Saturday, January 4, 2014

Creating the Sacred

The Art of Manliness has had a couple of articles recently on the importance and power of ritual. One of these, "The Power of Ritual," explains:

We would argue that today’s world often seems flat and one-dimensional because modern existence lacks a layer of the sacred and exists solely on the plane of the profane, i.e. secular, in a more religious term. For Eliade, the sacred and the profane constitute the “two modes of being in the world.” The sacred represents fascinating and awe-inspiring mystery — a “manifestation of a wholly different order” from our natural (or profane) everyday lives. Traditionally, the religious man (and here we’re really talking about those who live/d in premodern societies) seeks to experience the sacred as much as possible, for he sees it as the realm of reality, the source of power, and that which is “saturated with being.” For the religious man, the profane feels unreal, and leads to a state of “nonbeing.” In contrast, the nonreligious man refuses any appeal to mystery or to the supernatural. As a humanist, he believes “man makes himself, and he only makes himself completely in proportion as he desacralizes himself and the world.”

If you’ve ever felt a sense of “nonbeing,” it may be because the modern world has become desacralized, or as Max Weber put it, “disenchanted.” In a traditional society, all of man’s vital functions not only had a practical purpose but could also potentially be transfigured into something charged with sacredness. Everything from eating to sex to work could “become a sacrament, that is, a communion with the sacred.” In the modern world, such activities have been desacralized; we live in a thoroughly profane world.

While Eliade associated the religious man with the sacred and the nonreligious man with the profane, he argued that even “the most avowedly nonreligious man, still, in his deep being, shares in a religiously oriented behavior.” What he meant was that even a man who doesn’t believe in the supernatural realm experiences things like a wedding, a mountain top, or the birth of a baby as extra-ordinary. He still fills movies and books with the “mythical motifs — the fight between hero and monster, initiatory combats and ordeals, paradigmatic figures and images (the maiden, the hero, the paradisal landscape, hell, and so on).” The nonreligious man still seeks renewal and rebirth in different forms. Rather than sacred, however, he would call these things significant or special. If he seeks a life of greater texture, he has just as much need as the religious man to interpose such significant experiences with everyday life, and to seek to make such extra-ordinary events as distinct from his workaday world as possible.
 Read the whole thing.

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