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Driver, Tom F. Liberating Rites: Understanding the Transformative Power of Ritual. BookSurge, 2006.

Ch. 9 Transformation, pp.166-91.


Liminality is the mother of invention! Victor Turner
Having considered two of the three great gifts that rituals make to social life-the establishment of order and
the deepening of communal life-we are now to take up the third and most important, which is to assist the
dynamic of social change through ritual processes of transformation. (166)
We cannot well appreciate the power of ritual unless we see its usefulness to those in need, especially those
who having little social power and, being the victims of injustice, have a need for the social structure to be
transformed. (166)
Many persons in Western society are skeptical of any transformative powers that may be claimed for ritual.
This skepticism, being partly a matter of ideology, is strongest in those sectors of society that would have
the most to lose were any major social transformation to occur. (166)
people educated in the Western style tend to assume that only cultures or subcultures less enlightened than
our own have recourse to magic. (167)
On Van Gennep and magico-religious: Religion cannot be religion without performance, in all the senses
of performance The aim of religion is not simply intellectual understanding; it is also, and primarily,
transformative action, for this the principal techniques is ceremonies, rites, and services. Ritual-making
may not be a religions first or last word but is surely its most essential. A religion is a praxis, a certain way
of acting or attempting to act in the world, and this is established through a certain way of acting ritually.
(169)
Religion and sympathetic magic: the fervent desire present in many religions for transformation of the
external world-that crops may grow, that disaster be avoided (172)
Following Van Gennep: when people divorce religion form magic they end up with metaphysics on the
one hand, empirical science on the other, and religion gone. (172)
While some persons would like to preserve religion, if only it could be purified of all magic, some
others hold that religion, no less than magic, is a system of illusion. The best argument against
religion, however, is not that it is illusory but that because it is powerful it is dangerous. Since this
argument could be used against all forms of power in the world, it proves not that religion should
cease but that it should be subject to moral and intellectual critique. What is wanted is not the
elimination of all power, without which life could not continue, but its transformation into beneficent
forms. Religion should be judged by its contribution to its end.
The business of religions and their rituals, then, is to effect transformation, not only of
persons individual subjectivities but also transformations of society and the natural world. In a
religious perspective, the personal, societal, and physical realms are not isolated from each other but
participate together in a single field of divine power. The word magic, which serves to remind us
that ritual is a means of confronting power with power, is also a reminder that not all power is
physical and material. (172)
If the power of ritual to effect change is denied, causing religion to become, as Van Gennep said,
metaphysics, then in that case the understanding of the world becomes the task of pure intellect, and its
transformation the work of scientific technology. That is a dangerous situation because it masks tow truths
that are best known through the practice of ritual: first, that the agencies affecting human destiny, whether
they be human or divine or aspects of nature or some combination of theses, are of a personal character and
should be addressed performatively; and second, that communal life without such performance becomes a
mockery of itself, drained little by little of the experience of communitas and the recognition of the human
as human. (173)
[T]here is something healthy about rituals assumption that human reality is essentially dramatic, that at
bottom life is not something to be treated, as scientifically based medicine treats a disease, but something
to be enacted, as in the enactment of ones own being in the world or the enactment of a cure. The clearer
case is moral: when we understand ourselves as agents active in a world made up of other purposive beings,
our sense of self and responsibility is heightened. The person who performs a rain dance or goes to church
to pray for rain is at least doing something, and probably with more self-awareness than the person who
watches TV weather report and waits with passive impotence for the sky to change. (174)
Spirit is life. To view the world spiritually is to view it as full of personal agency, and this is
precisely what ritual does: It takes reality as something to be enacted, a point we may also state the
other way around by saying that ritual takes enactment as reality. The persons who perform a ritual
are inserting their own present actions, their own subjectivity and interactions with others, into a
holistic understanding of the world. They aim at a transformation of the world, or some part of it,
through the work that they do; not as detached manipulators of objectified things that behave
according to invariant rules, but as free agents actively impinging upon other free agents in a spirited
worldthe most distinctive feature is not the repetitive pattern but the performance of direct address
to the powers being confronted or invoked. (175-176)
What we can say is that certain transformationstook place during the ritual (182)
Quoting Bobby Alexander: planned or improvised performance that effects a transition from everyday life
to an alternative framework within which the everyday is transformed. (183)
rituals are in fact not changeless, and the attempt to make them so violates their nature. Instruments of
transformation, they are themselves transformed by the processes of which they are a part (185)
Qtg Thomas Peterson: [the] meaning of ritual is never fixed and is always shifting because its meaning
comes from its use. (187)
We learn by doing. This includes the doing of ritual. What we learn by doing is not only the ritual and how
it has been performed before. We discover how to do it next time. We discover something of the world the
ritual belongs to and aims to transform. Ritual knowledge, Jennings holds, is gained by and through the
bodynot by detached observation or contemplation but through action. (188)
Ritual is neither a detached contemplation of the world nor a passive symbolization of it but is the
performance of an act with which people confront one kind of power with another, and rehearse their own
future. (188)
Qtg Turner: [Ritual]through its liminal processes, holds the generating source of culture and structure.
(189)
Following Turner: [T]his inventiveness is related dialectically to the powers and structures of society as
they exist at the time of the ritual performance. This means that ritual stands in contradiction to society,
while at the same time being a part of it. We might say that ritual embodies the principle of growth or
dynamic process through which a society transcends itself, praising, evaluating, rebuking, and remolding
life as it it is presently lived. As Turner puts it; performance is often a critique, direct or veiled, of the social
life it grows out of, an evaluation (with lively possibilities of rejection) of the way society handles history.
(189)
Qtg. Turner: cultural performances are not simple reflectors or expressions of culture or even of changing
culture but may themselves be active agencies of change, representing the eye by which culture sees itself
and the drawing board on which creative actors sketch out what they believe to be more apt or interesting
designs for living. (189)
The liminality of ritual is the power of transcendence, of no-saying, of expressing what society and
culture deny, of unmasking pretension, of elevating persons and things of low degree, and of
putting down the mighty from their seats (Luke 1: 52-53) Performance makes present. Because it
is performance and not verbal description or exhortation, ritual brings the far-away, the long-ago,
and the not-yet into the here-and-now. Because it is performance, ritual produces its effects not
simply in the minds but also in the bodies of its performers. (190)
Since the transformative potential of rituals is very high and not always directed toward ethically justifiable
ends, it is fearsome. (191)