Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 


Rituals come in a number of varieties, from the 'playabout', having fun type, to those that are regarded as what other religions would call sacred, with a variety of levels in between, that are more then simply for pleasure, but not at the level of those that are so sacred that they are kept secret, only fully initiated men being allowed to participate or even know the associated mythology.

Distinctions are made between ritual and ceremony. According to Firth's definition, ritual is a "kind of patterned activity oriented to control of human affairs, primarily symbolic in character with a non-empirical referent, and as a rule socially sanctioned" (Firth, 1951: 222). According to Monica Wilson, ritual is primarily a religious action (Monica Wilson, 1954:240). Rather than being religious it can be magical. It differs from technique in its use of symbolic statement, that is, whether magical or religious, ritual is actions that are stylised and symbolic having specific aims, and also having meaning and implications for social life in the present or in the afterlife.

An example is that a ceremonial setting is not necessary for the ritual of cicatrisation. On the other hand, ceremony does not necessarily require ritual. It can also be regarded as a formalised release of emotional tension, reduction of tensions, as a collective response to seasonal change or a life crisis, as an occasion for socialising and re-connecting, reaffirming bonds. It may lead to a specific end, even if the people involved do not fully recognise it.  It it not less important than ritual.

Sacred Ritual
Ritual Division of Labour
Ritual Validation
Myth as Explanation of Ritual
Re-Enactment of Myth
Increase Ritual
Ritual Representations
Fertility Cults
Social Relevance of Ritual

Sources & Further reading

  1. R. M & C. H. Berndt, The World of the First Australians, Ure Smith Pty Ltd, 1964
  2. Firth, R., 1951, Elements of Social Organisation, Watts, London
  3. Wilson, M., 1954, Nyakyusa Ritual and Symbolism, American Anthropologist, Vol.56, No.2


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Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 25/06/2010
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