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«Patterns in Philosophy and Sociology of Religions Edited by Mihaela Gligor Sherry Sabbarwal RAWAT PUBLICATIONS Jaipur · New Delhi · Bangalore · ...»

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Patterns in Philosophy and

Sociology of Religions

Edited by

Mihaela Gligor

Sherry Sabbarwal


Jaipur · New Delhi · Bangalore · Hyderabad · Guwahati

ISBN 81-316-0388-1

© Contributors, 2011

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by

any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording

or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission

in writing from the publishers.

Published by Prem Rawat for Rawat Publications Satyam Apts., Sector 3, Jawahar Nagar, Jaipur 302 004 (India) Phone: 0141 265 1748/7006 Fax: 0141 265 1748 E-mail: info@rawatbooks.com Website: www.rawatbooks.com New Delhi Office 4858/24, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110 002 Phone: 011 2326 3290 Also at Bangalore, Hyderabad and Guwahati Typeset by Rawat Computers, Jaipur Printed at Chaman Enterprises, New Delhi Contents vii Foreword xiii Preface Introduction – Religion: From Theory to Action 1 Mihaela Gligor 1 Religion and Violence in the Contemporary World:

Is religion more of the problem or the solution? 14 Douglas Allen 2 Changing Interpretations of Religion and Secularism 42 Sherry Sabbarwal 3 Globalization and Religious Identities in India:

Understanding the subaltern context of contestations 63 Santosh Kumar Singh 4 Illud tempus in Greek Myth and Ritual 91 Radek Chlup 5 Eliade’s History of Religion:

A reaction against historicity and historicism 127 Sanjukta Bhattacharyya 6 Rationality, Relativism and Religion:

A reinterpretation of Peter Winch 151 Kevin Schilbrack vi CONTENTS 7 Buddhist Images of the Body: A study of different patterns of human embodiment and performance 175 Carl Olson 8 Bringing Peace in the World: The Buddhist Way 203 Madhumita Chattopadhyay Contributors Index C HAPTER 4 Illud tempus in Greek Myth and Ritual* RADEK CHLUP Few theories of myth and ritual can equal in fame the one proposed by Mircea Eliade. According to him, archaic societies generally refuse to put up with the profane time of history, feeling the need to relate to the time of origins when the world was still fresh and strong, “as it came from the Creator’s hands” (Eliade, 1959: 92). The time of origins is a time out of time, an illud tempus, “which is always the same, which belongs to eternity; […] the time that ‘floweth not’ because it does not participate in profane temporal duration, because it is composed of an eternal present” (Eliade, 1959: 88). Archaic societies attempt to evoke the fullness of primordial time in rituals that repeat the archetypal events which took place in the mythical era. By “indefinitely reproducing the same paradigmatic acts and gestures” religious man manages “to live close to his gods” (Eliade, 1959: 91).

In the course of the last fifty years, Eliade’s theory of myth and ritual has often been the subject of criticism. Its reception has been particularly lukewarm with the anthropologists, most of whom have failed to recognize in his idealized image of the “archaic man” any of the natives that they spent many months with during their field research. Eliade is often regarded by them as an armchair scholar in the Frazerian mould, trying to squeeze all primitive societies into his *First published in Religion © 2008 published by Elsevier Ltd., Volume 38, Issue 4, December 2008, pp. 355–365, on the occasion of The Centennial of Mircea Eliade.

Reprinted in this volume with Radek Chlup’s permission and free permission of Elsevier Limited. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/0048721X.

92 RADEK CHLUP sweeping artificial patterns (see e.g., Leach, 1966; La Fontaine, 1985; Wallace, 1966; for a neutral appraisal of anthropological

critique cf. Saliba, 1978). All of these rebukes are certainly justified:

it is obvious that Eliade’s conception is unbearably idealizing and indiscriminate, and we would hardly find a “primitive: that would conform to it fully. Despite this, I would deem it rash to turn it down completely. As a religious studies scholar I consider the formulation of general, simplifying schemata indispensable for capturing religious phenomena, no comprehensive science of religion being possible without them. Eliade may not be a reliable guide to the world of primitive cultures, but the question remains whether at least he offers an interesting model for making sense of myths and rituals in general.1 To answer this question, I shall try to apply Eliade’s theory to some of the myths and rituals of the ancient Greeks.2 I hope to show that his basic notion of ritual as an attempt at periodically re-actualizing the primordial era is in harmony with them, though it needs to be modified and further elaborated. However, while largely agreeing with Eliade at the level of phenomenological description, my own interpretative position will be entirely different.

Where Eliade only aims at interpreting the religious worldview in its own terms (though not necessarily emic ones), I shall also strive for its non-religious explanation. It was recognized by Edmund Leach already that some of Eliade’s ideas are strikingly parallel to the French structuralist tradition, whether in its Durkheimian form or the Lévi-Straussian one (Leach, 1966: 29–30;

cf. Dudley, 1977: 144–160). Following this suggestion, I shall transplant the scheme of ritual repetition into a different methodological framework, reading it from the perspective of the Paris school of Jean-Pierre Vernant and his followers.

Ritual repetition: playing the bear for artemis At first sight Greek rituals appear well suited for an Eliadean type of interpretation. Most of them had one or more aetiological myths associated with them, explaining how the ritual had come to be


instituted in ancient times and giving the “reason” (Gr. aition, pl.

aitia) of its performance. Aetiological myths were no dogmas and could apparently be altered and created freely, needing no official sanction. Often there were several ones in circulation, whether covering different aspects of the festival, or giving alternative explanations. Most of them were probably later than the rituals themselves, but that does not make them any less authentic. No matter how recent they were, they reflected adequately the meanings assigned to rituals by their participants and must have been of considerable import to them (Redfield, 1990: 118–119, 123–124;

Parker, 2005: 374–383).

The existence of aetiological myths is in accord with Eliade’s conception of ritual as repetition of mythical events. Primordial happenings indeed count here as timeless archetypes to be imitated forever. At closer inspection, however, the pattern of repetition turns out to be slightly different from any of those described by Eliade. In his best known examples what we have is a straightforward imitation of ancient events: “for the traditional societies, all the important facts of life were revealed ab origine by gods or heroes. Men only repeat these exemplary and paradigmatic gestures ad infinitum” (Eliade, 1954: 32). In Greek rituals such a simple imitative pattern is less common and often we find a more complicated model. A significant number of Greek aitia do not tell of glamorous deeds of ancient gods and heroes that people would repeat over and again. Much more typically they tell of an offence committed in primordial times, angering the gods and causing a plague, famine or some other disaster.

In their despair people consult the oracle to find out how to end the crisis. The oracle explains what has gone wrong and suggests a religious remedy: to placate the powers offended, men have to institute a ritual that repeats the original transgression but in doing so corrects the mistake and makes everything end well.

A typical example is a ritual performed in honour of Artemis Mounichia at the Athenian port of Piraeus. Its aition3 tells of a she-bear who in ancient times came to frequent that place and grew tame. One day a young girl teased the animal and was scratched. The girl’s brothers killed the bear; but Artemis, the protectress of wild 94 RADEK CHLUP animals, became offended and caused a famine or plague. On consulting the Delphic oracle the Athenians learnt that the plague would only stop when someone sacrificed his daughter to Artemis.

Nobody was willing to do so, until a man named Embarus offered to fulfil the task, on condition that he and his descendants should become lifelong priests at the sanctuary; people agreed. Embarus embellished his daughter and led her to the innermost part of the temple. There, however, he played a trick: hiding the daughter, he adorned and sacrificed a goat instead whom he had given the name of Daughter. The famine ceased but people became suspicious and went to ask Apollo again. The god ensured them that everything was alright: from then on they should sacrifice just as Embarus had done.

Since then all the girls of Athens have been required to “play the bear” (arkteuein) for the goddess. The ritual itself can only be reconstructed fragmentarily, but we may safely suppose that it was meant to imitate the ancient events: a girl was presumably adorned for sacrifice, but then a goat was killed instead (for a goat sacrifice at the allied Artemis Sanctuary of Brauron see Hesychius, s.v.

Brauroniois). “Playing the bear” probably means that the earlier part of the aition was also enacted and the girls were chased by some men playing the “brothers” (thus e.g., Redfield, 2003: 102).

An interpretation of this remarkable ritual would be well beyond the scope of this article.4 What is important for us is the basic pattern that we find here and that is by no means exceptional. At the beginning we have an idyllic state of primal harmony: the bear, normally wild and dangerous, is tame and playing with a girl. Yet the idyll soon turns out to be illusory and untenable: the animal is incapable of playing safely with humans and the girl gets scratched.

The break-up of primal harmony is further accentuated by the brothers’ revenge. The gods consider it an offence but by sending a famine they only highlight the crisis. The good old idyllic world is in ruins. The solution suggested by Apollo is hardly encouraging: the sacrifice of a daughter may well end the famine, but its cruelty just confirms the disintegration. It is only through the deceit of Embarus that a true solution is found. Order is restored, but it is not a copy of


the original idyll. Far from it, the god orders the original misdeed and the ensuing deceit to be repeated forever. The ritual is meant to corroborate the change that has taken place. Through it a new order of things has been established, sharply separated from the old one.

The founding of the ritual means the end of primordial time and the beginning of history.

The myth and ritual can be analysed into three stages: (1) The starting point is a state of primal harmony. It is pleasant, but being unnatural – or rather all too natural – it cannot last long. Men seem equal to animals at this stage and they live like them: enjoyably but wildly. Unlike them, however, they are not adjusted to this kind of existence, and sooner or later their maladjustment must come out. It is symptomatic that the dissolution of primal unity is more or less spontaneous and is not really anyone’s fault. The bear could hardly guess that her claws would prove too sharp for the girl; and conversely, the brothers can hardly be blamed for having revenged their sister. (2) The misdeed generates a schism in the primal world and reduces it to chaos. Yet the schism has a positive potential: it becomes the germ of a borderline between humans and animals, between culture and nature. (3) Accordingly, its ritual repetition is prescribed by Apollo and his oracle. The task of the ritual is to cultivate and institutionalize the boundary that so far has only emerged wildly and spontaneously. The result is a clear division of reality into the orderly world of men and the savage,

chaotic area beyond it:

Figure 1 Apparently, the pattern of ritual repetition is rather different here from the one Eliade usually speaks of. The Athenians do repeat mythical events indeed, but in an indirect way. The middle term 96 RADEK CHLUP between their ritual acts and the original mythical events is the first ritual devised by Embarus and confirmed by the oracle. No doubt Embarus can be seen as a primordial cultural hero defeating the powers of darkness, and in this sense his action would fit into Eliade’s scheme of ritual repetition.5 Yet such an interpretation would overshadow what I find most interesting about the ritual, namely the fact that while still a part of the mythical era, the accomplishment of Embarus means the end of it. The first ritual staged at the end of the aition is already a part of history and is meant to be identical to that performed in the Classical period. There is in fact a double repetition involved: the Athenians repeat the first mythical ritual, which in turn repeats the previous events. It does so in a non-literal way, however, thereby changing their meaning. The ritual repeats the original misdeed to amend and cultivate it. Its performance does not bring the participants into the heart of primordial time, but is just an excursion to its borders. It is a powerful reminder of illud tempus, but one that is strongly negative.

The Sacred Time that is evoked is not a glorious era of meaning that the Greeks would nostalgically long for. It is rather a period of indeterminacy and ambivalence, a period that does have certain paradisiacal aspects indeed, but that is fraught with danger and unsuitable for a civilized human existence.

The Greeks certainly found their illud tempus fascinating and saw it as a sacred source of power – otherwise they would not keep returning to it during their festivals. Yet in the course of their returns they took care to set up a clear dividing line between themselves and the primordial era, guaranteeing that the mythical events would never repeat in their original form. Embarus is not a cultural hero in that he would follow in the wake of mythical beings and partake of their might, but rather in that he proved able to extricate himself from the mythical pattern of behaviour and acted like an ordinary mortal who must compensate for his lack of strength by cunning.

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