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A ritual is a set of actions, often thought to have symbolic value, the performance of which is usually prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community by religious or political laws because of the perceived efficacy of those actions[1][2] A ritual is the habitual performance of some action. ... For other uses, see Tradition (disambiguation). ...

A ritual may be performed at regular intervals, or on specific occasions, or at the discretion of individuals or communities. It may be performed by a single individual, by a group, or by the entire community; in arbitrary places, or in places especially reserved for it; either in public, in private, or before specific people. A ritual may be restricted to a certain subset of the community, and may enable or underscore the passage between religious or social states.

The purposes of rituals are varied; they include compliance with religious obligations or ideals, satisfaction of spiritual or emotional needs of the practitioners, strengthening of social bonds, demonstration of respect or submission, stating one's affiliation, obtaining social acceptance or approval for some event — or, sometimes, just for the pleasure of the ritual itself.

Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present. They include not only the various worship rites and sacraments of organized religions and cults, but also the rites of passage of certain societies, oaths of allegiance, coronations, and presidential inaugurations, marriages and funerals, school "rush" traditions and graduations, club meetings, sports events, Halloween parties and veteran parades, Christmas shopping, and more. Many activities that are ostensibly performed for concrete purposes, such as jury trials, execution of criminals, and scientific symposia, are loaded with purely symbolic actions prescribed by regulations or tradition, and thus partly ritualistic in nature. Even common actions like hand-shaking and saying hello are rituals. Taken during a Hindu prayer ceremony on the eve of Diwali. ... For other uses, see Rite of passage (disambiguation). ... An oath of allegiance is an oath whereby a subject or citizen acknowledges his duty of allegiance and swears loyalty to his monarch or country. ... A asses is a ceremony marking the investment of a monarch with regal power through, amongst other symbolic acts, the placement of a crown upon his or her head. ... For other uses, see Christmas (disambiguation). ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Jury. ... Symposium originally referred to a drinking party (the Greek verb sympotein means to drink together) but has since come to refer to any academic conference, whether or not drinking takes place. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Look up hello in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

In any case, an essential feature of a ritual is that the actions and their symbolism are not arbitrarily chosen by the performers, nor dictated by logic or necessity, but either are prescribed and imposed upon the performers by some external source or are inherited unconsciously from social traditions.


Ritual actions

Due to their symbolic nature, there are hardly any limits to the kind of actions that may be incorporated in a ritual. The rites of past and present societies have typically involved special gestures and words, recitation of fixed texts, performance of special music, songs or dances, processions, manipulation of certain objects, use of special dresses, consumption of special food, drink, or drugs, and much more. Religious rituals have also included animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, ritual suicide, and ritual murder. Ritual lamentation -- song performed with weeping -- in many societies was regarded as required to ritually carry the departed soul to a safe afterlife (Tolbert 1990a, 1990b; Wilce 2006). For other uses, see Music (disambiguation). ... Harry Belafonte singing, photograph by C. van Vechten Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, which is often contrasted with speech. ... For other uses, see Dance (disambiguation). ... The word drink is primarily a verb, meaning to ingest liquids. ... An assortment of psychoactive drugs A psychoactive drug or psychotropic substance is a chemical substance that acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior. ... A sheep is led to the altar, 6th century BC Corinthian fresco. ... Human sacrifice is the act of killing a human being for the purposes of making an offering to a deity or other, normally supernatural, power. ... Ritual suicide is the act of suicide motivated by a religious, spiritual, or traditional ritual. ... Ritual murder is murder performed in a ritualistic fashion or on a basis of rituals. ...


Ritual serves diverse purposes including, but not limited to:

  • Worship
  • Ritual purification with the aim of removing uncleanliness, which may be real or symbolic.
  • Atonement
  • Dedication
  • Education
Urarina shaman, 1988
Urarina shaman, 1988

Ritual purification is a feature of many religions. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (1215x1800, 1038 KB) Summary Urarina Shaman, Photo by Bartholomew Dean Licensing File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (1215x1800, 1038 KB) Summary Urarina Shaman, Photo by Bartholomew Dean Licensing File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... The shaman is an intellectual and spiritual figure who is regarded as possessing power and influence on other peoples in the tribe and performs several functions, primarily that of a healer ( medicine man). The shaman provides medical care, and serves other community needs during crisis times, via supernatural means (means...


In religion, a ritual can comprise the prescribed outward forms of performing, the cultus or cult of a particular observation within a religion or religious denomination. Although ritual is often used in context with worship performed in a church, the actual relationship between any religion's doctrine and its ritual(s) can vary considerably from organized religion to non-institutionalized spirituality, such as ayahuasca shamanism as practiced by the Urarina of the upper Amazon. Rituals often have a close connection with reverence, thus a ritual in many cases expresses reverence for a deity or idealized state of humanity. In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings (scriptures), its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. ... For other senses of this word, see denomination. ... Taken during a Hindu prayer ceremony on the eve of Diwali. ... Ayahuasca (Quechua, pronounced ) is any of various psychoactive infusions or decoctions prepared from the Banisteriopsis spp. ... This article is about the practice of shamanism; for other uses, see Shaman (disambiguation). ... An Indigenous Peoples of the Peruvian Amazon (Loreto), they refer to themselves as Kachá (lit. ... A satellite image of the mouth of the Amazon River, looking south The Amazon River or River Amazon; Spanish: Río Amazonas, Portuguese: Rio Amazonas) of South America is the largest, most voluminous river on earth, having a greater total flow than the next six largest rivers combined. ... This article is about the term Deity in the context of mysticism and theology. ...

However, despite these understandings of ritual, the significance of ritual as a force for creating and maintaining religions has been largely under-studied. The possibilities allowed by ritual's distinctive combination of traditional meaning with instrumental or partially instrumental actions has been underestimated by many religious studies scholars who instead account for the formation of religious groups in terms of "expression" of mental beliefs (or other mentalistic accounts) rather than in terms of social bodily actions that become symbolic over time.


Rituals have formed a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. The earliest known evidence of burial rituals dates from around 20,000 years ago. (Older skeletons show no signs of deliberate 'burial', and as such lack clear evidence of having been ritually treated.) For other uses, see Culture (disambiguation). ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ...

Alongside the personal dimensions of worship and reverence, rituals can have a more basic social function in expressing, fixing and reinforcing the shared values and beliefs of a society. This function can be exploited for political ends, though it lies at the heart of most sociological understandings of religious ritual. Sociology (from Latin: socius, companion; and the suffix -ology, the study of, from Greek λόγος, lógos, knowledge [1]) is the systematic and scientific study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social action, and culture[2]. Areas studied in sociology can range from the analysis of brief contacts between anonymous...

Rituals can aid in creating a firm sense of group identity. Humans have used rituals to create social bonds and even to nourish interpersonal relationships.


Any artifact found in an archaeological assemblage that is not immediately recognised as a tool or decoration is sometimes assumed to be or initially described as a ritual object. For example, the Red Deer skulls with antlers as found at Star Carr or explanations of the Beaker culture. Star Carr is a Mesolithic archaeological site in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. ... approximate extent of the Beaker culture The Bell-Beaker culture (sometimes shortened to Beaker culture, Beaker people, or Beaker folk; German: ), ca. ...


Anthropologists have found rituals performed across the globe, in every conceivable culture. In its most basic elements ritual is one of many cultural universals, yet cross-cultural variation in form, content and social function is often great. Of particular interest to anthropologists has been the role of ritual in structuring life crises, human development, religious enactment and entertainment. Among anthropologists, and other ethnographers, who have contributed to ritual theory are Victor Turner, Ronald Grimes, Mary Douglas, and the Biogenetic Structuralists. Anthropologists from Emile Durkheim through Turner and contemporary theorists like Michael Silverstein (2004) treat ritual as social action aimed at particular transformations often conceived in cosmic terms. Though the transformations can also be thought of as personal (e.g. the fertility and healing rituals Turner describes), even an apparently secular goal like uniting the warring states during the American Civil War (Lincoln's Gettysburg Address [for an semiotic-anthropological analysis, see Silverstein 2002] becomes a sort of cosmic event, one stretching into "eternity." This article, image, template or category should belong in one or more categories. ... Victor Witter Turner (May 28, 1920 – December 18, 1983) was a Scottish anthropologist. ... Dame Mary Douglas, DBE, (born March 25, 1921 - died 16 May 2007) was a British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism. ... Biogenetic structuralism is a body of theory in anthropology. ... David Émile Durkheim (April 15, 1858 - November 15, 1917) is known as the founder of modern sociology. ...


Nearly all fraternities and sororities have rituals incorporated into their structure, from elaborate and sometimes "secret" initation rites, to the formalized structure of convening a meeting. Thus, numerous aspects of ritual and ritualistic proceedings are engrained into the workings of the societies. The terms fraternity and sorority (from the Latin words and , meaning brother and sister respectively) may be used to describe many social and charitable organizations, for example the Lions Club, Epsilon Sigma Alpha, Rotary International, Optimist International, or the Shriners. ...


In psychology, the term ritual refers to a repetitive, systematic behavioral process enacted in order to neutralize or prevent anxiety and is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Further reading

Bell, Catherine. (1997) Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bloch, Maurice. (1992) Prey into Hunter: The Politics of Religious Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

D'Aquili, Eugene G., Charles D. Laughlin and John McManus. (1979) The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press.

Douglas, Mary. (1966) Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo". London: Routledge.

Durkheim, Emile. (1912) The Elementary Forms Of The Religious Life.

Erikson, Erik. (1977) Toys and Reasons: Stages in the Ritualization of Experience. New York: Norton. This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ...

Gennep, Arnold van. (1960) The Rites of Passage. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Arnold Van Gennep was born 23 April 1873 at Ludwigsbourg in Germany and died in 1957 at Bourg-la-Reine in France. ...

Grimes, Ronald L. (1994) The Beginnings of Ritual Studies. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. (1948) Magic, Science and Religion. Boston: Beacon Press. For the Olympic champion athlete see Bronislaw Malinowski (athlete). ...

Rappaport, Roy A. (1999) Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Roy A. Rappaport (1926–1997) was an anthropologist known for his contributions to the anthropological study of ritual and to ecological anthropology. ...

Smith, Jonathan Z. (1987) To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Jonathan Zittell Smith (J. Z. Smith) is a historian of religions. ...

Staal, Frits (1990) "Ritual and Mantras: Rules Without Meaning". New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. Frits Staal (born 1930 in the Netherlands) is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and South & Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. ...

Turner, Victor W. (1969) The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company. Victor Witter Turner (May 28, 1920 – December 18, 1983) was a Scottish anthropologist. ...

See also

Part of the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard in Whitehall, London. ... The intended meaning of the term civil religion often varies according to whether one is a sociologist of religion or a professional political commentator. ... In psychology, habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which there is a progressive diminution of behavioral response probability with repetition of a stimulus. ... A liturgy is the customary public worship of a religious group, according to their particular traditions. ... Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Ritualization is a behavior that occurs typically in the member of a given species in a highly stereotyped fashion and independent of any direct physiological significance. ... In general, the term, Ritualism can be used to describe an outlook which places a great (or even exaggerated) emphasis on ritual. ... For other uses, see Superstition (disambiguation). ... In traditional societies, myth and ritual are two central components of religious practice. ...


Durkheim, E. 1965 [1915]. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: The Free Press.

Fogelin, L. 2007. The Archaeology of Religious Ritual. Annual Review of Anthropology 36:55–71.

Silverstein, M. 2003. Talking Politics :The Substance of Style from Abe to "W". Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press (distributed by University of Chicago). —. 2004. "Cultural" Concepts and the Language-Culture Nexus. Current Anthropology 45:621-652.

Tolbert, E. 1990a. Women Cry with Words: Symbolization of Affect in the Karelian Lament. Yearbook for Traditional Music 22:80-105. —. 1990b. "Magico-Religious Power and Gender in the Karelian Lament," in Music, Gender, and Culture, vol. 1, Intercultural Music Studies. Edited by M. Herndon and S. Zigler, pp. 41-56. Wilhelmshaven, DE.: International Council for Traditional Music, Florian Noetzel Verlag.

Turner, V. W. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Harmondsworth: Penguin. —. 1967. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Wilce, J. M. 2006. Magical Laments and Anthropological Reflections: The Production and Circulation of Anthropological Text as Ritual Activity. Current Anthropology 47:891-914.

  1. ^ AskOxford.com. Retrieved on 2007-07-31.
  2. ^ Dictionary.com. Retrieved on 2007-07-31.

Year 2007 (MMVII) is the current year, a common year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar and the AD/CE era in the 21st century. ... is the 212th day of the year (213th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 2007 (MMVII) is the current year, a common year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar and the AD/CE era in the 21st century. ... is the 212th day of the year (213th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ...

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