The essence of ritual

We had group tutorials with Shane yesterday, where we got to share our current progress and thoughts with others on the MADM programme. Interesting, but my overall feeling coming away is that most my group completely missed the point of what I am looking at – clearly I am not yet getting my description right yet, as well as there being too many different interpretations of the word ‘ritual’. Most people, including the tutor, immediately jumped to impressions of large formal social rituals with performance, drama, candles and flowers. Not what I had in mind at all.

I really need to work on my elevator pitch!

Afterwards, I decided it would be helpful to state here my own interpretations of ritual I am working with in my making. First the dictionary definition: “Ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.” [MW]

I prefer this view: ritual is the transformation from one state to another by symbolic action.

There are many different forms of ritual present in society, associated with performance and symbolic action. Scholars have long debated their meaning and whether any universal characteristics are shared across the many types of ritual. Opinions differ widely; some think ritual is primarily all about the performance and public symbols displayed, whereas others focus on changes in behaviour and inner emotional states. It is this latter worldview which I am working to. The rituals I am thinking of are private activities seeking personal transformation, a change of emotional state.

Catherine Bell, a leading ritual theory scholar, extended the discussion to talk of the process of ritualisation itself [CB]. This is:
“a way of acting that is designed and orchestrated to distinguish and privilege what is being done in comparison to other, usually more quotidian, activities.”

My work is to design images and structures (and sounds??) to capture ordinary moments of extraordinary personal experience. I want to explore how using ritualisation as a way of design / making can add such expression to my work.

So, where to start? Well, I have some ideas on different ritualised making processes, starting with automatic writing. Automatic writing or drawing is a purposed to be a way to express your subconscious by moving your hand across the paper without consciously thinking. It was reportedly used by psychics and spirit mediums to channel ghosts or spirits. The surrealists took this on in Automatism (although without the otherworldly influences). I’ve been working with an idea based on this process, of writing and drawing swiftly with as little rational thought as I can manage – to try and express my feelings of “listening to the rain”.

I am working with ink and paper – my most natural medium where I can perhaps express myself the best.

Initial ‘doodle’

Drawing #25

Drawing #50


And one using words


My plan now is to look at what captures my feeling well in these images (and what not) and what materials can help further express these charaticstics.

MW – Merriam Webster dictionary
CB – Catherine Bell, Ritual Pratice, ritual theory, OUP 1997

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