What is ritual commerce?
Commerce: An intimate encounter through which value, both functional and symbolic, is exchanged.
Ritual: A process of symbolic behavior that enables the transformation of participants’ psychological and social identities through the creation of a threshold experience within which people become temporarily free from the restrictions that ordinarily shape their lives.
To grasp the frame of ritual commerce a little more firmly, let’s explore these definitions in a bit more depth.
Commerce is an intimate encounter. It’s motivated by the passionate interest of two parties who see the opportunity for a transfer based on mutual interest. By this definition, economic transactions that take place remotely or automatically don’t count as commerce. It’s worth remembering that the word “commerce” is often used a term for sex.
Commerce enables the exchange of value. It’s about trade, and trade requires the appreciation of what you’re holding in relation to what your counterpart is holding. Commerce thus seeks out fluid frames of mind in which transformation is possible, understanding that the way things are now isn’t the only way things can be.
Commerce is simultaneously functional and symbolic. Commercial assessment of the value of what’s being traded can’t be strictly literal, because it requires the comparison and interchange of things that are different from one another. This comparison encourages metaphorical thinking. So, in commerce, the strictly economic level of trade is always accompanied by a trade in a deeper level of meaning.
Ritual is a behavioral process. It has strong impacts on the state of mind of the people who participate in it, but ritual is not a form of thinking. If action of some kind isn’t happening, there isn’t a ritual going on.
Ritual is symbolic. There are often many literal aspects of ritual behavior, and sometimes, these literal aspects are all that ritual participants are aware of. However, beneath this surface is another layer of metaphorical significance. It is the symbolic aspect of ritual that gives it the power to create changes in participants’ identities and subsequent patterns of behavior.
Ritual enables the transformation of psychological and social identity. Rituals are not magic, but they do have a great power: To change what people do by changing who they are. People perform rituals in order to shift between identities – whether these transitions are substantial or subtle. Ritual makes it possible for people to adapt themselves to changing circumstances, rather than simply fitting themselves awkwardly into a single, unchanging demographic segment.
Ritual liberates people from the limitations of the established identities out of which their lives have been constructed. Through ritual, people enter a fluid condition between within which they are able to make the psychological adjustments necessary to keep pace with the shifting demands of their complex lives. This frame can only be occupied for a limited amount of time, however, because the ritual experience is a journey, not a destination, and all journeys must come to an end.
What commerce and ritual share in common is passionate involvement. As ritual transcends habit, commerce transcends business. There is meaning locked away inside these transactions, a purpose to our pilgrimage to purchase.
Ritual commerce unlocks and opens the door to the threshold.