Myth, Ritual, And Religion

Discussion in 'Education & Personal Growth' started by Cimorene, Oct 2, 2016.

  1. Cimorene

    Cimorene Platinum IL'ite

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    I dread talking about this however it is important to talk about these things.

    When Gauri created that God thread, I didn't expect it to survive beyond a day but it thrived for more than 2-3 weeks. I wanted to add this piece back then but backed off.

    This post is not an adducement or rebuttal to views expressed on the whole in that thread however there was one particular post on "myth and religion" that piqued my interest. Where to begin ... ah! with a picture as we usually do.


    The above picture called "The Golden Bough" is a painting by JMW Turner. I know it is bleary and you cannot make out those blobs. Let me help you. This painting is depiction of a scene from Virgil's Aeneid. Aeneas, the Trojan hero wishes to meet his dead father. So, he travels to Cumae to consult with Sibyl on how to sneak into the underworld. Sibyl advises Aeneas to carry a golden bough hacked from a certain tree and gift it to Proserpine (cf. Persephone). In the painting, Sibyl is holding a golden bough. You can read about the heroic tale here

    With this recap, let's roll onto our main topic. In 1890, a Scottish anthropologist called Sir James George Frazer published a book The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (subsequent editions had different subtitles and additional volumes). In line with the original sub-title, the book expounds on comparative religion i.e, how religions are created, shaped and bear resemblance with each other. Sir James Frazer proposed that mankind progresses from magic through religious belief to evolutionary scientific ideas. The text of his work is available for free here. You may wish to read succinct review here


    That magic -> religion -> science is very vague. What does it even mean?
    Now I have your attention. Okay, let's look at Myth and Ritual (extracts are pasted below)

    When we say "religion", we are referring to its constituents "myth" and "ritual". Myth and ritual are fused together as religion. When there is religion, there is always an originating myth and ensuing ritual. If only life was that simple, theologians and anthropologists would be out of jobs. This whole "myth" and "ritual" took the religious battlefield into fiercer grounds. Let's dive deeper into these building blocks of religion. There are two schools of thoughts trying to discern this chicken-and-egg problem. Which came first to form religion?

    (1) Ritual from Myth

    The anthropologist E. B. Tylor champions his 'ritual from myth' proposition as,

    Leaving the sphere of historical religions, the ritual-from-myth approach often sees the relationship between myth and ritual as analogous to the relationship between science and technology.

    Tylor saw myth as an attempt to explain the world: for him, myth was a sort of proto-science. Ritual is secondary: just as technology is an application of science, so ritual is an application of myth—an attempt to produce certain effects, given the supposed nature of the world: "For Tylor, myth functions to explain the world as an end in itself. Ritual applies that explanation to control the world." A ritual always presupposes a preexisting myth: in short, myth gives rise to ritual.

    (2) Myth from Ritual

    In the other camp, we have the bible scholar William Robertson Smith who rallies his 'myth from ritual' as,

    Worshipers mourned Adonis's mythical death in a ritual that coincided with the annual withering of the vegetation. The ritual mourning originally had a nonmythical explanation: with the annual withering of plants, "the worshippers lament out of natural sympathy just as modern man is touched with melancholy at the falling of autumn leaves." Once worshipers forgot the original, non-mythical reason for the mourning ritual, they created "the myth of Adonis as the dying and rising god of vegetation to account for the ritual.

    In his essay "The Ritual View of Myth and the Mythic," Stanley Edgar Hyman makes an argument similar to Smith's:

    "In Fiji the physical peculiarities of an island with only one small patch of fertile soil are explained by a myth telling how Mberewalaki, a culture hero, flew into a passion at the misbehavior of the people of the island and hurled all the soil he was bringing them in a heap, instead of laying it out properly. Hocart points out that the myth is used aetiologically to explain the nature of the island, but did not originate in that attempt. The adventures of Mberewalaki originated, like all mythology, in ritual performance, and most of the lore of Hocart's Fijian informants consisted of such ritual myths. When they get interested in the topology of the island or are asked about it, Hocart argues, they do precisely what we would do, which is ransack their lore for an answer."

    There are more names, more books, more references, and more links that you will not have difficulty in finding. But why is this all important? Because I favour 'standing on the shoulders of giants' analogy to get familiar with the work, study and research already ploughed to seek roots of religion. You may inquire even with the interplay between "myth" and "ritual" to craft religion, where do I place God in such muddy shores? That is for another day. I forgot to mention Sir James Frazer's work was not exuberantly kissed by everyone. He was raked over the coals for insertion of controversial passages on Christianity and Jesus mythology. Well, it was too demeaning for the conservative biblical and theological scholars to relegate cosmic divinity to cultural trope. Excerpts are here

    There is no purpose or reason for this post. But next time anyone shotguns anyone with "ritual" or "religion", you may want to how to controvert those claims playfully (of course playfully!)
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2016
    blindpup10, Rihana and vaidehi71 like this.

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