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25 Dec

Ritual and Language

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Wittgenstein got me to read aloud to him the opening chapters of Frazer’s Golden Bough. Frazer thinks he can make clear the origin of the rites and ceremonies he describes by regarding them as primitive and erroneous scientific beliefs. […] Now Wittgenstein made it clear to me that on the contrary the people who practised these rites already possessed a considerable scientific achievement: agriculture, metal working, building, etc., etc.; and the ceremonies existed alongside these sober techniques. They were not mistaken beliefs that produced the rites but the need to express something; the ceremonies were a form of language, a form of life. Thus today if we are introduced to someone we shake hands; if we enter a church we take off our hats and speak in a low voice; at Christmas perhaps we decorate a tree. These are expressions of friendliness, reverence, and of celebration.”

Maurice O’Connor Drury in the preface of “The Danger of Words”, on ritual and tradition as a form of life and a language.

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