RITUAL AND REASON
At the Jewish New Year it is customary for a person of that faith to wipe away his sins of the past year by seeking out a man with a crate of white chickens. He purchases a chicken and waves it over his own head and then gives it back to the seller to have its throat slit. Supposedly the squawking bird has absorbed the sins of the purchaser. The chicken is drained of its blood and then tossed onto a pile of other dead fowls to be given as food to the poor. This is the modern version of the old “scapegoat” ritual of the Hebrews - and it is a good example of how primitive that religion still is.
Waving a chicken over the head of a child has the same effect, whether or not the youngster knows what is going on. And it has the same efficacy as the Christian rite of infant baptism in cleansing from sin, i.e., none at all. (Sin is erased by confession of wrongdoing to God and relying upon His gracious pardon. This cannot be done by an infant, regardless of any ceremonial use of chickens or water.)
Ritual, ceremony, and sorcery are all related to each other and to magic, which is the performance of mysterious acts that cause miracles and wonders to happen at the will of the priest or conjurer. When done in the name of religion, such acts are defined as autosoterism (“self-salvation”) or salvation by “works.” Achieving divine merit through rituals, sacraments, asceticism, or penance is the practice of most of the religions of the world. Asceticism involves self-inflicted physical abuse such as fasting, self-torture and painful acts of penance (wearing sackcloth, smearing on ashes, sleeping on the floor, going without shoes, flagellation, etc.), and vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and silence. In religion, the consecrated sorcerer is the priest. He is dressed in vestments to set him apart from ordinary people.
Magic and superstition are evidenced in hierarchical Christianity by such things as the myth of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into flesh and blood, the worship of relics, reliance upon blessed artifacts (medallions, holy water, statues), and magical gestures (“blessing” and “crossing” motions). Ceremonialism includes burning incense and lighting candles - which take the place of burnt offerings and act as the visible medium of prayer rising constantly to heaven. In like manner, in Buddhism, prayer wheels turning in a stream of water send up endless petitions to the gods. Similarly, praying by rote or by rosary beads and worshiping through chanted liturgies are supposed to have the magical effect of causing God to grant wishes or perform miracles.
Protestant reformers have sought to rid religion of ritualism, but some churches still carry the taint. Instead of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, most Protestants have reduced these to two, Baptism and Communion. Quakers have gone further and have done away with even these, opting instead for “heart religion.” Baptists still use the two ceremonies, but they do not call them “sacraments,” i.e., rites providing saving merit, but “ordinances,” i.e., “orders” or commandments of Jesus mandated for continued performance in His Church. Baptists say there is no magic in them and that they are only symbolic in nature. A lesser rite, confirmation to holy office by the laying on of hands, is customary but not a dogma and not essential to the faith.
The reverent touching, kissing, and bowing before holy statues in Catholic churches is outright idolatry, and if such artifacts were allowed in Protestant churches there would be this same tendency. The best practice is “aniconism,” i.e., observing the Second Commandment’s injunction to banish images, icons, and stained glass pictures of divine subjects from the worship center and use illustrations such as these only in the classroom for purposes of education. (It is interesting to note that Christian churches would not allow the image of a golden calf in the sanctuary to represent God, but somehow a white dove is permissible.)
In Protestantism the religious calendar, with its days of either feasting or fasting and veneration of saints, on designated Saints Days, has been largely discontinued. Exceptions are the feasts of Christ’s Mass and Eastertide. All Saints Day has been forgotten and now remains only in the secular observance of All Hallows Evening, Hallowe’en, which is the preceding night when the dead came out of their tombs and witches ride their brooms. Now, some high church groups are also bringing back the Advent Season as a precursor to Christmas.
Some people crave pomp and ritual in their lives, and if they are Protestants, many choose to join secret societies, where they can dress in costumes and take part in hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo rites. For those who feel a higher call to worship God in spirit and in truth, however, ceremony holds no allure.
Rituals and Ceremonies Magic Spells and Incantations
Making the Sign of the Cross Waving of a Magic Wand
Consecrated Vestments Mystical Garb of the Sorcerer
Wearing a Medallion Holding a Rabbit’s Foot or Wishbone
Holy Water and Incense Witches Brew and Fairy Glamour
Lighting Candles Rotating Prayer Wheels (Buddhist)
Religious Calendar Pagan Seasons and Astrology
Richard L. Atkins