Victor Turner was an anthropologist whose thinking has greatly influenced our ideas about ritual. The reading below represents excerpts from two of his works. The first, from an article Turner wrote for the journal Science, provides a definition of a ritual and a discussion of its characteristics. The second, taken from Turner's book The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, describes liminality, an important concept which he identified in one particular kind of ritual, the rite of passage. Rites of passage celebrate the movement of a member of a society from one state or condition to another. A graduation, for example, represents the passage of members of a school's student body out of the school and into another stage of education or experience. Rites of passage comprise a large and important category of rituals, but not all rituals are rites of passage. A Thanksgiving Day parade, for instance, celebrates the change of seasons from Summer to Fall, and would be considered what Turner calls a cyclic ritual, not a rite of passage.

This reading comes from: "Symbols in African Ritual," Science March 16, 1972, vol. 179, 1100-05.

NO ONE WHO HAS LIVED FOR LONG in rural sub-Saharan Africa can fail to be struck by the importance of ritual in the lives of villagers and homesteaders and by the fact that rituals are composed of symbols.


Definition of ritual:

"A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities ... performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interests."

A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interests. Rituals may be seasonal, hallowing a culturally defined moment of change in the climatic cycle or the inauguration of an activity such as planting, harvesting, or moving from winter to summer pasture; or they may be contingent, held in response to an individual or collective crisis. Contingent rituals may be further subdivided into life-crisis ceremonies, which are performed at birth, puberty, marriage, death, and so on, to demarcate the passage from one phase to another in the individual's life-cycle, and rituals of affliction, which are performed to placate or exorcise preternatural beings or forces believed to have afflicted villagers with illness, bad luck, gynecological troubles, severe physical injuries, and the like. Other classes of rituals include divinatory rituals; ceremonies performed by political authorities to ensure the health and fertility of human beings, animals, and crops in their territories; initiation into priesthoods devoted to certain deities, into religious associations, or into secret societies; and those accompanying the daily offering of food and libations to deities or ancestral spirits or both. Africa is rich indeed in ritual genres, and each involves many specific performances.

Turner lived among the Ndembu, a central African tribe, from 1950 to 1954, studying their society and their religious practices.

The Nyakusa are a West African tribe studied by Monica Wilson


Each rural African society (which is often, though not always, coterminous with a linguistic community) possesses a finite number of distinguishable rituals that may include all or some of the types listed above. At varying intervals, from a year to several decades, all of a society's rituals will be performed, the most important (for example, the symbolic transference of political authority from one generation to another, as among the Nyakyusa (Wilson 1959) of Tanzania) being performed perhaps the least often. Since societies are processes responsive to change, not fixed structures, new rituals are devised or borrowed, and old ones decline and disappear. Nevertheless, forms survive through flux, and new ritual items, even new ritual configurations, tend more often to be variants of old themes than radical novelties. Thus it is possible for anthropologists to describe the main features of a ritual system, or rather ritual round (successive ritual performances), in those parts of rural Africa where change is occurring slowly.

The Semantic Structure of the Symbol

In this section, Turner is interested in determining the meaning of rituals in general. That is, he wants to define his methodological terms in such a way that he can study two specific rituals in different societies and apply his terms to both.

semantic -- this term refers to meaning, especially to the meanings of words

The ritual symbol is ''the smallest unit of ritual which still retains the specific properties of ritual behavior . . . the ultimate unit of specific structure in a ritual context." This structure is a semantic one (that is, it deals with relationships between signs and symbols and the things to which they refer) and has the following attributes: (i) multiple meanings (significata) -- actions or objects perceived by the senses in ritual contexts (that is, symbol vehicles) have many meanings; (ii) unification of apparently disparate significata -- the essentially distinct significata are interconnected by analogy or by association in fact or thought; (iii) condensation-- many ideas, relations between things, actions, interactions, and transactions are represented simultaneously by the symbol vehicle (the ritual use of such a vehicle abridges what would verbally be a lengthy statement or argument); (iv) polarization of significata--the referents assigned by custom to a major ritual symbol tend frequently to be grouped at opposed semantic poles. At one pole of meaning, empirical research has shown that the significata tend to refer to components of the moral and social orders -- this might be termed the ideological (or normative) pole of symbolic meaning; at the other, the sensory (or orectic) pole, are concentrated references to phenomena and processes that may be expected to stimulate desires and feelings.

Thus, I have shown that the mudyi tree, or milktree (Diplorrhyncus mossambicensis), which is the focal symbol of the girls' puberty ritual of the Ndembu people of northwestern Zambia, at its normative pole represents womanhood, motherhood, the mother-child bond, a novice ,undergoing initiation into mature womanhood, a specific matrilineage, the principle of matriliny, the process of learning "women's wisdom," the unity and perdurance of Ndembu society, and all of the values and virtues inherent in the various relationships -- domestic, legal, and political -- controlled by matrilineal descent. Each of these aspects of its normative meaning becomes paramount in a specific episode of the puberty ritual; together they form a condensed statement of the structural and communal importance of femaleness in Ndembu culture. At its sensory pole, the same symbol stands for breast milk (the tree exudes milky latex -- indeed, the significata associated with the sensory pole often have a more or less direct connection with some sensorily perceptible attribute of the symbol), mother's breasts, and the bodily slenderness and mental pliancy of the novice (a young slender sapling of mudyi is used). The tree, situated a short distance from the novice's village, becomes the center of a sequence of ritual episodes rich in symbols (words, objects, and actions) that express important cultural themes.

Dominant Symbols in Ritual Cycles


Rituals tend to be organized in a cycle of performances (annual, biennial, quinquennial, and so on); even in the case of contingent rituals, each is performed eventually. In each total assemblage, or system, there is a nucleus of dominant symbols, which are characterized by extreme multivocality (having many senses) and a central position in each ritual performance. Associated with this nucleus is a much larger number of enclitic (dependent) symbols. Some of these are univocal, while others, like prepositions in language, become mere relation or function signs that keep the ritual action going (for example, bowings, lustrations, sweepings, and objects indicative of joining or separation). Dominant symbols provide the fixed points of the total system and recur in many of its component rituals. For example, if 15 separate kinds of ritual can be empirically distinguished in a given ritual system, dominant symbol A may be found in l0 of them, B in 7, C in 5, and D in 12. The mudyi tree, for example, is found in boys' and girls' initiation ceremonies, in five rituals concerned with female reproductive disorders, in at least three rituals of the hunters' cults, and in various herbalistic practices of a magical cast. Other dominant symbols of Ndembu rituals, as I have shown elsewhere (Turner 1961; 1966; 1969a) recur almost as frequently in the ritual round. Each of these symbols, then, has multiple referents, but on each occasion that it is used -- usually an episode within a ritual performance -- only one or a related few of its referents are drawn to public attention.

Actors Experience Symbols as Powers and as Meanings

In this section, Turner wants to make clear that ritual is not just a symbolic language. It is a series of actions performed by participants who are affected by their role in the drama. This idea will be even more important in the section on rites of passage, below.

powers and symbols -- when a substance is used to treat a patient, it is being used for its power. When the same substance is used to represent an idea or a feeling, it is used symbolically. Ritual often combines these uses of an object. Water, for instance, can be used to clean away dirt, or it can be used to symbolize a baby's acceptance into a religious group.

The second characteristic of ritual condensation, which compensates in some measure for semantic obscurity, is its efficacy. Ritual is not just a concentration of referents, of messages about values and norms; nor is it simply a set of practical guidelines and a set of symbolic paradigms for everyday action, indicating how spouses should treat each other, how pastoralists should classify and regard cattle, how hunters should behave in different wild habitats, and so on. It is also a fusion of the powers believed to be inherent in the persons, objects, relationships, events, and histories represented by ritual symbols. It is a mobilization of energies as well as messages. In this respect, the objects and activities in point are not merely things that stand for other things or something abstract, they participate in the powers and virtues they represent. I use "virtue" advisedly, for many objects termed symbols are also termed medicines. Thus, scrapings and leaves from such trees as the mudyi and the mukula are pounded together in meal mortars, mixed with water, and given to the afflicted to drink or to wash with. Here there is direct communication of the life-giving powers thought to inhere in certain objects under ritual conditions (a consecrated site, invocations of preternatural entities, and so on). When an object is used analogously, it functions unambiguously as a symbol. Thus, when the mudyi tree is used in puberty rites it clearly represents mother's milk; here the association is through sight, not taste. But when the mudyi is used as medicine in ritual, it is felt that certain qualities of motherhood and nurturing are being communicated physically.

In the first case, the mudyi is used because it is "good to think" rather than "good to eat"; in the second, it is used because it has maternal power. The same objects are used both as powers and symbols, metonymically and metaphorically -- it is the context that distinguishes them. The power aspect of a symbol derives from its being a part of a physical whole, the ideational aspect from an analogy between a symbol vehicle and its principal significata.

communication by means of rituals -- a ritual can express the participants' beliefs and attitudes toward their world and their society. To understand the meaning of any ritual, it is important to consider it in relation to the other symbols and beliefs found in the society.

Each symbol expresses many themes, and each theme is expressed by many symbols. The cultural weave is made up of symbolic warp and thematic weft. This weaving of symbols and themes serves as a rich store of information, not only about the natural environment as perceived and evaluated by the ritual actors, but also about their ethical, esthetic, political, legal, and ludic (the domain of play, sport, and so forth in a culture) ideas, ideals, and rules. Each symbol is a store of information, both for actors and investigators, but in order to specify just which set of themes any particular ritual or ritual episode contains, one must determine the relations between the ritual's symbols and their vehicles, including verbal symbolic behavior. The advantages of communication by means of rituals in nonliterate societies are clearly great, for the individual symbols and the patterned relations between them have a mnemonic function. The symbolic vocabulary and grammar to some extent make up for the lack of written records.

The Semantic Dimensions

In this section, Turner steps back from his own perspective as an anthropologist. Even though the Ndembu allowed him to participate in their society, as an anthropologist he was still an outsider. Here he turns to the meaning the rituals have to insiders, that is, to the members of the society the anthropologist is studying. For Turner, this is an importnat dimension of the meaning of a ritual.

Symbols have three especially significant dimensions: the exegetic, the operational, and the positional. The exegetic dimension consists of the explanations given the investigator by actors in the ritual system. Actors of different age, sex, ritual role, status, grade of esoteric knowledge, and so forth provide data of varying richness, explicitness, and internal coherence. The investigator should infer from this information how members of a given society think about ritual. Not all African societies contain persons who are ready to make verbal statements about ritual, and the percentage of those prepared to offer interpretations varies from group to group and within groups. But, as much ethnographic work attests, many African societies are well endowed with exegetes.


exegetic dimension of ritual - the explanations of the meaning and significance of a ritual given by insiders those who participate in it

operational dimension of ritual - the anthropologist, who is outside the society, records what is done in the ritual, and how the participants behave and feel

In the operational dimension, the investigator equates a symbol's meaning with its use -- he observes what actors do with it and how they relate to one another in this process. He also records their gestures, expressions, and other nonverbal aspects of behavior and discovers what values they represent -- grief, joy, anger, triumph, modesty, and so on. Anthropologists are now studying several genres of nonverbal language, from iconography (the study of symbols whose vehicles picture the conceptions they signify, rather than being arbitrary, conventional signs for them) to kinesics (the study of bodily movements, facial expressions, and so forth as ways of communication or adjuncts and intensifiers of speech). Several of these fall under the rubric of a symbol's operational meaning. Nonexegetical, ritualized speech, such as formalized prayers or invocations, would also fall into this category. Here verbal symbols approximate nonverbal symbols. The investigator is interested not only in the social organization and structure of those individuals who operate with symbols on this level, but also in what persons, categories, and groups are absent from the situation, for formal exclusion would reveal social values and attitudes.

positional dimension of ritual - the anthropologist, who is outside the society, relates the symbols found in a ritual to other symbols found in the society and the culture


In the positional dimension, the observer finds in the relations between one symbol and other symbols an important source of its meaning. I have shown how binary opposition may, in context, highlight one (or more) of a symbol's many referents by contrasting it with one (or more) of another symbol's referents. When used in a ritual context with three or more other symbols, a particular symbol reveals further facets of its total "meaning." Groups of symbols may be so arrayed as to state a message, in which some symbols function analogously to parts of speech and in which there may be conventional rules of connection. The message is not about specific actions and circumstances, but the given culture's basic structures of thought, ethics, esthetics, law, and modes of speculation about new experience.

In this section, Turner discusses the relationship of myth and ritual. Some anthropologists have argued that myth and ritual are very closely related, and that every ritual is the acting out of a myth. However, in the part of Africa Turner studied, there are rituals for which the culture does not know a myth. It could be argued that such rituals once were related to a myth that has been forgotten by the society. Turner does not comment on this issue.

In several African cultures, particularly in West Africa, a complex system of rituals is associated with myths.4 These tell of the origins of the gods, the cosmos, human types and groups, and the key institutions of culture and society. Some ritual episodes reenact primordial events, drawing on their inherent power to achieve the contemporary goals of the members of the culture (for example, adjustment to puberty and the healing of the sick). Ritual systems are sometimes based on myths. There may coexist with myths and rituals standardized schemata of interpretation that may amount to theological doctrine. But in wide areas of East and Central Africa, there may be few myths connected with rituals and no religious system interrelating myths, rituals, and doctrine. In compensation, there may be much piecemeal exegesis of particular symbols.

A good way to appreciate the excerpt below is to consider it an application of the principles Turner explained in the excerpt given above. Here he considers the meaning of ritual and describes a general set of characteristics he finds in the rituals of many societies.

Form and Attributes of Rites of Passage

This reading comes from: The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure


Rites of passage represent one group of rituals that first allowed Turner to notice the importance of liminality, a concept he defines below.

Van Gennep defined rites of passage as "rites which accompany every change of place, state, social position and age." He has shown that all rites of passage are marked by three phases: separation, margin ( or limen, signifying "threshold" in Latin), and aggregation. The first phase (of separation) comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group from an earlier fixed point in the social structure. During the intervening liminal period, the characteristics of the ritual subject are ambiguous; he passes through a cultural realm that has none or few of the attributes of the past or coming state. In the third phase (reaggregation or reincorporation), the passage is consummated. The ritual subject is in a relatively stable state once more and by virtue of this, has rights and obligations vis-à-vis others of a clearly defined and structural type.



The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (" threshold people ") are necessarily ambiguous, since this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space. Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial. As such, their ambiguous and indeterminate attributes are expressed by a rich variety of symbols in the many societies that ritualize social and cultural transitions. Thus, liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, and to an eclipse of the sun or moon.

Isoma- a ceremny Turner studied among the Ndembu


Liminal entities, such as neophytes in initiation or puberty rites, may be represented as possessing nothing. They may be disguised as monsters, wear only a strip of clothing, or even go naked, to demonstrate that as liminal beings they have no status, property, insignia, secular clothing indicating rank or role, position in a kinship system -- in short, nothing that may distinguish them from their fellow neophytes or initiands. Their behavior is normally passive or humble; they must obey their instructors implicitly, and accept arbitrary punishment without complaint. It is as though they are being reduced or ground down to a uniform condition to be fashioned anew and endowed with additional powers to enable them to cope with their new station in life. Among themselves, neophytes tend to develop an intense comradeship and egalitarianism. Secular distinctions of rank and status disappear or are homogenized. The condition of the patient and her husband in Isoma had some of these attributes -- passivity, humility, near-nakedness -- in a symbolic milieu that represented both a grave and a womb. In initiations with a long period of seclusion, such as the circumcision rites of many tribal societies or induction into secret societies, there is often a rich proliferation of liminal symbols.



What is interesting about liminal phenomena for our present purposes is the blend they offer of lowliness and sacredness, of homogeneity and comradeship. We are presented, in such rites, with a "moment in and out of time," and in and out of secular social structure, which reveals, however fleetingly, some recognition (in symbol if not always in language) of a generalized social bond that has ceased to be and has simultaneously yet to be fragmented into a multiplicity of structural ties. These are the ties organized in terms either of caste, class, or rank hierarchies or of segmentary oppositions in the stateless societies beloved of political anthropologists. It is as though there are here two major "models" for human interrelatedness, juxtaposed and alternating. The first is of society as a structured, differentiated, and often hierarchical system of politico-legal-economic positions with many types of evaluation, separating men in terms of " more " or " less." The second, which emerges recognizably in the liminal period, is of society as an unstructured or rudimentarily structured and relatively undifferentiated comitatus, community, or even communion of equal individuals who submit together to the general authority of the ritual elders.

I prefer the Latin term "communitas" to "community," to distinguish this modality of social relationship from an " area of common living." The distinction between structure and communitas is not simply the familiar one between "secular" and "sacred," or that, for example, between politics and religion. Certain fixed offices in tribal societies have many sacred attributes; indeed, every social position has some sacred characteristics. But this "sacred" component is acquired by the incumbents of positions during the rites of passage, through which they changed positions. Something of the sacredness of that transient humility and modelessness goes over, and tempers the pride of the incumbent of a higher position or office. Liminality implies that the high could not be high unless the low existed, and he who is high must experience what it is like to be low.


One may well ask why it is that liminal situations and roles are almost everywhere attributed with magico-religious properties, or why these should so often be regarded as dangerous, inauspicious, or polluting to persons, objects, events, and relationships that have not been ritually incorporated into the liminal context. My view is briefly that from the perspectival viewpoint of those concerned with the maintenance of " structure," all sustained manifestations of communitas must appear as dangerous and anarchical, and have to be hedged around with prescriptions, prohibitions, and conditions. And, as Mary Douglas (1966) has recently argued, that which cannot be clearly classified in terms of traditional criteria of classification, or falls between classificatory boundaries, is almost everywhere regarded as "polluting" and "dangerous" (passim).

To repeat what I said earlier, liminality is not the only cultural manifestation of communitas. In most societies, there are other areas of manifestation to be readily recognized by the symbols that cluster around them and the beliefs that attach to them, such as " the powers of the weak," or, in other words, the permanently or transiently sacred attributes of low status or position. Within stable structural systems, there are many dimensions of organization. We have already noted that mystical and moral powers are wielded by subjugated autochthones over the total welfare of societies whose political frame is constituted by the lineage or territorial organization of incoming conquerors. In other societies -- the Ndembu and Lamba of Zambia, for example -- we can point to the cult associations whose members have gained entry through common misfortune and debilitating circumstances to therapeutic powers with regard to such common goods of mankind as health, fertility, and climate. These associations transect such important components of the secular political system as lineages, villages, subchiefdoms, and chiefdoms. We could also mention the role of structurally small and politically insignificant nations within systems of nations as upholders of religious and moral values, such as the Hebrews in the ancient Near East, the Irish in early medieval Christendom, and the Swiss in modern Europe.

Many writers have drawn attention to the role of the court jester. Max Gluckman (1965), for example, writes: "The court jester operated as a privileged arbiter of morals, given license to gibe at king and courtiers, or lord of the manor." Jesters were "usually men of low class -- sometimes on the Continent of Europe they were priests -- who clearly moved out of their usual estate.... In a system where it was difficult for others to rebuke the head of a political unit, we might have here an institutionalized joker, operating at the highest point of the unit ... a joker able to express feelings of outraged morality." He further mentions how jesters attached to many African monarchs were "frequently dwarfs and other oddities." Similar in function to these were the drummers in the Barotse royal barge in which the king and his court moved from a capital in the Zambezi Flood Plain to one of its margins during the annual floods. They were privileged to throw into the water any of the great nobles "who had offended them and their sense of justice during the past year" (pp. 102-104). These figures, representing the poor and the deformed, appear to symbolize the moral values of communitas as against the coercive power of supreme political rulers.

Folk literature abounds in symbolic figures, such as "holy beggars," "third sons," "little tailors," and "simpletons," who strip off the pretensions of holders of high rank and office and reduce them to the level of common humanity and mortality. Again, in the traditional " Western," we have all read of the homeless and mysterious "stranger" without wealth or name who restores ethical and legal equilibrium to a local set of political power relations by eliminating the unjust secular " bosses " who are oppressing the smallholders. Members of despised or outlawed ethnic and cultural groups play major roles in myths and popular tales as representatives or expressions of universal human values. Famous among these are the good Samaritan, the Jewish fiddler Rothschild in Chekhov's tale "Rothschild's Fiddle," Mark Twain's fugitive Negro slave Jim in Huckleberry Finn, and Dostoevsky's Sonya, the prostitute who redeems the would-be Nietzschean "superman" Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment.


The time has now come to make a careful review of a hypothesis that seeks to account for the attributes of such seemingly diverse phenomena as neophytes in the liminal phase of ritual, subjugated autochthones, small nations, court jesters, holy mendicants, good Samaritans, millenarian movements, "dharma bums," matrilaterality in patrilineal systems, patrilaterality in matrilineal systems, and monastic orders. Surely an ill-assorted bunch of social phenomena! Yet all have this common characteristic: they are persons or principles that (1) fall in the interstices of social structure, (2) are on its margins, or (3) occupy its lowest rungs.

Prophets and artists tend to be liminal and marginal people, "edgemen," who strive with a passionate sincerity to rid themselves of the clichés associated with status incumbency and role-playing and to enter into vital relations with other men in fact or imagination. In their productions we may catch glimpses of that unused evolutionary potential in mankind which has not yet been externalized and fixed in structure.

Communitas breaks in through the interstices of structure, in liminality; at the edges of structure, in marginality; and from beneath structure, in inferiority. It is almost everywhere held to be sacred or "holy," possibly because it transgresses or dissolves the norms that govern structured and institutionalized relationships and is accompanied by experiences of unprecedented potency. The processes of "leveling" and "stripping," to which Goffman has drawn our attention, often appear to flood their subjects with affect. Instinctual energies are surely liberated by these processes, but I am now inclined to think that communitas is not solely the product of biologically inherited drives released from cultural constraints. Rather is it the product of peculiarly human faculties, which include rationality, volition, and memory, and which develop with experience of life in society -- just as among the Tallensi it is only mature men who undergo the experiences that induce them to receive bakologo shrines.

The notion that there is a generic bond between men, and its related sentiment of "humankindness," are not epiphenomena of some kind of herd instinct but are products of " men in their wholeness wholly attending." Liminality, marginality, and structural inferiority are conditions in which are frequently generated myths, symbols, rituals, philosophical systems, and works of art. These cultural forms provide men with a set of templates or models which are, at one level, periodical reclassifications of reality and man's relationship to society, nature, and culture. But they are more than classifications, since they incite men to action as well as to thought. Each of these productions has a multivocal character, having many meanings, and each is capable of moving people at many psychobiological levels simultaneously.

There is a dialectic here, for the immediacy of communitas gives way to the mediacy of structure, while, in rites de passage, men are released from structure into communitas only to return to structure revitalized by their experience of communitas. What is certain is that no society can function adequately without this dialectic. Exaggeration of structure may well lead to pathological manifestations of communitas outside or against " the law." Exaggeration of communitas, in certain religious or political movements of the leveling type, may be speedily followed by despotism, overbureaucratization, or other modes of structural rigidification. For, like the neophytes in the African circumcision lodge, or the Benedictine monks, or the members of a millenarian movement, those living in community seem to require, sooner or later, an absolute authority, whether this be a religious commandment, a divinely inspired leader, or a dictator. Communitas cannot stand alone if the material and organizational needs of human beings are to be adequately met. Maximization of communitas provokes maximization of structure, which in its turn produces revolutionary strivings for renewed communitas. The history of any great society provides evidence at the political level for this oscillation.


The liminality of a life crisis ritual humbles and generalizes the aspirant to higher structural status. In composite rituals like the Ndembu rites for the installation of a chief-to-be, this humbling of the candidate also exemplifies the power of structural inferiors in a rite of status reversal. In the first aspect, an individual's permanent structural elevation is emphasized; in the second, stress is laid upon the temporary reversal of statuses of the rulers and ruled.

In Western society, the traces of rites of age- and sex-role reversal persist in such customs as Halloween, when the powers of the structurally inferior are manifested in the liminal dominance of preadolescent children. The monstrous masks they often wear in disguise represent mainly chthonic or earth-demonic powers -- witches who blast fertility; corpses or skeletons from underground; indigenous peoples, such as Indians; troglodytes, such as dwarves or gnomes; hoboes or anti-authoritarian figures, such as pirates or traditional Western gun fighters. These tiny earth powers, if not propitiated by treats or dainties, will work fantastic and capricious tricks on the authority-holding generation of householders -- tricks similar to those once believed to be the work of earth spirits, such as hobgoblins, boggarts, elves, fairies, and trolls. In a sense, too, these children mediate between the dead and the living; they are not long from the womb, which is in many cultures equated with the tomb, as both are associated with the earth, the source of fruits and receiver of leavings. The Halloween children exemplify several liminal motifs: their masks insure them anonymity, for no one knows just whose particular children they are. But, as with most rituals of reversal, anonymity here is for purposes of aggression, not humiliation. The child's mask is like the highwayman's mask -- and, indeed, children at Halloween often wear the masks of burglars or executioners. Masking endows them with the powers of feral, criminal autochthonous and supernatural beings.

Anna Freud has had much that is illuminating to say about the frequent play identification of children with fierce animals and other threatening monstrous beings. Miss Freud's argument -- which derives its force, admittedly, from the theoretical position of her own mighty father -- is complex but coherent. What is being given animal guise in child fantasy is the aggressive and punitive power of the parents, particularly the father, and especially with regard to the well-known paternal castration threat. She points out how small children are quite irrationally terrified of animals -- dogs, horses, and pigs, for example -- normal fear, she explains, overdetermined by unconscious fear of the menacing aspect of the parents. She then goes on to argue that one of the most effective defense mechanisms utilized by the ego against such unconscious fear is to identify with the terrifying object. In this way it is felt to be robbed of its power; and perhaps power may even be drained from it.

For many depth psychologists, too, identification also means replacement. To draw off power from a strong being is to weaken that being. So, children often play at being tigers, lions, or cougars, or gunmen, Indians, or monsters. They are thus, according to Anna Freud, unconsciously identifying themselves with the very powers that deeply threaten them, and, by a species of jujitsu, enhancing their own powers by the very power that threatens to enfeeble them. There is in all this, of course, a traitor-like quality -- unconsciously one aims " to kill the thing one loves " -- and this is precisely the quality of behavior that generalized parents must expect from generalized children in the customs of the American Halloween. Tricks are played and property is damaged or made to look as though it has been damaged. In the same way, identification with, the jaguar figure in the myth may indicate the potential fatherhood of the initiand and hence his capacity to replace structurally his own father. Interestingly, this relationship between theranthropic entities and masks and aspects of the parental role is be made both at rituals of status elevation and at culturally defined points of change in the annual cycle.

Life crises provide rituals in and by means of which relations between structural positions and between the incumbents of such positions are restructured, often drastically. Seniors take the responsibility for actually making the changes prescribed by custom; they, at least, have the satisfaction of taking an initiative. But juniors, with less understanding of the social rationale of such changes, find that their expectations with regard to the behavior of seniors toward them are falsified by reality during times of change. From their structural perspective, therefore, the changed behavior of their parents and other elders seems threatening and even mendacious, perhaps even reviving unconscious fears of physical mutilation and other punishments for behavior not in accordance with parental will. Thus, while the behavior of seniors is within the power of that age group -- and to some extent the structural changes they promote are for them predictable -- the same behavior and changes are beyond the power of juniors either to grasp or to prevent.

To compensate for these cognitive deficiencies, juniors and inferiors, in ritual situations, may mobilize affect-loaded symbols of great power. Rituals of status reversal, according to this principle, mask the weak in strength and demand of the strong that they be passive and patiently endure the symbolic and even real aggression shown against them by structural inferiors. However, it is necessary here to revert to the distinction made earlier between rituals of status elevation and rituals of status reversal. In the former, aggressive behavior by candidates for higher status, though often present, tends to be muted and constrained; after all, the candidate is "going up" symbolically, and, at the end of the ritual, will enjoy more benefits and rights than heretofore. But, in the latter, the group or category that is permitted to act as if it were structurally superior -- and in this capacity to berate and belabor its pragmatic superiors -- is, in fact, perpetually of a lower status.

Clearly, both sociological and psychological modes of explanation are pertinent here. What is structurally " visible " to a trained anthropological observer is psychologically " unconscious " to the individual member of the observed society; yet his orectic responses to structural changes and regularities, multiplied by the number of members exposed to change generation after generation, have to be taken into cultural, notably ritual, account if the society is to survive without disruptive tension. Life-crisis rites and rituals of reversal take these responses into account in different ways. Through successive life crises and rites of status elevation, individuals ascend structurally. But rituals of status reversal make visible in their symbolic and behavioral patterns social categories and forms of grouping that are considered to be axiomatic and unchanging both in essence and in relationships to one another.

Cognitively, nothing underlines regularity so well as absurdity or paradox. Emotionally, nothing satisfies as much as extravagant or temporarily permitted illicit behavior. Rituals of status reversal accommodate both aspects. By making the low high and the high low, they reaffirm the hierarchical principle. By making the low mimic (often to the point of caricature) the behavior of the high, and by restraining the initiatives of the proud, they underline the reasonableness of everyday culturally predictable behavior between the various estates of society. On this account, it is appropriate that rituals of status reversal are often located either at fixed points in the annual cycle or in relation to movable feasts that vary within a limited period of time, for structural regularity is here reflected in temporal order. It might be argued that rituals of status reversal are also found contingently, when calamity threatens the total community. But one can cogently reply by saying that it is precisely because the whole community is threatened that such countervailing rites are performed -- because it is believed that concrete historical irregularities alter the natural balance between what are conceived to be permanent structural categories.