Three Winter Rites


Three Winter Rites, 2015

20 x 25 cm // 40 pages

Digital photography, text by Maïa Wolf


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[Extract] :

Mircea Eliade assumes that traditional rites are coming from “exemplar acts” of “Supernatural Beings” in illo tempore, a mythical ancient time before the birth of “humanity” (of the given community), narrated in founding myths. These exemplar gestures would have to be reenacted by the collectivity in a precise and repeated manner, in the form of a ritual in order to maintain the structure and heritage of the community. For Suzanne Chappaz- Wirthner a rite is a highlight in a collectivity’s existence, a moment of rupture in the daily rhythm, marked by the ritualized irruption of the imaginary world into the daily life. This irruption would show the activity of the symbolical function with which the members of a community build their social reality. In La Voie des Masques, Lévi-Strauss analyzes different figures of the rites of North American Native tribes. He assumes that a ritual (and the myths linked to it) can only be understood through comparisons, parallels and oppositions with other myths or rites of that tribe or of neighboring tribes. He also highlights that myths evolve and change faster than rituals, the latter being embedded in the reality as they are really enacted. In Europe too, myths evolved more than rituals. Thus we could say that these kind of gestures, as they are anchored in the reality and in the everyday life of a community, are more constitutive of it than the fluctuant myths; a coded behavior performed every year since “a very long time in the past” would be intrinsically linked to the identity of a collectivity. Contrastingly, Henri Rey-Flaud, in his essay Le Charivari, chooses a psychoanalytic perspective to analyze some European rites and myths. He states that these should not be analyzed as series of signs or symbols that could be read like a coherent written text, but more as a content to be interpreted with the means of psychoanalysis, like a dream. Through this point of view, rites and myths would be the expression of the collective unconscious. The repetition of these rituals is based the cosmic cycle, as they are performed again and again following the rhythm of the sun; in our case in the key moment of the year of its temporary disappearance. The need for human communities to copy the rhythm of the seasons as a model to organize their rites (re-ligio means link – it gives the community its structure) is revealing their anxiety towards death. But in a cyclic time model, death means renewal. Reenacting what happens in nature (seasons) under the cosmic influences ensures for the community that itself will follow the same cycle, where renewal is certain and definitive death is conjured. This follows the ancient philosophical and mystical idea of microcosm and macrocosm. Hence, we can see why rituals are so important, and still per- formed year after year: they allow the human communities to survive, to live, to exist.

Bruno Latour, in Nous n’avons jamais été modernes – essai d’anthropologie symétrique, highlights the deep difference between the analysis of one’s own society and the investigation of “Other” societies or communities. Modern anthropology developed interesting tools of analysis to approach the supposedly primitive tribes, showing the intrinsic link between myths, rites and all the other fields of the community, like social structure, political system, laws, economy, sciences, arts, etc. This method is fundamentally different than the one used to analyze our supposedly modern society, where research fields are divided in almost closed categories, independent from each other. Bruno Latour suggests to use the tools developed by anthropology towards “other” societies to analyze our own; we are not so different from the “others” in the way we developed our own collective structure. For example, our modern experimental science is really close to our judicial system: in laboratory experiments, results and proofs are made in the closed and protected space of the laboratory, in front of a few “honest” witnesses; then they can testify to the rest of the community that the result of their experiment is “true”. Modern laboratory is in fact working like a tribunal. From this point of view, analyzing the myths and rites of our collectivity (that are coming from a complex mix of religions, melting Christian heritage with a deep “pagan” background) is interesting not only from the point of view of myth studies, but also because it can bring a better understanding of the whole structure of our western society. As Henri Rey-Flaud could say, we investigate its collective unconscious. The study conducted by Lévi-Strauss in La Voie des Masques where he shows that there is no “original” myth or rituals but a kaleidoscope of different practices, sharing common elements, sometimes opposed, but too with specific particularities, seems valid when we analyze the rites surviving in Europe. From this point of view, we not only notice that those tribes were not more primitive than us in their social structures, but also that the ritualistic phenomenon, as an intrinsic part of each collectivity, is present in every human society. When humans gather as a community they need to be linked with common laws, common origin myths and repetitive rituals that structure their social interactions and by this way their identity as a community. In the small European collectivi- ties like mountain villages, this phenomenon, as observed in this essay, is still visible. Lévi-Strauss also demonstrated that myths, rituals and objects are inextricably linked in a common mechanism, and Ernst Gombrisch, in Histoire de l’art, makes the hypothesis that the Paleolithic cave paintings (of Lascaux for example) were surely used within a shamanic hunting ritual. It seems that the first forms of art were born from a religious context: painting (icons), sculpture (idols), poetry (mythology). And from rituals also came theater, dance, music, etc. Artists enrich and transform myths and rituals through time, they have an essential role in the development and metamorphosis of the human culture. If we go back to our rituals, observing costumes and behaviors, we assist to particular plastic creations and performances. In these ritual we distinguish a “natural” form of art, born from the essential need of the human community, the anxiety towards death and void.