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Chapter 27

Ritual
Victor Turner

This chapter represents the beginning of Part 4, "Ritual and Myth." Found just before this chapter, the introduction to this part can help orient you with respect to what you can learn from the upcoming series of chapters.

Victor Turner, an anthropologist who studied traditional and modern societies, explains that ritual is a kind of symbolic language for participants that helps define any event in terms of the broader range of symbols found in that society. It is the mythology, the stories told in the society, that as a rule provides the script for the rituals in which the members participate. Consider which of the stories you have read thus far in this book are related to rituals, from the Greek torch race in honor of Prometheus (Chapter 25) to any rituals you may know of in relation to the stories of the Judaeo-Christian Bible.

While analyzing a broad range of rituals in different types of societies, Turner focuses especially on rites of passage, rituals that mark changes in status in a person's life. Such events are well characterized in mythology by the trickster, a creature possessing liminality, the state of being between two cultures or two statuses. In considering modern postindustrialist culture, which embraces a complex system of various belief systems, Turner identifies a characteristic he calls the liminoid, which accounts for the choice we have of belief systems in our pluralistic society.

As you read, think about how Turner's ideas about liminality and the crossing of thresholds play a role in a variety of the stories you have read thus far. For example, one of the elements Joseph Campbell (Chapter 15) identifies as part of the hero's journey is the crossing of the threshold into the land where the adventures will take place.



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