Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 30

Prevention and Ritual

It is interesting to see that Hillman links the prevention of evil with the importance of ritual.  Ritual does something significant for human beings on a healing/spiritual level.  A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. Now, these sets of actions are usually formalised in a relgious setting.

For religious persons, rituals are important.  Such rituals are religious services, masses, marriage ceremonies, funeral ceremonies, benediction, communion services, vespers, prayer services and so on and so forth.  There are other traditional rituals associated with Saints' days which vary from area to area, and country to country.  Over and above all that, there are also more cultural rituals associated with birthdays and historical events.  I have in mind events like the following: Bastille Day; The Fourth of July; Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day or VE Day) which commemorates the 8 May 1945, the date when the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich and Remembrance Day – also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day (the event it commemorates) or Veterans Day which is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice). There are obviously many more rituals re-enacted by humans as a way of remembering past actions, and in so doing making them very present to us in the here and now.  That is the very essence of a ritual - the making present of a past event.

Rituals help to hold or give shape to collective emotions, and in giving shape to the expression of emotions they perform essentially a community healing function.  In psychology, the term ritual is used in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior systematically used by a person to neutralize or prevent anxiety; it is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Here is what, among other things, Hillman tells us about ritual:

My notions of ritual suggest ways of respecting the power of the call.  They suggest disciplines imbued with more than human values, whose rituals will be touched by beauty, transcendence, adventure, and death.  Like cures like - again that old adage.  We must go toward where the seed originates and attempt to follow its deepest intentions.  Society must have rituals of exorcism for protecting itself from the Bad Seed.  Yet it must also have rituals of recognition that give the demonic a place - other than prisons - as Athena for the destructive, blood-angered Furies in the midst of civilized Athens.  (Ibid., p. 246)  

Above, the famous Creation of Adam scene from Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, taken Rome, February 2010.

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