Accepted paper:

"If that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without"


Léon van Gulik (Radboud University Nijmegen)

Paper short abstract:

Combining findings from ethnographic research on ritual creativity among Pagans with the psychology of intention and imagination, I present material from in-depth interviews with Dutch adherents about religious experiences, elaborating on the role of aesthetics, interpretation and ritual knowledge.

Paper long abstract:

In the present paper I will discuss narratives based on in-depth interviews with Dutch-speaking Wiccans and Ásatrúar about their religious experiences. In addition to the regular descriptive-ethnographic perspective, I will employ a explanatory-psychological approach on their stories, trying to advance an understanding of the narratives by putting an emphasis on the represented intentions and imagination of these believers. To do so, I will first offer a brief outline of the reported motives of ritual participation, and relate these to the perceived emotions. Second, and more importantly, I will elaborate on the role of aesthetics and the interpretation of experiences in ritual creativity. Using Winnicott's notion of the imaginal as the area of transition between inner and outer world, I will offer an analysis of the stories to show how personal meanings emerge from the interactions between person and ritual environment and how these become attuned. Briefly touching upon functions like religious coping, appraisal and validation of belief, I will demonstrate how both the religious system and the adherents are potentially changed by the need for understanding of these interactions. I will conclude my paper with a few generalising observations on the creative nature of intention and imagination, showing them to be the engine of ritual renewal, thus relating these particular findings to my overarching ethnographic research project on ritual creativity among Flemish and Dutch Pagans, as well as hinting at the role of psychological processes in religious change at large.

panel P210
Ritual creativity, emotions and the body