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The Myth-Ritualist Theory of Religion Author(s): Robert A.

Segal Source: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Jun., 1980), pp. 173-185 Published by: Wiley on behalf of Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Stable URL: . Accessed: 20/10/2013 06:16
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considers religion *RobertA. it at least prompts one to explain the link in some fashion. The myth-ritualist theory of religion is useful in the same way.253. especially toward rituals. the theory suggests. belief becomes part of practice. the myth-ritualist theory suggests that the two may in fact be rivals. Whether or not Freud's theory. it is typically said. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .58. Segal is a memberof the Departmentof Religion. Whether or not Freud's own explanation of the link is correct. Reed College. the myth-ritualist theory challenges the ordinary assumption of a gap in religion between beliefs and practices. In the third place. Many of the leading theories of religion present alternative views of the relationshipand function of myths and rituals. Even if false. In the second place. the myth-ritualist theory is valuable in suggesting aspects of religion which might otherwiseget overlooked. by extrapolation.charting its alternatives suggests other aspects of religion which might also be missed. In the first place. exaggerates the place of sexuality in religion. SEGAL* According to the myth-ritualist theory. Yet even when false they are valuable for being suggestive.30 on Sun. Probably the best way to begin presenting the myth-ritualist theory is by describing its scientific-likeview of religion. Where. religion provides the "meaning of life. the theory. Since most of the classic and contemporary social scientific theories of religion have proved at best moot and at worst false. science explains the physical world. Modern skepticism toward the two. There are really two theories of religion as scientific-like.Similarly.not because they coincide but because they run askew. religion magically manipulatesthe world. especially in modern modern as well as primitive religion. They point out aspects of religion which might otherwise be overlooked.are compatible .The better known one. the twentieth has supposedly witnessed their reconciliation. the theory compels one to reconsiderthe status of both . By making myths and rituals the heart of religion and by making rituals at least as important as myths. Rather than leading to practice. the myth-ritualist theory questions anew the relationship between religion and science. it is widely preached. Religion and science. A common assumption in the social scientific study of religion is that theories of religion are useful only insofar as they are true. for example. By incorporatingmyths into rituals. which operate together and constitute its core. that beliefs and practices generally are more united than separate. © Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. called the intellectualist theory. If the nineteenth century witnessed the clash between religion and science. religion is primitive science:through myth and ritual. it at least suggests a link between religion and sexuality. which will be described in detail. 1980.The Myth-Ritualist Theory of Religion ROBERT A." By treating religion as science. has perhaps resulted in an underestimation of their significance. 19 (2):173-185 173 This content downloaded from 134. they often get dismissed as worthless. suggests exactly the importance of both myths and rituals in religion.

or existential ones. Eventually. Far better representatives of the theory are thus Jane Harrison and Samuel Hooke.253. to be describing religion generally. Like philosophy for Aristotle. religion is primitive science. to which modern science is the successor . a wholly reflective. psychological. as subsumed. But Frazer in fact wavers inconsistently between the myth-ritualist theory and its Tylorean rival. The primitive. he personifies the souls. the leaders of the two main groups of mythritualists: the classicists and the Biblists. Other theories recognize that religion functions consciously for believers like science. Referring to the peoples of the ancient Near East.above all. Hooke says that they "were not occupied with general questions concerning the world but with certain practical and pressing This content downloaded from 134. which they attack for "over-intellectualizing"primitive man and primitive religion. by contrast.1975). The intellectualist theory views religion as an explanation. the way practices are in the intellectualist theory. the lesser known one. He criticizes myth-ritualists for their theory (1921:xxvii. Finally. The myth-ritualist theory. Religion here arises from necessity .is false while science is true. he invents myths to explain their actions. or gods. to which he is also attracted (Ackerman. The result is animism. abstract. note 1) and is in turn often criticized by them. which thereby become spirits. Their views are almost identical and constitute the purest form of myth-ritualism.30 on Sun. their notions of religion (and so of science) differ sharply. which is not so much ignored. The classic exponent of the intellectualist theory is the anthropologist Edward Tylor. The stress is on practice rather than belief. as modern man. concrete. not on what it either an explanation of the world or a means of controlling it . but they concern themselves instead with the unconscious social. regards religion as a resolutely practical. which Tylor equates with religion: the belief in the personification of the physical world. Both the intellectualist and the myth-ritualist theory focus on primitive religion. The main differencebetween religion and science is that religion .58. If both theories deem religion and science as similar. according to Tylor. religion represents a response to strictly intellectual problems. The myth-ritualist theory. They mean. almost sublime phenomenon. For both theories. almost mundane enterprise. to which the modern counterpart is technology. It is composed almost entirely of beliefs. In short. The classic exponent of the myth-ritualistic theory is generally believed to be the anthropologist and classicist James Frazer. and anthropological functions served by religion. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . religion arises from wonder from a desire to explain one's experiences. psychological.174 JOURNALFORTHE SCIENTIFICSTUDY OF RELIGION an explanation of the physical world. considers it a magical means of controlling the physical world. not practices.the modern counterpart to which is scientific theory. inhabiting all natural phenomena.the successor precisely because it serves the same functions as religion. is intellectually curious. then. Harrison and Hooke begin by pitting their theory of religion against Tylor's. but they regard modern religion as only a pale variant of it. from the need for food for survival. The emphasis is on what religion accomplishes. not to social. the primitive first postulates human souls and then ascribes souls to all of nature. In order to explain two particular observations. as eager to explain the world.

Myth becomes explanatory.253." says Hooke. the belief that the imitation of an action causes it to happen. and its repetition had equal potency with the performanceof the ritual" (1935: v).corresponds to the planting of seeds in the ground. culminate in the god's triumphant restoration to power and marriage to the goddess of vegetation. the thing done. In order to meet these needs the early inhabitants of Egypt and Mesopotamia developed a set of customary actions directed towards a definite end" (1933: 2-3). to ensure the regular flooding of the Nile. the recitation of the story whose outlines were enacted in the ritual." (1927: 328). and does not seem to satisfy any more fundamental need than curiosity" (1956: 43). The principal ritual. although in the course of time they were divorced and gave rise to widely differing literary. In ritual the desired end is acted out and thereby. to keep the sun and moon doing their duty. Men play the parts of the gods and imitate what they magically induce the gods to do. the ritual myth which is magical in character. a reason is sought in the myth and it is regardedas aetiological" (1927: 16)... Harrison speculates that primitive man eventually loses faith in the efficacy of ritual. only once it has ceased being magical. yet continues to practice it. as myth is from the start for Smith. Seeking a reason for ritual.. the chief god of the pantheon. however. it is believed. For Hooke. This was the myth. The rectitation of the myth is as magically potent as the performanceof the ritual: "Together with the ritual. he finds it in the myth: "When the emotion that started the ritual has died down and the ritual though hallowed by tradition seems unmeaning." says Harrison. effected. and inseparable from the ritual which is directed to certain fundamental needs of an early society. they grant that it can become an explanation. "and as an essential part of it there was always found . myth is an explanation of ritual and arises after the magical meaning of ritual has been forgotten.THEORYOF RELIGION MYTH-RITUALIST 175 problems of daily life. the ritual corresponds to the myth of the death and rebirth of the god of vegetation. is performed at New Year's. Those actions were rituals. is older than the aetiological myth. myth is the script of ritual and arises alongside it: "The primary meaning of myth. and so the ritual. when the planting takes place. For Harrison.. and myth-ritualists collectively say of primitive man everywhere:rituals arose as a means of controlling the otherwise uncontrollableforces of nature.. . . For Harrison and Hooke. Because the gods control nature... the aetiological.. What Hooke says of the ancient Near East Harrison says of ancient Greece. who then manipulate nature. Ritual does not manipulate nature directly. Their intercourse . The myth. "is the spoken correlative of the acted rite. Ritual works on the basis of what Frazer calls the "Law of Similarity": the magical belief that like produces like. As firmly as Harrison and Hooke deny that myth is an explanation. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . or explanatory. the aetiological This content downloaded from 134.58.the planting of his seed in her . Of this transformation Hooke says merely that "In the beginning the thing said and the thing done were inseparably united. By definition.30 on Sun. There were the main problems of securing the means of subsistence. artistic and religious forms" (1935: v-vi). which has no magical potency. all myth-ritualists presuppose that a relationshipof some kind exists between myth and ritual. It manipulates the gods... the enactment of the death and rebirth of vegetation. They differ only over what the relationship is. function of myth is almost frivolous: ". For William Robertson Smith.

See. In the first place. as nothing but an explantion.. it is argued. and even those who have accepted it have usually accorded it a minorplace in their schemes. In arguing that there is more to myths and rituals than magic. conceptions of myth and ritual elucidate the conceptions of religion held by theories of religion. Numerous myths and rituals. even if. for Harrison and Hooke religion has lost its true significance when it becomes an explanation. theories of myth and ritual facilitate the comparison of theories of religion. they make those views clearerthan they might otherwise be. Fontenrose. It is as useful to describe the fate of the myth-ritualist theory as to describe the theory itself. This content downloaded from 134.for example.58. not all theories deal with both myth and ritual 1. serve more than a magical function. On the one hand various theorists of religion have adopted it. Butler. For underlying every theory of religion is a fundamental conception of religion . Kirk. and true or false. Criticisms of the myth-ritualist theory fall into two categories:those which criticize the application of the theory to particularreligions and those which criticize the theory itself.. Frye. and Weston. which they have interpreted as the outgrowth of myths once tied to rituals. Ragland. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 1970: 12-31 and 1974: ch. which are far less important here.private or public. Where attention to the theory illuminates aspects of religion.176 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION function is well-nigh degenerate: "When the Kouretes lose faith in their [ritualistic] power to rear a child yearly they go on uttering their myth. helpful or harmful. Some of those who have rejected myth-ritualismhave nevertheless stressed the nonmagical links between myths and rituals. but they put it in the past and interpolate an explanatory conjunction markingthe decay of faith. The difference between Harrison and Hooke's view of religion and Tylor's could not be more stark. Because theories do not merely explain the same religious phenomena differently but commonly explain different phenomena. 2. for example. 10. and serves him admirably. The fate of the myth-ritualist theory has been mixed.253. a comparison is often difficult.2On the other hand most theorists of religion have rejected the theory. together or apart. Frankfort. for one or more of the reasons cited. deny that the theory fits either ancient Greek or ancient Israelite religion. rational or irrational. Because views of myth and ritual tend to carry to an extreme the views of religion they evince. Theories of myth and ritual focus on the same phenomenaand so permit clearercomparisons. 1948 and 1951.30 on Sun. Criticisms of the second kind deny that myths and rituals exist only in relationship to each other and that their primary function is magical. In the second place. as intellectual or nonintellectual in nature.spiritual or practical. to be sure. critics are arguing that there is more to religion than primitive science. attention to the fate of the theory illuminates aspects of the theories of religion which have treated myth and ritual. and numerous literary critics have applied it to secular works. Where for Tylor religion serves primitive man. Hyman. " (1927:330). For both kinds of criticism see Bascom. and Snaith.' Criticisms of the first kind. Others have emphasized the parallel functions served separately by myths and rituals. Brandon. Still others have focused on either myth or ritual alone. exist independently of each other and.

Evans-Pritchard. Whatever the connection between myth and ritual.. intellectually. he allows for rituals existing apart from myths as well." not always. those who concentrate most on myth or ritual are Emile Durkheim. which shapes what become merely variant expressions of is a collection of the means by which this is created and recreated periodically" (1965: 464). 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . ".an absence which is itself most revealing. The ritual serves both to inculcate and to renew belief: "In fact. for each of the theories. and consequentially. .the cult [ritual]is derived from the beliefs. Securing obedience to society is exactly the function of religion for Durkheim.For the theories cut across the typical division of religion into a variety of aspects .to spur "citizens" to obey the innumerable laws of society which are ascribed to that god. an experimentalproof of his beliefs. of interior peace. Durkheim's subordination of ritual to belief does not disqualify him as a mythritualist.253.for example. If myth is thus subordinate to ritual. E.. Among the leading theorists of religion.58. By contrast. Likely. of enthusiasm which are. Radcliffe-Brown. Similarly. So the rite serves and can serve only to sustain the vitality of these beliefs. For him the heart of religion is not the belief in god but the experience of god. religion is certainly a This content downloaded from 134. The cult is not simply a system of signs by which the faith is outwardly translated. In the third place. . ritual for Durkheimis far more important than myth. whoever has really practised a religion knows very well that it is the cult which gives rise to these impressions of joy. Talcott Parsons. is a considerably unified phenomenon.only of religion as a whole." (1965: 121). Peter Berger. they interpret myth not simply intellectually but experientially. For Harrison and Hooke... and Clifford Geertz do not single out myth or ritual but instead subsume both under their analyses of religion overall. What they say of religion overall certainly applies to myth and ritual. the theories interpret ritual experientially. or could deny. ritualistic. ideological. As he says. Glock and Stark's by-nowstandard division of religion into experiential. R.. Writing before Harrison and Hooke but after Robertson Smith. Mary Douglas. of serenity. theories of myth and ritual suggest that religion. especially when its sense is no longer apparent"(1965: 121). theorists like Max Weber. that ritual presupposes some beliefs which account for its supposed efficacy. "modelledafter the rite . religion for each theory may have just one dimension. The experience of god serves. but they themselves are not theorists of myth or ritual in particular. and consequential dimensions (1976: 18-38). Durkheim says that myth arises following ritual in order to explain it: "In principle. the myth is frequently modelled after the rite in orderto account for it. ideologically. A. E. the myth is frequently. which Durkheim most confusingly calls "mythology": "But the mythology of a group is the system of beliefs common to this group. and (above all) ritualistically. . to keep them from being effaced from memory . Rather than distinguishing the ritualistic dimension from the others. What does disqualify him is his allowance for myths existing apart from rituals. Instead of having many dimensions. and Claude Levi-Strauss.30 on Sun." (1965: 419-220). ritual is in turn subordinate to general religious beliefs. for the believer.THEORYOF RELIGION MYTH-RITUALIST 177 . moreover. Robert Bellah. and that experience occurs whenever the members of society amass to perform a ritual. for no myth-ritualist denies. consequentially. Bronislaw Malinowski. yet it reacts upon them.. intellectual.

Where Durkheim considers myth less important than ritual. he is a man who is stronger. and where Harrison and Hooke consider it as important as ritual. Myth justifies phenomena by rooting them in the primordialactions of gods or men: "The function of myth.. As different as their views are. not social: it serves to secure not obedience but crops. the only possible one. and ritual.. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .his distinction between magic and religion is on other grounds . But the believers .253.. or to conquer them" (1965: 463-464). either to endure the trials of existence. Durkheim thus condemns Tylor's view of religion as uncompromisinglyas Harrison and Hooke do: "The theorists who have undertaken to explain religion in rational terms have generally seen in it before all else a system of ideas. Myth declares those events not proper or beneficial but only irrevocable. Malinowski also rejects Tylor's intellectualist view of religion: "Tylor's view of primitive religion. Myth says of human mortality. to justify phenomena:"The myth comes into play when rite. he says.. Still. Religion for both serves foremost to effect matters. The justification provided for these phenomena serves the individual more than society and is therefore ultimately psychological. or a social or moral rule demands justification. The believer who has communicated with his god is not merely a man who sees new truths of which the unbeliever is ignorant. have been lost by a small accident which it would have been in the power of a child and a woman to prevent" (1948: 113-114).30 on Sun. it justifies in a single. both Durkheim and Harrison and Hooke regard religion as fundamentallypractical. The justificatory function is thus ultimately a social one.Myth does not rationalize the world.. Conversely. in the wake of primordialevents. Whatever phenomena myth concerns. and sanctity" (1948: 84-85). and lesser unpleasantries of life. object to this way of regarding it. Ritual produces that euphoric state. ceremony. briefly. Writing a decade or more after Durkheim. reality. Myth also justifies phenomena which are basically individual in nature and only coincidentally social: death. It pronounces the world not the best possible one but. that "The longed-forpower of eternal youth and the faculty of rejuvenation which gives immunity from decay and age. magic. not to explain them. it thereby makes the world more acceptable than it would otherwise be. kinship systems. morality. even if the survival of society depends on them. disease.58.. important as it was.. for example.. is to strengthen tradition and endow it with a greater value and prestige by tracing it back to a higher. but its function is magical. better. and it made early man too contemplative and rational" (1948: 2). religion for Durkheim may involve the magical manipulation of nature .178 JOURNALFORTHE SCIENTIFICSTUDY OF RELIGION social phenomenon. more supernaturalreality of initial events" (Malinowski. was based on too narrowa range of facts. Malinowski considers it more important than ritual. Where the function of religion for Harrison and Hooke is magical and for Durkheim social. It serves. Myth justifies phenomena of diverse kinds: not only natural occurrences and catastrophes but also. warrant of antiquity. He feels within him more force. The survival of society depends on the continuing acceptance or practice of these phenomena. for Malinowski it is both psychological and social.but its ultimate function is social. beliefs.1948: 122). limited way: not by making them good but by making them unavoidable. for example. This content downloaded from 134.

social . All the ritual expresses that belief.Nor is the final function of ritual magical but. Malinowski shares the anti-intellectualist stance of the myth-ritualists." instill social support by stirring social feelings. or "ceremonials.a contemporaryof Malinowski's. it is social and. in which case there are myths without rituals. however. to justify it: "There is no important magic. a charter. against the corroding doubt.253. the obedience it gains for society is more important.. the function of primitive religion can hardly be explanatory. but in both they arise mainly during emotional crises and serve to alleviate distress: "Let us start with the religious act par excellence. and the belief is spun out into accounts of concrete precedent. not evaluations of the world but responses to it. that emotional attitude which the dying man requires. For both. going beyond Smith. the ceremonialof death..MYTH-RITUALIST THEORYOF RELIGION 179 Despite the important though limited consolation that myth offers the individual. Conversely. The union is very intimate. from which the savage is no more free than the civilized man. better. Even if he is not truly a myth-ritualist.. For Malinowski. primarily. and often even a practical guide to the activities with which it is connected" (1948: 85). as for Robertson Smith.the final function of myth is not magical or even explanatory but. Radcliffe-Brown. psychological and so likewise has nothing to do with myth-ritualism.. myth and ritual are not reflections on the world but means of coping with it. that it is not worse than present life. These acts are directed against the overwhelming fear. as noted..." (1948: 379). Denying "the hypothesis. no ritual without belief. or "sentiments." In the fashion of Durkheim.. and it does so through both myths and rituals. Rituals operate differently in magic and religion. Rather. most usually adopted by English writers on anthropology. but it is a warrant. Rituals.. Religion serves to instill support for society. in contrast to Malinowski's view. myth and ritual work in tandem. even if there are no rituals without myths. For myth serves to explain and justify not only ritual but. However different their functions.. Malinowski's inclusion of ritual among the phenomena explained and justified by myth does not. myth serves to explain ritual and thereby. Because primitive man is indifferent to explaining the world. constraining him to join in the common activity and regulate his This content downloaded from 134.a function which has nothing to do with myth-ritualism.. make him a true myth-ritualist. opposes Tylor's cognitive view of religion no less forcefully than he. And this affirmation has behind it weight of numbers and the pomp of solemn ritual" (1948: 42). Never does an individual need the comfort of belief and ritual so much as in the sacrament of the viaticum. is exclusively social. What is true of myth and ritual is true of religion overall. that the beliefs of savage peoples are due to attempts on the part of primitive man to explain to himself the phenomena of life and nature" (1948: 232)... rituals stir feelings of solidarity. phenomenaof all kinds. ritual is more important for the individual than for society.30 on Sun. These acts confirm his hope that there is a hereafter. and dependence toward society itself: ". . good will. primarily. for myth is not only looked upon as a commentary of additional information.58. no ceremony. in the dance the individual feels the society acting upon him..which is the greatest comfort he can have in his supreme conflict. Moreover. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . indeed. he says that in actuality "The Andaman Islander has no desire to understand the processes of nature as a scientist would wish to do .

. giving him the experienceof a great increase of his own personal force or energy" (1948: 326). 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Among the leading contemporary theorists of religion the two who have concentratedmost on myth or ritual are Douglas This content downloaded from 134..253.. Only the social side counts. no myth-ritualist of any kind. and exactly the way in which they do so for Malinowski: by rooting phenomena in unalterable events of long ago and thereby justifying them." (1948: 398)." or impact on society: "[ I ]f the community did not mournwhen it lost one of its members. He is.... In contrast to Malinowski. when he so acts in harmony with them. thereby weakening the social cohesion" (1948: 297). as they do in part for Malinowski. I would rather hold the view that the belief in a surviving soul is not the cause but the effect of the rites. For him. as for Malinowski. and intellecualist views have re-emerged. which Radcliffe-Brown uses interchangeably with "legends. The bad temper of one of the ancestors resulted in darkness covering the earth.. he mentions none. Myths "assume that if a force is once set into action it will continue to act indefinitely. as for Durkheim. Where for Malinowski ritual prompts feelings toward phenomenawhich affect principallythe individual.180 JOURNALFORTHE SCIENTIFICSTUDY OF RELIGION actions to conform with those of others. Although Radcliffe-Brown does not rule out any "collaboration"between them. Myths for Radcliffe-Brown bolster society in an additional way. matters.. and.. a myth about death provokes feelings of loss for the dead ..A preoccupation with the effect of religion has given way to a concern for its meaning as well.58.. positive or negative. religion is a tool. Radliffe-Brown deems ritual more important than myth. ritual is the heart of religion: "For example. The function Radcliffe-Brownaccords myth and ritual evinces his unabashedly practical view of religion.. in order to alleviate personal anxiety but in order to impress on the living the value to society of every individual. that feeling of the social value of individuals on which the existence of the society depends would soon diminish in strength.. for Radcliffe-Brown it prompts feelings toward phenomena which affect all society. A cicada was crushed and cried out and the night came. Myths. however.30 on Sun. In this respect Radcliffe-Brownstands even further from Tylor than Malinowski.. Rituals also stir feelings of love and hate toward phenomena which have a positive or negative "social value. then. For him... and since then the darkness has come every evening as soon as the cicada sings" (1922: 385). My suggestion is that in attempting to understand a religion it is on the rites rather than on the beliefs that we should first concentrate our attention" (1952: 155). The emotional side of religion fazes him as little as the intellectual side. Myths and rituals serve the same function. Like a funeral ritual. as for the other critics of Tylor. not its content. The young men who failed to observe the rules laid down for those who have recently been through one of the initiation ceremonies were turned to stone .." in part uphold society by similarly kindling feelings. toward phenomena with a social value: "The legends give us in the first place a simple and crude valuation of human actions. it is sometimes held that funeral and mourning rites are the result of a belief in a soul surviving death. but they do not serve it together.not. and its utility. In the last twenty years a reaction to the lopsided emphasis by all of these "functionalists" on the practical aspects of religion has inevitably developed.

His action has not wasted time. for Malinowski. For Douglas. For Harrison and Hooke. if not of myth. Radcliffe-Brown. Its effect. as for Malinowski.not Tylor himself but his critics.Levi Strauss dealing largely with myth and Douglas dealing almost wholly with ritual. The meaning is at most a means to that effect. He is seeking to demarcate one season from another and thereby order his life. or "frame.Malinowski. is symbolic. There is a comfortable assumption in the roots of our culture that foreigners know no true spiritual religion. and its true function is intellectual: "The Dinka herdsman. or to relieve anxiety. . The Dinka is not.58. as for Harrison and Hooke. On this assumption Frazer'sgrandiose descriptionof primitive magic took root and flourished. But instrumental efficacy is not the only kind of efficacy to be derived from their symbolic action. a symbol of delay. or to unify society. and in that respect no less practical.and in part Durkheimas well: "It is not difficult to trace the idea that primitives expect their rites to have external efficacy. healing rituals [magically] avert death. He does not then dawdle home thinking that the action will itself be effective. is primary.THEORYOF RELIGION MYTH-RITUALIST 181 and Levi-Strauss . the reverse is true. Thus he expresses outwardly his wish that the cooking may be delayed for his return. her criticisms apply to their views of religion in general. Because Douglas' opponents in fact regard modernreligion as only a derivative of primitive religion. and psychological ones. . primitive man performs a fertility rite. social." (1966: 72). and that it is an exclusively primitive phenomenon. not the effect. in other words. The real difference between Douglas and her antagonists is that she concentrates on the meaning. that its function is magical.. and Radcliffe-Brown. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . harvest rituals [magically]produce crops. that rain rituals will [magically] cause rain. When. trying to manipulate nature. as for Durkheim. The other kind is achieved in the action itself.. than magical. on either society or the individual. The ritual expresses not his feelings. Douglas begins by attacking her predecessors . the meaning of myth or ritual is secondary. in the assertions it makes . She criticizes them for making a series of false assumptions: that the meaning of ritual is literal. she scarcely qualifies as a mythritualist. Like her fellow theorists. organizes an individual's life and.about the meaning of seasonal change: "Of course the Dinka hope . holds not only for Harrison and Hooke but. in its thrust. He is trying instead to organize. hurrying home to supper. She certainly acknowledges that ritual has an effect ." (1966: 63-64). Malinowski.whom she takes as a myth-ritualist. when This content downloaded from 134. . he is not seeking to produce good crops. contends Douglas.and Radcliffe-Brown.30 on Sun. Whether or not she would say that myths serve the same function as rituals." his experience by concentrating on the need to be home soon. as if primitive tribes were populations of Ali Babas and Aladdins. but his beliefs . Because Douglas writes about rituals alone. as for Durkheim and Radcliffe-Brown. the function rituals serve is for her no less indispensable. Durkheim. Magic was carefully separated from other ceremonial. of ritual..The rite holds no magic promise that he will now be in time for supper. He redoubles his haste.What she says of Frazer. knots a bundle of grass at the wayside.253. The true meaning of ritual. uttering their magic words and rubbing their magic lamps" (1966: 58). for it has sharpened the focus of his attention on his wish to be in time .

Where for Tylor myth evinces the content of primitive thought. a world view for its own sake. In fact. If ritual is a means to an end. Myth resolves a contradiction "dialectically. concerns her more. As close to Tylor as Levi-Strauss seems to be. That conflict is simply the projection onto the world of the oppositional character of man's mind.. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . but his criticism of Tylor . partly resolves an instance of the clash between nature and culture by noting that man is able to tolerate a parallel case of the clash: "Although the problem [i. Either tactic serves to narrowand thereby alleviate the contradiction. ". for Levi-Strauss myth evinces its less significant here than his praise of him for his intellectualist approach. the end is intellectual or.58. man thinks in the form of classifications and projects them onto the world. and so a part of nature. to phrase it coarsely. but neither fully resolves it... resolved]. but also resolves them: ". the feeling in Malinowski was that the thought of the people he was studying. What he says of Malinowski applies also to Harrison and Hooke. so Douglas is interested in ritual as an expression of. .. organizes a society .." (1955: 443). Myth is distinctive because it not only expresses oppositions. replaces the original problem .. contradiction." a contradiction which stems from the conflict man experiences between himself as an animal.30 on Sun. Levi-Strauss begins by criticizing Tylor's anti-intellectualist critics.. but all human activities display man's pairing impulse. was entirely. he is actually most critical of him. pairs of oppositions.. This content downloaded from 134.253. the purpose of myth is to provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction. and so a part of culture.. these people whom we usually consider as completely subservient to the need of not starving . but more easily resolved..182 JOURNALFORTHE SCIENTIFICSTUDY OF RELIGION practiced in common.e. serve to make a statement about human experience.for regarding religion and especially myth as inferior science rather than a different brand of science . . for example. For her.those expressed in myth are of innumerable kinds. the overrating of blood relations [nature]is to the underrating of blood relations [culture] as the attempt to escape autochthony [nature] is to the impossibility to succeed in it [culture]"(1955: 434). existential: the experience of an orderly world... He thinks in the form of not just any classifications but.. which are equivalent to contradictions. the outlook it expresses. . the Oedipus myth provides a kind of logical tool which. Like the contradictionsexpressed in other phenomena. and in part Durkheim:".. specifically. better." Not only myths and science.but its meaning. and religion generally. Myth reveals the way man thinks. its nature and their society" (1978: 16). not to make man feel better or act better.e. ultimately. Just as Tylor is interested in myth as an explanation for its own sake. By a correlationof this type [i. RadcliffeBrown. the opposition] obviously cannot be solved [i. which Levi-Strauss calls "binary oppositions. of the original opposition with an analogous one]. The Oedipus myth. All. are apparently reducible to instances of the fundamental contradiction between "nature" and "culture." by providing either a mediating middle term or an analogous. are perfectly capable of disinterested thinking. ritual.e. According to Levi-Strauss. they are moved by a need or a desire to understand the world around them. which Levi-Strauss treats as taxonomies. Like Douglas.. or is. that is. determinedby the basic needs of life" (1978: 15). however. and himself as a human being.

on the other hand.253. of a myth. are to each other as events C and D.e. The Indians of North America explain this by saying that if death did not exist. which is identical with the expression and resolution of contradictions. for instance. or "diachronic dimension. which for him is the expression of human thinking. much farther off. If death were considerably closer.. are to each other. Although Levi-Strauss devotes far less attention to rituals than to myths. which leads to set four. fail to resolve oppositions to even this extent. The Tsimshian myth of Asdiwal. In justifying death myth partly resolves the opposition between it and life. it serves to justify man's experience of the world.that individual myths have to one another. and to justify it in the fullest sense of the term.58. Myth shows that the world is better than it seems. each composed of a pair of oppositions resolved one way or the other. since the extremie[i. A myth has the same relationship to other myths that its parts have to one another. which constitute the same opposition. not (as for Malinowski)that it is simply venerable and unalterable. the earth would become overpopulated and there would not be room for everyone" (1972: 74)." of myth and locates its meaning in the structure. and the set composed of those three or four myths represents the "transformation" rather than the consequence of its predecessor. The justification myth provides the resolution of a logical or mathematical puzzle. as for Douglas.MYTH-RITUALIST THEORYOF RELIGION 183 Other myths. or set one is to set two as set three is to set four. not of an emotional or. by which he means those which adhere to the chronology. Like Douglas he certainly notes the effect of myth but is more concernedwith its meaning.say. In whatever way myth remedies the oppositions it expresses. even the effect of myth is for him scrupulously intellectual. an analogous opposition. all would be chaos and disorder. which leads to set three. is either that events A and B constitute an opposition mediated by event C or that events A and B. serves "to justify the shortcomings [i..Myth justifies death. Finally.30 on Sun. the contradictions] of reality. every myth contains a series of oppositional sets. He alone dispenses with the plot. Indeed. . by demonstrating that it is superior to immortality: ". for example. Put another way. The relationship among the sets matches that among the elements within each set.e.for example. alternative]positions are only imagined in orderto show that they are untenable" (1967: 30). or. myths collectively have the same relationship to other human phenomena . to political and kinship systems .the structure. Its meaning lies not in itself but in its "dialectical" relationship with two or three other myths. . They serve to express and This content downloaded from 134. Levi-Strauss concentrates more on the meaning of myth than on the effect. In calling his interpretation of myth "structuralist" Levi-Strauss intends to distinguish it from "narrative"interpretations. death could in fact be much closer. which leads to event C. however. either set three mediates the opposition between set one and set two." Where the plot of a myth . 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . or "synchronic dimension. Like Douglas. which leads to event D . Rather than set one's leading to set two. he does interpret rituals in the same way that he interprets myths. event A leads to event B. or plot.Surely the history of the interpretationof myth and ritual (and religion generally) has come full circle. They show instead that any alternative arrangementis worse. existential predicament.

The Library. 12 vols. Brandon. First published in English in 1915. Third ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University. New York: Pantheon. so his interpretation of the connection between myths and rituals marks a return to the emphasis of Harrison and Hooke on their conjunction. 1913 Ancient Art and Ritual London:Williams and Norgate.James G. Hooke. Frazer Lecture. 1933 Ed.: 1912.Jane E. Durkheim. 1948 The Myth of the Magus. Cambridge: Cambridge University.30 on Sun." Journal of the History of Ideas 36: 115-134. but he does say that they have the same dialectical relationship to each other that groups of myths have to one another and that groups of rituals have to one another. CharlesY. William 1970 "The myth-ritual theory. 20 Oct 2013 06:16:18 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Frankfort. Frazer.Emile 1965 The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.First ed: 1890.S. 1958: ch. New York: Macmillan.London:SPCK. like the myth-ritualist view itself. and Rodney Stark 1965 Religion and Society in Tension. 1905 The Religion of Ancient Greece.Joseph 1966 The Ritual Theory of Myth. Levi-Strauss does not go so far as to say that myths and rituals operate together. This survey of theories of myth and ritual shows the range of alternatives to the myth-ritualist view of myths and rituals. 1970 Natural Symbols. Loeb Classical Library. Northrop 1957 Anatomy of Criticism. London: Constable. 1922 Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. Princeton: PrincetonUniversity. M. Glock. 1935 Ed. 1958 "The myth and ritual position critically considered. 1921 Introductionto Apollodorus. The study of individual cases makes myths and rites appear as different transformations of identical elements" (1976: 65-66). First ed.London:Routledgeand Kegan Paul. First ed: 1903. 1950.58.184 JOURNALFORTHE SCIENTIFICSTUDY OF RELIGION resolve the contradictions man experiences between nature and culture. Butler. 9. 1938 The Origins of Early Semitic Ritual Schweich Lectures. Tr. nonstructuralist]term-to-termcorrespondenceexists between two orders (whetherthe rite acts out the myth. REFERENCES Ackerman. Folklore Studies No. Frye. Rand McNally. Even if all of these alternatives prove false.Seconded. according to which a [chronological. though now in a structuralist form: "The current theory. 1921 Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Cambridge: Cambridge Religion. Douglas. Mary 1966 Purity andDanger. This content downloaded from 134. 1911.: Myth and Ritual London: Oxford University. Just as his interpretation of myths and rituals separately marks a return to the intellectualist emphasis of Tylor. The Problem of Similarity in Ancient Near Eastern Religions. G.253. University. Chicago: University of Chicago. 18. Third ed. Samuel H. First ed. F. Oxford:Clarendon. London:Oxford University. Fontenrose.The Golden Bough. Joseph Ward Swain. 1935. still serve to suggest the importanceof myths and rituals in understanding both religion and theories of religion. they. is reducible to the particular case of a more general [structuralist] relation. 1915 London:Macmillan. Tr."In Hooke. Bascom. E. Harrison. or the myth explicates the rite).Robert 1975 "Frazer on myth and ritual.: The Labyrinth. 1927 Themis. London:Heinemann. New York: Macmillan. Berkeleyand Los Angeles: University of California. Chicago: Frazer.Henri 1948 1951 Kingship and the Gods." Journal of AmericanFolklore 70: 103-114.

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