SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011
Ritual creativity, emotions and the body
Location Tower B, Piso 3, Room T14
Date and Start Time 19 Apr, 2011 at 11:30
This panel explores the importance of emotions in the context of newly created contemporary rituals and the sense of embodied experience of the divine they aim to bring about. We invite ethnographically grounded papers exploring these issues in different religious contexts.
Ritual is being reclaimed across a wide spectrum of religious communities in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Through the re-interpretation of traditional rituals and/or the creation of new ones, people in different religious contexts seek to revitalize nature religions, experience the presence of the Virgin Mary, establish a contact with the spirits of their home country or come to terms with difficult decisions such as an abortion or a divorce. Participants in and creators of these new rituals often seek an embodied experience of the sacred that serves as evidence of direct contact with the numinous. Emotions play an important role in the process of creating a sense of embodied sacredness that emphasizes the immanent nature of the divine.
In this panel we would like to analyze the specific function of ritual as a vehicle for the expression of emotions: those of participants as well as those that the creators of ritual wish to solicit. We are particularly interested in exploring the ways in which ritual experiences manifest themselves through the body. What kind of 'healing' experiences do the participants report? What kind of physical and spiritual relationships do they establish?
This panel seeks papers that explore these issues in a variety of contexts, such as those of new religious movements, modern Paganisms, and 'feminist' interpretations of more conventional rites, as well as pilgrimage and religious migration.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
"Trees I fell in love with": grief and biophilia in the rituals of radical environmentalists
The love and grief that motivate environmental activists develop through powerful experiences during childhood and adolescence that blur the boundaries between human and tree bodies. Radical environmental rituals such as tree-sits both construct and reinforce these emotional and physical identifications.
Radical environmentalists like Julia Butterfly, who spent two years in a tree called "Luna" and Jeff "Free" Luers, who spent eleven years in prison for environmental sabotage, describe their love for trees and grief over planetary destruction as the most significant motivating factors in their activism. Drawing on interviews and correspondence with activists, as well as participant-observation at radical environmental gatherings and tree-sits in Northern California and Southern Oregon, I argue that the love and grief that motivate radical environmental activists develop through powerful, embodied experiences with non-human beings during childhood and adolescence. These experiences involve the blurring of boundaries between human and tree bodies and the identification of human feelings with the feelings of forests. Various factors shape radical activist rituals, such as embodied memories of childhood, including speaking with and climbing in trees and contemporary Pagan beliefs in nature as sacred. Ritual activities such as creating sacred space at forest action camps, sitting in trees with nooses around their necks, and chaining themselves to blockades to prevent logging both construct and reinforce these earlier emotional and physical identifications with trees. Activists' rituals of protest are intended to heal relationships between humans and forests as well as to stop logging. I explore the extent to which forest activists express notions of biophilia described in the work of E. O. Wilson, Peter Kahn and Donna Haraway in order to understand the ways in which bodily and emotional experiences of childhood shape and inform adult ritual performances.
"If that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without"
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.
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.
A spider's cures: managing emotions in the reinvention of the pizzica tarantata
This presentation concerns a contemporary healing ritual, inspired by representations found primarily in scholarly works. The focus is on molding individual emotional states through ritualized acts and the process of learning to sense and make sense of ecstatic and potentially healing experiences.
Creating presence and strong emotional experiences seem inseparable from the construction of efficacy in much contemporary ritual creativity. Yet, emotional intensity does not merely follow certain actions but requires contexts and certain conventions. Ritualized acts also discipline and mold individual emotions into patterns established intersubjectively and by the ritual form itself. The aim of this presentation is to examine an emotionally charged ritual, namely the reinvention of the pizzica tarantata - a supposed ancient healing trance dance, thoroughly documented by ethnologist Ernesto de Martino in the 1950's but since largely extinct as a public phenomenon. It is argued that the rationale for ritual performance and management of emotions and potential experiences of healing, lies in the moment, most notably in intersubjective sharing, somatic modes of attention and public enactment. Further, accepting, experiencing and making sense of such healing experiences is a process that is primarily learned through the body.
Ritual creativity: why and what for? Examples from Quebec
Ritual creativity is observable in many contemporary religious currents in Quebec, including Catholicism, Neo-shamanic groups and Spiritualism. I examine Spiritualist healing rituals and how they are seen to benefit healers and recipients. I also look at why ritual creativity is important in many religious groups today.
A team study I direct on contemporary religious currents in Quebec, Canada, shows much evidence of ritual creativity in very different types of religions. I will give some examples of these from a) a Catholic parish whose members are mostly gay studied by David Koussens; 2) Neo-shamanic groups, including Wiccans, studied by Amélie Normandin and by Rosemary Roberts; 3) a Spiritualist congregation that I have followed for many years.
This last case will be discussed in greater depth, with particular attention to creativity in healing rituals. This congregation is composed mainly of Francophone Québécois socialized as Catholics, and who retain varying degrees of contact with the Catholic Church. While there is a general normative framework for healing rituals as practiced in this group, they are carried out differently from one healer to another and often show syncretism with other spiritual currents. Both healers and recipients find important physical, spiritual and emotional benefits in healing rituals.
I then look at why ritual creativity is so important in many contemporary religions, as we have found in our team study. It engages the body-mind unity that many seek to experience through spirituality. Moreover, such creativity, often syncretic, is often deliberately sought by individuals, who see it as necessary for keeping their spirituality constantly renewed. In short, such creativity reveals another facet of the "individualization" of religion today noted by McGuire, Hervieux - Léger and others; i.e., the felt necessity to take responsibility for the quality of one's own religious experience.
Inducing belief in the impossible: "otherworldly" theatricality, belief, and experience in the ritual performances of a little-known African-Brazilian secret society
After describing a dramatic ritual performance of the little-known African-Brazilian secret society of the Babá Eguns (spirits of the deceased fathers), I propose a model of how its ritual performances induce the belief in the Baba Eguns so fundamental to the ritual’s healing and other experiences.
In the paper, I describe my eventual entry in January of 1977 into an extraordinary and, at the time, very little-known African-Brazilian secret society called, O Culto aos Babá Eguns (The Cult to the Deceased Ancestor-Fathers), hidden in the forests of an island off the coast of Bahia, Brazil. I then recount my observation of a dramatic ritual performance, filled with "otherworldly" theatricality and marked by a spontaneous and frightening event. The ritual and the spontaneous event draw on an impossible claim. The claim is that the society's elders could invoke the spirit of an esteemed ancestor in the form of a force or "wind." This "spirit-wind" then arose below and filled a sacred cloth, shaping it into an entity, a Babá Egum, that could interact with his descendents, give counsel and heal, or reprimand and punish, as needed. But if you were touched by the cloth of a Babá Egum, you would be "touched by death," and die. In the frightening event I observed, someone was "touched by death" and physically transformed. Based on these and my subsequent ritual observations and research in 1981, 1991, and particularly in 2009-10, I report some of my findings about the character and functions of the ritual experiences and the secret society, all of which are contingent on the belief in the reality of the Babá Eguns. I then propose a model of how the ritual performances and experiences induce belief in their impossible claim about the Babá Eguns.
When Dona Maria descends to take care of you: Caboclos and emotional interconnectedness in Tambor de Mina
Tambor de Mina is an Afro-Brazilian religion drawing on divinities called caboclos, who temporarily incorporate practitioners during rituals. Mina practices suggest that the human capacity to ‘feel the sacred’ necessarily also involves the imagery of a divine agent feeling the mundane. I offer the term emotional interconnectedness to analyze such interchange, which constantly reshapes structured local social hierarchies.
Tambor de Mina is an Afro-Brazilian religion drawing on divinities called caboclos, who manifest themselves through practitioners' bodies by temporarily possessing them within or in the proximity of the terreiro. Through recurrent manifestation Caboclos generate continuous affective relationships with terreiro visitors and sometimes they even marry flesh and blood wives/husbands or nurture babies as godmothers/fathers. Caboclos thus assume a decisive role in practitioners' familial, emotional and carnal lives.
Consequently, Mina practices suggest that emotional experience of the sacred is not solicited exclusively by mundane stimulations. Rather, it also depends on an active, often unexpected sacred/divine agent, which penetrates involuntarily into social reality to reconstitute the profane. Under such terms Mina rituals cannot be described as a structured vehicle for the 'expression' of certain idiosyncratic emotional dispositions, but as emotion 'descending through' practitioners' bodies to operate temporal or even long-lasting change in the world. For example, most practitioners report that emotions associated with depression and sadness, as well as corporal symptoms such as headaches and nausea simply disappear forever when a practitioner submits his/her body to the flow of caboclos.
Based on 13 months fieldwork in Maranhão, northeast Brazil, I offer the term emotional interconnectedness to analyze Mina possession rituals, demonstrating that 'feeling the sacred' necessarily also involves the imagery of divine agent feeling the mundane. I argue that such dynamic interchange suggests that emotions work to constantly reshape structured social hierarchies, rather than simply 'validate' or 'express' them through instituted ritual practices.
Ritual creativity in Umbanda spirit possession
Ritual creativity and emotion are evident in spirit possession in the Brazilian religion of Umbanda. Spiritual entities express their emotions and feelings by dramatizing important events in their former lives. Stories about the suffering of orixás like Xangó model pathways to healing.
Ritual creativity and emotion are evident in the embodiment of spirits during Brazilian Umbanda possession rituals. Umbanda rituals allow spirits to express their emotions and feelings in creative and dramatic possession of mediums. Such possession episodes provide a way for suffering spirits to tell their story and find the path to spiritual enlightenment. At the same time, a kind of healing occurs when a spirit medium's own social problems and issues are publicly aired and perhaps resolved at the Umbanda center, too. Secondly, another kind of healing may happen in the telling of common stories about powerful Orixás like Xangó that provide a model for how to overcome physical and spiritual problems in one's own life. The ethnographic examples drawn from the author's fieldwork in the 1970s offer historical perspective on some contemporary ethnographic examples drawn from a number of current studies on Umbanda.
Nature, health and healing: gendered ritual in Swedish pilgrimage
The vawe of interest in pilgrimage in Sweden is connected to other social trends, e.g the interest in health and fitnes. The pilgrims, among them many women, elaborate the classical theme of health and healing in new rituals.
During the last decade, pilgrimage has recievied an increased attention in Sweden. The Swedes walk along the ancient road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain or join the pilgrimages organized by the Swedish Protestant Churchin in different parts of Sweden. In both settings two thirds of the participants are women. The pilgrimage movement in Sweden can be seen as an expression of a post-secular longing for a lost religion, but it is also connected to other important social trends. One such trend is the current interest in health, fitness and out-door activites, an area that according to experts have become predominated by women in recent years, thus pointing to an overlapping characteristic with the pilgrimage movement. In their narratives, Swedish pilgrims foreground a sensual experience of moving one's body, of being in contact with nature and a deeply sensed well-being that pilgrimage can offer. These facets of the experience contribute to the particlar ritual style that is being being created among Swedish pilgrims. It has been pointed out that the modern pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, unlike other classical Catholic pilgrimages, concerns the healing of the mind, rather than the body. However, when Swedish pilgrims seek a healing of the mind walking to Compostela or along ancient paths in Sweden, this healing is achieved through the experience of a healed or healthy body in contact with nature. In this way, the theme of health and healing, often associated with women in the Christian tradition of pilgrimage, is elaborated in new, culturally and ritually distinct ways.
The scars of the Madonna: the healing discourse in a post-abortion pilgrimage
The healing discourse at the pilgrimage site of Częstochowa is closely tied up with the scars of the Black Madonna. In this paper a group of American post-abortion pilgrims which is concerned with spiritual healing through identifying in a specific way with these wounds will be studied.
The healing discourse at the Polish pilgrimage site of Częstochowa is closely tied up with the icon of the Black Madonna that shows clearly visible scars on her cheek. Among the many different interpretations of the meaning of the scars a dominant one is that of pain and suffering: The scars are seen to express foremost the co-suffering of the Madonna with the Polish people during the various partitions and wars. However there are alternative interpretations.
This paper focuses on a group of pilgrims participating in an American post-abortion pilgrimage to the Black Madonna. By concentrating on this group I aim to study when and how women identify with Mary's scars and the suffering they represent, as well as how they seek healing during this pilgrimage. This is done by studying the ritual from a gender perspective and giving attention to the multi-layeredness of religious healing processes. People's motivations to go on pilgrimage are manifold and often intersecting. They may seek simultaneously healing on an individual level for physical, psychological or addiction problems and on a collective level for the community and the society. The focus is on the 'biopsychosociospiritual' healing process during the post-abortion pilgrimage (Winkelman and Dubisch 2005: x). Winkelman and Dubisch describe this process as "an act of personal empowerment, the particularizing of individual suffering within broader frameworks that provide meaning, a sense of social solidarity from an active connection with a community of fellow pilgrims" (ibid).
Ritual beyond belief: experiences at a Southern Indiana festival site
Experience rather than faith provides the rationale for ritual at Lothlorien Nature Sanctuary. Ritual there also blurs mainstream religious categories that separate divinity from human and animal life, thus broadening the definition of spirituality and undermining some pervasive moral hierarchies.
At Lothlorien Nature Sanctuary, a festival site in Southern Indiana, participants' religious definitions of themselves are idiosyncratic. Some describe themselves as Pagans, others as Christians, but more use unique and hybrid terms, like "agnostic forest freak," "scholastic theologian," or "non-denominational Taoist." While the community is neither faith-based nor homogenous, ritual is a core part of festival experience and of what draws people there.
Arguments for and against faith-based religion tend to be polarized between those, like Kierkegaard, who maintain that faith is central to the "passion" involved in spiritual experience, and those who downplay the importance of ritual and spiritual experience altogether, along with religious faith. Lothlorien sidesteps this polarity, since experience rather than faith provides the rationale for ritual. Rituals there also often blur categories that underlie mainstream religion, being based in a worldview where there is less of a break between humans on the one hand and nature, sensation, "wildness" and emotion on the other, than is usual in the United States or Europe.
This paper will be based in my fieldwork at Lothlorien, beginning in 2006 and continuing until the present day. Besides drawing on interviews I will describe some of my own participation in drum circles and ceremonies at Lothlorien. I will argue that experience-based ritual could offer a valuable direction for spiritual practice in the twenty-first century.
The bonding power of the emotional work of non-ritual in South Africa
The risk of Aids in South African townships stimulates a positive desire for change, which can be observed in new empowerment practices categorized as non-ritual, as “social functions”. This paper analyses the bonding power of the emotions generated and worked with in HIV positive women’s ritualized reform practices as both re-moralizing and as gateways to the new.
In townships in KwaZulu NAtal, social life is framed by the risk of Aids. Although fear of virus and stigma constraint the body and agency, the situation also stimulates a desire for change and welcomes nascent empowering practices. One such cluster of practices is the HIV University model for positive women. It sits at the interface of Indigenous, Christian and more recently imported radical egalitarian practices and aims at protection and re-moralizing through empowerment of individuals and relationships. Basic tools are bonding and self-formation through singing, witnessing, peer-education, self-organization and consensus decision making. Yet, in accordance with colonial English parlance the celebratory aspects of this work, its framing and graduation, is not labeled "ritual" but "function". The categories of ritual and ceremony strictly belong to church and liturgy. Bringing home the dead, burial feasts and unveiling of tombstones are major vernacular functions, and often led by women, yet not termed ritual because they are reminiscent of "the pagan indigenous". This denial of the category of ritual to women may be read as sign of asymmetrical power relations that may be adjusted by its retrieval. It may also be explored at face value: a virtual "third" zone open to play, invention, agency, and a remaking of the world and of relations. In this paper I will explore how "the functions" of HIVU evoke feelings of conviviality and solidarity that may be regenerative of culture by way of forging new emotional gestures of trust and bonding (Grimes 1982; Warner 1997; Kapferer 2006).
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.