Teaching ritual

Yesterday I had one of the greatest experiences in my teaching so far (I am not sure if my students would agree, I will ask them next week!). I have been developing this Mastercourse on ritual studies for two years now. And I figured that you cannot keep teaching ritual by only taking about it, you have to experience it.

What we did, after discussing theories on the body and material dimensions of meaning in the morning, in the afternoon,¬† we enacted a ritual that was constructed during the lecture by different groups of students. We did not pre-discuss it in advance expect that the topic of the ritual should be about “saying goodbye”, but let it more or less¬†happen spontaneously to be ritualized on the spot. Of course, the students have been preparing different ritual gestures for some weeks now, but we never really experienced a ritual during class. So this was a first and I have to say that the effects where immediately visible, as we discovered during the reflection afterwards. The ritual finally took more than 45 minutes, which is quite long for a first time, but everybody (around 20 people) participated truly. We moved from the class room outside where colleagues and fellow-students could see us, looking curiously what we were doing and no one from our group “broke the chain” of the ritual progress. We also had some moments of laughter (and relief I guess), when at some point the ritual progress had a long pause with nothing happening for what felt a really long time. I deliberately wanted these moments to happen, which is also why we did not plan too much in advance, by experiencing these little “mistakes” we felt what ritual efficacy is all about. What I liked most about the student’s ritual gestures is that they where not overly verbalized, but they used different ritual elements and focused a lot on action. The objects used in the ritual transformed and were filled with meanings. Objects used were: pieces of paper, pens, sunflower seeds, a golden thread, earth, an envelope (which evoked quite a lot of fears actually as it contained some most private undesirable images). I know that I could not have taught this course in this way if I wouldn’t have Ron Grimes as my teacher. Thank you Ron for keeping to inspire me and teaching ritual in such a true and honest way.