"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ritual,Magic And Prayer (An Overview)

Rites and rituals are an important feature of all societies, past and present. They help to maintain the integrity of a community and prepare each individual for the role he or she is expected to play within it. Not surprisingly, rituals are most prominent in small, close-knit tribal groups, although they persist in Western cities, where, for example, baptism, marriage and funerary rites are still generally respected. 

Rituals are physical enactments of spiritual journeys - or, in Jungian terms, journeys into the collective unconscious - in which the body is taken as the symbol of the spirit. They can symbolize progression toward enlighten-mentor the gods (the ritual dances of the ancient Mesopotamians, for example, symbolically imitated the journey of the goddess Ishtar to the underworld), or the journey of death and subsequent rebirth, in which we sacrifice our identity and pass renewed into the next stage of life. In many religions, rituals mirror the supposed order in the sacred realm, and than establish a closer link between the human and divine worlds. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, holds that the seven sacraments - baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, holy orders, matrimony and extreme unction - were instituted by Christ himself. Numerous religions have purification rituals in which bodily pollution, which is thought to be offensive to the gods, is removed. A polluted body (one that had been in contact with disease, death or sin) could be symbolically cleansed by bathing in a fast flowing stream or in blood (which is associated with both life and death, and therefore stands for renewal), or in rituals using weapons or firecrackers to fight off evil spirits symbolically. 

In tribal societies, initition rituals were used to mark the passage from boyhood into adulthood. They often involved the deliberate infliction of pain (such as circumcision or tattooing), trials of strength and endurance, or a lengthy period of fasting, in order to add a physical dimension to the symbolic invocation of death and rebirth. Similarly, a young girl would pass into maturity through fertility rites involving movement and dance or through symbolic beatings that represented her passivity and submission to the physical demands of womanhood (menstruation, pregnancy and child bearing). These rites of passage involve an irrevocable break with the childhood world, during which, according to Jung, the parental archetypes are damaged (through symbolic death) and the ego is consolidated with the larger group (often represented by a totem - an animal or object that embodies tribal sanity). Marriage is another type of initiation ritual. As in the rites of passage described above, it uses tattoos, rings and special garments to signify new social status. The ritual itself often involves a symbolic acting out of the new responsibilities of both partners to each other and to their families. For the man in particular, marriage represents a loss of independence - in Jungian terms, the sacrifice of the hero archetype - which in some cultures is offset by the symbolic abduction or rape of the bride. 

The idea of sacrifice as a way of bringing about renewal also lay behind the fertility rituals carried out in the short winter days to ensure the return of life in the spring. Just as the earth had to die in winter to ensure rebirth into the fruitfulness of summer, so the king - or, more likely, someone who had been named king for the occasion - had to die in order to ensure that his people would live. The Aztecs believed that without offerings of human blood and hearts, the sun would cease to shine and the universe would cease to exist. Ritual sacrifice therefore featured prominently in Aztec culture, to the extent that all wars were officially waged for the purpose of obtaining sacrificial victims (although their actual goals were undoubtedly more mercenary). 

The belief that nature and the will of the gods could be influenced by rituals and symbols was also the fundamental principle of magic. The magician's aim was to move progressively through the planes that were thought to make up existence, eventually to merge into the ineffable reality from which, in mortal life, men and women stand exiled. In raising himself (or her-self) toward the gods, the magician had a responsibility to influence them in beneficial ways. In all occult systems, from the Egyptian and Greek mysteries to the native American tradition and the work of the European alchemists and Kabbalists, the true magician was engaged on a serious quest which had nothing to do with personal power or ill will toward others. 

Prayer may be a personal or collective act of communication with the sacred. In either case, iris often surrounded by symbolism and ritual. In most religions, bodily posture and the position of the hands indicate submission and homage. Objects are sometimes used to focus prayer onto continue supplication to the god while the supplicant is asleep or otherwise occupied: in Buddhism, for example, the mantra on a prayer flag is believed to be activated by the wind. The Islamic devotional prayer, the salat, is governed by ritual. It is performed five times a day, as it was during Muhammad's lifetime, and is preceded by rites of ablution. During the prayer, the faithful face Mecca and execute the rak'ahs, the physical postures that accompany recitations from the Koran.

Funerary Rites In Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians developed elaborate funerary rituals in the belief that the immortal soul of the deceased maintained links with this world through the entombed body. The body was preserved indefinitely through mummification, and provided with food and offerings to sustain it in the next world. In Egyptian belief the deceased was ceremonially judged by a panel of divinities, including Anubis (the jackal-headed god of embalming) and Thoth (the ibis-headed god of wisdom), and presided over by Osiris, the lord of the underworld. The heart of the deceased, which was believed to be rhe seat of the emotions, was weighed against a Washes, a symbol of justice (above). If the two balanced, the dead man or woman passed into the blessed after-life On failing the test, the deceased was devoured by Ammit, a fearsome hybrid beast - part crocodile, part lion, part hippopotamus.

The Eucharist

The sacrament of the Eucharist is the central act of worship in the Christian faith. It involves the consecration of bread and wine (symbolically, figuratively or actually equated with the body and blood of Christ) and their distribution among the worshipers (communion). The sacrament is surrounded by esoteric symbolism: for example, the chalice that holds the wine (or blood) is, in Jungian terms, a spiritual womb. In this 16th-century symbolic depiction of Christ's passion, the chalice filled with blood is surrounded by three nails (traditionally the number used in the crucifixion of Christ).

For More On Symbolisms And Meaning (Click)


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