A ritual can be understood as the meeting point of myth and a reflective thought or even a religious living. It is the border between time and eternity; the known and the unknown. Many people believe that rituals are necessary because they enable them to comprehend and to realize the ultimate foundation and origin of life, to communicate with the powers that preside over the destinies of the universe to which one belongs. This essay will draw on the ethnographies of Nelson (2013) and Graeber (1997) and discuss the links between ritual practices and the wider historical contexts that they engage.
Rituals are usually taken to be ancient and traditional and associated objects or performances are thus also thought to be traditional and ancient. In his writings, Roy Rappaport (1979:175) defines ritual as 'the performance of more or less invariant sequences of formal acts and utterances not encoded by the performers'. That is, these formal acts and utterances are learned from the teachings of ancestors and do not originate with the performer. Rappaport argues that a ritual is a form or structure a number of features or characteristics in a more or less fixed relationship to one another' that can exist only in performance. Maurice Bloch (1989) argues that a ritual is a form of ideology, which provides an alternative to, or gloss on, everyday life. Because it is highly formalized, ritual restricts debate or contestation, and there is certainty to the ways in which people construct ritual across different social and cultural contexts. Similarly, Kelly and Kaplan (1990) argue that the study of ritual has to run to history and raise fundamental questions for Anthropology. In part, many rituals are indigenously represented as ancient and unchanging; rituals carry a millstone of connections to traditions. .
Accounts vary as to the purpose, function and meaning of ritual. Kelly and Kaplan (1990: 120) state that a ritual is habitually connected to 'tradition', the sacred, to structures that have been imagined in stasis.