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Separation, sacrality, and profanity - Chronarchy

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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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[User Picture]
From:nontacitare
Date:June 7th, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
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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.

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