, Coyote takes control of Thunder Boy's attention, shifting it from KIN to XEN, then he shifts Thunder Boy's physiology by inducing him to action. Thunder Boy's point-of -view undergoes a similar shift. In the end, Thunder Boy finds he can't return to his original state of psychology, that his existence has changed (becoming Thunder Man) and he's pleased.
If you were to take the Thunder Boy story (or any other), modify it to fit your needs, update and expand it where necessary, throw in the extra elements to bring it into the present, include all the steps as listed above, you would have a ritual which would be applicable to a great many people. If your were to do this and got good at it, you'd have something that could rightly be called The Thunder Boy Chant.
Navaho Religion by Gladys A. Reichard