Materiality and ritual competence: Insights from women’s prayer typology in Homer
Introduction Rituals are discursive practices that involve formalization of language, a sense of repetition, and channeling of specifi c actions, during which the ordinary is rendered extraordinary, and, as such, they embody, as Stanley J. Tambiah famously put it, the “logic of persuasion” (Tambiah 1979, 148). They are part of community and cultural discourse and involve agency. The practitioners of rituals are the ones who act in often codifi ed and prescribed ways. But how does one know what to do, how to act, what to say? In other words, how is ritual competence acquired, manifested and, perhaps, how is its effi cacy or success measured? Recent ritual competence theory points to the fact that ritual functions like language. Just like language it produces patterns, and just like linguistic competence it is a form of tacit if not intuitive knowledge one acquires through a variety of means and in a broad spectrum of time and space. It extends beyond one’s lifetime, involves the lifetime of smaller or greater communities, and becomes cultural capital. Once acquired, just like linguistic users, ritual users are not always conscious or totally in control of the deep structures. And just like language, ritual can create meaning, forge communities, and navigate life changes. There are several advantages in using linguistic theory and modes to talk about ritual competence, as there are similarities between the two: some patterns of action or thought are ingrained or learned in innocent ways, but on its own ritual can become a tool of power, social control, means of survival, a concrete way to negotiate personal and cultural relations. Language and ritual are forms of symbolic cultural systems, meaning they are relatively restricted in their use and transmission. Explicit instruction is usually absent, and competence comes the way one learns to speak; “ritual competence is like grammar, most of us learn to speak before we can articulate rules of grammar” (Grimes 2013, 308). Ritual is increasingly analyzed as a linguistic system of communication;, like language, it is a generative and primary system of communication; and the rules of its codifi cation are only secondary knowledge, if it reaches the conscious level at all.