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Reply To: Engaging The Renewing Feminine Within, with futurist Kristina Dryža”



Hope you don’t mind if I add a thought in response to this question you raise:

Briefly on to my other question speaking of the need for rituals.

Sometimes I wonder if some rituals are born more out of the head and intellect than the heart?
Or maybe it’s a balance of both?”

Ritual takes many forms – but the point of ritual, at least according to Campbell, Eliade, and others, seems to be to open a portal and propel us past surface realities, into an experience of a deeper reality underlying the world we perceive with our senses. Ritual allows us an experience transcendent to, yet in harmony with, that of the physical senses. A living ritual has a numinous, dream-like, surreal component – that sense of participation mystique, as Campbell labels it, using a term borrowed from Levy-Bruhl. Ego breaks down, and one’s sense of self both dissolves, and expands beyond, individual identity. Like in a play (drama, come to think of it, having evolved from sacred rituals), we suspend our disbelief, and participate in the myth.

That doesn’t seem to happen with rituals constructed by intellect alone.

In his introduction to Primitive Mythology, the first book of the four volume The Masks of God, Joseph Campbell makes a compelling case that ritual has its origins in play. 

He segues into the subject by telling the story of a professor’s four year old daughter, who is playing on the rug with three burnt matches while her father writes at his desk. Considerable time passes, and then the daughter screams in terror and comes running into her father’s arms, crying “Daddy, Daddy, take the witch away! I can’t touch the witch anymore!”

The little girl had been playing Hansel, Gretel, and the witch with the matches (ironically enacting a myth, so to speak – fairy tales are often the traces of earlier mythologies); though she knows the match is just a match, the little girl, caught up in her play, also believes the match is a witch.

Drawing then on Johan Huizinga’s groundbreaking work Homo Ludens (“Man the Player”): A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Campbell makes the connection between play and ritual, both of which occupy a play-sphere where the prevailing logic is “make believe” – aka, acting “as if”:

“This vivid, convincing example of a child’s seizure by a witch while in the act of play may be taken to represent an intense degree of the daemonic mythological experience. However, the attitude of mind represented by the game itself, before the seizure supervened, also belongs within the sphere of our subject. For, as J. Huizinga has pointed out in his brilliant study of the play element in culture, the whole point, at the beginning, is the fun of play, not the rapture of seizure. ‘In all the wild imaginings of mythology a fanciful spirit is playing,” he writes, “on the border-line between jest and earnest. . .  . As far as I know, ethnologists and anthropologists concur in the opinion that the mental attitude in which the great religious feasts of savages are celebrated and witnessed is not one of complete illusion. There is an underlying consciousness of things ‘not being real.’

And he quotes, among others, R.R. Marett, who, in his chapter on “Primitive Credulity” in The Threshold of Religion, develops the idea that a certain element of ‘make-believe’ is operative in all primitive religions. ‘The savage,’ wrote Marett, ‘is a good actor who can be quite absorbed in his role, like a child at play; and also, like a child, a good spectator who can be frightened to death by the roaring of something he knows perfectly well to be no “real” lion.’

‘By considering the whole sphere of so-called primitive culture as a play-sphere,’ Huizinga then suggests in conclusion, ‘we pave the way to a more direct and more general understanding of its peculiarities than any meticulous psychological or sociological analysis would allow.’ And I would concur wholeheartedly with the this judgment, only adding that we should extend the consideration to the entire field of our present subject.” (Primitive Mythology 23)

Campbell then examines the play element in the Roman Catholic mass, and rituals of other cultures, noting that “Belief––or at least a game of belief––is the first step toward such a divine seizure.” (Theater, as well, which has its origin in ritual, is grounded in that play logic – the suspension of disbelief).

Some rituals arise spontaneously – it may take a while before you even tumble to the fact that what you are doing is a ritual –and then often, there is some intention involved, and your intellect is engaged. But I would say that effective rituals – those that have a deep, profound, emotional impact (composed of living symbols, or what Campbell, borrowing from Jungian psychiatrist John Weir Perry, calls “affect images”) felt in body and soul, rather than just going through the motions – are akin to artistic creations, drawing more on intuition, spontaneity, and imagination.