Friday, February 9, 2018

Symbolic Associations of Death

Symbolic Features of Funeral Celebrations

  • color symbolism
    • black to represent death
      • Turner and the color triad
        • white:purity and fertility (milk/semen)
        • red:good and evil aspects of power and life (blood)
        • black: death (loss of consciousness)
      • when white or red are used in funerals it is in symbolic opposition to the blackness of death
      • there are occasions where death is white because of the pallor of the corpse or the bones (exception)

  • Hair Cutting (Edmund Leach)
    • survivors shave their head asa sign of mourning
    • no shaving during mourning
    • Hair has universally been considered a natural receptacle of the vital essence of an individual. Even in recent times it has been associated with the life-force and the power of the mind
    • There is a distinction to be made between the hair on the head and that on the rest of the body. That on the head is associated with spiritual forces, while body hair is related to the proliferation of irrational powers and of instinctual life. 
    • Hair could be called a biological accessory. It is very personal, growing and changing with the individual's bodily condition.
    • The fact that it is perishable and can be lost completely is a social rather than a biological disability. It is striking, then, how out of this almost useless physiological appendage, hair has gained profound cultural significance, one capable of a variety of personal, public and magical interpretations.
    • Losing one's hair is a diminution of the self, a reduction of the personality. 
      • But in rites of passage the hair is often deliberately cut to rid the individual of all ties to the old persona. A young boy coming into manhood has his head shaved in preparation for a symbolic death of the child and a rebirth of the new adult, upon whose head new hair will grow to contain the energies of a man. 
      • There is a vital distinction between a voluntary and involuntary loss of hair. In some practices related to tribal warfare, the warrior prepares for battle by ritually removing his soul from his body so that the latter will become invulnerable. Rather than being directed further afield, the soul is lodged in the hair, which easily contains it as a receptacle capable of retaining the emanations which often escape from other parts of the body. 
      • Hair has been closely connected with the brain and with functions of memory. Many ancients thought that old people lost their memory with their hair. Thus the soul, by these connections, is often believed to have its seat in the hair, the involuntary loss of which is understandably calamitous. 
      • The magical influence one can gain over someone whose hair they possess is much feared, for it threatens one with loss of control of 'soul stuff, a reversal of the control exercised by one who undergoes a voluntary loss of hair through ritual.
    • There is a primitive danger in cutting the hair, which has to do with the problem of safely disposing of the shorn hair as well as the possibility of disturbing the spiritual energies retained around the head. Sacred persons have to be especially careful of this, and the best way to avoid the danger is simply not to cut the hair at all. 
  • NOISE (drumming, wailing, etc.)
    • Berawan: drums and death
      • noisy gatherings with drinking, 
      • brass gongs (announce death has occurred), 
      • large drum that is only played during funerals
      • orchestra of funeral gongs
      • noisy games
      • regular pounding of rice
      • shotgun blasts at last stages
      • women wailing
    •  Needham:percussion and transition
      • percussion is found at all rites of passage so there is a connection between transition and percussion. (multiple symbolism)
        • ---seems to PUNCTUATE AND DIVIDE TIME. 
        • drum also has the affinity with HEARTBEAT (life)
        • finality of death 
      • oppositions: Noise and Supernatural Power
        • noisy/silent
        • black/white
        • shaven/hairy
      • Noise (like thunder) as a way to facilitate communication between humans and the divine.---designates POWER
  • Ritual Action and Daily Activity
    • Pounding and rhythmic noises are common across cultures as aspects of daily life. Pounding rice, sage, hammering, beating metal, washing clothing...
    • rhythms are either emphasized or exaggerated in rituals, and they are often connected with summoning of the spirits.

  • Liminality and the Corpse
    • the use of the human body as a symbol.-used to represent moral or social truths, and is always manipulated in some way to reflect cultural beliefs. 
    • Van Gennep: "the human body has been treated like as simple piece of wood, which each has cut or trimmed to suit him. (talking of circumcision, and scarification in rituals). special case is the "corpse".
      • the corpse is a particularly powerful symbol of culture, because it can be manipulated in ways tat living bodies cannot.
    • "corpse" symbolism is found in many ritual contexts outside of actual death (leave an old "body" behind when you transition).
      • TURNER: The process of rotting, of dissolution of form, provides a metaphor of a social and moral transition. (a metaphor of LIMINALITY).
      • Rotting, fermenting, dyeing and distilling: (similar processes for creating food and preparing the corpse).
        • Southeast Asia: creating dyes, making fermented foods, fermenting hemp after soaking to extract their fibers. 
        • Berewan of Borneo: Rice wine and corpse jars (same and same process although one is preserved for the liquid-wine-and the other is reserved for the bones-corpses). 
      • Both fermenting foods and corpses produce a sickening smell, and foods may even smell "bad" (pungent). Same is said of making dyes, tanning leather, and other such processes. Cultures that are used to this are not repulsed by smell of rotting corpse
      • Raw materials are refined and processed to produced valuable finished products that are of less bulk. (food, dye, hemp, corpse secondary burial)

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