PROFANE TIME versus RITUAL TIME – Starting with Durkheim

“Life in Australian [Aboriginal] societies alternates between two different phases. In one phase (PROFANE), the population is scattered in small groups that attend their occupations independently. Each family lives to itself, hunting, fishing – in short, striving by all possible means to get the food it requires. In the other phase (RITUAL), by contrast, the population comes together, concentrating itself at specified places for a period that varies from several days to several months. This concentration takes place when a clan or a portion of the tribe… conducts a religious ceremony.

These two phases stand in the sharpest possible contrast. The first phase, in which economic activity predominates, is generally of rather low intensity. Gathering seeds or plants necessary for food, hunting, and fishing are not occupations that can stir truly strong passions. The dispersed state in which the society finds itself makes life monotonous, slack and humdrum. Everything changes when a ceremony takes place… Once the individuals are gathered together, a sort of electricity is generated from their closeness and quickly launches them into an extraordinary height of exaltation… Probably because a collective emotion cannot be expressed collectively without some order that permits harmony and unison of movement, [their] gestures and cries tend to fall into rhythm and regularity, and from there into songs and dances.”

Quoted from Durkheim, E., [1912] 1995. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life Edited and Translated by Karen E. Fields. New York: Free Press (216-18)

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