The Spectrum of Ritual

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis by Eugene G D’Aquili, Charles D Laughlin Jr, John McManus, et al.

d'Aquili et al The Spectrum of Ritual

This book is an attempt to create an integrated, multi-disciplinary “explanatory model” (p. 41) of ritual behavior. Besides being undermined by a problematically vague definition of ritual (p. 29), the writing is generally inelegant, and often seems to be cloaking commonplaces in sesquipedalianisms.

My original motive for picking it up was to follow up on the recommendation of Barabara Lex’s chapter “The Neurobiology of Ritual Trance,” which was the subject of great enthusiasm by Robert Mathiesen in his paper on the Sworn Book of Honorius included in Claire Fanger’s collection Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic (1998). As it turned out, the Lex piece was fairly unenlightening and mostly consisted of tallying systemic theories of neurobiology with possible ritual stimuli in order to support a hypothesis of neural “tuning” as the functional basis of ritual. It seemed odd that Mathiesen would reference the Lex paper in his discussion of a “ritual to obtain the Beatific Vision,” since Lex subordinates ritual functionality in both individuals and social systems to the goals of homeostasis and therapeutic change.

For my comrades in the Church, however, I would recommend the penultimate chapter of The Spectrum of Ritual, by G. Ronald Murphy, S.J. (that’s Society of Jesus), “A Ceremonial Ritual: The Mass.” Although it purports to be an applied exemplification of “the major concepts presented in the first six chapters,” it contains a lot of interesting reflections in no way dependent on the structural models of the rest of the book. Murphy’s analysis of the Roman Mass demonstrates the kind of reflection on the magical mechanics of a eucharistic ritual canon that I have rarely seen outside of Leadbeater’s Science of the Sacraments. On the strength of this paper alone, the book is worth borrowing from a school or public library. [via]