Human Rites: Rituals Bind Us, in Modern Societies and Prehistoric Tribes Alike. Can Our Loyalties Stretch to All of Humankind?
How important are rituals?
Remember when mom made your favorite dinner or dessert? Memories invoke rituals. Family gatherings at holidays or special events? Sure, everybody celebrates the holidays, but our celebrations were the best and most comfortable.
Remember when your mom or dad read you a bedtime story and you had to wait till the following night to get to the end? Or when the book ways put down, you had a million questions? Did you/will you do the same with your own kids? Why? Is it the fond memory or the comfortable ritual we remember? More often than not, it is both.
Some of our most powerful memories revolve around rituals. Not just family rituals but group rituals as well. School activities and groups, for example. Everybody has a childhood or adolescent friend who they have not seen in years but at the drop of a hat can pick up as if no time had passed. Because they share not only secrets an memories but shared rituals of communication.
One friend recently wrote about holiday memories:
My dad always got a real tree. We had those old Xmas tree lights, you know the big, fat glass tungsten ones that would burn the hell out of your fingers, not those tiny little plastic LED impostors, LOL. I know, I know, the LEDs are safer & more energy efficient, but they just don’t say Xmas to me like the others do. We also had a bunch of old vintage ornaments for the tree—you know, actual glass ones, not those god-awful garish plastic abominations they sell nowadays. Even the few glass ones you can find now are usually just plain colored balls or crappy knock-offs made in China.
The same friend wrote of a blue collar, hard working father, an honest man and devoted man. He was an assuming man and to my friend a giant of man with a dignity only high morality confers. My friend misses that man very much. A memory? To be sure, but a memory which invokes recollections of shared times and rituals which no matter how much we try or how much we yearn for them, we cannot duplicate.
We make our own rituals. They involve our own families and friends. If we’re lucky- really, really lucky- we can find a group which can share in new rituals. Sharing good deeds, higher goals ande higher expectations.
Share the right morals, make them part of a ritual and you can change the world.
My colleagues and I were pressed up against each other on the back seat of a police car as it wove through the narrow streets of Urfa, a medieval Turkish city nestled in the watershed of the Euphrates. We stopped in traffic. Somewhere behind a tangle of washing on the rooftops a baby was crying and a television was blaring. On the pavement a group of Kurdish youths stared at us. One hour earlier, near the excavations we had come to see, there had been killings. Some said the bomb was launched from over the border in Syria. Others said it was a Kurdish attack on the police. gThe policeman at the wheel glanced at the youths and then over his shoulder at us. ‘Bad people,’ he said.
I found myself wondering how many times that kind of sneering encounter had occurred in this ancient landscape, a cradle not only of civilizations but of the divisions between them. A minaret burst into song. In the distance, another joined in, then another. We turned a corner and the high fortifications of the city loomed into view. Two years before, I had stood at the top tracing ancient landmarks of the silk trade. Now the city gazed out at the troubled hills of an Arab Autumn.
Earlier that day, I had eaten lunch with an archaeologist living in Jordan. He viewed the sufferings of the Middle East through the lens of deep history. His eye twinkled when I pointed out this quirk. ‘Actually,’ he said, ‘I see it the other way around. Most people view the Middle East through the lens of very shallow history.’
We were in town with a group of scholars and scientists who were trying to reconstruct a world that blossomed more than 10,000 years ago. Some 15km away, Göbekli Tepe comprises a series of Stonehenge-like circles of stone slabs, faintly resembling giant phalluses. In fact, these stones were quarried much, much earlier than Stonehenge — some 12,000 years ago. And each spectacular ring of towering monoliths was probably buried within days or weeks of its completion. The sheer effort of human labour involved is mind-boggling. Nobody knows how it was done without bulldozers, winches, cranes, or even steel hand tools. And nobody knows why. What inspired ancient foragers to push their stone-age technology to the very limits, cutting 20-tonne stones out of the hillside, dragging them up to the summit and placing them in painstakingly dug holes several metres deep? Why carve exquisitely realistic high reliefs of animals into their sides, only