Rules of Rituals

The importance of the “choreography” or “direction” in rituals. 

Ritual contains in itself a physical and mental side. The mental side is the set of believes or opinions concerning the sacred.

The material side is a set of rules which has to be applied in order for the ritual action to have its transcendental effect to the full.

While explaining these categories we must be aware of the fact that not all rituals are linked to some deity. There are those who are not. Wedding and funerals are one example. Here, Durkheim gives an example from the Jewish tradition and explains why the set of rules in rituals are important, and why they can be called ‘the first form of formalism”

“When, in the so-called Feast of the Tabernacles, the Jew set the air in motion by shaking willow branches in a certain rhythm, it was to cause the wind to rise and the rain to fall; and it was believed that the desired phenomenon would result automatically from the rite, provided it were correctly performed. This is the explanation of the fundamental importance laid by nearly all cults upon the material portion of the ceremonies. This religious formalism – very probably the first form of legal formalism- comes from the fact that since the formula to be pronounced and the movements to be made contain within themselves the source of their efficacy, they would lose it if they did not conform absolutely to the type consecrated by success.”*

This in dramatic terms is the choreography or the direction.


* Durkheim, Emile [1912] 1976 The Elementary Forms of Religious Life Translated by Joseph Ward Swain. New York: Allen & Unwin LTD p. 35

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