Tuesday, April 07, 2009


A ritual is a series of actions meant to bring about or prevent an event. A ritual gives a sense of control over the unseen forces shaping our lives. In the past the actions and order were created by shamans. Today, anyone can devise a ritual. (As many sports players and teams do! Like Top 10 Sports Traditions  ;-)

Come up with a ritual for some event you (or your characters) would like control over. (It can be a simple prose list or a poetic list.)

Ron Padgett in Handbook of Poetic Forms (where this idea comes from) suggests:
  1. Decide what you would like to have occur.
  2. Examine all aspects of the subject.
  3. Think of actions to illustrate some of these aspects.
  4. Write each action down as a command.
  5. Number the commands.
  6. Let yourself go.
Here's a Storm Ritual from Alaskan Eskimos who sought to subside a storm.
  1. Build a snowman with a big head.
  2. Give the snowman's head a large mouth.
  3. Catch salmon, skin the carcasses, freeze them.
  4. Hack away at the frozen fish and push the pieces into the snowman's mouth.
  5. Afterward, have a big feast in which all the pieces of fish are eaten.


This reminds me of the experiments performed by B.F. Skinner. He placed pigeons in boxes and randomly released food. The pigeons eventually began performing whatever random action they had been performing before the food was released, suggesting a type or ritual or superstition.

"One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a 'tossing' response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return."

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