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Author Topic: Rituals and Moral Inversion  (Read 903 times)

Yei

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Rituals and Moral Inversion
« on: January 06, 2019, 05:23:20 pm »
Rituals and Moral Inversions:


Over the past few months I’ve written a few articles on Aztec gods when I came across something interesting. I noticed that in several rituals something occurred that I found very interesting. I can only describe them as moral inversions. Let’s explain with examples. I first noticed this phenomenon when reading about Etzalcualiztli. During this festival priests were allowed to rob people they met on the road during their ritual processions, including official tribute bearers! This would never be allowed at any other time. In Panquetzliztli warriors and priests engaged in mock street battles with each other. Again, this social conflict would not be allowed at any other time of the year.

There are countless other examples. Based on the descriptions found in the Florentine Codex, ritualized robber occurs in more than a few. Street fighting also occurred in Ochpaniztli, and not just among warriors, as women also fought in this month. Rituals also frequently involved copious amounts of drinking. Normally, alcohol consumption was strictly controlled, and public drunkenness severely punished. Even human sacrifice can be seen as a form of moral inversion. Normally murder was strictly prohibited, and Mesoamericans reacted to it pretty much the same way we do. Except of course, during rituals.

Now, there are some very clear reasons for some of these exceptions and understanding them relies on comprehending the nature of rituals. Rituals serve to return the earth to an earlier, primordial state when the gods walked freely. Ceremonies then re-enact the original events which created the order of the world. Since the creation of the world required a sacrifice, this sacrifice had to be repeated. Alcohol consumption brings people closer to the spiritual power of the gods. However, this power was amoral, and potentially dangerous if misused, and so had to be controlled. During a ritual however, the order of the world had to be remade anyway and so bringing the gods into the world was acceptable. Plenty of other ritual activities can be understood this way. In addition, there is the transactive elements of many rituals, such as gift giving, burning incense, and prayers.

However, I can’t explain the street fighting or the robbery. I’m sure that Motecuhzoma did not want his tribute being stolen. I can’t imagine that he liked street fighting much either. It could be that these events were intended to recreate part of a myth. But I don’t know which part. Alternatively, these acts may have had a social function, or making a statement about the nature of life. Just focusing on the robbery of people by priests, we must remember that the priests were acting as Ehecameh, or wind spirits. These spirits usually mind their own business, but can become very hostile towards people, spreading misfortune in their wake. So maybe the theft of goods was intended to highlight the transiency of material possessions, and how these goods depend on the good will of the gods.

The street fighting may have had a strategic function. It kept warriors and society in generally prepared for combat and familiar with war and violence. Especially as these fights occurred around the time of the war season. But why were priests involved in Panquetzliztli? Why did they fight against the warriors? Did it build esprit du corps for the priestly orders? Does it reflect a struggle between the religious elements of the Mexica government and the military? As far as I know, no such conflict existed. Or was it intended to bring the two together through a shared experience? I just don’t know. Or, perhaps the simple reason these kinds of actions were permitted was just to let off steam in an otherwise strict society.

It occurred to me that similar moral inversions may exist in other religions too, and that the reasons for these actions may be clearer, or else better understood. I would be interested in hearing about these types of rituals from other people here, and if anyone has any theories or explanations for this type of behaviour during rituals.

[Edited to make the header not disproportionately huge - SP]
« Last Edit: January 08, 2019, 03:29:29 pm by SunflowerP »

ehbowen

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2019, 09:52:32 am »
It occurred to me that similar moral inversions may exist in other religions too, and that the reasons for these actions may be clearer, or else better understood. I would be interested in hearing about these types of rituals from other people here, and if anyone has any theories or explanations for this type of behaviour during rituals.

Well, it's not part of my (Baptist) tradition other than something to be decried, but one thing which springs immediately to mind is Fat Tuesday/Carnival.
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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2019, 05:11:26 pm »
Fat Tuesday/Carnival.

This was what came to my mind as well, but not in connection to ritual - I could have sworn I also remember hearing about occasions on which the nobility and peasantry would switch places, too, in say the middle ages-ish but can't put my mental finger on any possible sources for this (and again it's not in a ritual context).
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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2019, 05:17:39 pm »
This was what came to my mind as well, but not in connection to ritual - I could have sworn I also remember hearing about occasions on which the nobility and peasantry would switch places, too, in say the middle ages-ish but can't put my mental finger on any possible sources for this (and again it's not in a ritual context).

I have the same vague memory of something like that in the Middle Ages.  More definitely, there was the Roman Saturnalia that was like that.

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2019, 05:41:06 pm »
I have the same vague memory of something like that in the Middle Ages.  More definitely, there was the Roman Saturnalia that was like that.

Twelfth Night, traditionally.
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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2019, 06:52:31 pm »
I have the same vague memory of something like that in the Middle Ages. 

The version I recall is the Feast of Fools and involved priests playing dice on the altar and wearing strap-on dildoes. I can't recall where I read that, though.

Yei

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2019, 04:17:38 pm »
Well, it's not part of my (Baptist) tradition other than something to be decried, but one thing which springs immediately to mind is Fat Tuesday/Carnival.

One think that I've noticed is that Christianity as a whole seems to lack these type of inversion rituals, or at least they don't seem to feature prominently. There are a few in the west, such as Mardi Gras, and I guess this is what Halloween has become. But neither of these seem rooted in Christianity. Is this an accurate interpretation? If so, I wonder why? Did Christians used to have such rituals, but they got stripped away during industrialisation? Or was there always a lack of them?

Yei

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #7 on: January 09, 2019, 04:19:48 pm »
The version I recall is the Feast of Fools and involved priests playing dice on the altar and wearing strap-on dildoes. I can't recall where I read that, though.

Sounds fantastic! Can we get in on this?

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #8 on: January 09, 2019, 06:13:50 pm »
One think that I've noticed is that Christianity as a whole seems to lack these type of inversion rituals, or at least they don't seem to feature prominently. There are a few in the west, such as Mardi Gras, and I guess this is what Halloween has become. But neither of these seem rooted in Christianity. Is this an accurate interpretation?

Those two festivals are absolutely Christian in origin and fundamental nature, so that is not a correct interpretation at all.

Mardi Gras - "Fat Tuesday" in English - is the last preparation for the solemnities of Lent, in which, liturgically speaking, the observant are expected to fast, give up indulging in rich substances, and be solemn; it originates in using up the oil/butter and such.

Halloween is the opening of the Christian festivals of the dead of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Yei

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2019, 04:08:33 pm »
Those two festivals are absolutely Christian in origin and fundamental nature, so that is not a correct interpretation at all.

Mardi Gras - "Fat Tuesday" in English - is the last preparation for the solemnities of Lent, in which, liturgically speaking, the observant are expected to fast, give up indulging in rich substances, and be solemn; it originates in using up the oil/butter and such.

Halloween is the opening of the Christian festivals of the dead of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

Then they must have lost those associations at some point. Was this loss something to do with industrialisation or some other political process? Or, was it due to changes within the church itself? I'm not sure, but do these festivals come from Catholicism specifically? If so, then did the rise of Protestantism effectively separate these festivals from their religious origins?

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2019, 04:54:27 pm »
Then they must have lost those associations at some point.

That is certainly not the case, as they are current, active considerations today.  Or at least in their appropriate liturgical season, which today isn't. :}

Quote
I'm not sure, but do these festivals come from Catholicism specifically?

They are old Christian festivals; I don't know if their existence strictly speaking predates the Catholic/Orthodox division but both sides of that split mark them.  If you look up All Saints' Day in Wikipedia, for example, you will see that it is marked by:

Catholics
Orthodox
Lutherans
Anglicans
Methodists
Reformed Churches (whatever that means, I don't know off the top of my head)
others

Quote
If so, then did the rise of Protestantism effectively separate these festivals from their religious origins?

Many threads of Protestantism have greatly fucked up the liturgical seasons, but these festivities are certainly held by some Protestants.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Yei

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2019, 04:19:13 pm »
That is certainly not the case, as they are current, active considerations today.  Or at least in their appropriate liturgical season, which today isn't. :}

I'm not saying they aren't celebrated. I'm asking how much Christianity is left. Where is the Christianity in them? With Christmas and Easter there is still a clear Christian presence in the celebrations and Christian's actively claim ownership of these festivals. But Halloween? Hell, I've even read about Christians (admittedly not main-stream Christians of course) condemn Halloween as satanic and even the general population would connect the festival with Celtic festivals rather than Christian ones.

Quote
They are old Christian festivals; I don't know if their existence strictly speaking predates the Catholic/Orthodox division but both sides of that split mark them. If you look up All Saints' Day in Wikipedia, for example, you will see that it is marked by:

Catholics
Orthodox
Lutherans
Anglicans
Methodists
Reformed Churches (whatever that means, I don't know off the top of my head)
others


Is All Saint's Day a moral inversion festival though? I know that Halloween and All Saint's Day occur around the same time, but should they be conflated?

Remember also that I am Australian, and Halloween hasn't really been celebrated here until the last 5-10 years. Consequently, the version we have is the highly commercialised and marketed US one. It is not connected to All Saint's Day, which is not really much of a celebration here either (I'm not saying that groups don't celebrate it. But it is not an official day in any way, and it has no public visibility).

Darkhawk

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2019, 08:05:01 pm »
I'm not saying they aren't celebrated. I'm asking how much Christianity is left. Where is the Christianity in them?

In the liturgical calendar, just like Christmas and Easter.  Certainly, most public markings of those things are pretty attenuated in religious content - it's the nature of public marking of things rather than the actual religious observations thereof.

Quote
Is All Saint's Day a moral inversion festival though? I know that Halloween and All Saint's Day occur around the same time, but should they be conflated?

... what do you think the "Hallow" that Hallow's Eve is the Eve of is?

Without Hallowmas - All Saints Day - there is no Halloween at all.  It is the eve of the more solemn festivity, just like Mardi Gras is the day before the more solemn festivity of Lent.

For another Christian-origin lawlessness festival, incidentally, I would point at St. Patrick's Day in the United States, which is certainly treated somewhat as an inversion festival.  (... as are a number of sports victories.  See sports riots... that shit gets scary.)

None of which is to say that inversion festivals in the Euro-Western world aren't, for the most part, pretty much pants.  Historically speaking, inversion festivals were particularly popular in regimented societies with little social mobility to give some amount of a pressure release for the oppressed classes.  The United States in particular could use a pressure valve, but apparently we as a culture believe we've got class mobility and don't have our entire lives structured by the overlords of employment while we work our sixty hour weeks so we don't get thrown out of our homes....
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

ehbowen

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2019, 08:43:27 pm »


The United States in particular could use a pressure valve, but apparently we as a culture believe we've got class mobility and don't have our entire lives structured by the overlords of employment while we work our sixty hour weeks so we don't get thrown out of our homes....

And also we have to be careful about what we say and do in public before the all-seeing Personnel Department checks our social media and blackballs us....

...oops!

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Yei

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Re: Rituals and Moral Inversion
« Reply #14 on: January 12, 2019, 04:24:20 pm »
In the liturgical calendar, just like Christmas and Easter.  Certainly, most public markings of those things are pretty attenuated in religious content - it's the nature of public marking of things rather than the actual religious observations thereof.

Well of course. But I am thinking more about the public practise than a festivals's position on any calendar. There must be dozens of Saint Days/National days/historical moments, that are marked on calendars, but that everyone ignores for whatever reason.

Quote
... what do you think the "Hallow" that Hallow's Eve is the Eve of is?

Without Hallowmas - All Saints Day - there is no Halloween at all.  It is the eve of the more solemn festivity, just like Mardi Gras is the day before the more solemn festivity of Lent.

I'm certain you are right historically speaking, and that Halloween came from Hallowmas. I'm not arguing against that. But is it right to say that they are the same now, today, in the modern world? How much can a festival diverge from its historical roots before it becomes its own thing?

Although, it does add an element of hilarity when conservative Christians attack Halloween for being 'satanic.'

Quote
For another Christian-origin lawlessness festival, incidentally, I would point at St. Patrick's Day in the United States, which is certainly treated somewhat as an inversion festival.  (... as are a number of sports victories.  See sports riots... that shit gets scary.)

St. Patrick's Day is a really good example. Thanks for reminding me of it.

Quote
None of which is to say that inversion festivals in the Euro-Western world aren't, for the most part, pretty much pants.  Historically speaking, inversion festivals were particularly popular in regimented societies with little social mobility to give some amount of a pressure release for the oppressed classes.  The United States in particular could use a pressure valve, but apparently we as a culture believe we've got class mobility and don't have our entire lives structured by the overlords of employment while we work our sixty hour weeks so we don't get thrown out of our homes....

I am in full agreement.

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