'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

11 June 2013

Ancient Rites

Society is built largely on what we share in common and often this is expressed in the rituals that link our beliefs, power structures and interactions. Often a standard procedure or custom eases the way to easier understanding. There are usually reasons, like showing that you are unarmed by the simple practice of shaking hands, that are lost in the misty past and the complex rituals like a coronation are so steeped in ancient symbolism that few understand the meaning of the words, the implements or the movements .
My photo Madama Butterfly
It is possible however that ancient rites are not always worthy of respect. Cultures can be wrong and are not all to be preserved with some unfounded reverence. We must use reason to find out what to keep and what to change, but this logic, I guess, requires the acceptance of a considered first principle of undeniable truth. For me that first principle is 'Life is Precious'. All civilisations and generations develop, but I find many will patronisingly assume we today are smarter. No we are not. They had the same brain capacity, the same ability to love and display empathy. To me, most of the perceived crimes of the past are just as now, no more than the will and greed of the powerful. Little changes and utopia is still a dream.
There are several categories of ritual and rites. The ones I love are those with colour, pomp, ceremony, music and grandeur. I love a Royal wedding or a coronation, even a Papal event if it has great music and great costumes. They may not be necessarily essential to the happiness of the world, but generally no one gets slaughtered, the masses can cheer and wave and smile. However there are also darker rites, sexy rites, deathly rites. If there is a human expression there is probably a ritual involved somewhere. We live by following signpost. It is just that we have to decide which ones to take direction from.
Rituals, Rites, Ceremonies, Initiations.
The author Yukio Mishima portraying the ancient ritual Suppuku for a film, but later he ended his life this way and was simultaneously beheaded by his lover to complete the sacrifice. 
There is a difference between taking your own life voluntarily and taking that of another. A personal decision belongs to that person alone, but one can not make that decision about another.
Abraham about to stick a blade into Isaac is one of the more disturbing stories from that 2700 year old book, written by some patriarchal old men. So a god of love tells a bloodthirsty adulterer to go and kill his son. I have never understood this one. Obedience to the supposed word of God is one thing, but murder is another. Sounds like "I was just following orders" which didn't work at the Nuremberg trials and doesn't work for me. Didn't he have a brain to figure out this is just wrong. Note that although I mentioned it I am not objecting to his adultery only his murderous behaviour, because to me, sexuality is a wonderful part of nature, but violence is misshapen desire or action without disciplined conscious thought. This is a topic I have discussed a lot of late.
Then in another gross religious tale God himself decides to kill all the first born sons in Egypt at Passover. He seems to have spent a considerable time smiting those he created with fire and brimstone, floods, enslavement etc.. Indoctrination says 'He loves us all', but who needs 'love' as told in these stories. Once again I repeat myself by saying it all sounds like the vindictive imagination and distorted words of some men in a position of power who want to keep it that way.
Even more distressing is that these bloodthirsty tales are set as some sort of religiously pious example for us, whereas most will decry the Aztec human sacrifices or any other cultural and religious ceremony that requires that a god be appeased by the horrific death of a man, woman or child. I am not mollified by the fact that often they had to drug them before killing them. This is supposed to be merciful perhaps, but it is also a crime in itself. The taking away of someone's will and then life.
For good measure the crucifying of Jesus Christ is said to be that of the Almighty God willingly sacrificing his son for our good. 
What is it with all this religious killing of sons? 
How bloody insecure are these monstrous gods. As I said, it is more likely and to me logical, that a bunch of nasty old men created these stories to keep people in order and themselves in control.
The world of ancient literature, fable, myths or history abounds with ritual that are not popular today. Some are too bloody, some are too sexy and and no doubt much of society frowns on such ceremonies because it is simply someone else's ritual and not their own. Xenophobia is alive and always lived comfortably in man's mind. It generally depends on where you were born, what if any religion you adhere to and what your cultural leaders dictate. It often is no more than what you are told to accept by a profit seeking, power obsessed, ill educated and amoral media run by a megalomaniac with a god complex and enough money to buy the power he or she desires.
Theseus & the Minotaur from MTK PROD 
In Greek ancient times as with the Egyptians it was religious rites that grew to create dance and the comedy and drama of theatre and the symbolism used for worship evolved into the transmission of beliefs, history and then stories. It is the image and sound of ritual that excites our imagination, sparks wonder and sinks into our soul. 
The Phallus
Just some random references relating to ritual and not a definitive discussion.
This below is an extract from my very first post on Theatre in 2010.
"Comedy on the other hand draws it’s name from the procession of revellers that accompanied the phallus in Dionysiac festivals and reflected the banter that was exchanged amongst them and also with the spectators. ‘komos’ means procession of revellers and the Greek for comedy is ‘komoidia’ or komos singing, i.e. of phallic songs. So comedy essentially means, in a crude modern idiom, ‘dick jokes’. The comic slaves also wore an accentuated padded phallus."
ARRETOS KURA - Butoh Performance from Dario Sajeva 
This video exemplifies some stylised rites and customs, the Symposium, achievement, family, sport, war and for me above all - beauty.
Museum of Cycladic Art - Everyday life in Ancient Greece 
Rites of Passage
As in ancient societies the rites of passage from boy to man, entry into a faith, progress to a society or group often involves even today an obsession with nudity and the symbol of maleness, the penis.
 Circumcision was practised by the Egyptians for entry into the class of scribe, the priesthood and for boys of class. This rite to manhood was practised way before a covenant with a Jewish god was written about. A ceremony sometimes performed on hundreds at a time was borrowed by other societies and also had health implication in the day and perhaps for aesthetics for some as well.
This is from my Father's WWII photographs when he was stationed in the north.
 Australian indigenous manhood initiation had a bunch of men throwing boys around and also making incision or paint marks in their naked flesh.
If one believes what one sees, in the States it seems to be a requirement that reaching higher education involves a lot of sexual display and supposed humiliation or hazing. The penis is always a symbol of achieving some rank or power. This is also prevalent in most military institutions around the globe. Although unconvincingly tut tutted by the media and the commanders, a soldier likes nothing better than displaying his manhood to his comrades or seeing the penis of his fellow soldiers or team mates. It is however an insult to my brain that people are often more horrified, scandalised or embarrassed by the sight of a penis than a bloodied corpse. What is more likely to create an indignant, vocal outcry, male genitals or a shattered body. Ever watch the news at dinner time??? The much touted 'moral majority' are immune to death, but horrified by sex. A parade (ritual again) of men with guns (killing weapons) is cheered but men kissing will often evoke anger, naked men in public will evoke derision and probably arrest. By all means stick a knife in someone for entertainment but god forbid you stick a penis in someone without shame. To me there is a misguided idea that still persists that inserting a penis is a display of dominance. Is it not simply a joining of body and hopefully soul? Aggression is dominance, inflicting pain is evil, deprivation of liberty is horrendous so examine the rituals of our society, the roots of their evolution and the relevance to a good life. Make some decisions.

I have read this over several times while editing and it is more than apparent that there is a bitter tone here and there. Yes it is true that frustration with media, religious, political and bigoted morality distresses me. I do not understand how people think in such ways. 
Just be nice to each other.
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