Element of Ritual: Separation

A social identity is a stable system of behavior for dealing with a particular set of circumstances. When circumstances change, however, a system that has been useful can become a hindrance, interfering with social success rather than enabling it. A crisis of identity takes place at such moments, when the identity that has enabled one’s success in the past has become an encumbrance and limits future development.

The ritual process is therefore most effective when it begins with a clean break. Because the purpose of ritual is to enable a transition between identities, it begins with an act of detachment from the context with which the old identity has been associated.

The most obvious form of separation is the creation of a physical distance or barrier between the ritual space and the outside world. Sometimes, ritual participants are literally stolen away from their routine surroundings. However, separation can be accomplished through social and psychological means as well. People can be visually marked as ritual initiates, be temporarily ostracized, or given new schedules and patterns of behavior that isolate them from their usual peers.

fence of separation