Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

BUCKINGHAM Palace is taking steps to cut down the ritual associated with the State Opening of Parliament. But how can you curtail ritual? The whole point of ritual (ritus, derivation unknown) is that it is a symbolic routine, performed in a set sequence, at a set time and place, hallowed by observance, usage and custom. Any omission, deviation or indeed hesitation is a matter of concern. To change it is to destroy it, and therefore to invalidate its high purpose, calling forth who knows what retribution from the mysterious powers whose goodwill it is designed to solicit?

Ritual accompanied all the great social and religious occasions of the ancient world. It usually involved extravagant dressing up (in Minoan Crete, ritual is often shown being performed by dog-like monsters with snouts, pointed ears and paws). After the event it was common for a committee to check that the ceremony had been properly conducted. There was a terrible flap on one occasion, for example, when, after a great ceremony in honour of the god Dionysus in Athens, it was discovered that a key female participant was not Athenian born and bred. Again, a sacrifice was not deemed valid if anything ill-omened happened: let the bulls stumble (i. …

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