Jess’ Ritual Blog

Just another ANTH213 weblog

Cashing in on death (or being a vampire)

heykro was talking about the way funeral parlours become businesses in the “Death Denied” article. This brought to mind a Penn and Teller Bullshit episode I saw called “Death, Inc.” which is about this exact thing. As usual these two explore the idea in a very comic and also rather blunt kind of way, and one might consider it one-sided, but (as usual) I found it to be both very interesting, very insightful (not quite the right word) and very amusing.

It explores the general thougths about death as well, exploring the taboo issue and the way that we tend to hide death, even giving similar examples of how death has been removed from general society:

“Now we no longer see death in a familiar setting, and it makes it seem less real”

It also explores a few other things, such as a man who does not believe in death, and a couple who are ‘vampires’ (and can’t talk properly). Overall, it provides an interesting view of Death in the modern day (America).

Here’s the first part of that episode, courtesy of YouTube:


01/06/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The 21st

For many people I know, one’s 21st is something very important. The key which is often given is meant to symbolise entering a new world – but what exactly is this new world? It seems to signify some kind of growing up still – even though many of the apparent milestones of growing up, things that demonstrate independance, have already been legal for some years (driving at 15, drinking at 18, gambling at 20, voting at 18). In America, the drinking age is 21, and so there is something that offers more responsibility and independence here.  Idependance in terms of leaving the family household is also not something that necessarily comes at this time – many people move out far before this, or may remain living at home for some time. Reaching the age of 21 seems to be a milestone, even though there doesn’t seem to be any particular change. The key which is often given is meant to symbolise entering a new world – but what exactly is this new world?

This reminds me of what we were talking about in lecture the other day. There is no exact prescribed code for how we must live our lives anymore, and yet there is still the social expectaiton that it will be present. It seems to be a part of the self identity; my grandmother expressed great dismay bordering horror at my 21st when my great aunt said that she could not remember her own.

Even if someone does not want a 21st, there is an expectation that there will be one. My father didn’t want a 21st, for example, but my grandmother insisted on holding the event. In this sense, the 21st appears to not only be significant for the individual turning 21, but something significant for the parents who appear to be ‘loosing’ a child.

The 21st is often a large event, planned well in advance, with a planned guest list. A lot of people also have two 21sts, or two different parts – one for family which may be in some senses more formal, and the other for friends which may involve more drinking; this part may also be more informal in terms of who is invited and who is not. This seems to divide the life of the individual into two different sectors and suggest different kinds of activities that are appropriate for these different groups of people and parts of life. This at first seems like almost a division between the public and the private, and yet it is not quite that either. It seems more to be a kind of segmenting of the individual.

29/05/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments


The slametan is a Javenese feast that could be used to help celebrate almost any rite of passage, symbolically demonstrating the social unity of those participating in it. It was interesting to note how it has changed in movements from rural to urban areas, proving just how much of an impact environment (stemming from the physical but all else emerging from that) has on the way people live.

The neighbourhood or neighbours, which had once been central to this feast as those who were invited, was no longer important. This seemed due largely to the frequent changing of the neighbourhood community, as well as the fact that in urban areas it was not just people of one culture who were living in a specific area. Reliance on neighbours in situations like emergencies or simply when one needs help were replaced by state organisations – police, ambulances, doctors, firefighters etc; therefore, it is less important to have a close relationship with neighbours. The feasts could be focused on those who were not necessarily living in the same area, although this itself led to another change – the duration of the slametan. Those people who attended may not see each other often outside of this situation, and so there was more of an emphasis on talking and using the time to ‘catch up’ it seems than when neighbours, who by definition live very, very close by, were those invited. Although still showing social cohesion and identity, the slametan was not doing so in the same way as it did traditionally in rural areas.

I suppose that in a culturally diverse area, it also helps groups to define themselves culturally and have that sense of origins and history that comes from tradition and seems so integral a part of human identity.

25/05/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“The Invisible Death”

I was made to think of those tiny lines of words you find cramped into a newspaper page that mean someone has died. This public announcement isn’t really very accessible.

I found this article particularly interesting in the way it used literary examples. I wonder if this is partly because it’s difficult to know what real people are actually thinking and feeling; not only can there be misunderstandings and difficulty in explaining such things, people do not always tell the truth.

I found myself likening the way hospitals are used to old folk’s homes as well, something seperating people to some degree from a constant (both literal and emotional) responsibility for those who are nearing death. It also keeps our own fear of death at bay. Again, I think this has a lot to do perhaps with the individualising of people in Western society, and the extreme focus on not life so much as lifestyle we seem to have.

21/05/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


I found the “Princess Palace” reading particularly fascinating. It seems to be a huge mix of Western and ‘traditional’ Japanesenessishness. The Disney-like architecture, the complete organisation of the entire event, the importance of costumes and the photographs (and the bride having to “endure” standing around being posed for quite some time) – and even the wax cake being cut – create what one might consider to be a very artificial ceremony, which might almost seem innappropriate to a lot of the Western world, even though in many senses it is based on what the Western world seems to value. And that is, of course, considering it from a Western perspective. It’s very commercial and appears to be quite superficial. I’d like to know what the actual feelings (or at least, the feelings communicated) by people involved in the ceremony were in more detail, particularly those of the bride.

Both articles seemed to focus in particular on aspects surrounding the bride; the bride seems to almost be more important than groom. In both cases, a feast or meal of some kind was important. Again in the “Princess Palace” article, I found the observation that people might recognise a cake as symbolic but not know what it was symbolic of to be interesting. I imagine that the wedding cake becomes a symbol of marriage itself, as well as of a sense of tradition. This sense of tradition, as we’ve seen from Hobsbwam, is very important in legitimising ritual.

Marriage serves many purposes, from linking families together (which can even take a more national political meaning, in such cases as royal weddings – just consider the marriages of Royalty back in the day in Britain) which can end feuds/arguments/wars or simply add to power and social networks, to legitimising children so that they can not only be recognised by society but also have someone to care for them. Displays of wealth are also vital, and linked in with power. Marriage with a main cause of love and romance is a very recent idea, and a particularly Western one. It seems that as society has become more focused on the individual than the group, romantic love has become a higher ideal, which seems a little ironic in some senses but actually computes rather well. Romantic love is a focus on the individual’s feelings and can and often does, as we see in the great tradition of comedy/romantic-comedy, subvert the social norms and often creates at the ending a new kind of society in which the couple is acceptable. Even if they both have to commit suicide in order to achieve this.

Weddings in New Zealand are very interesting as well. Already, a lot of my friends and people around my age that I know are getting engaged or married, which seems to be a slight shift from the last generation’s trend. My friends got married at 18 and had a relatively small wedding with family and friends – who was on the guest list was important, as leaving someone out could offend them. Although they are Christian, they married on a beach rather than in a church, which to me suggests the apparent changing attitudes towards the values in Christianity. Their wedding was very well planned in advance, just as I recieved an invitation to another friend’s wedding almost a year in advance.

This is in great contrast to my parents wedding (which I was not present at). My father rang up his sisters and asked if they were doing anything that weekend, because he was getting married. For them – and I’m not making any comments about my friends at all – the marriage was just a legal recognition of their love and union, and they had barely any guests at all. But now this post is getting offensively long and tedious. I shall eat an apple instead.

19/05/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Initiation and Discourse

I really enjoyed the reading about the self-created initiation rites of boys in Portugal. The “rampages” that they went on, and particularly the way they talked about them, reminded me a little of boys of that age in our own culture (although there are less roofs, old men and dogs, generally). I think of my younger brothers and the things they did/do at that age, and although not quite the same, there is still that element of showing bravery, and a certain way of talking when they report these things to their friends. It is always, as here, to present themselves as brave.

The way the old men were spoken of reminded me of the way they are often used in our own culture – if you look, for example, at a lot of literature based around boys 10-13 there is often an old man who presents an element of danger. We also are told to stay away from strangers when we are younger, and often the idea of the stranger seems to focus about older men. I have yet to encounter it being a woman.

Higher toleration of what is generally anti-social behaviour is also, to some extent, seen in our own culture. The phrase “boys will be boys” comes to mind.

All rites of passages and rituals have a certain discourse associated with them. In fact, all situations do (obvious statement, as this is the whole purpose of the theories of discourse). Mode of discourse always helps to represent the relationship between people, and this moves back to values. Male adulthood here was greatly associated with bravery, and it seems to be in our own culture too, and in many other cultures. Shows of bravery are an important aspect of becoming a man, as it seems the male role is often percieved as one of protection – something else mentioned in this reading. Discourse and roles are tied together.

07/05/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This week’s readings

The May Day ritual seems to have grown more structured when it took on a political purpose. Likewise, “the content of the solagans and symbolic messages also changed”. This reminds me in some ways of the way that the German government manipulated Christmas and the symbols that surrounded it to get across their own political messages, and the way that Christmas seemed to take on a more firm strucutre in the way it was to be celebrated.

The fact that “anyone who was something else was by definition an enemy” shows the way in which identity is in some ways more exclusive than inclusive. The idea of a shared identity is based not only on ways in which a person must be to be included in the identity, but ways in which they may not be.

Bartok was also used, several years after his death, as a symbol of different ideals. Despite ways he may have been imagined in the past, in ‘reclaiming’ him the government was also able to claim the ideals that suited their purpose and present them as though they were the absolute truth. This shows the way in which an actual person can become a symbol and be manipulated just as a Christmas tree can be.

30/04/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

assignment query

Is there a certain number of research resources that we have to use for our assignments?

What is the word count?

Can we lay it out under subheadings, or do we need to write it as one whole essay?

27/04/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Public holidays

Following the link on ritualmand’s blog, I went and had a look at some of the posts about the possibility of giving ANZAC Day a Monday off if it falls in the weekend. Very interesting.

A lot of people posting seem to think of ANZAC Day – and statuary holidays in general – as a chance to have time off. Many people seemed to consider the day in light of it’s public holiday status, rather than the symbolic purpose it serves. Also interesting was the association with Gallipoli and the veterans there, rather than any of our other veterans and soldiers. The attitude towards ANZAC Day, and the way that it’s understood, is, I think, going to be central to what I’m going to do for my assignment… whatever that may be.

Here’s a few little sound bites, but it’s worth checking out for yourself:

All statutory holidays should be abolished. Every worker and student should be allocated 10 special holidays per year, selected at the start of every year, to celebrate whatever religious/national/military/etc events they choose.” Dave Collins (Papakura City)

… Most countries have a “memorial day” of some sort to honour their veterans, and I think most of them Monday-ise them.  For that matter, Waitangi Day should be the same. It’s our National Holiday.” Karen (Auckland)

Doesn`t matter one way or the other. Anzac day no longer means a whole lot to many any more and it is a real pain having it shoved down your throat every year. If the old soldiers want to remember it, let them do it without involving the rest of us. Wars have come and gone since mankind began and April 15th is nothing special, especially since Gallipolli was not the battle with the worst losses. Monday should be a holiday so we can get over the gloom of Anzac day.” Susan Gibson (Papamoa)

“…At least ANZAC day has real meaning to all kiwis though. Queens birthday, easter and Christmas are of no real relevance to most New Zealanders (other than chocolate and presents) and Waitangi day is more divisive than anything else … On ANZAC day we remember those that helped New Zealand (and our friends across the ditch) become what we are today. Should Monday be a holiday if it falls on the weekend? I don’t think so. They day is about remembering our heroes and looking at where we are today. I can do that wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.” twanger (Devonport)

… Its about remembering and respecting those who have laid down their lives for us, not an excuse for a day off.” John (Victoria)

ANZAC day is a day of remeberance, not a day for self absorbed people to skive off work. How about getting off your chuff this weekend and attend a dawn parade- then go on with your life, the one that others gave theirs for.” Stunned (Hamilton)

“…I wish Kiwis would check their facts before making themselves look stupid.” Kirk (New South Wales)

24/04/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

my ANZAC Days

My experience of ANZAC Day was, in my childhood, quite different from a Dawn Ceremony or any other organised event. It was important to us, especially my grandfather and father; my great grandfather was in WWI, and he returned,  but it effected him greatly, as it did to so many. Our family is also very close, and so sometimes I even felt as though I had some kind of bond between myself and my great grandfather although I had never met him.

My father has a piece of shrapnel that was dug from my great grandfather’s shoulder on Gallipoli, which he used to bring out on April 25, as well as other times. I think this helped to make the idea more real. He told us how it was cleaned out with iodine, and I could imagine how horrible, how painful, to have that ball of metal pulled out of your flesh and then have iodine poured into the wound. We used to have ANZAC biscuits, fresh from the oven – they used to have those in the trenches, perhaps not as fresh or as delicious, but those same sorts of simple and basic ingredients – and take pieces of cardboard up on our hill. We slid down. I’m sure that someone could suggest the descent was symbolic of that going down any of those looming cliffs, but for us it wasn’t.

There were always ANZAC ceremony type things at school as well, even when it fell in the holidays. I can’t really remember any of those,  but we had them. At highschool, they always played the last post, and “In Flander’s Feilds” was often read. The red poppy always meant ANZAC Day to me, but when I was young I mainly wanted them because I thought they were pretty; I adored them. Later, I came to understand what they meant, and I felt more uncomfortable about them. I even felt guilty for once being so superficial about them.

19/04/2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment