Performance and Ritual
PERFORMANCE AND RITUAL
PERFORMANCE AND RITUAL . Theater, dance, drama, dance drama, dance theater, and similar activities known by other terms that vary according to language and historical circumstance are universal. Unless otherwise specified, herein the term ritual refers to both secular and sacred rituals. Performance is an inclusive term meaning the activities of actors, dancers, musicians, and their spectators and audiences. Theater, dance, and music are equivalent terms, each referring to a specific genre of performance. Theater emphasizes narrative, dance emphasizes movement, and music emphasizes sound. Performance may also be understood as "restored behavior," the organized re-enactment of mythic or actual events as well as the role-playing of religious, political, professional, familial, and social life.
Performances have occurred among all the world's peoples from the dawn of human cultures. Dancing, singing, wearing masks and costumes; impersonating other people, animals, or supernaturals (or being possessed by these others); acting stories, retelling the hunt; re-presenting alternative histories; rehearsing and preparing special places and times for these presentations—these are all coexistent with the human condition. Concrete archaeological evidence of performances date at least from Paleolithic times. Whether to categorize these first performances as ritual or entertainment is an unanswerable problem. Most likely, these performances functioned as both ritual and entertainment. In fact, all known performances incorporate both ritual and entertainment. Throughout historical time, based on archaeological as well as anthropological evidence, both secular and sacred rituals have usually involved one or more of the performance genres of theater, dance, and music. These ritual performances are not only efficacious, but they are also often beautiful and pleasure-giving: Efficacy, pleasure, and aesthetics are tightly bound to each other in performances.
Furthermore, ritual performances have an economic aspect and impact on the communities enacting them. In premodern, as well as modern and postmodern societies, a sizable proportion of a community's wealth, time, and energy is dedicated to ritual performances. The performers and arrangers of rituals are paid for their services either directly or indirectly. Although some ritual performances take place in simple, even private spaces, many others are pointedly enacted in a grand manner in spectacular venues. Erecting and maintaining these venues is an expensive undertaking. Ritual centers are also frequently commercial centers—the market, the money-changers, and the church have long shared neighborhoods, each benefiting from the presence of the other. Many ritual sites are truly multipurpose locations and constructions, like traditional performing arts centers. One need think only of the uses of such world-renowned edifices and public spaces as the pyramids of Egypt or Mexico, the Borobudur temple complex of Cambodia, or the Mall of Washington, D.C.
Performance and ritual were conjoined at the very earliest periods of human cultures. Dancers, musicians, shamans, actors, painters, and sculptors used the caves of southwest Europe as long ago as thirty thousand years. Because paint and stone endure, whereas gestures, dance steps, and music disappear, the scholarly emphasis has been on the visual arts of these caves. But these places of such difficult access and long-term use were certainly not art museums or silent ceremonial centers. In some caves, footprints are found in a circular pattern indicating dancing. Also surviving are bone and ivory pieces that were probably percussive musical instruments. Caves and rock shelters in every habitable continent attest to the ancient, worldwide, and persistent presence of human ritual performing arts.
These performance spaces—simultaneously theaters, shrines, pilgrimage destinations, and temples, hidden in the earth and illuminated by torch—almost certainly were sites for rituals concerning hunting and fertility, which have long been closely associated. For example, among the hunters of the Kalahari Desert, traditionally when a large animal is taken, a brief ritual entreats the gods to replenish the game. As it is with animals, so it is also with humans. The erotic temple sculptures at Konarak (thirteenth century, located in Orissa, India) are but one example among many of the joining together of fertility/sexuality, dancing, and music. This ancient and abiding association of the performing arts with sexuality is one of the reasons churches and governments have tried to repress performers as the fine line between licit and illicit celebrations of fertility is often crossed. Perhaps the illicit suggests the dangerous, the concealed, the difficult of access. These kinds of performances would focus a group's material resources, employ the skills of its performance, artistic, and religious specialists while also transforming, educating, and entertaining the participants.
The difficulty of access to many of the Paleolithic performance sites indicates a secrecy surrounding the shows. This practice of rationing ritual performance knowledge continues in the twenty-first century. Many performance specialists guard not only what they do but how they do it. Secret techniques are passed on within a family as, for example, in Japanese Nō (an aesthetic form of theater with roots in farming rituals, Buddhism, and Shintō that reached its peak in the fourteenth century) or the lifelong pledges of adherence to the faith, guild, or tribe required before a neophyte is taught the techniques and tricks of the craft or the dances and songs of the community, often associated with initiation rites. This secrecy, which also guarantees a strong line of oral transmission, may partly explain the continuity of basic performance conventions from Paleolithic times to the twenty-first century. But along with this conservatism, ritual performances also bring about, as the anthropologist Victor Turner emphasized, individual and social change—what is conservative procedurally can be radical in terms of consciousness, individual behavior, and social process and structure.
The Efficacy–Entertainment Dyad
Ritual emphasizes efficacy—getting something done (e.g., a prayer answered, a god propitiated). Entertainment emphasizes the pleasurable and aesthetic qualities of a performance. One can depict the distinction between efficacious (ritual) performances and entertainment (aesthetic) performances as a binary:
|Human and nonhuman audience||Human audience|
|Audience participates||Audience observes|
|Audience believes||Audience appreciates|
|Serving the divine||Serving the market|
|Eternal present||Historical time|
|Revealed truths||Invented fictions|
|Transformation possible||Transformation unlikely|
|Nonrepresentational roles||Character roles|
|Virtuosity downplayed||Virtuosity valued|
|Collective creativity||Individual creativity|
|Criticism discouraged||Criticism flourishes|
However, efficacy and entertainment are not opposites, but rather they are dancing partners along a continuum connecting each of the above qualities. Ritual performances tend toward the efficacy end of the continuum, and aesthetic performances tend toward the entertainment end. But all ritual performances have some aesthetic qualities, and all aesthetic performances have some ritual qualities.
At any given point in time, in every part of the world, and in every culture, people were, and are, making dance, music, and theater. People use performances for a variety of purposes, including ritual, community building, healing, making money, and socializing. These functions operate as dynamic tensions and creative interactions between efficacy and entertainment.
Varieties of Performance
Performance and ritual interrelate in a myriad of combinations: in initiations and shamanic healings and exorcisms; in public sacred and secular ceremonies such as the Mass celebrated in St. Peter's Square (or in any number of humbler parishes), the inauguration of the American president or the installation of a judge, the Hindu temple service, the daily facing to Mecca of Muslims, and the raising and lowering of the national flag in Mexico City's Zocalo; in great cycle plays, parades, and public celebrations of power; and in the daily rituals that individuals perform to maintain the continuity of their individual, family, and professional roles. There are ritual performances, rituals in performances, the ritual frames separating performance reality from the ordinary, and the ritual process underlying how performances are made. There is also the conscious invention of new rituals, a postmodern attempt to sacralize ordinary experience.
The ways performance permeates religious ceremony is obvious. Ritual, as Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) noted in 1915, is a "doing," and therefore inherently performative. Universally, music, dance, storytelling, and dramatic enactment are at the core of observances. The acts of a religion's most important figures, both human and divine, are transformed into shared living deeds by means of performance. The Mass is not only a source of medieval and Renaissance European theater, but also is itself inherently theatrical. To make a pilgrimage, to light candles, to offer food, to sing or chant prayers, to "fall out" in a trance in the aisles of a church, or to be "ridden" by a Yoruba orisha are all performances, as are the nearly silent meditations of Buddhist monks seated on cushions in a Kyoto temple. The participatory gestures of different religions—circumambulating (walking around) the Kaʿbah at Mecca, making the sign of the cross, eating matzoh and bitter herb during Passover Seder—are each performances. Particularly among especially African and Asian religions, the performing arts are highly regarded and enthusiastically practiced. Through performance, superhuman beings and forces manifest themselves. In the western hemisphere, where African religions not only thrive on their own but have also fused with Christianity, a vital part of religious services consists of performing: vivid preaching infused with enacted storytelling, individual and choral singing, trance dancing, healing by means of laying on of hands, and individual testimony.
Frequently, worship, theater, dance, music, and healing overlap. Many secular performances include a sacral dimension, and almost all sacred activities involve performing. In India this connection is rooted in the fundamental religious–aesthetic belief that performing is an offering to the gods and that daily reality is itself a līlā (performance). While the Hindu god Śiva dances his Tandava, the present existence continues—the known world is Śiva's dance. In the Vaishnavite tradition, the incarnations of the god Viṣḥu (especially Rāma and Kṛṣṇa) manifest themselves in annual theatrical performances of the Rāma-līlās and Ras-līlā. From ancient times until the middle decades of the twentieth century, devadāsī s (servants of God) danced in the temples to entertain the deities. On special annual occasions, gods are carried through the streets where ordinary people admire and worship them. During Durgā Puja celebrating the goddess Durgā's victory over the the buffalo demon Mahiasura, millions of clay Durgās are created by artists and common people alike. After worshiping and parading these mūrtis (images of the divine), they are immersed in the sacred Ganges River or in the ocean where they dissolve.
In West Africa and in the African diaspora, the deities—loas and òrìṣà —possess, or "mount," adepts in the trance dances and dramatic performances of the Gẹlẹdẹ, vodou, Camdomblé, and Umbanda. In Native American cultures, performance and religion are also completely in harmony with each other. Many of these traditions also fuse indigenous and Christian practices. The Yaqui of the Sonoran Desert enact a yearly six-week passion play combining Native American and European ritual performance traditions. Annually in the Jewish tradition, Ḥasidim mask and take to the streets to perform Purim plays (Purimshpil ), which tell the Bible story of Esther's triumph over Haman. Examples such as these can be drawn from all parts of the world, from every inhabited place. Obviously, ritual masking, dancing, music making, and storytelling by means of theater is a universal phenomenon. Throughout the world, rituals are made from all the varieties of aesthetic performance. Both practically and theoretically, it is not possible to think about ritual except as a category of performance.
Theater flourishes even among traditions that officially reject it. The popular theater of the Middle East (Turkey and Iran, in particular) is rich in a variety of both human and puppet forms. Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation, abounds with masked, live, and puppet theater and dance—many of which are both rituals and entertainments. The ta ʿziyah of the Shīʿī Muslims is an intense religious ritual and passion play that reenacts in bloody detail the martyrdom at Karbala (in Iraq) of Ḥusayn, the grandson of the prophet Muḥammad. So involved are ta ʿziyah audiences that many spectators weep and flail themselves in sympathy with Ḥusayn's fate. Among Muslim mystics, the legendary dancing of the Mevlevis (known in the west as the "whirling dervishes") arose in Anatolia under the inspiration of the poetic-religious philosophy of the thirteenth-century Ṣūfī sage Jalāluddīn Rūmī (known also as Mawlana). The intentions and mood of Mevlevi dancing is something like that of the Shakers, a Christian religious sect of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, by no means are all performances in the Islamic world sacred. In Iran, alongside ta ʿziyah is ru-huzi, a slapstick folk theater with connections to both commedia dell'arte and the popular theater of north India. Paradoxically, wayang kulit, the leather shadow puppetry of Indonesia, enacts stories from the Sanskrit-Hindu epics Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata to delighted, devout Muslim audiences. The dalang, the puppeteer, is both an entertainer and a shaman, who is sometimes called on to perform for sheer pleasure and sometimes to accompany life-cycle rituals and important public events.
In India itself, the prejudice against theater voiced by the Manusm¨ti (second century ce) is more than overcome by the enormously influential Nāṭya Śāstra of Bhārata Muni (dates vary from second century bce to second century ce). If anything, Hinduism is biased in favor of performance. The whole creation is in fact theorized as performance. Sometimes this is expressed in the metaphor of Śiva's tandava dance; sometimes it is worked out in the well-developed theory of māyā-līlā (terms meaning illusion and play). In māyā-līlā, the cosmos is a theatrical event, the play of the gods. In this theory, human performing arts are models of the reality of the cosmos—plays within the larger play of existence. Thus Hinduism enjoys a profusion of dance, music, and theater.
The anti-theatrical prejudice
The situation in the West and in Islam is full of irony. The reasons for this anti-theatrical prejudice are many, varying according to social circumstances and historical period. The codifiers and interpreters of Judaic, Christian, and Islamic traditions and laws often bitterly opposed—and in some instances, still oppose—the visual arts and theater. The theater is especially distrusted because it is mimetic whereas music and dance may not be. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share a common root in the Old Testament in which it is written that no one should make a graven image of god. In the West, this injunction has been reinforced by a philosophical antipathy to the visual arts and theater that goes back to Plato's Republic, composed in Athens in the fifth century bce at the close of the first great age of Western theater. The Greek philosopher wanted to chase all visual, poetic, and theatrical artists from his ideal republic. Plato's arguments were later elaborated and ingrained into church doctrine by Tertullian (North Africa writer, c. 200 ce) and Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Their ideas, in turn, have operated, sometimes strongly and sometimes more mildly, throughout Western history and, by means of colonialism and globalization, in all areas of the world. Despite their condemnation of the theater, both Plato and Augustine were passionately involved in it. Plato's dialogues are philosophical dramas, and Augustine the saint repented Augustine the avid theatergoer.
Plato argued that the arts are doubly removed from ultimate truth and are mere shadows cast on the wall of the cave of human ignorance. But underneath his philosophical argument, an authoritarian political and ideological program is operating. Plato felt that the arts of representation in general, and theater in particular, are dangerous because they enact alternative realities that may be in conflict with those of the established political and philosophical authorities. Thus, it is not only that the performing arts are dangerous, but also that (and perhaps more important) they are extremely powerful persuaders of opinion and arousers of feelings. The established authorities wish to control these powerful media and employ them for their own uses. What in tribal settings is the preservation of the secrecy of rites becomes in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—religions with historical and ideological similarities—a dedicated program of maintaining a monopoly of performance techniques.
Western and Islamic religious leaders have not treated the performing arts equally. They have been most uneasy about theater, ambivalent about dance, but friendly to music. Theater is censored because it can be subversive; dance, when not closely managed as among the Shakers, can be (sexually) immoral. Music, being abstract, can most easily suit the ceremony at hand and is generally accepted by Western and Islamic religious authorities.
Still, despite all suspicions and condemnations, Western churches and branches of Islam have used theater and dance. A somewhat parallel example to the ta ʿziyah are the great cycle plays of medieval Europe, which performed a complete history of humankind from the creation and the fall in the Garden of Eden to the flood, the coming of Christ and his crucifixion, on to the Last Judgment. Beginning at dawn and going until dusk, the performances took place in the streets, while richly detailed scenes mounted on wagons proceeded along fixed routes. The enactments were replete with angels, devils, hellmouth, and Eden. Various cycles consisted of a number of individual plays. For example, at York, England, in 1554, fifty-seven plays were put on at twelve to sixteen locations. These extraordinary cycles arose out of a confluence of the Mass, the Quem quaeritis trope (a tenth-century Easter drama), and popular entertainments that never died out from Roman times and whose shamanistic origins date back to prehistory. The cycles peaked in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries. Although most were extinguished by the Renaissance, some remnants persisted, not only in the famed performances that take place every ten years in Oberammergau, Germany, but also among Native American and Hispanic peoples who have fused European traditions with indigenous performance practices.
The Yaqui Waehma
The Yaqui of the Sierra Madre and Sonoran Desert of northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States celebrate a six-week Lenten cycle play that fuses native American and European elements. The Waehma begins at Lent and intensifies week by week, climaxing on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Waehma retells the story of Christ's passion in Yaqui terms. It incorporates indigenous performance techniques into the religious theater brought from Europe by the Jesuits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Much of what the Yaqui of northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States perform took shape during the century after 1767, when the Jesuits were withdrawn from the New World.
Waehma consists of many episodes and observances enacted over the six-week span from Lent to Easter. The story focuses on the actions of masked figures called Chapayekam who join the Soldiers of Rome—a group of up to fifty men dressed in black—in the pursuit and crucifixion of Jesus. The Chapayekam wear helmet masks similar to those of the Zuni and other tribal peoples of the Sonoran Desert and adjoining areas. Their ritual practices, which includes farce and parody, are similar to those of other Native American tribal nations. On Good Friday, a large group of wailing women, including the Marys, follow Jesus—represented by an eighteen-inch figure—around the stations of the cross, which the Yaqui call the Konti Vo'o. At the eleventh cross, the symbolic Christ is tied to a cross as nails are driven into the figure's "flesh." The Christ figure is then taken into the church, which is occupied by the Chapayekam and the Soldiers of Rome. Later that night, Jesus is resurrected and the church is liberated. The Chapayekam and the Soldiers of Rome are infuriated. They set out to recover Jesus and recapture the church. On Holy Saturday morning the climatic battle takes place that pits the Chapayekam and the Soldiers of Rome against the forces of good represented by sacred Deer and Pascola (ritual clowns) dancers, Matachin dancers (a dance society of men and boys), and "little angels" (i.e., Yaqui children armed with cottonwood switches). The Deer and Pascolas are unique to the Yaqui and allied native peoples; the Matachins derive from Europe.
Waehma takes place everywhere in a Yaqui town: in the church, in the plaza, in private households, and along the Konti Vo'o. Although the Chapayekam are successful in capturing and killing Jesus, they are unable to impose their rule permanently on the church or the people. On Holy Saturday morning, the Chapayekam and the Soldiers of Rome attempt to recapture Jesus, whose resurrected figure has been placed on the altar. Three times they storm the church. From inside the church the little angels rush forward to beat the attackers with their sticks. Close by the Deer and the Matachins dance while the Pascolas throw flower petals on the attackers. The flowers, which are sacred to the Yaqui, represent both the blood of Jesus and the sacred huya aniya, the desert "flower world" of the Yaqui. Each time the Chapayekam and the Soldiers of Rome are driven back they are further weakened by the power of the flowers, the dancing, and the vigorous clanging of the church bell. The defense of the Yaqui village is a complete cacophony-synthesis of Native American and European cultures. Finally defeated, the Chapayekam throw off their masks, and the Chapayekam and the Soldiers of Rome are transformed, liberated themselves from the awesome holy work they have dedicated themselves to perform annually. After casting their masks on the pyre, the Yaqui men rush back into the church to kneel in thanks before the altar. At this point, the year's greatest fiesta commences, continuing long into Saturday night. The Deer, Pascolas, and Matachins dance; other native dances and entertainments are also featured. The people eat their fill. Not until Easter Sunday morning Mass does an official representative of the Roman Catholic Church appear.
Like Waehma, carnivals mark the Easter season. But unlike Waehma, carnivals do not enact the passion or the resurrection directly. They collapse ritual time, as they simultaneously struggle against Lenten prohibitions and predict Easter's life-returning fertility. To some degree, carnivals may be classified as antireligious religious performances, because they could not exist without being in oppositional reference to religious and civil authorities. But, at the same time, there is much going on that is officially sanctioned, well-organized, and tourist-friendly.
Carnivals are characterized by an exuberant outburst of public and private masking, partying, dancing, parading, music making, and drinking. Taking over the streets during the days before Lent, carnivals are a tumultuous acting out of permitted festivity, inebriation, and lewdness that, traditionally, yield to a season of sorrow ultimately redeemed by the resurrection. Carnivals are celebrated primarily in Europe and the Western Hemisphere, but their performance practices in the New World and West Indian diasporic communities include elements from Africa, Asia, and Native America. Taken as a whole, the carnival complex is a ritual performance of great magnitude. Days or weeks are spent celebrating as the festivities take over entire cities. In Trinidad, after months of preparations in the neighborhoods, a large stadium is filled for several nights to witness fierce competitions that award prizes for the best masks, calypsos, and steel-drum bands.
Carnivals have multiple roots, depending on the specific carnival. European carnivals combine Roman, pagan, and Christian elements; Western Hemispheric carnivals such as those in Trinidad, Rio de Janeiro, and New Orleans (i.e., Mardi Gras) fuse African performance traditions with European and, to a lesser degree, Native American and Asian. The Trinidad carnival is also widely celebrated by members of the West Indian diaspora in New York, Toronto, London, and elsewhere. Because these diasporic carnivals are celebrated in the summer, detached from the church calendar, can they still be considered ritual performances? They do not signal the onset of Lent, but in every other quality they express the meanings of carnival. In fact, the diasporic carnivals prove the non- or pre-Christian core of this kind of celebration: a rebellion against authority resulting in a temporary triumph of excess.
The Trinidad Carnival emerged in the nineteenth century from the celebrations of liberated African slaves embodying African ways and values and the carnival traditions of Catholic Europe as carried to the Caribbean by Spanish and French planters and slave owners. Ironically, the Trinidad Carnival is a celebration of former slaves and former masters enjoying—and to some degree satirizing—each other's cultural heritages. As the Trinidad Carnival continues to develop in the twenty-first century, its cultural complexity multiplies to include—and rebroadcast to the world-at-large—musical and visual performance languages that are of an Afro-Caribbean, Euro-Caribbean, South Asian, and global nature.
The RĀma-lĪlĀ of Ramnagar
A rich example of the fusion of ritual and theater is the Rāma-līlā of Ramnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India. Thousands of Rāma-līlās are performed annually throughout the Hindi language belt of north India. But the Ramnagar Rāma-līlā, sponsored and personally overseen by the Maharaja of Banaras, is recognized by Indians to be in a class by itself because of its scale, its deeply devotional qualities, and the theatrical detail of its staging, singing, and acting. Rāma-līlās, in some ways like the Waehma, are cycle plays dramatizing the life and acts of Rāma, the seventh incarnation of Viṣṇu, as related first in Valmiki's Sanskrit epic, the Rāmāyaṇa, and in Tulasidas' sixteenth-century Hindi redaction, the Ramcaritmanas. Both the Valmiki and the Tulasidas poems are regarded as sacred. During the Ramnagar Rāma-līlā the entire Ramcaritmanas is chanted by a chorus of twelve Brahmin priests. This chanting alternates during the performance with samvads, spoken dialogue by a cast of more than fifty actors, all Brahmin men. The principal roles of Rāma, his queen Sītā, and his brothers Bharat, Lakshman, and Shatrughna are all played by boys whose voices have not yet changed. All five of these boys are regarded as swarups, the actual living form of the gods they enact. However, there is no doubt that Rāma and Sītā are the main gods being worshiped during Rāma-līlā. Often persons attending the Rāma-līlā press the feet of Rāma and Sītā and gratefully receive blessed lotus blossoms and tulasi leaves from them.
Most Rāma-līlās are performed over a span of six to twenty-one daily episodes, each called a līlā (the play or sport of the gods) staged in simple locations within a local neighborhood. The Ramnagar Rāma-līlā is unique because it extends for thirty-one episodes that are meticulously staged in full-scale environments deployed over many square miles and incorporating all the town of Ramnagar. On big days—such as when Rāma wins Sītā's hand in marriage by lifting and then breaking Śiva's bow, or when Rāma slays his principle antagonist (the ten-headed demon king Rāvaṇa)—the crowds at Ramnagar Rāma-līlā swell to eighty thousand. These spectators include a broad cross-section of the regional population ranging from farmers, urban laborers, storekeepers, and professionals to itinerant sādhus (holy men) devoted to Rāma and Sītā. The multitudes come for darshan of the swarups, a ritually beneficial view of the gods-on-earth. They also attend to watch a drama and enjoy the mela (fair) that arises next to the Rāma-līlā sites. At the mela, people enjoy the many snack stands, games, and a wide variety of items for sale.
The Ramnagar Rāma-līlā 's principal spectator is the Māharājā of Banaras, who oversees the ritual drama while atop his royal elephant, riding in a black carriage drawn by a pair of horses, or from his vintage Cadillac. The Māharājā attends all but three of the episodes. He does not watch the argument between King Dasaratha and Queen Kaikeyi that leads to Rāma's exile, the kidnapping of Sītā, or the climax of the story when Rāma slays the demon king Rāvaṇa. Of these absences, Māharājā Vibhuti Narain Singh (1927–2000) said, "It is only a rule, not a tradition, so I sometimes break the rule" (Schechner, 1985, 193). His son and successor, Ananda Narain Singh, has continued this tradition. Regarded by the people of Varanasi as an incarnation of Śiva, the Maharaja enacts one principle Hindu deity worshiping another. Although the Maharaja's role is found neither in the Rāmāyaṇa nor the Ramcaritmanas, during the final several episodes, he actively participates in the Rāma-līlā as a performer. He enters the drama as a king and god inviting Rāma, his queen Sītā, and his brothers Bharat, Lakshman, and Shatrughna to a feast in the inner courtyard of the Fort, an enormous, if somewhat rundown, palace constructed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries along the banks of the sacred Ganges (Gangā) River. The honor the Māharājā shows Rāma, Sītā, and the other deities is reciprocated by the presence of the gods in the Fort. Once the Rāma-līlā is over, the Maharaja receives the boys playing the swarups and pays them each a sum of rupees—thereby reestablishing the ordinary social relationship between king and subjects.
Particular Rāma-līlā environments are given special care. Ayodhya, Rāma's birthplace, is a large walled courtyard right next to the Fort. Janakpur, Sītā's birthplace, includes two temples sacred to the goddess and a splendid garden. The kshir sagar, the endless ocean of milk where Viṣṇu sleeps atop Sesha, the thousand-headed cobra, is a very large pool that is more than one-thousand feet on each side and faces a three-hundred-year-old Durga temple that predates Ramnagar Rāma-līlā. Chitrakut, Rāma, Sītā, and Lakshman's first stop during their twelve-year exile is an enormous butterfly tent erected next to the kshir sagar. A small hill marks Panchavati, where Sītā is kidnapped by Rāvaṇa. The bridge from Ramesvaram, on the south Indian coast, to Lanka, hundreds of miles away, is, paradoxically, a few planks across less than ten feet of shallow, murky water. Lanka itself is a huge field triangulated by Mount Meru (where Rāma's army, led by Hanuman, the monkey god, set up headquarters), the Ashoka Garden where Sītā is held prisoner, and Rāvaṇa's earthen fort. In short, the Rāma-līlā environments are a large-scale model of mythic India, from the Himalayan north to the Gangetic plains, on through the forests of central India and on to the south and what has become the country of Sri Lanka. Throughout the thirty-one days, spectators follow the action from place to place. For many, attending Rāma-līlā is to take part in a pilgrimage not only to the holy city of Kashi (Vārāṇasī) but also to all the places that Rāma-līlā represents. The logic is unassailable: If the swarups are the actual gods-on-earth for a month, then the ground they transverse is really that of India and Lanka.
Rāma-līlā of Ramnagar enacts a complexly interactive relationship among ritual, theater, religion, and politics. In the late eighteenth century, the seat of the Raja of Banaras (not made a Māharājā until after the Indian uprising of 1857) was moved by the British across the Ganges River out of the city to Ramnagar. The move was a militarily and politically strategic. The fort was built at a point where troops could prevent an attack from the south by Mughal forces. By the third decade of the nineteenth century, the Ramnagar Rāma-līlā was already a grand spectacle. As the century advanced, the annual enactment of the religious cycle drama was a concrete example of a growing Hindu nationalism and pride expressed directly against the Muslim Mughal potentates and, indirectly, against the Māharājā's British sponsors. During the struggle for Indian independence, Rāma was held up by Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) as an example of an effective and just indigenous ruler—a king who would unite Hindus and Muslims against the British colonial force. Religion was brought into the struggle especially by Gandhi, who often framed his campaigns in religious terms. Rāma-līlā was a very powerful instance of the conflation of religion, politics, and theater.
Traditionally, in Rāma-līlā of Ramnagar, Muslims operate behind the scenes constructing all of the large effigies of gods and demons, managing the fireworks and the flares that illuminate the Hindu temple service that concludes each night's līlā, and caring for the elephants used by the Māharājā and his guests. Some Muslims attend the Rāma-līlā, but they do not make their presence publicly known. From the 1990s onward, Rāma-līlā of Ramnagar has been caught up in Hindu–Muslim tensions despite the Māharājā's wish to keep Rāma-līlā purely devotional-theatrical. These tensions flared in 1992 when Hindu militants destroyed the 1528 Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, Rāma's birthplace, vowing to erect a temple to Rāma in its place (archaeological evidence indicates that there once was a temple at this site). The destruction of the mosque ignited Hindu–Muslim hostilities that claimed more than two thousand lives—with deadly tensions remaining high into the twenty-first century. Many of the sādhus attending Ramnagar Rāma-līlā spend the rest of the year in Ayodhya. Their presence at Rāma-līlā —as well as increasing Hindutva activities (the call for a Hindu religious state in India)—injected a nationalist edge into the Rāma-līlā.
Other Religious Cycle Plays
The medieval European plays, the Yaqui Waehma, and Ramnagar Rāma-līlā are part of an historical and contemporary cluster of such works. In Irian Barat (Indonesian New Guinea) until the 1930s, the Elema hevehe cycle of dances, festivities, and ritual observances sometimes took more than thirty years to enact and complete. An extreme extension of time and space—a vast temporal and spatial encirclement—is characteristic of ritual cycles. In the late twentieth century, artists began to invent ritual cycles. Anna Halprin started making new rituals in the 1960s. Her Planetary Dance, first performed in 1981, is an annual ritual for global peace and healing, "moving in a wave around the globe, going west with the sun" (Halprin, 1995, 226). In 2004, hundreds of people in thirty-six countries on six continents performed the circle dance of walking, running, and standing still in relation to the four cardinal directions. Since the late 1950s the visual artist Christo has been wrapping buildings, trees, and small islands in cloth, erecting cloth gates, giant umbrellas, and miles-long fences in an ongoing project he calls "public art." Halprin and Christo are but two examples in a widespread practice outside of organized religion of ritualizing and sacralizing. Their works are contemporary versions of cathedrals and ritual dramas.
Such performances are not mimetic: They symbolize and actualize simultaneously. In doing so they mesh the ordinary lives of the performers with the extraordinary activities of culture heroes. Far from being a "leisure activity"—as much modern theater and dance is—the medieval Christian cycles, the Waehma, the Rāma-līlā, the Hevehe cycle, and Halprin's and Christo's work are obligatory as well as celebratory. They demand a big share of a community's attention, energy, and wealth. Such a price is paid because these performances are the dynamic constructions of reality by means of which a whole community knows itself.
All performances, sacred and secular, are ritually framed. Frames mark and modulate transformations of time, space, and consciousness, signaling that a performance is about to begin or that a return to the ordinary is imminent. Sometimes frames are so conventional they are all but forgotten: the dimming of houselights, the lighting of candles, the final applause, the sprinkling of holy water. There is a continuum between religious frames and aesthetic ones, with many intermediate cases.
In the Ẹ̀fẹ̀-Gẹ̀lẹ̀dẹ́ performances of the Yoruba, Ogbagba (The Divine Mediator) and Arabi Ajigbale (The Sweeper) always appear first, clearing the way for the dances and ceremonies that will follow. The closing dance brings forward a special mask and costume representing the community's deified ancestress. Her dancing brings blessings and concludes the festival. These opening and closing figures effect a transition from ordinary daily life to the intense spiritual world of the festival and back again to the ordinary.
In the kathakali of India, even when danced as a tourist entertainment, performances begin by the lighting of the kalivilakku, a bronze oil lamp identical to that used in Hindu temple services. The kalivilakku burns throughout the performance, reminding all that kathakali is an offering to the gods, who are the first and most important spectators. Every performance closes with the dhanasi, a short prayer-dance. Kathakali developed in the seventeenth century from antecedents reaching back to the Sanskrit theater of the fifth to tenth centuries. One form of Sanskrit theater, kutiyattam, is still performed in temples. Kathakali 's other roots are the martial art kalarippayattu and the teyyam masked folk ritual. Most of a kathakali performance, which can last from less than an hour at a tourist hotel to all night in a Kerala village, is made of stories taken from the Sanskrit-Hindu epics, Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, or from the Purāṇas, collections of stories and myths. During a kathakali performance in a village, as in Rāma-līlā, people commonly rise with hands clasped in front of them in the devotional pose, worshipfully honoring the performer playing a god as if the performer were the god incarnate. Thus, the theater and the temple meet.
The ritual frames of Japanese Nō are very strong, combining religious and aesthetic qualities. As Nō developed in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it drew on shamanism, Shintō, Buddhism, and sarugaku, a popular entertainment featuring magic, songs, and dances. All these sources continue to operate in the twenty-first century. Every program alternates the solemn Nō plays with the comic kyogen plays. There are ritualized procedures for entering and leaving the stage. Ghosts and spirits are summoned by the sound of the performers' stamping feet, which is amplified by large earthen jugs placed beneath the polished wooden stage floor. The action of many Nō plays is an exorcism. Nō theater architecture retains many qualities of a Shinto shrine.
Entering the Nō stage is a two-part process. In the kagami no ma (mirror room) the shite (doer) gazes at himself in the mirror. He simultaneously merges with his mask and distances himself from it. The shite seeks an incomplete transformation, a dialectical tension between the power of the mask and his skills as an actor. But even when the shite achieves a proper state of mind, he cannot enter the stage directly. He must first cross the hashigakari (literally, suspension bridge) that links the mirror room to the stage. When the play is over, the shite returns to the mirror room via the hashigakari, removes his mask, and carefully studies it before putting it away. This double framing (in the mirror room and on the hashigakari ) reminds performers and spectators alike of the aesthetic ritual quality of Nō.
How different are the ritual frames of Ẹ̀fẹ̀-Gẹ̀lẹ̀dẹ́, kathakali, Nō and other ritual theaters from what modern actors do? Konstantin Stanislavsky, the most influential of European actor trainers, instructed actors to prepare for their first entrance on the stage while still at home. A performance day ought to be uncluttered. When the actors arrive at the theater, there is to be no gossip but a quiet intensity combined with specific relaxation and concentration exercises. The actors put aside their ordinary lives and focus on the life they will call into existence on stage. As with the shite in the mirror room, the Stanislavsky-trained actor concentrates on the being into which he or she is transforming. These secular rituals help modern actors separate from ordinary life and successfully enact their roles.
Shamanic and Trance Performance
Shamans cure, prophesy, exorcise, and entertain by means of trance performance, storytelling, dancing, singing, magic, masks, and costumes. The word shaman is of Tungus (Siberian) origin, but shamanism is a phenomenon that occurs all over the world. The similarities of the shamanism of Eurasia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Americas is not coincidental. The migrations from Siberia to the Western Hemisphere and the links between India, Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan are demonstrable by means of archaeology, historical records, and similarities in performance practices, and shamanic elements are visible in ancient Greek rituals. The exact work of any given shaman will vary from society to society, for shamans enact and retain a community's knowledge. They are able to separate their souls from their bodies and enlist animal or spirit helpers as they journey to nonhuman worlds in pursuit of demons or in search of cures. The shamanic rituals of the Kwakiutl, Bella Bella, and Haida, who live along the Gulf of Alaska were once complex dance theater performances employing transformation masks—at the climax of a performance, the outer mask sprang open revealing an interior mask. The recently revived hamatsa performance uses transformation masks, and participants and spectators are entertained as well as ritually cleansed.
Often, shamans perform in trance, and they may even induce trance in their patients and spectators. But what is trance? In trance, performers are possessed by nonhuman beings—gods, spirits, animals, or objects. Trance performers enact actions not of their own devising. These actions belong to specific cultural performance texts—specific gestures, dance steps, utterances, songs, and whole ritual patterns. Trance occurs not only in shamanism but in a variety of other performative circumstances such as "falling out" in African American churches, being possessed by the loa of Haitian vodou or the orixa of Brazilian Umbanda. Hypnotic trance has been used both medically and as entertainment. The experience of being in trance varies. In Bali, where people can be possessed by ordinary things such as brooms, potlids, and potatoes as well as by gods and demons, trancers may remember what they do while in trance, whereas in other cultures the entranced have no idea of what they have done.
Neurologically, the experience of trance is how one feels when both hemispheres (frontal lobes) of the brain are simultaneously stimulated. In brief, the left lobe guides logical thought and speech; the right lobe guides spacial and tonal perceptions. Stimulating the right lobe loosens the ego, dissolving boundaries between the self and others; stimulating the left energizes a person. By various means, including repetitive rhythmic drumming and dancing, the ingestion of drugs, and sleep and food deprivation, both hemispheres are stimulated. Usually, one or the other hemisphere is dominant—a person cannot ordinarily be tranquil and excited at the same time. But when one side of the brain is fully in play, it "rebounds," bringing the other side into play also. When this occurs—as it can in trance, sexual orgasm, and Zen mediation—a person is both excited and released simultaneously. At the height of maximum bi-hemispheric arousal, people are weightless, egoless, outside their bodies, or "oceanic"—at one with the universe or with god. Extreme trance experience may be the specialty of shamans and other performance experts, but light trance is common, occurring during such activities as social dancing, marching, cheering at a sports match, or being taken over by the crowd. This experience is what Victor Turner termed "spontaneous communitas " (see Turner, 1969, pp. 96, 125–65).
Animal Rituals, Human Rituals
The evolutionary source of human ritual in animal behavior is demonstrable. This has become increasingly clear since 1914, when Julian Huxley noted that in the course of phylogeny certain animal movement patterns lose their specific function and become symbolic. To the ethologists who came after Huxley, a ritual is a behavior sequence genetically transformed over the course of evolutionary time. Behavior is rearranged, condensed, sped up or slowed down; functions change so that, for example, threat behavior becomes part of a "mating dance." In animal ritual, as in human ritual, movements are exaggerated or simplified, becoming rhythmical and repetitive, often freezing into postures. In animals, along with behavioral changes, conspicuous body structures develop, such as a peacock's feathers or a moose's antlers. Among humans, ornate costumes, masks, architectural structures, and other means are used to make ritual special. Despite these similarities and the clear evolutionary development of ritualized behavior, analogies between animal behavior and human rituals must be put forward cautiously. The "dances" of bees are not dances in the human sense. Where everything is genetically determined, there is no art.
Rituals in nonhuman animals do not occur haphazardly. They improve communication in situations that are contested and dangerous, such as issues of territory, hierarchy, mating, and access to food. Human ritual performances, which develop many of their particular details individually and socially rather than genetically, also cluster around troublesome life and social crises, such as birth, puberty, marriage, sickness, healing, and death; war; hierarchy; hunting, fertility, and food; the seasonal cycle of planting, harvest, and fallow; rain and drought; and the predictability or unpredictability of natural disasters and upheavals. Animal ritual is nonideological, operating through pure action. Human rituals, although also actions, are totally infused with thought and ideology. At the same time, human rituals share with animal rituals qualities of repetition, exaggeration, condensation, simplification, and spectacle. Human ritual performances enact the plea, explicit or implicit, for success in living and dying. Such universal practices as singing, dancing, marching, mass displays, flag waving, masking, cheering, clapping, stamping, sharing of sacred foods, offering sacrifices actually or symbolically, processions, incense burning, and bell ringing may be individually or socially constructed and inflected while also being ethologically based.
Ethological and neurological theories answer some very important questions. They help explain not only the extraordinary persistence of performance conventions and the need for ritual frames to manage such powerful forces, but also the apparently identical experiences of performer, audience, and participant down through many epochs and across cultures, genres, ideologies, and religious systems. The universality of trance—whether associated with dancing, singing, speaking in tongues, shamanizing, meditation, or hypnosis, and whether individual or collective—is at least partly explained by the neurological spillover theory.
What the ethological and neurological theories cannot explain are the unique, creative qualities of ritual performance. For ritual is not just a conservator of evolutionary behavior and thought, it is also a generator of new images, ideas, and practices. Victor Turner thought that if ritual had a biogenetic foundation, then while meaning is passed on culturally by means of learning, the creative processes that generate new cultural knowledge result from a coadaptation of genetic and cultural information.
Ritual Process and Liminality
Victor Turner was among the first to emphasize the generative, creative, and antistructural qualities of ritual by uncovering deep links among ritual, theatrical, and social processes. Developing the ideas put forward by Arnold van Gennep in The Rites of Passage (1909), Turner explored the three phases of the ritual process: separation, transition or liminal, and reincorporation. Turner was especially interested in the liminal phase in which people temporarily inhabit a realm "betwixt and between" personal and social categories (Turner, 1967, pp. 93–111; 1969, pp. 94–130) Liminal space-times are where and when known social structures are dissolved or put aside and new identities emerge that allow for the performance of new social structures and identities. During liminality, communities, artists, and even individuals liberate their thoughts, feelings, and creativity from ordinary social constraints. Van Gennep felt that rituals integrate individuals into a set social order, whereas Turner explored ritual as a motor for profound individual and community change.
Two seemingly contradictory results are achieved during the liminal phase of a ritual: individuals are liberated from prior constraints on creativity and socially deviant behaviors, and, when this period of license ends, new statuses or norms are established or older ones are reestablished. This describes perfectly the actions and importance of the Chapayekam among the Yaqui. Turner saw this process as channeling the living magma upwelling in all human societies: a periodic, temporary, molten creativity. It is also analogous to the training, workshop, and rehearsal process of many if not all performance genres. Through this process all the "givens" or "ready-mades"—such as accepted texts, accepted ways of using the body, and accepted feelings—are deconstructed or broken down into malleable bits of behavior, feeling, thought, and text. These bits are later reconstructed into a new order: the performance.
In traditional genres such as kathakali, Nō, or ballet, neophytes begin training early in life. Training involves learning new ways of speaking, gesturing, and moving, and maybe even new ways of thinking and feeling—new for the trainee, that is, but traditional for the genre. An important feature of kathakali training is the deep massage that actually reorients muscles and bones to the extreme turn-out and arched back necessary to perform kathakali. A no less radical reconstruction of the body is required for ballet. As in initiation rites, the mind and body are made ready to be written on in the language of the form being learned. Training enables the performer to "speak" Nō, kathakali, or ballet as he or she is incorporated into the tradition, no longer a neophyte but an initiated member.
Turner went far beyond van Gennep in suggesting that the rites of tribal, agrarian, and traditional societies are analogous to the artworks and leisure activities of industrial and postindustrial societies. These activities Turner called "liminoid" (Turner, 1982, 20–60). Liminal rites are collective and obligatory; liminoid activities are individualized and voluntary. Thus, the workshops of experimental theater and dance are liminoid means of psychophysical retraining. Whereas in liminal rites traditional behavior is inscribed, in liminoid arts new behaviors are created. But on close inspection of liminoid arts or leisure activities, most of what appears to be new or original consists of ready-mades and already-behaved behaviors, arranged in new combinations or presented in new contexts. Thus, although the avant-garde always appears to be advancing, it is in fact most often rearranging what already exists. Taking the view from 1875 to the twenty-first century, it is clear that elements of earlier avant-garde movements are recycled. And taking the very long view—from Paleolithic times to the twenty-first century—art does not advance at all in the ways science and technology do. Arts develop in cyclically, rather than linearly, progressive ways.
Victor Turner developed his theory of liminality into that of social drama, a four-phase sequence of breach, crisis, redress, and reintegration (or schism). A breach is an underlying fault in social life (e.g., the Montague–Capulet feud in Romeo and Juliet ; the mix of hatred, fear, and envy that many in the world feel for the United States); a crisis is a precipitating event that must be dealt with (e.g., Romeo and Juliet falling in love; the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States); the redress is what is done to resolve the crisis (e.g., the lovers flight to Mantua; the American "War on Terrorism"); and the reintegration or schism are the two outcomes of a social drama (e.g., "O brother Montague, give me thy hand;" an unending war). The ritual process and liminality operate during the redress, the third phase of a social drama. Actions taken during the redress are often symbolic and performative—demonstrations or symbolic displays. They are what they are, but they are also more than what they are. As Turner noted, such actions are performed in the cultural subjunctive mood, in the "as if," the "might be," and the "ought to be." Even the bombing of a city is done to "show something" to the inhabitants and to the onlookers—both allies and enemies—who are watching. On a more peaceful level, crises are often explored and resolved by means of ritual performances of both religious and secular kinds.
If universality is the advantage of Turner's theories, reductivism is their weakness. Turner's social drama theory is tethered to Western aesthetics' appetite for conflict, crisis, and resolution. Birth, puberty, marriage, gaining power and losing it, familial strife, sickness, death, natural disasters, and the like, are all, of course, universal events. But the ritual performances used to cope with, mark, or celebrate these events vary widely from culture to culture. What in the West is often perceived of as a crisis (e.g., a sickness or death) may to a Buddhist sensibility be an expected part of the life process. The social drama and liminality models are valuable; but they are not universally applicable.
Influenced by the earlier path-breaking writings of James G. Frazer, the twentieth-century Cambridge anthropologists Gilbert Murray, Jane Ellen Harrison, and Francis Cornford and allied scholars of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East asserted that Greek theater and, by inference, all theater came from ritual. The line of the Cambridge theory was developed further by propounders of the theory of archetypes of C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell. Susanne K. Langer and Northrop Frye took the Cambridge thesis in a parallel direction. The underlying idea is that tragedy and comedy show evidence of an earlier violent sacrificial ritual of struggle, sacrifice, dismemberment, reassembling of the body, and resurrection. In other words, Christ's Divine Comedy. This theory of an ur-ritual (i.e., the conquest of life over death) underlying tragedy and comedy is attractively comprehensive. But, if true at all, the Cambridge theory is regional rather than universal. Over time, the theory has never been proved, and no actual ur-ritual has been discovered.
The Cambridge theory marches on in the generally held belief that ritual (some ritual, any ritual) is the first genre of human performance, that from ritual all subsequent forms have evolved. However, demonstrably the opposite is also true. New rituals are continuously being invented, and the source of these new rituals can be theater, dance, or music—the aesthetic genres whose function is to entertain. Other new rituals are devised for political reasons. For centuries, rulers, judges, and governments have invented rituals such as saluting the flag, singing anthems, and swearing oaths to reinforce a given order of society. Associations such as the Masons, Kiwanis, Lions, Elks, and sororities and fraternities also employ invented rituals during initiations and ceremonies. Corporations display emblems, enunciate slogans, enforce uniform or other dress codes, and require workers to perform company rituals. Since at least the 1960s, many artists, mostly Western but also African and Asian, have invented rituals that are practiced by large numbers of people.
These artists work with both professional performers and with amateurs, and they offer both public performances and workshops. The venues for these events and encounters vary: rooms in which participants can work in seclusion, beaches, forests, city streets, department stores, theaters, art galleries, churches, synagogues, and many other places. Sometimes artists transform rituals from Asia, Europe, Native America, Australia, Micronesia, and Africa, drawing on ethological and anthropological research. Sometimes they compose new movements, songs, and spoken or sung texts. They try to forge links between the personal and the archetypal. Their work is linked to that of New Age shamanic and therapeutic practices. Frequently, their works and techniques are hybrids of new and traditional materials and techniques.
Jerzy Grotowski (1933–1999) was an enormously influential inventor of theatrical rituals. From 1959 to 1967 he propagated his ideas of the "holy actor"—a rigorously trained artist who offers his body as a symbolic public sacrifice, thereby performing "secular holiness." Grotowski's theatre productions of the 1950s and early 1960s—especially The Constant Prince, Akropolis, and Apocalypsis cum Figuris —were regarded both as artworks and as ritual performances. In his later work, Grotowski explored a direct relationship between performers and audiences. There was no play performed, just sheer ritualized interactions. Next, Grotowski tried to identify core "objective" gestures, movements, chants, and songs that were the distilled essence of ritual performance. He researched the rituals and spiritual practices of China, India, Latin America, the Caribbean, and ancient Egypt as well as western psychology, anthropology, and the history of religion. Grotowski and his small group of followers explored trance, vodou, the Baul singing of Bengal, Balinese dance, and tai chi. He was also influenced by the American human potential movement. Some of the actions Grotowski used included extended silent vigils, improvised chanting and movement, running in total darkness through the woods, and the passing of fire from person to person. Grotowski sought spontaneous communitas detached from any specific religious practice. In his final phase, during the 1990s, with a few adherents (primarily Thomas Richards), Grotowski developed a ritual performance work titled simply Action, which was performed mostly by one man, "Doer." This work, which serves as a living ritual and is always evolving, has continued to be presented by Richards and those he teaches into the twenty-first century.
Anna Halprin's example is different from Grotowski's but parallel in its basic direction. As noted earlier, Halprin has been inventing rituals since the 1960s. Her goal is initiatory transformation and healing—to change those who participate in her dances. Halprin believes that dance can be more than entertainment—it can be transformative ritual. The titles of some of Halprin's works from the 1960s and 1970s clearly show her intention: Ceremony of Us, Animal Ritual, Trance Dances, and Initiations and Transformations. Halprin explained that the "chief intention of these works was to understand how the process of creation and performance could be used to accomplish concrete results: social change, personal growth, physical alignment, and spiritual attunement" (Halprin, 1995, p. 228). She often works with large groups of fifty to one hundred persons moving in circles and spirals. These "archetypal movements trace out the forms and patterns of a larger organism, communicating with and being moved by a group body-mind or spirit" (Halprin, 1995, p. 229) In addition to her work in ritual, Halprin is recognized as a seminal figure of postmodern dance.
There are many others involved in similar work, blurring the distinctions between sacred and secular, ritual and art. A major theorist and practitioner is Allan Kaprow (b. 1927), who since the 1980s has practiced Zen-like actions such as walking in the desert and retracing one's footsteps. This kind of activity Kaprow terms "lifelike art." According to Kaprow, lifelike art weaves "meaning-making activity with any or all parts of our lives … embracing religious, philosophical, scientific, and social/personal exploration" (Kaprow, 1993, p. 216).
The varieties of ritual performances are uncountable, and ritual is part of the warp and woof of every kind of performance, whether religious or secular. There are no universal performative themes, actions, or patterns other than the ethological and neurological processes that shape the formal qualities and special experiences of the performer and spectator. All performances are ritually framed, but what these frames are and what they signify varies from culture to culture, even from one performance to another. Individual performances do not tell universal stories so much as provide observers with ways of understanding particular cultural and subcultural circumstances. Performers give participants a concrete, sensuous, and sometimes overwhelmingly powerful experience of cultural values. The similarity of the initiation and ritual process to the training, workshop, and rehearsal process makes it probable that not only will religious ritual be secularized but that aesthetic performances will be sacralized. It is a complicated but fruitful two-way system.
What is it that makes a person human? A nexus of circumstances: speech, bipedal locomotion, brain size and complexity, and social organization—but more as well. A performance of a nightmare, of yesterday's hunt or encounter with a strange band, of a sound heard in the forest—each are second actualities that when performed well rival the first in detail and presence. This second actuality has additional qualities that even make it superior to the first—it can be based on what is not as easily as on what is because the recalled or restored dream, hunt, encounter, or sound may actually be imaginary. Therefore, it can be elaborated on and improved through repetition. What counts is how well it is performed and how neatly it fits, or adds to, an existing or emerging worldview. Thus, three classes of performance events are possible: what was, what is imagined, and what falls between history and imagination. This third class of events, which shares both in the authority of recollection and the creativity of the imagination, is most powerful. Moreover, once such a realm of virtual actuality is given concrete existence in performance, it can lead to a third, a fourth, and so on.
In these ways performance has always and everywhere stood in relation to religion. Sometimes this relationship has been mutually supportive and other times it has been hostile. There is nothing in performance that is inherently pro-religious or anti-religious. Archaeological and anthropological evidence indicates a coexistence of performance and religion at least since Paleolithic times. And the ethological and neurological evidence suggests that, among humans, ritual and performance are close enough to be considered identical: they are repetitive, condensed, intense, and communicative displays and doings. Articulated religious beliefs, aesthetic enjoyment and theories, and political ideologies and manipulations are some of the uses people have found for ritual-performance behavior. As Victor Turner was fond of pointing out, to make believe is to make belief.
Aristotle was the first to propose an intimate connection between ritual, dance, music, and theater. In the Poetics, Aristotle expressed the opinion that Greek tragedy arose from the improvisations of those who led the dithyrambs, while comedy arose from the improvisations of those who led the phallic songs. Eric R. Dodds, in The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, Calif., 1951), investigates the relationship between shamanism and the Greeks, thereby linking the sources of European culture with Asia. E. T. Kirby, in Ur-Drama: The Origins of Theater (New York, 1975), theorizes that all theater is originally shamanistic. Other important works on shamanism include Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (New York, 1964); Sergei M. Shirokogoroff, Psychomental Complex of the Tungus (London, 1935); and Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life (Honolulu, 1987). The ancient Sanskrit theory of theater is contained in Bharata-muni, The Natyasastra (New Delhi, 1996). Discussions of the ritual performances of Paleolithic Europe are found in John E. Pfeiffer, The Creative Explosion: An Inquiry into the Origins of Art and Religion (New York, 1982); Weston La Barre, The Ghost Dance (Garden City, N.Y., 1970); and Yann Pierre Montelle, Paleoperformance: The Emergence of Theatricality in the Deep Caves of the Upper Paleolithic (Providence, R.I., 2004).
The first attempt in modern times to make a comparative survey of rituals, mythologies, and religions was James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough, 2 vols. (London, 1890), which he eventually expanded to twelve volumes and a supplement. Frazer's work influenced Jane Ellen Harrison's Themis, with contributions by Gilbert Murray and Francis Macdonald Cornford (Cambridge, UK, 1912) and Ancient Art and Ritual (London, 1913), Gilbert Murray's "Excursus on the Ritual Forms Preserved in Greek Tragedy," in Themis by Jane Ellen Harrison, pp. 341–363 (Cambridge, U.K., 1912), and Francis M. Cornford's The Origin of Attic Comedy (London, 1914). These scholars believed they had discovered a "primal ritual"—a seasonal death–rebirth drama common to the ancient Near East. However, the existence of the primal ritual cannot be proved, throwing into doubt any presumed relationship between it and succeeding Western theater (i.e., Greek, Elizabethan, modern). A convincing critique of the primal ritual theory is offered by Sir Arthur Wallace Pickard-Cambridge, Dithyramb, Tragedy and Comedy, 2d ed., rev. (Oxford, 1962). Despite this, the theory remains popular among those who believe ritual patterns underly tragedy and comedy. Among the most notable works of this kind are Susanne Langer's Feeling and Form (New York, 1953) and Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, N.J., 1957). A similar, if not identical, trend in thinking is the theory of archetypes as propounded by Carl G. Jung and elaborated on by Joseph Campbell. See Jung's Man and His Symbols (Garden City, N.Y., 1964 and The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell (New York, 1971); and Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Princeton, N.J., 1949) and The Masks of God (4 vols.; New York, 1959–1968).
The relationship between ritual and performance has been fruitfully investigated by anthropologists and performance theorists doing fieldwork among existing societies. Under the anthropological aegis the discussion shifts to eyewitness and even participatory accounts of actual performances. These data form the basis for theories of ritual process. Basic ritual theory exploring the relationships among aesthetic, religious, and social performances can be found in a number of texts, including Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (Chicago, 1909; reprint, 1960); Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, (London, 1915; reprint, New York, 2001); Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation (New York, 1958); Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols (Ithaca, N.Y., 1967), The Ritual Process (Chicago, 1969), Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors (Ithaca, N.Y., 1974), From Ritual to Theater (New York, 1982), and On the Edge of the Bush (Tucson, Ariz., 1985); Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, N.Y., 1959) and Interaction Ritual (Chicago, 1967); Edith Turner, Experiencing Ritual (Philadelphia, 1992); Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973); Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia, 1985), The Future of Ritual (London, 1993), and Performance Theory (London, 2003); James Redmond, ed., Drama and Religion (Cambridge, U.K., 1983); Sally F. Moore and Barbara G. Myerhoff, eds., Secular Ritual (Assen, Netherlands, 1977); Catherine Bell, Rituals: Perspectives and Dimensions (New York, 1997) and Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York, 1992); Roy A. Rappaport, Ecology, Meaning, and Religion (Berkeley, Calif., 1979); Robert P. Armstrong, The Powers of Presence: Consciousness, Myth, and Affecting Presence (Philadelphia, 1981); Ronald Grimes, ed., Readings in Ritual Studies (Upper Saddle River, N.J., 1996); and John Emigh, Masked Performance: The Play of Self and Other in Ritual and Theatre (Philadelphia, 1996).
New or invented rituals are discussed in Anna Halprin, Moving Toward Life (Hanover, N.H., 1995) and Dance as a Healing Art (Mendocino, Calif., 2000); Suzanne Lacy, Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (Seattle, 1995); Allan Kaprow, The Blurring of Art and Life (Berkeley, Calif., 1993); and David H. Brown, Santeria Enthroned (Chicago, 2003).
For ethological and neurological approaches to ritual focus on the continuities between animal and human behavior and the relation of brain structure-function to ritual action and felt experience, see Desmond Morris, Primate Ethology (Garden City, N.J., 1969); Mario von Cranach, Klaus Foppa, Wolf Lepenies, and Detlev Ploog, eds., Human Ethology (Cambridge, U.K., 1979); and Eugene G. d'Aquili, Charles D. Laughlin Jr., and John McManus, The Spectrum of Ritual (New York, 1979). Also relevant in this regard are studies of trance, including Jane Belo, Trance in Bali (New York, 1960), Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (London, 1953), and Gilbert Rouget, Music and Trance (Chicago, 1985).
Ritual, carnival, festival, and related performances are described and theorized in Victor Turner, Celebration—Studies in Festivity and Ritual (Washington, D.C., 1982), John J. MacAloon, ed., Rite, Drama, Festival, Spectacle (Philadelphia, 1984), Alessandro Falassi, Time Out of Time: Essays on the Festival (Albuquerque, 1987), and Milla Riggio, ed., Carnival: Culture in Action—The Trinidad Experience (London, 2004).
In addition to comprehensive and intercultural works, there are also many studies of ritual performances in individual cultures. See, for example, Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Native Tribes of Central Australia (London, 1899); Gregory Bateson, Naven, 2d ed. (Stanford, Calif., 1958); Raymond Firth, Tikopia Ritual and Belief (London, 1967); Victor Turner, The Drums of Affliction (London, 1968); Kenneth E. Read, The High Valley (New York, 1965); Richard A. Gould, Yiwara: Foragers of the Australian Desert (New York, 1969); F. E. Williams, The Drama of the Orokolo (London, 1940); Clifford Geertz, Negara: Theater State in Nineteenth Century Bali (Princeton, N.J., 1980); Anuradha Kapur, Actors, Pilgrims, Kings, and Gods (Calcutta, 1990); Edward L. Schieffelin, The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers (New York, 1976); Simon Ottenberg, Masked Rituals of Afikpo (Seattle, 1975); Charlotte J. Frisbie, ed., Southwestern Indian Ritual Drama (Albuquerque, N.M., 1980); Hanay Geiogamah and Jaye T. Darby, eds., American Indian Performance (Los Angeles, 2000); Edward Spicer, The Yaqui (Tucson, Ariz., 1980); Henry John Drewal and Margaret T. Drewal, Gelede: Art and Female Power among the Yoruba (Bloomington, Ind., 1983); Margaret T. Drewal, Yoruba Ritual (Bloomington, Ind., 1992); Frits Staal, ed., Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, 2 vols. (Berkeley, Calif., 1983); and Bruce Kapferer, A Celebration of Demons: Exorcism and the Aesthetics of Healing in Sri Lanka (Bloomington, Ind., 1983).
Richard Schechner (1987 and 2005)