Ritual as a Play

A ritual can be understood as a type of play. Hans Gadamer in "Truth and Method" (1992) discusses the structure of the play in the sense of the structure structuring the player. For him, "Play is structure - this means that despite its dependence on being played it is a meaningful whole which can be repeatedly presented as such and the significance of which can be understood. But structure is also play, because - despite this theoretical unity - it achieves its full being only each time it is played" (1922: 117). In a ritual, there is a structure which plays us, which structures us, which gives us an understanding of its reality and the people involved.

Rituals often have a foundation myth. Paul Ricoeur states that a myth "has the purpose of providing grounds for the ritual actions of men of today, and, in a general manner, establishing all the forms of actions and though by which man understands himself in his world" (Ricoeur 1967:5). In the ritual in Porticello, the grounding myth is the story of how the icon of the Madonna del Lume was given to the fishing village by divine action.

The descent of the Icon
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Ritual also involves religious symbols. Hans Gadamer's interpretation of religious symbols in the aesthetic domain implies an inner unity of the symbol and what it symbolizes. He stresses that: "the symbol does not simply dissolve the tension between the world of ideas and the world of the senses: it points up a disproportion between form and essence, expression and content. In particular, the religious function of the symbol derives from this tension. The possibility of the instantaneous and total coincidence of the apparent with the infinite in a religious ceremony assumes that what fills the symbol with meaning is that the finite and infinite genuinely belong together" (Gadamer 1992 2nd ed.:78).

Santo doing the invocation during the descent
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The religious symbolism in the ritual revolves around the icon of the Madonna del Lume. She offers protection and safety at sea, and she provides that which is necessary for the survival of the community. In this way she exists beyond her appearance as the Madonna in the Catholic sense, the mother of Christ, by going beyond that religious symbology. She acts as a goddess of the sea. The Madonna del Lume was brought from the sea around 1732 and Vincenzo Giangrasso, a member of the Porticellan community found it on the beach. Afterwards the entire community went to the king to ask him permission to build a church for the Madonna.

In describing the different processions involved, especially of the celebration in Porticello, I portray the whole community in terms of its own time and space. Gadamer states: "A procession as part of a religious rite is more than a spectacle, since its real meaning is to embrace the whole religious community. And yet a religious act is a genuine representation for the community; and likewise, a drama is a kind of playing that, by its nature, calls for an audience. The presentation of a god in a religious rite, the presentation of a myth in a play, are not only in the sense that the participating players are wholly absorbed in the presentational play and find in it their heightened self-representation, but also in that the players represent a meaningful whole for an audience... The audience only completes what the play as such is" (1992:109). In representing the ceremony in Porticello, I used the structure of the play to structure the experience. The play gives us an understanding of the reality experienced by the people involved.

Dissertation Abstract | References

Updated 10 Oct 1996