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#7: Building Better Religions, Part Two: Sacred Actions

M. J. Young

Retired User
Congratulations on an excellent practical consideration of building religions. It should prove helpful to many.

For those who might wish to consider ritual at a deeper level, let me recommend Christopher I. Lerich's perhaps difficult Ritual Discourse in RPGs (at The Forge). Chris suggests that what we do when we play role playing games is often steeped in ritual not much different from that used in religion, and has much the same effects, and thus that we can use concepts of ritual to improve our gaming sessions. In the process, he describes a considerable amount of what ritual does individually and socially, and it's worth a read. It helped me better understand much of what I had seen and done in many churches, and might help anyone attempting to design fictional rituals to see what these might accomplish psychologically and socially.

--M. J. Young
 

Tom_K

Registered User
Validated User
Thank you. And thank you for the article. I am still working my way through it (it's been awhile since I read anything that academic) but the basic concept is intriguing. One thing I thought of right away was having a sort of opening and ending ritual for gameplay to create a sense of psychological space. I know that my group's tradition is "Soundtrack on, game started. Soundtrack off, game over."
 

mattiasostklint

Retired User
Hi!

One very important ritual symbol used in many or most of the worlds religions is the written word. On flags or banners, as a book to read from or kiss, as words written in the sand, or (in cabbala) as words to be worn. Or eaten, in the birthday-cake ritual.:D
 

lemurbouy

Retired User
Being the theatre nerd mentioned above, I thought I'd mention one fairly cool example of theatre qua religion. Among the Yoruba people of Nigeria, a very interesting ritual is that of the ngungun. Special priests wear masks and engage in a dance wherein they become, for all intents and purposes, various dead ancestors and interact with members of the community in dance and song and celebration. It's an amazing interplay of life and death. Within the same group, there are many similar rituals wherein they "become" animals.

What's amazing to me is that these religious expressions have continued in societies that have embraced other mainstream religions like Christianity or Islam, the believers seeing no contradiction between them. That leads to the idea of religious spill-over and cross-breeding but I'll let my good buddy talk more about that if he so chooses. -leeman
 

the q

Retired User
Strangely enough I know someone who is a priestess in this religion. Talk about strange religions. When she arrived in Africa to study religions she came upon a group of women priestesses performing the water rite. They swayed and moved in the same manner flowing with each other. Although it appeared to be a mimicry, they were dancing, and each swore they had no prior experience with the dance. When my friend came upon the group she told us (she is a professor of religious anthropology) that something came over her and she found herself swaying with the group eventually joining their dance. Once the rite was over the head priestess came up to her and welcomed her into their priestesshood They didn't care that she was white and very Jewish (think fran Drescher). At first she didn't know what they were saying and she had to get a young priestess to interpret.

Although claims of theatre evolving from religious practice are as prevalent and theoretical, most theatre history theorists suggest theatre started with the practice of event reenactment, like good hunt stories, and were evolved from storytelling. the religion tied itself to the practice much later. (Examples of this are ancient greek theatres that have preserved iconography starting at a certain period in Greece but none can be found prior to this at the theatres even though iconography existed.

History lesson aside, one of the things about religion that is missing from your discussion is the view of religion towards other practices, like theater, art etc. In medieval Europe, theater was banned for centuries. While in India, theatre is a major form of religious observance. In Islamic cultures prior to their conversion most theatre was strictly performed by religiously unclean women. and in China prior to Buddhism, Theatre was performed as a ritual to honor a deity for a patron. kabuki is a form of theatre worship.

I like that this article has spared us the constant ritualistic murder motif ever present in macabre religions.

Good column
the q


Being the theatre nerd mentioned above, I thought I'd mention one fairly cool example of theatre qua religion. Among the Yoruba people of Nigeria, a very interesting ritual is that of the ngungun. Special priests wear masks and engage in a dance wherein they become, for all intents and purposes, various dead ancestors and interact with members of the community in dance and song and celebration. It's an amazing interplay of life and death. Within the same group, there are many similar rituals wherein they "become" animals.

What's amazing to me is that these religious expressions have continued in societies that have embraced other mainstream religions like Christianity or Islam, the believers seeing no contradiction between them. That leads to the idea of religious spill-over and cross-breeding but I'll let my good buddy talk more about that if he so chooses. -leeman
 
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