Bob thinks this little piece is buried too deep in the page called “Ritual in Memoir and Fiction” so we’re moving it to a post. We’ve been writing about ritual for years–meaning characters (or inhabitants in memoir) go through ritual change. So how does ritual work?

First, there’s nothing abstract about ritual. When you link ritual to an object, you automatically layer the ritual by adding a time component.

In a bonding ceremony called a “Wedding”, the ritual act of ring exchange (the primary object) takes place in a limited place within a limited and fixed amount of time, the time it takes the ecclesiastical or civil power to consummate the bond—usually a few minutes. The changes, however, are enormous.

Let’s look at the secondary object in the wedding ceremony—the Dress.
The ritual of marriage itself is simple:
State 1-Unmarried
Ritual act-Exchange of Vows and Rings.
State 2-Married.

So simple, yet so complex for the subtext leading up to the ritual of separation. The ring is one object. The dress is another matter.

The wedding dress—white, pink or yellow—is the last in a series of dresses that prime the inhabitant for the ceremony of the ring and for the ceremonial act of bonding. The dress is an index to an emotional condition called “love.” What does the inhabitant who wears the dress want? and what does she have to do to get it? What does it cost? This is the Memoir Syllogism. Desire-Action-Result. Not a true syllogism of course.

Looking back, we track the wedding dress through time to another ritual—the evening out when the groom proposes. Here, the bride to be wears a gown and high heels. Back farther, we see another ritual in the chain of rituals, this one at the prom where the prom goer wears a strapless gown and dancing shoes, and farther back still we see another ritual of First day at school and a young girl in a yellow dress with a bow in back and sensible shoes and farther back yet still we see the bride to be in a white pinafore and black Mary Janes and she is complete in her innocence.

Through a series of rituals of separation—First day at school, first date, first Prom, First ball gown, First Wedding Dress, we see objects linked to the emotional and psychological states of the inhabitant—of course the absolute final ritual of separation, death, leads to the final dress of black mourning cloth.

But that is still in the future.

Rituals are about changing states. You use rituals in memoir and in fiction as time markers and as indexes to the emotional life and social conditions of your inhabitants and characters. Rituals in fiction and memoir, at their most basic, are simple, involving two, sometimes three characters , but rituals  have the power of an explosive charge for the change they bring.

Recommended reading: The Rites of Passage by Arnold van Gennep and The Ritual Process by Victor Turner.