Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas – Book Notes

Posted: October 4, 2017 by Todd in Books
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Preface to the Routledge Classics Edition
  • Two themes of the book:
    1. Taboo as a spontaneous device for protecting the distinctive categories of the universe.  Taboo protects the local consensus on how the world is organized.
    2. Reflections on the cognitive discomfort caused by ambiguity.  Ambiguous things can seem very threatening.
  • “In both cases, a challenge to the established classification is brought under control by some theory of attendant harm.” [Todd: example – homosexuality, transgender]
  • “Taboos depend on a form of community-wide complicity.” (xii)
  • “The implicit theory is that physical nature will avenge (8) the broken taboos.”
  • “The taboo-maintained rules will be as repressive as the leading members of society want them to be.” (xiii)
  • “But when the controllers of opinion want a different way of life, the taboos will lose credibility and their selected view of the universe will be revised.”
  • “But it evidently was not clear enough to prevent several readers from thinking that I was saying that strong cognitive discomfort follows universally on any kind of ambiguity.” (xvii)
  • “We became afraid of contamination of the air, waters, oceans, and food.” (xix)
  • “We showed that risk perception depends on shared culture, not on individual psychology.”
  • “Risk is like taboo.”
  • “The nineteenth century saw in primitive religions two peculiarities which separated them as a block from the great religions of the world.  One was that they were inspired by fear, the other that they were inextricably confused with defilement and hygiene.” (1)
  • “The source is traced to beliefs in horrible disasters which overtake those who inadvertently cross some forbidden line or develop some impure condition.” (1)
  • “But anthropologists who have ventured further into these primitive cultures find little trace of fear”
  • “So primitive religious fear, together with the idea that it blocks the functioning of the mind seems to be a false trail for understanding these religions.”
  • “Dirt is essentially disorder.”
  • “There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder.” (2)
  • “In chasing dirt, in papering, decorating, tidying, we are not governed by anxiety to escape disease, but are positively reordering our environment, making it conform to an idea.”
  • “Rituals of purity and impurity create unity in experience.” (3)
  • “The whole universe is harnessed to men’s attempts to force one another into good citizenship.”
  • “I suggest that many ideas about sexual dangers are better interpreted as symbols of the relation between parts of society, as mirroring designs of hierarchy or symmetry which apply in the larger social system.” (4)
  • “I believe that ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience.” (5)
  • “Reflection on dirt involves reflection on the relation of order to disorder, being to non-being, form to formlessness, life to death.”
  • “The Pauline antithesis of blood and water, nature and grace, freedom and necessity, or the Old Testament idea of Godhead can be illuminated by Polynesian or Central African treatment of closely related themes.” (7)
Chapter 1: Ritual Uncleanness
  • “Our idea of dirt is compounded of two things, care for hygiene and respect for conventions.” (8)
  • “Sound hygiene was incompatible with charity, so she deliberately drank of a bowl of pus.” (St. Catherine of Sienna) (9)
  • “Therefore it is only mystifying to learn that primitives make little difference between sacredness and uncleanness.” (9)
  • “Our idea of sanctity has become very specialized.”
  • “Sacred rules are thus merely rules hedging divinity off, and uncleanness is the two-way danger of contact with divinity.” (9)
  • “For instance, the Latin word sacer itself has this meaning of restriction through pertaining to the gods.  And in some cases may apply to desecration as well as to consecration.  Similarly, the Hebrew root of k-d-sh, which is usually translated as Holy, is based on the idea of separation.” (10)
  • “The main difference between primitive taboo and primitive rules of holiness is the difference between friendly and unfriendly deities.” (13)
  • “If primitive, then rules of holiness and rules of uncleanness were undistinguishable; if advanced, then rules of uncleanness disappeared from religion.”
  • “Were the savages capable of advancement or not?  John Wesley, teaching that mankind in its natural state was fundamentally bad, drew lively pictures of savage customs to illustrate the degeneracy of those who were not saved: ‘The natural religion of the Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws and all other Indians, is to torture all their prisoners from morning to night, till at length they roast them to death…Yea, it is a common thing among them for the son, if he thinks his father lives too long, to knock out his brains.'” (14)
  • “The serious business of ancient society may be seen to sink into the spirit of later generations and its serious belief to linger on in nursery folk-lore” (16)
  • “Tylor was uniquely interested in the lingering survival of the unfit, in almost vanished cultural relics.” (16)
  • “For him the important task was to scrape away the clinging ruble and dust of contemporary savage cultures and to reveal the life-bearing channels which prove their evolutionary status by their live functions in modern society.”
  • “Tylor was interested in what quaint relics can tell us of the past, Robertson Smith was interested in the common elements in modern and primitive experience.  Tylor founded folk-lore; Robertson Smith founded social anthropology.” (17)
  • Florence Nightengale: “Something needs to be done for the educated similar to what John Wesley did for the poor.”  On need for making religion intellectually respectable. (18)
  • Robertson Smith: “Religion did not exist for the saving of souls but for the preservation and welfare of society.” (24)
  • “When Durkheim set aside one class of separations as primitive hygiene and another class as primitive religion he undermined his own definition of religion.” (26)
  • “So we find Durkheim insisting that rules of separation are the distinguishing marks of the sacred.” (26)
  • “It is their nature always to be in danger of losing their distinctive and necessary character.  The sacred needs to be continually hedged in with prohibitions.” (27)
  • 3 stages of development (Sir James Frazer): “Magic was the first stage, religion the second, science the third.”
  • Frazer: “From the thesis of magic emerged the antithesis, religion, and the synthesis, modern effective science, replaced both magic and religion.”  MD: “This fashionable presentation was supported by no evidence whatsoever.” (28)
  • “The history of the Israelites is sometimes presented as a struggle between the prophets who demanded interior union with God and the people, continually liable to slide back into primitive magicality, to which they are particularly prone when in contact with other more primitive cultures.  The paradox is that magicality seems finally to prevail with the compilation of the Priestly Code.” (32)
  • “It seems that once Frazer had said that the interesting question in comparative religion hinged on false beliefs in magical efficacy, British anthropologists’ heads remained dutifully bowed over this perplexing question.” (34)
  • “All in all, Frazer’s influence has been a baneful one.  He took from Robertson Smith that scholar’s most peripheral teaching and perpetuated an ill-considered division between religion and magic.  He disseminated a false assumption about the primitive view of the universe worked by mechanical symbols, and another false assumption that ethics are strange to primitive religion.” (34-35)
Chapter 2: Secular Defilement
  • “It is one thing to point out the side benefits of ritual actions, and another thing to be content with using the by-products as a sufficient explanation.”
  • “It is a pity to treat him as enlightened public health administrator, rather than as a spiritual teacher.” (MD on Moses) (37)
  • Brahmin pollution rules (3 stages) – pg 40-41ff
  • MD: “I am going to argue that our ideas of dirt also express symbolic systems and that the difference between pollution behavior in one part of the world and another is only a matter of detail.” (43)
  • 2 notable differences in contemporary European ideas of defilement and primitive ones:
    1. “Dirt avoidance for us is a matter of hygiene or aesthetics and is not related to our religion.” (44)
    2. “Our idea of dirt is dominated by the knowledge of pathogenic organisms.” (44)
  • “We must be able to make the effort to think back beyond the last 150 years and to analyze the bases of dirt-avoidance, before it was transformed by bacteriology.” (44)
  • “If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of dirt, we are left with the old definition of dirt as matter out of place.” (44)
  • “Where there is dirt there is system.” (44)
  • “Dirt is the by-product of a systemic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements.” (44)
  • “We can recognize in our own notions of dirt that we are using a kind of omnibus compendium which includes all the rejected elements of ordered systems.  It is a relative idea.  Shoes are not dirty themselves, but it is dirty to place them on the dining room table; food is not dirty itself, but it is dirty to leave cooking utensils in the bedroom, or food bespattered on clothing; similarly, bathroom equipment in the drawing room; clothing lying on chairs; outdoor things indoors; upstairs things downstairs; under-clothing appearing where over-clothing should be, and so on.  In short, our pollution behavior is the reaction which condemns any object or idea likely to confuse or contradict cherished classifications.” (45)
  • “Our interests are governed by a pattern-making tendency, sometimes called schema.” (45)
  • “Uncomfortable facts which refuse to be fitted in, we find ourselves ignoring or distorting so that they do not disturb these established assumptions.” (46)
  • “It is not always an unpleasant experience to confront ambiguity…The richness of poetry depends on the use of ambiguity….Aesthetic pleasure arises from the perceiving of inarticulate forms.” (46-7)
  • [Todd: I wonder if Carter’s “pickyness” when it comes to food is at root a “dirt” issue.  He mostly perceives things as not tasting good, if they in any way seem “suspect.”  Perhaps increasing the familiarity to various forms of food in a progressive nature, with the slightly suspect first, gradually getting more “adventurous” as time and intentional effort progresses.]
  • MD reflects on “stickiness” and “viscosity” of things between solid and liquid as being “yucky” (47-48).
  • MD: “There are several ways of treating anomalies.”
    • “We can ignore, just not perceive them.”
    • “We can deliberatively confront the anomaly and try to create a new pattern of reality in which it has a place.”
  • “No individual lives in isolation and his scheme will have been partly received from others.” (48)
  • “A private person may revise his pattern of assumptions or not.  It is a private matter.  But cultural categories are public matters.  They cannot so easily be subject to revision.  Yet they cannot neglect the challenge of aberrant forms.” (48)
  • MD: “We find in any culture…various provisions for dealing with ambiguous or anomalous events.” (48-49)
    1. “Settling for one or other interpretation, ambiguity is often reduced.”
    2. “The existence of anomaly can be physically controlled.”
    3. “A rule of avoiding anomalous things affirms and strengthens the definitions to which they do not conform.”
    4. “Anomalous events may be labeled dangerous.”
    5. “Ambiguous symbols can be used in ritual for the same ends as they are used in poetry and mythology, to enrich meaning or to call attention to other levels of existence.” [Todd: This seems like the healthiest solution]
Chapter 3: The Abominations of Leviticus
  • “Defilement is never an isolated event. (51)
  • “Its real object is to train the Israelite in self-control as the indispensable first step for the attainment of holiness” (55) (modern view on that rules are “ethical training” from Epstein’s English notes to the Babylonian Talmud)
  • “The Hellenistic influence allows the medical and ethical interpretations to run together.” (55)
  • On certain aspects repulsive to modern readers in Levitical code: “Needless to say such interpretations (Driver, Robertson Smith, PP Saydon) are not interpretations at all, since they deny any significance to the rules.  They express bafflement in a learned way.” (57)
  • “Abritrariness is a decidedly unexpected quality to find in Leviticus” (58)
  • “For source criticism attributes Leviticus to the Priestly source, the dominant concern of whose authors was for order.  So the weight of source criticism supports us looking for another interpretation.” (58)
  • “Cloven-hoofed animals which part their hooves symbolise that all our actions must betray proper ethical distinction and be directed towards righteousness….Chewing the cud, on the other hand stands for memory” (from allegorical interpretation in Aristeas)
  • “These (like quote above) are not so much interpretations as pious commentaries.  They fail as interpretations because they are neither consistent nor comprehensive.  A different explanation has to be developed for each animal and there is no end to the number of possible explanations.” (60)
  • Another approach rejected by MD is that rules were a “protection from foreign influence,” because it is not comprehensive as “it is not held that the Israelites consistently rejected all the elements of foreign religions and invented something entirely original for themselves.” (60) (For example, sacrifices)
  • MD’s interpretation that involves both consistency and comprehensivity involves:
    • “Holiness (set apart) is the attribute of the Godhead”
    • “In the OT, we find blessing as the source of all good things, and the withdrawal of blessing as the source of all dangers.”
    • “God’s work through the blessing is essentially to create order through which men’s affairs prosper.” (62) (example: Deut 28:15-24)
    • “Observing them (Levitical code) draws prosperity, infringing on them brings danger.” (63)
    • Holiness involves completeness, wholeness, without blemish-ness (ex: Lev. 21:17-21ff)
  • “The army could not win without the blessing and to keep the blessing in the camp they had to be specially holy.”
  • “The idea of holiness was given an external, physical expression in the wholeness of the body seen as a perfect container.” (65)
  • “The word ‘perversion’ is a significant mistranslation of the rare Hebrew word tebhel, which has as its meaning mixing or confusion.” (66)
  • “To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity, perfection of the individual and of the kind.” (67)
  • “But in general the underlying principle of cleanness in animals is that they shall conform fully to their class.” (69)
  • “To grasp this scheme we need to go back to Genesis and the creation.  Here a three-fold classification unfolds, divided between the earth, the waters and the firmament.  Leviticus takes up this scheme and allots to each element its proper kind of animal life.  In the firmament two-legged fowls fly with wings.  In the water scaly fish swim with fins.  On the earth, four-legged animals hop, jump or walk.” (69)
  • “‘Swarming’ which is not a mode of propulsion proper to any particular element, cuts across the basic classification.” (70)
  • “Surely now it would be difficult to maintain that ‘Be ye Holy’ means no more than ‘Be ye separate.'” (71)
Chapter 4: Magic and Miracle
  • “But the anthropologists who asked if the Bushmen reckoned the rite had produced the rain, were laughed out of court.”
  • “The European belief in primitive magic has led to a false distinction between primitive and modern cultures, and sadly inhibited comparative religion.” (73)
  • “For magic, let us read miracle.” (73-74)
  • “There we find that the possibility of miracle was always present; it did not necessarily depend on rite, it could be expected to erupt anywhere at any time in response to virtuous need or the demands of justice.” (74)
  • “It could not be laid under automatic control; the saying of the right words or sprinkling of holy water could not guarantee a cure.”
  • “In the miraculous period of our Christian heritage miracle did not only occur through enacted rites, nor were rites always performed in the expectation of miracle.  I tis realistic to suppose an equally loose relation holds between rite and magic effect in primitive religion.” (74)
  • “The idea of pollution by blood, for example, seems to have been a long time dying.” (75)
  • “So long as Christianity has any life, it will never be time to stop echoing the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, to stop saying that external forms can become empty and mock the truths they stand for.  With every new century we become heirs to a longer and more vigorous anti-ritualist tradition.” (76)
  • For us, individually, every day symbolic enactment does several things.  It provides:
    1. A focussing mechanism
    2. A method of mnemonics
    3. A control for experience
  • “There can be thoughts which have never been put into words.  Once words have been framed the thought is changed and limited by the very words selected.  So the speech has created something, a thought, which might not have been the same.” [So it is with ritual.]
  • “In dropping both the words Sacred and Magic, Radcliffe-Brown seemed to restore the thread of continuity between secular and religious ritual.” (81)
  • “Our rituals create a lot of little subworlds, unrelated.  Their rituals create one single, symbolically consistent universe.” (85-86)
  • “Money mediates transactions; ritual mediates experience, including social experience.” (86)
  • “Money can only perform its role of intensifying economic interaction if the public has faith in it.  If faith in it is shaken, the currency is useless.  So too with ritual; its symbols can only have effect so long as they command confidence.” (86)
  • “Ndembu therapy may well offer lessons for Western clinical practice.  For relief might be given to many sufferers from neurotic illness if all those included in their social networks could meet together and publicly confess their ill will towards the patient and endure in their turn the recital of his grudges against them.” (88)
  • “So far from being meaningless, it is primitive magic which gives meaning to existence.” (90)
Chapter 5: Primitive Worlds
  • “Now that we have recognised and assimilated our common descent with apes nothing can happen in the field of animal taxonomy to rouse our concern.  This is one reason why cosmic pollution is more difficult for us to understand than social pollutions of which we have some personal experience.” (91)
  • “It is impossible to make any headway with a study of ritual pollution if we cannot face the queston of why primitive culture is pollution-prone and ours is not.  With us pollution is a matter of aesthetics, hygiene or etiquette, which only becomes grave in so far as it may create social embarassment.” (92)
  • “I suspect that our professional delicacy in avoiding the term ‘primitive’ is the product of secret convictions of superiority.” (93)
  • Evans-Pritchard corrected Levy-Bruhl’s tendency to lump all primitive cultures together. (94-95)
  • MD: “The right basis for comparison is to insist on the unity of human experience and at the same time to insist on its variety.” (96)
  • “Progress means differentiation” (96)
  • “Thus primitive means undifferentiated; modern means differentiated.  Advance in technology involves differentiation in every sphere, in techniques and materials, in productive and political roles.” (96)
  • “Differentiation in thought patterns goes along with differentiated social conditions.” (97)
  • In recognizing the complexity of various cultural cosmologies, MD suggests, “the criterion we are looking for is not in elaborateness and sheer complication of ideas.” (97)
  • Rather, MD is looking for one specific type of differentiation: “Thought can only advance by freeing itself from the shackles of its own subjective conditions.” (98)
  • “The first type of culture is not pre-logical, as Levy-Bruhl unfortunately dubbed it, but pre Copernican.  Its world revolves around the observer who is trying to interpret his experiences.” (100) [Todd: Note that cultural progress is made in the subject becoming object, ala Kegan & integral theory]
  • “Primitive” world view is “man-centered” (e.g., Jonah thinks he is the cause of the storm). (101)
  • “So here is another way in which the primitive, undifferentiated universe is personal.  It is expected to behave as if it was intelligent, responsive to signs, symbols, gestures, gifts, and as if it could discern between social relationships.” (107)
  • “To sum up, a primitive world view looks out on a universe which is personal in several different senses.  Physical forces are thought of as interwoven with the lives of persons.  Things are not completely distinguished from persons and persons are not completely distinguished from their external environment.” (109)
  • “As business man, farmer, housewife no one of us has time or inclination to work out a systemic metaphysics.  Our view of the world is arrived at piecemeal, in response to particular practical problems.”  The same is true of “primitives.” (111)
  • “The metaphysic is a by-product, as it were, of the urgent practical concern.” MD’s example of Azande man crushed by falling barn – why did this particular person die then?
  • “The anthropologist who draws out the whole scheme of the cosmos which is implied in these practices does the primitive culture great violence if he seems to present the cosmology as a systematic philosophy.” (113)
  • MD endorses keeping the distinction between primitive cultures and modern ones in anthropology, based on their undifferentiated state from the world around them.  MD says “Christian believers, Moslems, and Jews are not be be classed as primitive on account of their beliefs,” but I don’t see any clear reason.  This quote is perhaps MD’s best, clearest answer, but I remain unconvinced: “For their beliefs have been phrased and rephrased with each century and their intermeshing with social life cut loose.  The European history of ecclesiastical withdrawal from secular politics and from secular intellectual problems to specialised religious spheres is the history of this whole movement from primitive to modern.” (114-115)
Chapter 6: Powers and Dangers
  • “Disorder spoils pattern, it also provides the material of pattern.” (117)  “This is why, though we seek to create order, we do not simply condemn disorder.  We recognise that it is destructive to existing patterns; also that it has potentiality.  It symbolises both danger and power.”
  • The ambiguous carries with it power because it is “out of order.”  (118-119)
  • Van Gennep: Transitional states are also dangerous along these same lines [Note: See FOH notes for more on Van Gennep in Jennifer Lord]
  • “This is roughly how we ourselves regard marginal people in a secular, not ritual context.  Social workers in our society, concerned with the after-care of ex-prisoners, report a difficulty on resettling them in steady jobs, a difficulty which comes from the attitude of society at large.  A man who has spent any time ‘inside’ is put permanently ‘outside’ the ordinary social system….The same goes for persons who have entered institutions for the treatment of mental disease.” (121)
  • Pollution is not relevant to the categories of “voluntary, involuntary, internal, external.” (123)
  • “Where the social system explicitly recognises positions of authority, those holding such positions are endowed with explicit spiritual power, controlled, conscious, external and approved – powers to bless or curse.  Where the social system requires people to hold dangerously ambiguous roles, these persons are credited with uncontrolled, unconscious, dangerous, disapproved powers – such as witchcraft and evil eye.” (123-124)
  • “Where the social system is well articulated, I look for articulate powers vested in the points of authority; where the social system is ill articulated, I look for inarticulate powers vested in those who are a source of disorder.” (124)
  • “I would like to suggest that those holding office in the explicit part of the structure tend to be credited with consciously controlled powers, in contrast with those whose role is less explicit and who tend to be credited with unconscious, uncontrollable powers, menacing those in better defined positions.” (126)
  • “Jews in English society are something like Mandari clients.  Belief in their sinister but undefinable advantages in commerce justifies discrimination against them – whereas their real offense is always to have been outside the formal structure of Christendom.” (129)
  • “Thus we would have a triad of powers controlling fortune and misfortune: first, formal powers wielded by persons representing the formal structure and exercised on behalf of the formal structure: second, formless powers wielded by interstitial persons: third, powers not wielded by any person, but inhering in the structure, which strike against any infraction of form.” (130)  But, MD says, there are sometimes “officials” acting according to the second type and vice versa.  Other factors meddle with this basic theory too.  MD: “We should be prepared to elaborate the hypothesis to take more account of the varieties of authority.” (131)
  • Saul – Book of Samuel – pg 132
  • When Saul abuses his official office, he becomes “an unconscious danger” (2nd type of power)
  • Baraka is witchcraft in reverse – uncontrolled blessing from unofficial place (137)
  • “In a sense all colonial anthropology takes place in a teacup.” (By which, MD means that it is cut off from larger scenes of calamity and influence under the “artificial conditions of colonial peace”) (138)
  • “Another characteristic of success power is that it is often contagious.  It is transmitted materially.” (139)
  • “The only circumstances in which spiritual powers seem to flourish independently of the formal social system are when the system itself is exceptionally devoid of formal structure.” (139)
  • Beyond the structural and interstitial powers discussed in this chapter, “there are pollution powers which inhere in the structure of ideas itself and which punish a symbolic breaking of that which should be joined or joining of that which should be separate.” (140)
  • “If follows from this that pollution is a type of danger which is not likely to occur except where the lines of structure, cosmic or social, are clearly defined.” (140)
Chapter 7: External Boundaries
  • Thresholds are an important ritual in life. (141)
  • Rituals of the body shouldn’t be interpreted exclusively using individual psychology, but also through a social lens (143).
  • Roheim (1925): Primitive culture is autoplastic (change self to make change), ours is alloplastic (change environment to make change)
  • MD resists any comparison of “primitive” cultures to infants or humans otherwise in a state of arrested development.
  • There tends to be an overplaying of the “excremental” and “anal” symbolism of primitive cultures.
  • Why should bodily refuse be a symbol of danger and power?  MD says:
    • Not an expression of infantile fantasy
    • All margins are dangerous – “The mistake is to treat bodily margins in isolation from all other margins.” (150)
  • MD seems to affirm this criticism of psychoanalysis: “The derisive remark was once made against psychoanalysis that the unconscious sees a penis in every convex object and a vagina or anus in every concave one.  I find that this sentence well characterises the facts.” (151)
  • MD: “Four kinds of social pollution seem worth distinguishing:”
    1. Danger pressing on external boundaries
    2. Danger transgressing the internal lines of the system
    3. Danger in the margins of the lines
    4. Danger from internal contradiction (when some of the basic postulates are denied by other basic postulates)
  • “Here I am suggesting that, when rituals express anxiety about the body’s orifices, the sociological counterpart of this anxiety is a care to protect the political and cultural unity of a minority group.” (153)
  • “The Israelites were always in their history a hard-pressed minority.” (153)
  • “This is evident when we reflect on caste structure.  Since place in the hierarchy of purity is biologically transmitted, sexual behavior is important for preserving the purity of caste.  For this reason, in higher castes, boundary pollution focusses particularly on sexuality.  The caste membership of an individual is determined by his mother, for though she may have married into a higher caste, her children take their caste from her.  Therefor women are the gates of entry ot the caste.  Female purity is carefully guarded and a woman who is known to have had sexual intercourse with a man of lower caste is brutally punished.  Male sexual purity does not carry this responsibility.  Hence male promiscuity is a lighter matter.” (155)
  • Cooking is part of digestive process in India and therefore subject to pollution vulnerability.  MD continues, “But why is this complex found in India and in parts of Polynesia and in Judaism and other places, but not wherever humans sit down to eat?  I suggest that food is not likely to be polluting at all unless the external boundaries of the social system are under pressure.” (157)
  • MD ends by reiterating that psychoanalytic explanations for primitive ritual have little power when compared to the anthropological ones situated within a specific culture, paying careful attention to the unique nature of their symbolic rituals, particularly body as boundary issues.
Chapter 8:
  • Pollution and morality interact, but are separate.
  • In the case where internal moral punishment would infringe on further encompassing moral principles, pollutions rules can help guide what to do.
  • 4 ways in which pollution can uphold the moral code: (165)
    1. Pollution belief can provide a rule for determining post hoc whether infraction has taken place
    2. Pollution rule can reduce confusion when rules conflict
    3. Pollution can heighten moral indignation
    4. Pollution can be a deterrent
  • “Some pollutions are too grave for the offender to be allowed to survive.  But most pollutions have a very simple remedy for undoing their effects.  There are rites of reversing, untying, burying, washing, erasing, fumigating, and so on, which at a small cost of time and effort can satisfactorily expunge them.” (168)
  • “There must be an advantage for society at large in attempting to reduce moral offenses to pollution offences which can be instantly scrubbed out by ritual.” (168)  MD follows with lex talionis example
  • “Easy purification enables people to defy with impunity the hard realities of their social system.” (170)
Chapter 9: The System at War With Itself
  • “When the community is attacked from outside at least the external danger fosters solidarity within.  When it is attacked from within by wanton individuals, they can be punished and the structure publicly reaffirmed.  But is is possible for the structure to be self-defeating.” (173)
  • In an Indian culture, where women are the guardians of the entrance to the caste system, the sexual purity of women is all important and women therefore are quite restricted (178)
  • In the Mae Enga culture, they typically marry from a warring, oppositional clan.  Therefore, feminine sexual touch is seen as a weakening force upon the male and sex is largely avoided except in marriage where some rituals can mitigate its harm. (181-182)
  • “Delilah complex” – belief that women weaken (190)
  • Emphasis on virginity in early Christianity is “a potent new symbol” that fell “on good soil in a small persecuted minority group” contributing to a new kind of social organization where their is “neither male or female.” (194-195)
Chapter 10: The System Shattered and Renewed
  • “It still remains true that religions often sacralise the very unclean things which have been rejected with abhorrence.  We must, therefore ask, how dirt, which is normally destructive, sometimes becomes creative.” (196)
  • “Not all unclean things are used constructively in ritual….In Israel it was unthinkable that unclean things, such as corpses and excreta could be incorporated into the Temple ritual, but only blood, and only blood shed in sacrifice.” (197)
  • “The attitude to reject bits and pieces goes through two stages.  First they are recongisably out of place, a threat to good order, and so are regarded as objectionable and vigorously brushed away.  At this stage they have some identity…This is the stage at which they are dangerous.” (197)  “In its last phase then, dirt shows itself as an apt symbol of creative formlessness.” (199)
  • “So long as identity is absent, rubbish is not dangerous.  It does not even create ambiguous perceptions since it clearly belongs in a defined place, a rubbish heap of one kind or another.  Even the bones of buried kings rouse little awe and the thought that the air is full of the dust of corpses of bygone races has no power to move.  Where there is no differentiation there is no defilement.” (197-198)
  • “Purity is the enemy of change, of ambiguity and compromise.” (200)
  • Purity tends to be at odds with lived experience.  “One solution is to enjoy purity at second hand.”  (E.g., chiefs, priests, etc. live “pure”)
  • “The special kind of treatment which some religions accord to anomalies and abominations to make them powerful for good is like turning weeds and lawn cuttings into compost.” (202)
  • “Composting religion” – “That which is rejected is ploughed back for a renewal of life.” (207)
  • “One way of protecting ritual from scepticism is to suppose that an enemy, within or without the community, is continually undoing its good effect.” (215)
  • “Another way of protecting the belief that religion can deliver prosperity here and now is to make ritual efficacy depend on difficult conditions.” (215)
  • The third way is for religions to change their track.  Chihamba, a Ndembu cult, uses paradox in this way. (216)

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