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Ár nDraíocht Féin
Three Cranes
Chaos Matrix

June 4th, 2008

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03:28 pm - Separation, sacrality, and profanity
I've had an interesting article lying on my desk for a while (Oh, about three years, really), entitled "Markedness and Encompassment in Relation to Indo-European Cosmogony"[full citation at the end*]. Silly me, I thought this was about marking off physical space in IE ritual.

Well, you can't judge an article by its title, I suppose.

Instead, this article is about how things are "marked off," not in a physical sense, but in a sense of elevating or lowering their status by stating that one thing is markedly different from another.

This is a damn tough article, and one I don't claim to really "get" yet, but as I was reading it during my lunch hour yesterday, I was interested by the notion that things that are separated from (or that separate themselves from) something that is encompassing are generally given a change in status.

Separation can mean one of four things:
  • That which is separated is given higher status
  • That which is separated is given lower status
  • That which is separated lowers the status of what it is separated from
  • That which is separated raises the status of what it is separated from
This, of course, is a very Marxist way of looking at ideas of religious separation, but also a very interesting one.

Also, separation accentuates difference: where once all things were encompassed, now certain things are clearly not. An example might be Greek Ge, who (as the earth) encompassed everything, until she gave birth to Uranus. Once she has done that, and created something that is "not Ge," then she has also become "not Uranus." After separation, there is an opportunity for superiority where no opportunity existed prior to this.

Bringing this all back to sacred space (you know, since that's what I thought this was going to be about, anyway), I think this is why I'm not pleased with boundaries and edges in ritual: I don't like the idea of elevating the Grove in terms of sacrality over the rest of the world. I sometimes feel like I'm stuck on repeat when I talk about the artificial constructions of "sacred and profane" in religion, and how damaging they can be to our simple enjoyment of the world as it exists. There's nothing wrong with attempting to perfect it (indeed, that's what ritual is: an attempt to perfect the cosmos), but there is something wrong with the concept that sacrality is preferable to profanity, at least to me.

* - Lyle, Emily. "Markedness and Encompassment in Relation to Indo-European Cosmogony." Perspectives on Indo-European Language, Culture, and Religion: Studies in Honour of Edgar C. Polome (Vol. 1) McLean, VA: Journal of Indo-European Studies. 1991

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(5 comments Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 5th, 2008 03:57 am (UTC)
I think this is why I'm not pleased with boundaries and edges in ritual: I don't like the idea of elevating the Grove in terms of sacrality over the rest of the world.

Agreed, this is why we don't do the smudge and water thing in our Protogrove. We see our space as already sacred just by the virtue of it being in nature. Plus no one else uses our Nemeton but us so we don't feel a need to purify it.

However, in Zoroastrian religion the sacred space is marked off by the edges of a white sheet (representing Spenta Armaiti)upon which all ritual tools are placed (including the fire vessel). Other IE cultures did things to mark the boundaries of sacred space and I have to wonder to what extent our ancestors did this and what was their justification for it?
[User Picture]
Date:June 5th, 2008 12:08 pm (UTC)
Well, a very Marxist response (though not so far out in left field) is that elevation of the sacred space is also an elevation of the priest within it.

There's also the reverse-engineered concept of "remaking the world" by defining its boundaries and re-fixing the sacred space, but I don't know that this is really central to the religious thinking of the ancients, so much as it's imposed on their thinking by modern commentators on religion.

Marking the boundaries can have a solid effect on the ritual participants, but I'm not sure that it is really any more than theatrics, really, at least not in a modern world. If I used "By the might of the waters, by the light of the fire, this Grove is made whole and holy," I would be thinking entirely in terms of energy raising and theatrics, and no thought about cosmology would cross my mind. That doesn't make it bad, it just isn't really where I am right now, spiritually. I want things that have meaning, not show.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:June 7th, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
However, I think the creation of sacred space is a useful cognitive construct. Yes, sacred experience can occur in space that has not purposefully been separated, but it's probable that most of these experiences are spontaneous (as in, unsought). I would venture to guess that the creation of sacred space is one of the psychological cues that encourages the possibility for religious experience to occur

I agree completely.

While I don't believe the world can be divided into sacred and profane, I know from experience that my attention frequently is. I delineate sacred space (or more accurately sacred time) in my own rituals not so much as to enable the Gods to speak to me as to enable me to hear them.
[User Picture]
Date:June 5th, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC)
Hmm. While I wholly agree with you regarding the artifice surrounding the sacred and profane and also question/reject traditional value judgements applied to the notions of "sacred" and "profane," I'm not sure that religion or ritual even exists without boundaries and separation. The concepts of "holy" and "sacred" largely demand distinction and are loaded with plenty of elevating/lowering connotative baggage. It's not a deconstructionist's value-free "a and not-a"--it's a "Godly/priestly and not-Godly/priestly" (sacrum/sacer), and a "whole and not-whole" (hālig).

I think the root of it is in the same place that we find id-frustration, a move from a Freudian infant's "oceanic" sense of self (in which we were the universe, similar to Ge) to a realization that there is "other" or "not-me" (in which we are forced to acknowledge Uranus). It's a very primal and influential moment in every person's life and I don't think people pay enough attention to it. It is the place from which many powerful impulses and feelings arise--existential angst, spiritual hunger, religious longings, etc. All of them are pulling us back to a sense of completion and wholeness, are born of a desire to once again be connected to everything else, to recapture that expansive oceanic sense of self, to be one with God--to BE the universe again.

Religion and ritual are both, in my opinion are driven by that same impulse. Each attempts to rope off time-space with rules, stories, prophecies, proscriptions and prescriptions and then in a sense say "This is the universe. I know it and I understand it and I am one with it. God lives in me and I and him and together we are limitless." The problem is that anyone who looks too closely sees the artificiality of the religious/ritual construct and is forced to react to it. I personally find it mostly an unnecessary distraction from my own spiritual feelings of connection to God/the rest of the universe. Others may find that although there's artifice in religion and ritual, it serves as a focusing agent, is a space where they can avoid the distractions of the mundane parts of their lives. I think either can be a good way to live, depending on the person. I suppose in some ways, my rituals (singing and hiking) are just another seamless part of my life, my church is the trees, my religion is just living and growing and improving myself.

I'm unsure how much sense any of that made, but that's often what happens when we bump up against the limits of rationality (yet another human artifice). In the face of that, instead of pretending Truth, I'll direct you toward Art:

[User Picture]
Date:June 5th, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)

Footnote to Howl

Footnote to Howl
by Allen Ginsberg

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy!
The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand
and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is
holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman's an
The bum's as holy as the seraphim! the madman is
holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is
holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy
Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cas-
sady holy the unknown buggered and suffering
beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks
of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop
apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana
hipsters peace & junk & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy
the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the
mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the
middle class! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebell-
ion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria &
Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow
Holy Istanbul!
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the
clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy
the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the
locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucina-
tions holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours!
bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent
kindness of the soul!

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