Element of Ritual: Taboo and Transgression

Transformation requires disobedience. Within liminal space, people are given permission to engage in activities that would never be permitted in other circumstances. The authorities who shape life outside the boundaries of ritual have no jurisdiction within the threshold.

Ritual design does not seek to replace order with chaos, however, but to shift people from one system of rules to another. So, within the liminal setting, an alternative system of rules is imposed – a set of taboos that apply nowhere else.

Disobedience within ritual is a performance of symbolic sacrifice of an old identity in exchange for a new identity that will be offered to replace it, should ritual participants prove themselves worthy. As participants break specific rules, they prove that they are willing and capable of rejecting the norms that once defined them, and to reform themselves according to new norms.

The irony of disobedience in ritual environments is that it is socially sanctioned. Though it may create moments of chaos, in the long term, ritual disobedience leads to social solidarity, not anarchy. It seems that, in order for strong laws to survive, it is useful for the laws to be broken every now and then, in carefully prescribed ways. The controlled disorder of transgression within the ritual process has the power to release tension, diminish social conflicts, and build a sustained following for sources of social authority, such as commercial brands.

burning the rules