Ritual and Meaning

Dear Kevin,

Thanks for your thoughts on my Myth and the Modern World posting (and thanks to Jeff, too, for his comments).  I certainly don’t disagree with either of you in regard to what you say.  Your thoughts, Kevin, about ritual are right on the mark, inasmuch as ritual is a way that humans have of expressing very deep-seated emotional content that often cannot be expressed in mere words (not that words can’t be part of ritual).  The same can, of course, be said in regard to myth, as I attempted to point out in my posting.  And so, the two modes of expression often go hand in hand.  The one thing I would say about ritual, though, is similar to what I said in regard to myth, that is, that if it does not maintain a degree of freshness and vitality, if it doesn’t have some kind of deep meaning to people alive today and practicing it, then it can quickly become musty and stale.  What comes to mind, for example, is a Catholic mass I attended a few years ago while visiting a relative who was getting married.  As I glanced around the church and saw the congregants staring blankly at the ceiling, or fidgeting restlessly, or checking messages on their cell phones, I had to wonder just how fresh and meaningful that particular ritual was to them.  And I don’t mean to say that it the mass cannot be enormously meaningful to some.  I’m sure it is, but the danger is that whatever is repeated endlessly over the centuries (albeit with some tweaking) runs the risk of losing its vitality. 

And of course, in regard to Jeff’s comments that most people don’t think deeply about things for themselves, but only follow in a conventional and somewhat mindless way what they have been taught and come to know, well, who can argue with that?  There’s no doubt that it’s true.  However, my point of view is that this still does not take away from the idea that mythologizing is a meaningful and even necessary part of being human.  It is, in fact, one of the things that makes us most human, I believe.  And we can only hope that people will widen their view of the world in order to take this in. 

Who knows?  Maybe (as you and I believe) Hindu and Buddhist mythologies have it right, and we do reincarnate, returning to earth multiple times in order to “get it right”?  If that’s the case, then we’ve all got lots of chances to give it yet another attempt.  In the meantime, I’ll keep on trying myself, and thanks again for your thoughts and insights.



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