Erenlai - Forgiveness by ritual

Forgiveness by ritual

by on 週四, 14 一月 2010 評論
It is easy to forget that the act of forgiveness is inseparable from how it is delivered and what it signifies. Forgiveness is simply not possible without any real, visible changes. Between two people, forgiveness can be expressed through subtle signals such as a smile (or shared crying), a resumption of communication displayed by a slight gestures and more confident conversation. But even at this personal level most forgiveness demanded and received is transmitted through codes and small rituals - a gift offered and accepted, a shared meal or a hug. These rituals are created spontaneously, by a couple or a group friends. The signs exchanged are of great importance: once the ritual is performed, everything can restart again; however, without at least a discreet, subtle gesture, all progress is hindered.Things are even more subtle and complicated in society. Firstly, you never quite know who is forgiving and who is being forgiven. A nation is not the same as an individual, different opinions and experiences are in operation at the same time and there is great disparity in historical interpretations. However, nations and communties suffer similarly traumatic experiences: periods of dictatorship, foreign or civil wars, natural disasters, serious economic crises etc; and when emerging from a crisis, the group feels the need to start afresh, but this is often very difficult to achieve. Your memories are shackles that you drag along, haunting flashbacks to which you constantly return. Its difficult to place and divide responsibility, and those responsable often refuse it . The victims take refuge in their grief, the culprits go unpunished or disappear, amongst many other situations that plague the collective atmosphere.

Ritual as a Road to Reconciliation

What can we do in these post-traumatic cases? Instinctively, groups and nations gradually invent their own rituals. These rituals always signify an end and a new beginning. There is nothing surprising in this; even in ordinary times we need rituals as milestones, to help us forget and start anew. New Year wishes, both in the Chinese world and the West perform this function. Wishing a happy new year, paying back the year’s debts, eating an exceptional meal together, wearing new clothes and cleaning the house, all welcome the new and bid farewell to the old. In many ways, the rituals that mark Chinese New Year can be seen as marking a reconciliation (implicit but very effective) in the household and neighborhood. Likewise, village communities often use rituals to expel demons who bring the plague or other contagious diseases. These rituals are repeated year after year, with all the "bad influences" symbolically burned. These rituals distinguish Wang Ye cult worship in southern Taiwan. By expelling the "evil spirits" the community cleanses itself. This is also the jealousy and infighting being dispersed, thus renewing the community spirit. I have been fortunate enough to observe similar phenomena in the rituals practiced to heal the sick amongst the minorities of southwestern China, where the family and neighbours all gather in a house. For many of us, diseases and conflicts are inherently linked. Fighting for the rejuvenation of the human body is also being committed to the reconciliation and purification of society.


Translation from French by Nicholas Coulson
Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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