Este Blogue tem como objectivo a discussão da violência em geral e da guerra na Pré-História em particular. A Arqueologia da Península Ibérica tem aqui especial relevo. Esperamos cruzar dados de diferentes campos do conhecimento com destaque para a Antropologia Social. As críticas construtivas são bem vindas neste espaço, que se espera, de conhecimento.

Guerra Primitiva\Pré-Histórica
Violência interpessoal colectiva entre duas ou mais comunidades políticas distintas, com o uso de armas tendo como objectivo causar fatalidades, por um motivo colectivo sem hipótese de compensação.

Friday, 17 April 2009



Ritualization in Animals
Any evolutionary change that adds to the communicative function of signaling behavior
has been called ‘semanticization’ by Wickler (1967). The majority of know cases of
semantic alteration involves ritualization, the evolutionary process by which a behavior
pattern changes to become increasingly effective as a signal (E.O. Wilson, 1975; Eibl-
Eibesfeldt, 1979).
Commonly and perhaps invariably, the process begins when some movement,
anatomical feature, or physiological trait that is functional in quite another context
acquires a secondary value as a signal. For example, members of a species can begin by
recognizing an open mouth as a threat or by interpreting the turning away of an
opponent’s body in the midst of conflict as an intention to flee.
During ritualization, such movements are altered in a way that makes their
communicative function still more effective. Typically, they acquire morphological
support in the form of additional anatomical structures that enhance the
conspicuousness of the movement. They also tend to become simplified, stereotyped
(e.g., by repetition), and exaggerated in form (cf. the theory of animal communication
as manipulation and signals as advertisement: Dawkins & Krebs, 1978).
Ritualized biological traits are referred to as displays. A special form of display
recognized by zoologists is the ceremony, a highly evolved set of behaviors used to
conciliate and to establish and maintain social bonds (e.g., the triumph ceremony of the
greylag goose as described by Lorenz [1966]; vide infra).
During the process of ritualization behavior patterns may change in their function. For
example, food enticing in the various Phasianids becomes a signal, the movements of
swimming toward the female and toward the nest in the stickleback become a courtship
dance. Furthermore, a change of motivation can be observed; in baboons, for example,
the female sexual presenting posture is incorporated in the male repertoire of behavior
and used as a greeting ritual. In addition, movements experience a number of changes
directly related to the signalling function (E.O. Wilson, 1975; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1979).
Social signals must be conspicuous and most are extremely exaggerated in form and are
accompanied by specially evolved releasers which enhance the effect of the movement.
If they are to be maximally effective, social signals must be clear-cut and unambiguous.
For this reason many of them do not vary the form of the pattern to various strenghts of
stimulus: typical intensity (Morris, 1957). See e.g., Hinde (1966) and Manning (1972)
for examples.
Signals have to be conspicuous and unambiguous and at the same time simple and
precise so as not to be misunderstood. This is achieved by the following changes (as
summarized by Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1979):
The movements become exaggerated in frequency and amplitude.
They become stereotyped and simplified by the dropping of some of the original
components and the exaggeration of others.
Variable movement sequences of often antithetic motivations become fused into a
stereotyped single movement pattern (e.g., the invitation dance of the cleaner fish
or the zigzag dance of the male stickleback).
Rhythmic repetition enhances the visual effectiveness of the pattern. AA ritual
sequence when performed ‘in full’ tends to be very repetitive; whatever the
message may be that is supposed to be conveyed, the redundancy factor is very
high. Here it is worth reflecting on a general point of communication theory. If a
sender seeks to transmit a message to a distant receiver against a background of
noise, ambiguity is reduced if the same message is repeated over and over again
by different channels and in different forms@ (Leach, 1966).
Components of orientation are sometimes changed (e.g., inciting in ducks).
Sometimes movement patterns are performed with a constant typical intensity
(Morris, 1957). In this manner the behavior patterns become less ambiguous.
Some courtship movements of ducks illustrate this principle.
Animal signals can be partitioned roughly into two structural categories: discrete
and graded (or digital and analog). Discrete signals (on-off, yes-no) are most
perfectly represented in the act of simple recognition, particularly during
courtship (E.O. Wilson, 1975). Discrete signals become discrete through the
evolution of ‘typical intensity’ (Morris, 1957). That is, the intensity and duration
of a behavior becomes less variable, so that no matter how weak or strong the
stimulus evoking it, the behavior always stays about the same.
Movements may ‘freeze’ into postures: attacking movements, for example, often
have developed into threat postures. Greylag geese greet each other with a special
triumph ceremony which is basically a threat posture. The necks outstretched as if
in threat do not however point toward each other, but in a course past each other,
as if both were displaying at a third imagined enemy. The anthropomorphic
translation of this would be that they are united in threat against a joint enemy.
The threshold values for the stimuli releasing the patterns often change in such a
way that the more ritualized the behavior, the more easily it is released (Daanje,
1950; Oehlert, 1958).
Along with the above, behavioral changes frequently cause the development of
additional bodily structures which emphasize the display, for examples plumes,
manes, brightly colored skin patches or fins which unfold to sails.
Expressive patterns with opposing intentionality in emphasis of contrast get
ritualized in clear antithesis. A marine iguana will raise itself on all its feet and
make itself as large as possible in aggressive display, but will drop flat on its belly
in submission. This principle of antithesis was discovered by Darwin (1873), who
was the first to describe metacommunicative play signaling in dogs. Such signals
appear to be ritualized aggression intention movements.
11. Several expressive patterns can be combined, each in varying stages of intensity,
thus giving rise to a great variety of expressions, which nonetheless can be
reduced to a few variables. Simultaneous combination results in superposition. In
cases of alternative combination the organism may oscillate between the antithetic
The concept of ritualization was originated by Julian Huxley in his 1914 study of then
great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus, and developed still more explicitly in a later
monograph on the red-throated diver Gavia stellata. And later reinterpreted according
to the concepts of modern ethological theory by Huxley (1966).
The ritualization of vertebrate behavior often begins in circumstances of conflict,
particularly when an animal is undecided whether to complete an act (e.g., intention
movements: flight intention movements [take-off leap] have been ritualized to serve as
a courtship display in the male European cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo [Kortlandt,
1940; Hinde, 1970]; intention movements of biting or striking are a common source of
the components of threat displays).
Signals also may evolve from the ambivalence created by the conflict between two or
more behavioral tendencies (Tinbergen, 1952) (e.g., approach-avoidance, fight-flight),
giving rise to redirection of aggression or displacement activity (a seemingly irrelevant
act; such displays are called ‘derived activities’ by Tinbergen to signify their origin
from other types of behavior). This is known as the conflict theory of the origin of
displays. But it is now recognized that ritualization is a highly opportunistic process that
can be launched from almost any convenient behavior pattern, anatomical structure, or
physiological change. E.O. Wilson (1975) gives the following examples: ritualized
predation; ritualized food exchange (billing, licking, kissing); lip smacking; smiling and
laughing (derived from primate silent bared-teeth display and relaxed open-mouth
display [van Hooff, 1972]); displays derived from autonomic responses such as
ritualized respiration, ritualized excretion and secretion (e.g., pheromones, sex
attractants, changes in skin coloration due to changes in the surface vessels [Hinde,
1966]); and automimicry (Wickler, 1969, 1970).
Other types of changes in the relations between the movement and its causal factors also
occur during ritualization. Sometimes, for instance, homologous displays in related
species depend on different strength of the associated tendencies. Baerends & Blokzijl
(1963), comparing the agonistic and sexual displays of two closely related cichlid fish
(genus Tilapia), found that each display was associated with a particular range of values
of the fight/flight ratio ([tendency to attack]/[tendency to flee]). The value of this
quotient appeared to be higher in Tilapia nilotica than that for the homologous display
in Tilapia mossambica. They thus suggest that the primary difference between the two
species lies in a lower threshold for aggressive responses in T. nilotica. Similarly,
differences in the displays between male and female of the same species can be
understood in terms of threshold differences (Hinde, 1966).
Another important concept in relation to ritualization is emanicipation of ritualized
patterns. The courtship of ducks, for example includes patterns which are clearly
derived from displacement preening and displacement drinking. It is possible that these
patterns originally occurred by disinhibition as a direct result of a conflict between
sexual and attack or escape tendencies when males courted females. One supposes that
in ancestral males the appearance of preening or drinking depended on the conflict
sufficiently balanced. Those males which performed these displacement activities most
regularly were most successful in mating. In some way the appearance of these patterns
served to arrest the female’s attention and perhaps stimulate her sexually. However, in
their descendants conflict may no longer be a prerequisite for the performance of
preening and drinking patterns in the sexual situation. They are now almost invariable
parts of courtship and highly modified in form. Tinbergen (1952) suggests that these
patterns have become ‘emancipated’ from their original controlling mechanisms and are
now controlled by the sexual mechanisms alone (Manning, 1972).
Rituals serve the function of communication. They release responses which in turn are
answered; this leads to an orderly sequence of patterns of expression (Eibl-Eibesfeldt,
1979). Events which follow the stimulus-response principle may also be observed in the
rituals of man. A smile is usually responded to by a smile, a nod by a nod and a
handwave in a distance greeting with a similar handwave. In addition, however, acts are
fused into longer sequences.
According to these responses, rituals can, following Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1979), be
classified as follows:
1. Bonding
Individualized bonds evolved independently in birds and mammals from the mother-
child relationship. Behavior patterns that serve bonding in the adult are derived from
mother-child signals. Kissing, derived from kissfeeding, is an example of a parental
behavior used to express affection and thus strengthen the bond between adults of
opposite sex. Infantile appeals are used to attract friendly attention.
Rituals of bonding may be classified in various ways, according to the agents involved
or the method by which the bonding is achieved.
Courtship rituals refer to the establishment of pair-bonds. Greeting rituals and feasts
refer to bond formation and reinforcement outside the context of pair formation, feasts
particularly on the level of groups.
If classification is by method, a particular type of bonding ritual might be categorized
under the heading rituals of synchronization (e.g., dances).
Bonding, furthermore, can be achieved by rituals which express a shared concern
(mourning rituals) or which unite the group ritualized by acts of joint aggression against
a common enemy. Rituals of gift exchange are another category of bonding patterns.
2. Spacing and competing
Spacing is achieved by fighting and display. In intragroup aggression special
inhibitions, released by appeals to submission (crying, pouting with cut-off and
lowering of the head), prevent escalation into destruction (at least regarding members of
the ‘ingroup’). The appeals are the same universally. In addition, fighting by display
occurs, one universal form being the threat stare duel. Another example may be the
Kwakiutl potlatch: ‘fighting with gifts’. The concept Ventilsitten refers to a category of
rituals which apparently serve the function of neutralizing aggression by allowing it to
have an outlet in contests which ‘let off steam’.
In intergroup violence conventions are sometimes established to restrict killing to the
combatants, to spare the civilians, to allow a warrior to surrender and to ban particularly
destructive weapons. This is not just an invention of the ‘civilized’. The Tsembaga of
the Highlands of New Guinea fight wars with their neighbors, but try to avoid
escalation into bloodshed if possible. According to Rappaport (1968) there are several
stages of the war. At the beginning both parties rely mainly on display. After having
cleared the traditional battle ground, they face each other, shouting insults and shooting
at each other with arrows which lack the feathers and therefore easily miss the target.
Since the parties are communicating verbally a release of tension may occur and
reconciliation may result, particularly since a neutral third party is commenting on the
event. Standing on a hill nearby, its members shout to the fighting parties how bad it is
for brothers to fight, and that the dispute should be settled by an arrangement. Only if
this fails does an escalation take place.
3. Appeasing
Appeasing is directly related functionally to aggression. Without the ability to appease,
community life for potentially aggressive individuals would scarcely be possible. The
simplest way to appease is by deflecting aggression-releasing signals. In man, signals
which act as unconditioned aggression inhibitors are the signals which constitute the
baby schema (Kindchenschema) and appeals through children have been mentioned as
part of the rituals of friendly encounter. Behaving like a child may serve as an appeal as
Among the patterns of expressive behavior which inhibit aggression may be included
smiling, pouting, ritualized cut-off and crying. Behavior patterns derived from parental
and child behavior have an appeasing value, as is the case with all patterns of bonding,
including verbalized appeals.
4. Rituals to keep ‘discipline’
In the military circles of our culture rituals of obedience can be observed (for example,
raising and saluting the flag in the morning and evening).
5. The conquest of fear
Most other human rituals may be understood as serving the conquest of fear. Man as a
rational being seeks for causal explanations of events. Events which he cannot explain
cause fear. In an attempt to conquer fear man invents explanations for events caused by
factors which are not accessible to his direct observation. He structures his world view
according to these assumptions, providing security as well as a logical framework
within which to act. The trance dance of the Bushmen may serve as an example.
Ritualized fighting
Probably the most spectacular examples of ritualization involve ritualized aggression; as
E.O. Wilson (1975) formulated the key question: “Why do animals prefer pacifism and
bluff to escalated fighting?”. The answer is that agonistic behavior is potentially
advantageous but also carries very high costs (in terms of the individual’s inclusive
fitness): possible injury and even death, ‘aggressive neglect’, etc. (see especially Cronin
[1991] and Van der Dennen [1995] for detailed analysis).
For each species, Wilson observes, there exists some optimal level of aggressiveness
above which individual fitness is lowered.
In a situation of conflict an individual can either challenge its rival, or retreat. The
advantage of challenging lies in the chance of winning the resource, which will be
referred to as the payoff. The cost of challenging can be assessed in terms of the energy
utilized in the conflict and the risk of serious injury. For the stronger opponent,
challenging is the best strategy; for the weaker, retreat alone will provide the maximum
benefit. In unequal (asymmetrical) contests it is clearly beneficial to have some method
of assessing relative strengths which will allow the weaker individual to withdraw
without physical injury. Such an assessment will benefit both individuals if physical
conflict can be avoided, and commonly occurs where a clear discrepancy in fighting
potential or resource-holding power (RHP) exists between two individuals. Thus, the
(obviously) stronger individual (generally) displays and the (obviously) weaker
individual (generally) withdraws (Poole, 1985).
Non-injurious contests of this type (resolved without resort to physical violence but
simply by display) have been termed ritualized fighting and, until the early 1970s, many
ethologists (notably Lorenz, 1964, 1966) believed that ritualized fighting had evolved
because it benefited both partners and hence ultimately he species. However Maynard
Smith, Price and Parker carried out a theoretical analysis of aggression using game
theory which cast serious doubts on such an interpretation (Maynard Smith, 1974;
Maynard Smith & Price, 1973; Maynard Smith & Parker, 1976; Cf. Dawkins & Krebs,
1978; Caryl, 1981; Poole, 1985; Cronin, 1991; Van der Dennen, 1995).
In essence their argument (as summarized by Poole, 1985) is as follows: if all
individuals in a population (henceforth referred to as ‘doves’) settled disputes by
ritualized fighting and an individual appeared who employed escalated injurious
fighting (a ‘hawk’), the ‘hawk’ would win every time. Thus the strategy ‘dove’ is not an
evolutionarily stable strategy (or ESS) for it can always be defeated by a ‘hawk’ (an
ESS is defined as a strategy which, if adopted by most members of a population, confers
greater reproductive fitness than any alternative strategy).
As a ‘hawk’ would always succeed in conflict with a ‘dove’, the genes for ‘hawk’
would spread throughout the population. The time would come, however, when the
probability of a hawk meeting another hawk in a conflict would increase to such a point
that serious injury among hawks would be common; doves would then come to be at an
advantage. Thus ‘hawk’ is not an ESS either and in this example, assuming that the cost
of injury was greater than the benefit of winning, the final ESS would be an equilibrium
point with a particular proportion of doves and hawks. The exact percentages of hawk
and dove can be calculated by game theory for various values of costs and payoffs for
the two strategies.
Maynard Smith (1976) appreciated that this scenario is simplified and that, for example,
an individual might display conventionally against a dove but escalate when confronted
with a hawk. He termed this strategy ‘retaliator’ and showed that it can be an ESS in
situations where the cost of injury exceeds the benefit of winning.
The examples so far considered have made the assumption that the two individuals are
evenly matched in the sense that each rival has a 50:50 chance of winning. In nature,
however, conflicts are often asymmetrical; this may be because one individual is
stronger (has greater resource-holding potential, or RHP), or one has greater need of the
disputed resource, or because one individual is already holding the resource while its
rival is a challenger attempting to take over.
In such asymmetrical contests, information regarding the resource-holding potential of
the combatants may be available. Geist (1966) found that, in mountain sheep (Ovis
dalli), a strange ram’s position in the dominance hierarchy is partially determined by
relative size, especially horn-size, and he observed only fights between rams of
approximately equal size. Thus, it must be assumed that a ram is capable of assessing,
on the basis of body and horn-size, the RHP of its rival in comparison to its own.
Where individuals are unable to detect differences in RHP, they might be expected to
behave as if they were evenly matched. This would lead either to an impasse or to
damaging fighting. Maynard Smith & Parker (1976), however, have shown that an
arbitrary rule could be used to settle such disputes amicably. For example, the rule
“resource-holder wins” is common to most territorial mammals but may also occur in
competition for females, e.g., in hamadryas baboons (Kummer, 1968).
Whether or not escalated fighting occurs is also dependent upon the scarcity of the
resource, conflict being more likely if a resource is highly restricted, when the payoff
will be high. Escalated fighting is also more likely to occur in species in which the risk
of serious injury is low.
One of the few mammalian species for which a detailed analysis of ritualized aggression
under field conditions is available is the red deer (Cervus elaphus) which has been
extensively studied by Clutton-Brock et al. (1979, 1982). In the rut, each stag attempts
to acquire access to a groups of hinds (a harem) which he then defends against rivals. In
situations in which a stag is likely to be challenged he shows threatening behavior in the
form of roaring and walking parallel to his opponent.
Clutton-Brock et al. found that stags roar most in conditions in which they are likely to
be challenged and that the pitch of roaring is related to the size of the animal, larger
stags having lower-pitched roars. Generally stags roar alternately, each facing its
Roaring appears to function for the two stags as a means of assessment. If the
protagonist remains after the roaring contest, the contestants generally commence
parallel walking. This occurs most commonly when opponents are well matched. The
fact that there is a strong correlation between the duration of parallel walking (a test of
stamina) and that of subsequent fighting again indicates a trial of strength.
Should the other male continue to challenge, however, the antlers are used and a fight
develops. Fighting stags lower the head and ram the opponent with their antlers. As the
rival faces his attacker, their antlers lock together and a pushing match ensues. Each
stag attempts to get uphill from his opponent and to push him backwards. The loser
finally withdraws and takes to flight. Pursuit is rare because attacking involves lowering
the head which reduces the male’s speed. If, however, the loser slips or falls, the winner
will take the opportunity to jab the flank of its fallen rival, often wounding it severely.
Fighting success is positively correlated with reproductive success and, in turn, with
antler size. Success in fighting can therefore lead to a considerable gain in a male’s
fitness, but it also involves risks, as there is a 1:17 chance of its being seriously
wounded. As a seriously-wounded stag has little chance of survival, it is apparent that
the optimum strategy is avoid contests with superior rivals or those in which there is a
high risk of injury.
Clutton-Brock et al. were able to show that roaring, parallel walking, and antler-pushing
are three separate C ritualized C stages of escalation in a process of mutual assessment
of fighting potential. This method of assessment (of size discrepancy, vigor of display,
stamina and strength) is probably relatively immune to cheating.
These data support the view that roaring and parallel walks provide a means whereby
rival stags can assess one another’s fighting potential. Stags seldom challenge older,
larger individuals, so that roaring contests rarely occur is there is an obvious visible
discrepancy in size; very powerful stags of approximately equal strength, however,
generally do not fight after long parallel walks, thus avoiding serious injury.
By advertizing its fighting potential, the individual conveys information to its rival and
at the same time may receive information about its opponent’s strength.
In situations in which there is a difference in resource-holding potential (RHP) between
two individuals, the weaker may display to indicate his non-combatant status. The two
main types of display concerned are termed submissive or defensive.
Submission indicates that the individual will not retaliate, even if attacked, and a
common form of this behavior is rolling over on to the back or crouching. For example,
submissive canids lie on the back and expose the inguinal region, sometimes also
showing a submissive grin. Submissive displays are commonly shown by the young
towards older group members, by females towards males and by low-ranking adults
towards high-ranking dominants.
Defensive displays, often referred to as ‘defensive threat’ signify that the animal will
not spontaneously attack its opponent but may retaliate if attacked. It is commonly used
where two closely-ranking individuals are in proximity, or where a lower-ranking
individual is holding a disputed resource. In many species defensive threat involves
displaying the teeth as, for example, in carnivores and primates (Poole, 1985).
Human (Cultural) Rituals
According to Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1979) there are similarities between phylogenetically and
culturally evolved patterns of expression, which is, he contends, not particularly
surprising. The selection pressures in both cases operate along similar lines. In general
these patterns have to fulfill the criteria of being conspicuous, redundant, unmistakable
and at the same time fairly simple as signals. Mimic exaggeration by emphasis of
movement amplitude, simplification, rhythmic repetition, fusion of elements into new
patterns and emphasis by additional structures of adornment are also principles in the
cultural evolution of ritualistic behavior. No wonder human rituals appear to be highly
Typology of Human Rituals
In anthropology and related disciplines the terms ‘ritual’ and ‘rite’ are intimately
associated with concepts such as myth, religion and the sacred (the transcendent realm),
totemic cults, animal or human sacrifice, theater and dramatic expression, concerted
ceremonies and collective synchronized activity (e.g., war dances, mourning procession,
memorial parade).
Several features distinguish rituals from other kinds of behavior (e.g., Rappaport, 1979;
Kottak, 1991). Rituals are formal C stylized, repetitive, and stereotyped. People perform
rituals in special (sacred) places and at set times. Rituals include liturgical orders C set
sequences of words and actions invented prior to the current performance of the ritual in
which they occur.
A conventional typology of rituals distinguishes:
• imitative rituals (rituals imitate or repeat the myths; myths are the librettos for rituals);
• positive/negative (consecration and taboo) rituals;
• sacrificial rituals (destruction of a victim or scapegoat);
• and life crisis rituals (rites de passage; the transition of one mode of life to another,
e.g., puberty, marriage, and death rituals; rituals of initiation, often involving symbolic
death followed by symbolic rebirth; war/peace rituals) (Encycl. Britannica).
Passage rites are often collective. All rites de passage have three phases: separation,
margin, and aggregation (Van Gennep, 1909; Gluckman, 1962; Turner, 1974; Fried &
Fried, 1980; Kottak, 1991). In the first phase, individuals withdraw from the group and
begin moving from one place or status to another. In the third phase, they reenter
society, having completed the rite. The margin phase is the most interesting. It is the
period C suspended C between states, the limbo during which people have left one
place or state but have not yet entered or joined the next. This is called the liminal phase
of the passage rite. Liminality always has certain characteristics. Liminal people occupy
ambiguous social positions. They exist apart from ordinary distinctions and
expectations, living in a time out of time. They are cut off from normal social contacts.
A variety of contrasts may ritually demarcate liminality from regular social life. Turner
(1974) and Kottak (1991) summarize a number of contrasts or oppositions between
liminality and normal life. Liminality may even be demarcated ritually and symbolically
by reversals of ordinary behavior. For example, sexual taboos may be intensified or,
conversely, sexual excess may be encouraged.
Most notable is a social aspect of collective liminality called communitas, an intense
community spirit, a feeling of great social solidarity, equality, and togetherness. People
experiencing liminality together form a community of equals, and develop a strong
esprit de corps.
Rituals are social acts par exellence. Inevitably, some participants are more committed
than others are to the beliefs that lie behind the rites. However, just by taking part in a
joint public act, the performers signal that they accept a common social and moral
order, one that transcends their status as individuals (Kottak, 1991). Gluckman (1967),
following analyses by Fortes & Evans-Pritchard and other social anthropologists,
emphasizes that tribal ritual arises from situations where there is a conflict between the
general moral order and the interests which leads individuals and groups to compete
with one another: “Ritual cloaks the fundamental disharmonies of social structure by
affirming major loyalties to be beyond question”.
Differences between Evolutionary Ritualization and ‘Cultural’ Rituals:
1. Evolutionary ritualization involves the behavior of individuals; ‘cultural’ rituals and
ceremonies mostly imply aggregates or groups (such as clans, tribes, [isosexual] age-
classes) of individuals.
2. Evolutionarily, individual displays evolved to manipulate or otherwise influence the
behavior of other individuals by means of conspicuous and stereotyped advertizement
(e.g., inducement to copulate in courtship displays, intimidation and deterrence in threat
displays, cementing a pair bond in the triumph ceremony); ‘cultural’ rituals are
generally difficult to understand as manipulations of, or attempts to influence, other
‘cultural’ units (with the possible exception of ritual warfare).
3. Rituals designed by evolution are conspicuous, unambiguous, stereotyped, often
repetitive, motor patterns coordinated in the brain. In ‘cultural’ rituals the
conspicuousness, stereotypy and repetitiveness are mostly the result of
(mass)organization, staging and choreography.
As most human rituals involve either some procession-like program or concerted and
synchronized rhythmic activities (e.g., collective dances), it seems appropriate to refer
to their succession of steps or behavioral syntax as ‘choreography’, though no conscious
dramaturge or conductor (other than ‘tradition’) may be involved.
On the other hand, the triumph ceremony of the greylag goose, performed by the two
pair-bonded actors, male and female, is indistinguishable from, say, a dancing human
couple in its concertedness and synchronicity.
The Neural Substratum of Rituals
Psychiatrists have often pointed out that rituals (psychological counterparts of somatic
stereotypes) play a paramount role in all kinds of psychopathology. Ritual is, for
example, a central feature in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Turbott (1997) considers
the common feature of all rituals (psychopathological or not) to be stereotyped physical
activity which conveys information. Some clinical, developmental, evolutionary and
religious/historical evidence suggests, according to him, that stereotyped motor
behavior may be the primary phenomenon.
Indeed, humans and other animals C at least the reptilian and mammalian species C
seem almost ‘predestined’ to develop rituals of all kinds because of their neural
(cerebral) architecture: the possession of a reptilian and paleomammalian brain
underneath the (in humans hypertrophied and cauliflower-like) neomammalian cortex
(MacLean, 1970 et seq.; Bailey, 1987). This is called the triune brain, and it supposedly
gives rise to three mentalities. Bailey explains the role of the reptilian brain (or R-
complex) as follows:
At the behavioral level, the reptilian brain is a ‘slave to precedent’ (MacLean,
1970), calling, as it does, upon rigid, stereotyped, and preprogrammed responses
steeped in ancestral learning and memory... Within the R-complex is housed the
basic behavioral hardware of the animal, the evolved repository of instincts and
species-typical motivational and behavioral patterns subserving individual and,
ultimately, species adaptation and survival. MacLean (1976) lists a pentad of
reptilian traits including perseveration, re-enactment, tropisms (both positive and
negative), deception, and isopraxic behavior. Thus, reptiles, and humans when
they ‘regress’ to reptilian levels of behavior, exhibit repetitive obeisance to daily
routines and subroutines, ceremonial re-enactments and compulsive ritualism,
mechanical reactions to minimal stimuli and partial representations (tropisms),
nonconscious misrepresentation of motivation or intention (deception), and
slavish conformance to species standards of behavior. The last fundamental
parameter, isopraxis, is particularly interesting, for it is through imitation and
mimicry of species-appropriate behaviors that species members act in accordance
with species standards and achieve a sense of ‘identity’ of sorts. As MacLean
(1978b) says: ‘It cannot be overemphasized that isopraxis is basic for maintaining
the identity of a species or social group’ (p. 320)... note that reptilian behavior
falls into a number of general categories including imitation and species
conformity, establishment and defense of territorial areas, home-site selection,
foraging and feeding, courtship, mating and reproductive behavior, ritualistic
display, group formation, and competition, dominance, and aggression (MacLean
1962)... (Bailey, 1987 p. 62-63).
Konner (1982) remarks that MacLean’s contribution has been to show that the reptilian
brain is not concerned with mere control of movement, but with the storage and control
of ‘instinctive’ behavior: the fixed action patterns and innate releasing mechanisms of
the ethologists. AThis helps explain why reptiles and birds, in which the corpus
striatum is the most highly developed part of the brain, seem (much more than
mammals) to have behavioral repertoires consisting of stereotyped behaviors and
responses: a lizard turning sideways and displaying its dewlap as a threat, for instance,
or a bird repeating over and over again the same territorial song. It isn’t that mammals
have no such behaviors, but rather that birds and reptiles have so little else@ (Konner,
1982, p. 148).
The Ritual Cycle in Serial Killings
Joel Norris (1988), a psychologist and consultant on criminal cases in Georgia and
Florida, has recently produced a psychobiological model of the serial killer’s mind, his
method and his madness, which at least puts the problem into some sort of order.
According to Norris (as reproduced in Watson, 1995), the compulsion to kill represents
the serial performance of a ‘morality play’ in which the same story is repeated, again
and again, with different victims. In telling the obsessive tale, the killer establishes
elaborate rituals, setting up a ‘behavioral skeleton’, which he wears on the outside like
an insect, using this architecture to support his fantasies. And, Norris argues, because
such killers seldom act rationally, but respond automatically to specific stimuli, it is
possible to codify and predict their behavior. Norris identifies seven key steps in a
typical serial killing:
The ‘aura’ phase C in which the killer withdraws from reality and builds a fantasy
that demands to be satisfied.
The ‘trolling’ phase C involving an active search for suitable prey on carefully
chosen hunting grounds. A time when the killer becomes very alert and focused,
stalking victims like an accomplished predator.
The ‘wooing’ phase C during which victims are charmed, disarmed or tricked into
putting themselves at risk.
The ‘capture’ C a moment that is savoured on the killing ground.
The ‘murder’ itself C which is usually heavily symbolic, staged to recreate a
moment in the killer’s own childhood, bringing an emotional high and sexual
Followed by a ‘totem’ phase C in which the killer tries to prolong the intensity by
taking photographs, dismembering, eating or preserving parts of the victim or
their possessions.
And finally, a ‘depression’ phase C as illusions fade and the killer realizes nothing
has been changed.
During this reprise, the killers may be lucid enough to turn themselves in and confess.
Though, even when they do, they are seldom believed and frequently turned loose to
start all over again. But, more often, the feelings of guilt pass and the relentless cycle
begins all over again, going on and on until they are eventually caught red-handed
(Watson, 1995).
A Communication-theoretical Analysis of Ritual
Rituals, like all human interactions, can be analyzed in terms of the communication
theory developed by Scheflen (1968), among others.
People behave in coded, patterned ways and others perceive and comprehend these
patterns. Logically speaking, were it not that interactions were patterned, behavior
would be unpredictable and unreliable, and it would be impossible to sustain, mediate,
and form human relationships, complete coordinated tasks, and transmit a common
culture. Communication depends on a common behavioral morphology of shared
meaning. Redundancy in behavioral programs reduces ambiguity.
Scheflen distinguishes 3 orders of behavioral integration in communication:
1. First-order communication: simple coordination of activities. People who know,
whether consciously or not, the programs of action can perform their joint parts of the
program without words or special signals. They simply do what is expected, conjointly
and in synchrony. Consciousness is not necessary to the integration.
2. Second-order communication: use of integrational signals. But it is often the case
that contingencies or ambiguities arise. Performers do not know precisely what to do or
when to do it. Hence, special signals are introduced to modify or integrate the activities.
Common examples are the use of a conductor to synchronize parts in a concert or the
use of commands, bugles, whistles and other signals to coordinate a battle. The
integrational signals can be classified as follows:
A. Pacing signals to regulate the speed of performance; for example, in
conversations, head nods and facial expressions provide feedback of the
comprehension of those listening.
B. Identification signals from the participants that indicate their roles and
capacities in the performance.
C. Social integration signals that monitor deviance and facilitate coordination
of performance.
D. References to contexts that indicate external events that require modification
in the program.
3. Third-order communication: metacommunication. There are occasions when an
interaction may be represented symbolically for someone who is not present, or a
participant may learn his part better if the program can be explicated and discussed with
him. There has evolved communication about communication C or
metacommunication. As a consequence we can talk about activities not then in progress
or speak about them while we are enacting them.
An action that is metacommunicational in function can be as simple as a gesture or a
smile. For example, men may smile to indicate that their pummeling of each other is to
be regarded as friendly play. Or metacommunication may be as complicated as
Metacommunication can be elaborated about any part of a program, any relationship,
any outcome.
In the enactment of a program, the communicational and metacommunicational aspects
can at least have the following relations:
There may be no apparent relationship. The interactants may be performing a task
and talking about entirely different matters. For example, a mother may feed her
baby while talking to a neighbor about a television show.
A metacommunication commentary may be conducted about the program in
progress. For example, participants may verbalize what they are doing and
evaluate it by some criteria or evaluate and make explicit what others are doing.
This is likely to occur when novitiates are being trained or deviants corrected as in
Metacommunication may distort, rationalize, disguise, or draw attention from the
rest of the activity of the program, either in conscious guile, unconscious delusion,
or because in that culture the actual nature of the task has never been known or
visualized appropriately. For example, certain Africans designate their morning
and nightly drumming as bringing up and putting down the sun.
The following observation is of special importance regarding human rituals, the
meaning and ‘choreography’ or ‘syntagmatic sequencing’ of which are mostly fixed by
traditions: AWhen one is learning a program, the commentary may be learned with it
and henceforth repeated with the formats without knowing why. In this way, linguistic
accompaniments that do not represent understanding or insight into the activities may
be transmitted from generation to generation. It can be asserted that, in some cases at
least, people not only learn how to perform in first order formats, but learn how they are
to refer to, think of, feel about programs. This last point has a number of implications
for psychological theory. We have traditionally assumed that feelings and thoughts
precede and cause behavior; this view opens the possibility that behavior may precede
feelings and thoughts, or all may occur simultaneously@ (Scheflen, 1968).
This also means that one cannot rely on asking subjects what they are doing. They
cannot adequately tell what they are doing. What they report are feelings about behavior
or idiosyncratic or cultural myths about behavior.

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