Ritual is to values, ideals, practices and the like as roots are to a tree. When people participate in rituals that engage their bodies, emotions, thoughts and sensations, their brains store memories of those experiences. Over time, as the rituals are practiced repeatedly, they mold the brain to conform to the components of the experiences. This is especially influential when ritual is a group activity, as it often is. Many critics call ritual a means of indoctrination, as it can be, but it can also serve the same useful purpose as any good habit or practice.
The wealth and quality of the study and scholarship on ritual and its prominence in art testify to its importance in human life. In the West, non-theistic organizations have been inclined to shun ritual. I believe this is a mistake, and encourage my fellow Humanists to study the subject further, and devise and implement ways to incorporate ritual into community life.
You the reader can devise and practice your own rituals. Anyone who meditates will understand this. For me, this “liturgical” calendar provides a framework for a form of ritual I have practiced for many years now. If you return to this site regularly and follow its structure, that too is form of ritual.
Ritual exerts its greatest effects when it involves action, emotion, thought and sensation. I invite you, then, to find ways to take whatever you may find useful in these pages and expand on it by putting it into an active form that incorporates your thoughts and feelings and if possible physical sensation. (Think of incense.) You might meditate on it. If you are in a group, you can find many ways to transform what you see on a two-dimensional screen into vibrant practices: by engaging in the music and art, for example, or by having a lively discussion of the subject matters. (Have speakers stand when they speak!) All of this will make your ritual practices more meaningful and engaging, and therefore more enduring.
- Malidoma Patrice Some, Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community (Penguin, 1997).
- Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
- David Cressey, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford University Press, 1999).
- Peter Metcalf and Richard Huntington, Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual (Cambridge University Press, 1979).
- Antonius C.G.M. Robben, ed., Death, Mourning, and Burial: A Cross-Cultural Reader (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
- Emily Teeter, Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
- K.C. Chang, Art, Myth, and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in Ancient China (Harvard University Press, 1983).
- Ute Hüsken and Frank Neubert, Negotiating Rites (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Ute Hüsken, Visnu's Children: Prenatal Life-Cycle Rituals in South India (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009).
- Christine Brosius and Ute Hüsken, eds., Ritual Matters: Dynamic Dimensions in Practice (Routledge India, 2010).
- Bell Yung, Evelyn Rawski and Rubie Watson, eds., Harmony and Counterpoint:Ritual Music in Chinese Context (Stanford University Press, 1996).
- Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright, Zen Ritual: Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice (Oxford University Press, 2007).
- William S. Sax, God of Justice: Ritual Healing and Social Justice in the Central Himalayas (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Tracy Pintchman, Women's Lives, Women's Rituals in the Hindu Tradition(Oxford University Press, 2007).
- Brannon Wheeler, Mecca and Eden: Ritual, Relics, and Territory in Islam (University Press, 2006).
- Peter Arnade, Realms of Ritual: Burgundian Ceremony and Civic Life in Late Medieval Ghent (Cornell University Press, 1996).
- Ivan G. Marcus, Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe (Yale University Press, 1996).
- George Cinclair Gibson, Wake Rites: The Ancient Irish Rituals of Finnegan's Wake (University Press of Florida, 1995).
- Walter F. Pitts, Old Ship of Zion: The Afro-Baptist Ritual in the African Diaspora (Oxford University Press, 1993).
- S.R.F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge University Press, 1984).
- Loring M. Danforth and Alexander Tsiaris, The Death Rituals of Rural Greece (Princeton University Press, 1982).
- Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (Princeton University Press, 1981).
- Hollis "Chalkdust" Liverpool, Rituals of Power & Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad & Tobago, 1763-1962 (Frontline Distribution International, 2001).
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Frederique Apffel-Marqlin, Subversive Spiritualities: How Rituals Enact the World (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
- Jack Goody, Myth, Ritual and the Oral (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
- José Ingacio Cabezone, Tibetan Ritual (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Leor Halevi, Muhammad's Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society (Columbia University Press, 2007).
- Adam B. Seligman, Robert P. Weller, Michael J. Puett and Bennett Simon, Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity (Oxford University Press, 2008).
- Ronald L. Grimes, Ute Hüsken, Udo Simon and Eric Venbrux, eds., Ritual, Media, and Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Lori Branch, Rituals of Spontaneity: Sentiment and Secularism from Free Prayer to Wordsworth (Baylor University Press, 2006).
- Robert N. McCauley and E. Thomas Lawson, Bringing Ritual to Mind:Psychological Foundations of Cultural Forms (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
- J.M Kubicki, Liturgical Music as Ritual Symbol: A Case Study of Jacques Berthier's Taizé Music (Peeters Publishers, 1999).
- Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Aldine Transactions, 1967).
- Andrew Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion, Volume 1 (1887).
- Andrew Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion, Volume 2, (1887).
- Journal of Ritual Studies
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Chanting from the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices(Parallax Press, 2006).
- Diego Rivera, The Maize Festival (1923-24)
Film and Stage
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Contemporary artist Bengt Berger is creating a set of albums on a theme called “Funeral Beer”, fashioned after Ghanian funeral ceremonies – to Western ears, they do not sound funereal. “Death is recognised in Africa through a rite of passage that prepares the spirit of the deceased to journey on to the next realm.” A predecessor album was by Berger with the Bitter Funeral Beer Band, called “Praise Drumming” (1981) (43’).
- “Day 1: The Creation of the Final Ancestral Shrine” (2022) (44’)
Gamelan and other ritual music of Indonesia
- Legong Lasem (Tirta Sari): vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3
- Balinese Gamelan Gong Gede: vol. 1; vol. 2, Side A, Side B
- Tabuh Pisan Bhaskara
- U. CA Riverside Gamelan Ensemble
- Gamelan Cahaya Asri, Lawrence U.
- Kawit Legong: Prince Karna’s Dream
- ASWARA Dance Company: Classical Joget Gamelan
- Gamelan Son of Lion concert
- Love flows: an Islamic dance drama with Gamelan
- Gamelan Semar Pegulingan (Gamelan of the Love God)
From the Christian tradition:
- Vaughan Williams, Mass in G minor for unaccompanied choir (1922)
- Berlioz, Messe Solennelle, H20A (1824)
- Leonard Bernstein, Mass (1971), is an anti-ritual, of sorts. “. . . when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis asked Bernstein to compose a piece for the 1971 inauguration of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., he was eager to honor the occasion with a new, large-scale work because he knew he had always wanted ‘to compose a service of one sort or another.’ The son of Russian-Jewish parents, a social liberal, and lifelong activist, Bernstein made a surprising choice: the Roman Catholic Mass. But instead of a straightforward, purely musical setting of the Latin liturgy, he created a broadly eclectic theatrical event by placing the 400-year-old religious rite into a tense, dramatic dialog with music and lyrics of the 20th century vernacular, using this dialectic to explore the crisis in faith and cultural breakdown of the post-Kennedy era.” “In Mass, Bernstein attempted to universalize the Catholic ritual in order to explore the spiritual crisis of our time. All the sections of the traditional ritual are there, but interspersed with decidedly nontraditional observations and challenges.” Best performances were conducted by Bernstein in 1971, Alsop in 2008, and Kristjan Järvi in 2008.
- Bruckner, Mass No. 1 in D Minor (1864)
- Bruckner, Mass No. 2 in E Minor (1866)
- Bruckner, Mass No. 3 in F Minor (1868)
- Charpentier, Missa Assumpta est Maria, H11a (1698)
- Dufay, Missa de St. Anthonii de Padua (Music for St. Anthony of Padua)
- Dufay, Missa Ecce Ancilla Domini
- Dufay, Missa L' Homme Armé (The Armed Man)
- Gounod, Messe solennelle à Sainte Cécile (1855, rev. 1864)
- Grechaninov, Missa Oecumenica, 142 (1936)
- Guerrero, Missa De La Batalla Escoutez (1848)
- Guerrero, Missa Sancta & Immaculata
- Haydn, Mass No. 1 in G major, “Missa Rorate coeli desuper", Hob. XXII:3 (c.1750)
- Haydn, Mass No. 2 in F major, "Missa brevis," Hob. XXII:1 (1750)
- Haydn, Mass No. 3 in C major, "Missa Cellensis in honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae" (Cäcilienmesse [spurious]) (St Cecilia), Hob. XXII:5 (1773)
- Haydn, Mass No. 5 in E-flat Major, "Missa in honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae", a/k/a "Große Orgelmesse" (Great Organ Mass) Hob. XXII:4 (1770)
- Haydn, Mass No. 6 in G Major, "Missa Sancti Nicolai", a/k/a "Nicolaimesse", Hob. XXII:6 (1772)
- Haydn, Mass No. 7 in B-flat Major, "Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo", a/k/a "Kleine Orgelmesse" (Little Organ Mass), Hob. XXII:7 (c. 1775)
- Haydn, Mass No. 8 in C major, "Missa Cellensis, Mariazellermesse", Hob. XXII:8 (1782)
- Haydn, Mass No. 9 in B-flat Major, "Missa sancti Bernardi von Offida", a/k/a "Heiligmesse," Hob. XXII:10 (1796)
- Haydn, Mass No. 10 in C major, "Missa in tempore belli" (Mass in Time of War), a/k/a "Paukenmesse" (Kettledrum Mass), Hob. XXII:9 (1796)
- Haydn, Mass No. 11 in D Minor, "Missa in Angustiis" (Mass in Troubled Times) (Nelson Mass), Hob. XXII:11 (1798)
- Haydn, Mass No. 12 in B-flat Major, "Theresienmesse" (named for the Maria Theresa of the Two Sicilies), Hob. XXII:12 (1799)
- Haydn, Mass No. 13 in B-flat major, "Schöpfungsmesse" (Creation Mass), Hob. XXII:13 (1801)
- Haydn, Mass No. 14 in B-flat Major, "Harmoniemesse" (Wind-band Mass), Hob. XXII:14 (1802) (approx. 39-44’): Best performances were conducted by Guest in 1966, Hickox in 1994, Kuijken in 1996, and Glover in 2008.
- Heinchen, Mass No. 9 in D Major
- Heinchen, Mass No. 11 in D Major, Siebel 6
- Heinichen, Mass No. 12 in D Major, Seibel 7
- Hummel, Mass No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 77
- Hummel, Mass No. 3 in D Major
- Josquin, Missa L'Homme Armé sexti toni (6 voices)
- Josquin, Missa L'Homme Armé super voces musicales
- Langlais, Messe Solennelle, Op. 67
- Langlais, Missa Salve Regina, Op. 81
- Morales, Mass for the Feast of St. Isidore of Seville, as it might have been celebrated in Toledo Cathedral around 1590
- Mozart, Mass No. 1: Missa Brevis in G Major, KV 49 [47d] (1768)
- Mozart, Mass No. 2: Missa Brevis in D Minor, KV 65 [61a] (1769)
- Mozart, Mass No. 3: Missa Solemnis in C Major, KV 66, "Dominicus" (1769)
- Mozart, Mass No. 4: Missa Solemnis in C Minor, K 139 [47a], "Waisenhausmesse" (Orphanage Mass) (1768)
- Mozart, Mass No. 5: Missa Brevis in G Major, KV 140, "Pastoralmesse" (1773)
- Mozart, Mass No. 6: Missa Brevis in F Major, K 192 [186f] (1774)
- Mozart, Mass No. 7: Missa Solemnis in C Major, KV 167, "In Honorem Sanctissimae Trinitatis" (1773)
- Mozart, Mass No. 8 in D Major, KV 194
- Mozart, Mass No. 9: Missa Brevis in D Major, K 194 [186h] (1774)
- Mozart, Mass No. 10: Missa Brevis in C Major, K 220, "Spatzenmesse" (1775)
- Mozart, Mass No. 11: Missa Brevis et Solemnis in C Major, K 257, "Credo" (1776)
- Mozart, Mass No. 12: Missa Brevis in C Major, K 258, "Spaur-Messe" (1775)
- Mozart, Mass No. 13: Missa Brevis in C major, K 259, "Orgelsolomesse" (Organ Solo Mass) (1776)
- Mozart, Mass No. 14: Missa Longa in C Major, K 262 (1776)
- Mozart, Mass No. 15: Missa Brevis in B-Flat Major, K 275 (1775)
- Mozart, Mass No. 16: Missa Brevis in C Major, K 317, "Coronation" (Krönungsmesse) (1779)
- Mozart, Mass No. 17: Missa Solemnis in C Major, K 337 (1780)
- Palestrina, Missa in Duplicitus Minorobis
- Palestrina, Mass for Pentecost
- Palestrina, Missa Aeterna Christi Munera
- Palestrina, Missa Assumpta est Maria in Caelum
- Palestrina, Missa Brevis
- Palestrina, Missa Ecce Ego Johannes
- Palestrina, Missa Hodie Christus Natus Est
- Palestrina, Missa in Semiduplicibus Maioribus
- Palestrina, Missa L'Homme Arme
- Palestrina, Missa O Rex Gloriae
- Palestrina, Missa Nigra Sum
- Palestrina, Missa Benedicta
- Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli
- Pedersøn, Mass
- Pergolesi, Messa di S. Emidio (Missa Romana) (1734)
- Poulenc, Mass in G Major (1937)
- Praetorius, Mass for Christmas Morning
- Rheinberger, Mass for 4 voices & organ in F Major, Op. 190 (1898)
- Rheinberger, Mass for 8 voices in E-flat Major, Op. 109, "Cantus Missae" (1878)
- Rheinberger: Mass for female choir & organ in G Minor, Op. 187, "Sincere in memoriam" (1897)
- Rossini, Petite Messe Solennelle (1863)
- Ryelandt, Missa six vocibus, Op. 111, for six-part choir a cappella (1934)
- Satie, Messe des pauvres, for SB chorus and organ (1895)
- Scarlatti, A., Messa per il Santissimo Natale (1707)
- Schubert, Mass No. 1 in F Major, D 105
- Schubert, Mass No. 2 in G Major, D 167
- Schubert, Mass No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 141, D 324
- Schubert, Mass No. 4 in C Major, D 452
- Schubert, Mass No. 5 in A-flat Major, D 678
- Schubert, Mass No. 6 in E-flat Major, D 950 (1828)
- Schubert, Deutschemesse (German Mass), D 872 (1827)
- Stravinsky, Mass (1948)
- Tallis, Mass for 4 Voices
- Tallis, Mass, "Puer natus est nobis"
- Taverner, Missa Corona Spinea (6 voices)
- Taverner, Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas (4 voices)
- Taverner, Missa Mater Christi (5 voices)
- Taverner, Missa O Michael (6 voices)
- Taverner, Western Wynde Mass (4 voices)
- Tye, Missa Euge Bone
- Vanhal, Missa Pastoralis in G Major, Weinmann XIX:G4
- Vanhal, Missa Solemnis in E-Flat Major
- Willaert, Missa Christus Resurgens
Other works from Western Classicism:
- Gombert, A La Coronation: Musiche per L'Incoronazione Imperiale di Carlo V - Bologna 1530
- Gabrieli, Music for San Rocco
- A New Venetian Coronation (1595)
- Frankel, Overture to a Ceremony, Op. 51
Literature on ritual in music:
- Robert Nosow, Ritual Meanings in the Fifteenth-Century Motet (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Novels and stories:
- Han Kang, The White Book: A Novel (Hogarth, 2019): “ . . . an urgent plea for the ritual power of mourning — for its significance in terms of both personal and historical restitution.”
- Jonas Eika, After the Sun: Stories (Riverhead, 2021): “Many lasting, vibrant scenes involve literal penetration — yes, sexual, but also otherwise, ritualistic, say, or symbolic. And it’s the language, too, that pierces, thrills. The sentences in these stories stretch past the limits of the ordinary to the luridly extraordinary, and some moments feel as if they are breaking through to the sublime.”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Third Coast Percussion, Ritual Music