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by Ralph Merrifield

Ralph Merrifield systematically examines the evidence from prehistoric times to the present and demonstrates that all through the fundamental changes of belief--from primitive animism to Christianity to scientific rationalism--the same kinds of simple ritual have survived because they answer deep human needs.
Download Archaeology of Ritual and Magic epub
ISBN: 0941533255
ISBN13: 978-0941533256
Category: Religion
Subcategory: Religious Studies
Author: Ralph Merrifield
Language: English
Publisher: New Amsterdam Books; First Edition edition (January 1, 1900)
Pages: 224 pages
ePUB size: 1975 kb
FB2 size: 1353 kb
Rating: 4.9
Votes: 791
Other Formats: rtf mobi docx txt

"Superstitous ritual can be studied objectively like any other human behaviour, and archaeology can make a major contribution towards its investigation..." (page 184)

This is a really wonderful book. Now, it is a Serious Academoc Text, but Merrifeld writes so well that one doesn't feel as if one is really reading a Serious Academic Text, more of a fun, exploration of the physical remains of ritual events that survive in the archaeological record. It says much about the mental perspectives of an ancient people by looking at how they sought to manipulate the physical and social envrionment by the application of magical thinking.

And there seems to be a lot of peeing into jars...
Back in 1988 when Merrifield wrote this book, the study of ritual and magic in academic circles was rare--frowned upon, even. Now it's become something of a cottage industry, but this slim and approachable volume was an early precursor of current fields of study.

The author studied inventories of archaeological digs stretching back many years, looking for the odd bits that archaeologists either didn't know how to interpret or interpreted in a prosaic way--things like bent pins or animal bones, bottles full of "rubbish," or swords fished out of lakes, etc. In exhaustive detail, and stretching back two thousand years, Merrifield showed the ritual meaning of these things by their survival in folk traditions and superstitious. (Bent pins to ward off evil or witches; animal bones for sacrifice; bottles full of hair, urine residue and other things to ward against witches; swords thrown into lakes and rivers as sacrifices by warriors to assure victory, etc.)

It's a fascinating peek into the Western magical tradition and the workings of the minds of our ancestors. Minds and traditions that we all too often share today.
As an archaeologist who does research on ritual archaeology in the Americas I found this book to be a useful and informative source of comparative data. The author provides examples (and illustrations) of many types of ritual behaviors and their material correlates. The focus is primarily the Old World, and Roman and Medieval periods, but anyone interested in ritual archaeology or the material construction of religion would do well to check it out.