Ritual has been a part of every culture since ancient times. But cultures are ever-changing and evolving, and so while some of these rituals have survived over centuries, others have changed and adapted, and completely new ones have arisen.
Each ritual and tradition that took shape in early times would have responded to the needs of its particular society. In their historical contexts, each traditional practice had its purpose. For example, there were (and still are) practices that enabled groups of people to share a sense of identity – a sense of who they were as a group; or gave them the means to deal with crisis; or helped them to accept the mysteries of the universe.
In farming societies, for example, there were very old rituals related to the weather, and to their ability as farmers or hunters to produce food. Other rituals and rites enabled people to confront illness, or perceived bad luck, or death. Joyful rituals marked marriage, the coming together of families, and the birth of children.
Have you recently experienced any ritual in your community or family?
Some ancient rituals focused on the passage from childhood to adulthood, which we will discuss later. Many societies had, and still have, rituals that enable individuals to mark their transition from one stage of life to another, or for the young to benefit from older wisdom and experience. Are you aware of any rituals that mark a transition from childhood to adulthood?
Family traditions: Thinking, writing and talking about our own traditional practices
- Think about traditions or customs in your own extended family. Write down, just for yourself, any traditions that you know of that have been practised by members of your family for a long, long time.
- At home: discuss this with your parents, grandparents, or other older members of the family. After consulting them, add what you have learnt to your written notes. Back in class, share this information, either in small groups, or with the whole class. You might have traditional objects you wish to show as part of your presentation, or otherwise just a description.
- Which of the traditions presented in class are shared by two or more of your peers?
- What do you think the original purpose was of some of these traditions when they first arose in their societies?
- Which of these traditions have stayed exactly the same, as far as you can tell, over many generations? How can you tell? Which of these traditions have changed, or even almost disappeared, among some members of your family?
- Why do you think some traditions in your family have remained the same, and others not?
- Can (or should) traditions change to incorporate knowledge gained in the modern world? Think, for example, of advances in science or medicine that might impact old traditions.