Myth and Ritual

From the Course Syllabus:  This week’s readings give us a chance to look closely at Greek religion in its various guises. Myth, of course, forms one important aspect of religion, but so does ritual.

How ancient myths and rituals interact teaches us a lot about both of these powerful cultural forms. We will read two of the greatest hymns to Olympian deities that tell up-close-and-personal stories about the gods while providing intricate descriptions of the rituals they like us humans to perform

Week 6 : some theory on myth and ritual.

Two people in this part of the course are Durkheim.  Emile Durkheim and Jane Harrison,  D said when humans get together amazing things happen,  Harrison and the reading of classical myth.  D realises that humans have amazing feelings that show up, collective effervescence, the added plus of what life is like when groups congregate.

This group experience is why people started to think about religious feelings and experiences.  It gets harnessed more when we engage in ritual, across human groups, collective behaviour, strange maybe, stylised behaviours – transitions, marking new duties and phases.  They anchor these stages.

This is the function of ritual – to anchor these moments in our lives.

Professor Struck starts with a mention of two important people and commentators on the world of myth and religion:  Emile Durkheim and Jane Harrison; the former said that when people gather together in groups something special happens – that coming together collectively doing the same thing, honouring the same ritual – all these things have an effect that D called collective effervescence.

D said that rituals anchor actions in society, in our culture. From wedding ceremonies to football matches. These collective events started people thinking about the divine, worship.

CE says D gets harnessed during rituals, sometimes strange behaviours, transitions, new duties, these rituals anchor commitment and transition of newness, of moving on

People started to realise how imp rituals are – we are a very ritualised nation – the Queen’s birthday, royal weddings and events and birth, funerals etc. etc.

Harrison said in fact behind all of Greek mythology is some ritual behaviour – we have seen this in the Homeric hymns – The strange drink in honour of Demeter, the rites of Eleusis, what’s happened is that ritual beh has been going on, and strike some people as strange – then myth rushes in to the vacuum the sense of understanding that we have around ritual beh’s.   We have to make sure that all the rituals hark back and are the same, and are carried forward in the same form.

Myths come up with explanations about misunderstood rituals.  They are provocative: processions, chanting, clothing, weapons and tools, music, food, songs, music, journeys.  All myths have ritual underneath. Some rit drives the myth.  (the Grand National is our ritual).

Entering into caves – as in the Odyssey – Cyclops, catabasis rituals; the latter are when a person enters the underworld : Hades for example in The Odyssey, or even in Paradise Lost; and the person returns changed in some way.

Extra notes on Pluto and Hades:

Pluto (Greek: Πλούτων, Ploutōn) was the ruler of the underworld in classical mythology. The earlier name for the god was Hades, which became more common as the name of the underworld itself. In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Pluto represents a more positive concept of the god who presides over the afterlife. Ploutōn was frequently conflated with Ploutos (Πλοῦτος, Plutus), a god of wealth, because mineral wealth was found underground, and because as a chthonic god Pluto ruled the deep earth that contained the seeds necessary for a bountiful harvest.[1]

The name Ploutōn came into widespread usage with the Eleusinian Mysteries, in which Pluto was venerated as a stern ruler but the loving husband of Persephone. The couple received souls in the afterlife, and are invoked together in religious inscriptions. Hades by contrast had few temples and religious practices associated with him, and is portrayed as the dark and violent abductor of Persephone.

Pluto and Hades differ in character, but they are not distinct figures and share their two major myths. In Greek cosmogony, the god received the rule of the underworld in a three-way division of sovereignty over the world, with his brothers Zeus ruling the Sky and Poseidon the Sea. His central narrative is the abduction of Persephone to be his wife and the queen of his realm.[2] Plouton as the name of the ruler of the underworld first appears in Greek literature of the Classical period, in the works of the Athenian playwrights and of the philosopher Plato, who is the major Greek source on its significance. Under the name Pluto, the god appears in other myths in a secondary role, mostly as the possessor of a quest-object, and especially in the descent of Orpheus or other heroes to the underworld.[3]