Home > Glossary > Ritual

What is a Ritual?

A ritual is a set of actions, words, gestures, or objects that are done in a certain way. Rituals can be written down by the traditions of a group, even a religious group. Rituals are characterised, but not defined, by their formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-following, sacral symbolism, performance, and so on. There are rituals in every human society that we know of. What we call “religion” or “cult” isn’t just about what people do when they go to church. It also includes things like “rites of passage,” “atonement and purification rites,” and “oaths of allegiance.” Even simple things like shaking hands and saying “hello” can be called rituals. In the field of ritual studies, there have been a lot of different ways to think about the word “ritual.” There are many different types of rituals, but Kyriakidis says one of the most common is that an outsider or “etic” category is used for a set activity (or set of actions) that doesn’t make sense to the outsider. Also, the insider or “emic” performer may use the term to show that the uninitiated onlooker can see this as an act of art or skill. In psychology, the term “ritual” is sometimes used in a technical sense to refer to a repetitive behaviour that a person uses to deal with or avoid anxiety. It can be a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder, but obsessive–compulsive ritualistic behaviours are usually just one thing at a time.

Lailah Angel