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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.

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