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Connections between the sacred, the profane, myth and rite.

Frater Vameri

Photo by Mira Cosic at Pixabay.

It is very interesting to note how Eliade is concerned with determining sacred space through a rupture. Is this rupture that characterizes the sacred in a certain way, after all, without the palpable difference between a sacred space and a profane space, how to characterize one and the other? This is what happens with the profane, with the non-religious man, Eliade teaches us , because for this the world always looks the same . Without worrying about the sacredness of the world, the whole space becomes the same. This rupture does not exist or it exists in an inhibited, muffled manner.

Eliade makes an interesting point, as it is from the sacred space that the world is anchored and organized. Thus, having this space as a center, an axis mundi , the man who perceives the sacred is oriented and perceives the veil that separates profane life from sacred life. Although it should be noted that in some primitive societies, as Marcel Gauchet comments, they are guided by a “time beyond time ” that is circular and immanent. In this sense, it would make less sense perhaps to speak of a rupture between the sacred and the profane. However, when dealing with the contemporary world, dominated by the regions of the axial era, there is no doubt that the discussion is relevant.

This speaks to the beginning of the debate provoked by Meslin when he declares that many peoples do not share with us the concept of religion. In fact, conceptualizing religion is not so trivial. Meslin even touches on a very raised point that is the very absence of the term "religion" in several languages. This must be considered, since language is a structuring element of thought. In fact, this is a point discussed by Bourdier , who classifies religion and language as structuring symbolic systems and even more so, even religion as a language.

In the wake of this discussion, it is worth mentioning that Meslin states that not even the sacred is defined in some languages by a characteristic term. This shows how in some societies this “dialectic” may not even make sense. However, it is a fact that in many the term exists and that it reveals something that presents the divine and that is in some way banned to the common man. In fact, both language and religion (or what is meant as such) are structuring.

By structuring, Bourdier understands something that is capable of “building reality”. In a Durkheinian sense , they would be able to promote social cohesion through a common experience of the social. In these terms, the myth - which is fundamental to religion and which, in fact, Bourdier comments that it may be a “principle of structuring the world” - would be, in Boudier's analysis , something “collectively and collectively appropriate”, in the wake of Dukheinian analysis . Boudier also discusses the use of these structuring elements for domination, and this could be stitched together with Meslin's discussion of the rise of Christianity as a unique and true religion , which we will discuss shortly below. The difference here would be that the symbol in favor of ideology would not be a collective construction with the myth, but of a detached body , in a Weberian analysis .

The passage of thought that accompanies the development of Christianity, a fact discussed by Gauchet , is also discussed by Meslin when he presents Cicero's notion of religio . This change from “giving attention” to “reconnecting”, Meslin sews very properly, with the abandonment of traditional practices, such as the ancestral practices of primitive societies. It is a symbol of the abandonment of circular time and the advent of linearity that leads to a profound change - which Meslin discusses from the perspective of the emergence of a single true faith.

It is also interesting to note how Meslin touches on the point of rupture raised by Eliade in stating that the fantastic or supernatural aspect is dominant in the Western concept of religion. This, Meslin claims, is born out of the perception of separation between the sacred and the profane. Therefore, the feeling of detachment and rupture, in fact, causes an ordering of the world in all senses and affects mainly the way in which the relationship between the visible and the invisible is worked.

Of course, as this sense of disruption affects different people and cultures in different ways, the innumerable not always agreeing definitions of religion arise , a problem that Meslin deals with in his discussion, without, of course, also successfully presenting a conciliatory definition.

The rupture is also a point that Bourdier discusses, stating that symbolic systems necessarily operate by the dichotomy of the natural world versus the social world. It is not possible to say that this is necessarily the same as sacred versus profane, but it is possible to understand that there is a parallel and that the dynamics of opposition are a common element.

Bordieu argues that this opposition between a specialized body and a lay body would be a replica of the opposition between the sacred and the profane. The author presents an interesting point, because, in fact, there is a rupture. However, just as the sacred reaches the profane on certain occasions. The ecclesiastical reaches out to the layman, even if it is through his own determinations within the religious structure. Yes, it is through a priest, in this model, that the layman would be able to connect with the sacred, even during his solitary practices - like a prayer at the foot of the bed - since this prayer is, however, regulated (in some way) by the priestly body. This could be seen as part of what Bordieu calls a “transaction” between experts and lay people. The layman expects something from the specialist, which is a kind of legitimation and the specialist, in turn, has his audience in the layman, in a shallow analysis. In other words, these would be truly transactions between the sacred and the profane, from the point of view of this particular structure. These transactions involve the idea of Mauss' gift and also the weight of the symbol's power. It is in these terms that Bordieu will build his discussion of capital and the religious market, that is, based on the separation between the sacred and the profane already put forward by Eliade .

Another important point raised by Eliade is the issue of transcendence caused by the presence or coexistence in the sacred space. Here we have that a mere limitation of the demarcation of geographical space is not enough to characterize this rupture between sacred and profane. Now, what happens then is that this rupture goes further. It breaks even with the state of normality, because in the sacred space a person can also, in a certain way, become sacred.

If Hierophanies sacralize space (but not only them), to be in sacred space is to participate in a hierophany in a certain way and not just witness it. Still, the construction of the sacred space (time or house) succumbs to an extremely interesting discussion, because it triggers a provocation: if man builds a sacred space, even if due to a hierophany , wouldn't man then be part of the sacralization?

Here the discussion takes me back to the debate raised by Bruno Latour about the fetish, the God built by human hands. The sacred space is then structured and demarcated by man, by a divine intuition that may well be a hierophany . However, the churches and the terreiros and their walls are, in fact, raised by people. When man builds for himself a sacred and sacred space , man transcends not only by being in this space, but by building this space, which becomes somewhat of man (visible) and somewhat of the sacred (invisible, but perceptible) . In other words, the very demarcation of the sacred would be an act of transcendence. This would become even more evident in cases where, as Eliade points out , without any hierophany or anything like that, the man goes there and causes something equivalent to "force" a sacred demarcation. As also happens in Eliade's discussion about the domination of a given space by man and how this is a process of sacralization.

It is important to note how Eliade when discussing traditional societies correlates the sacred space with the inhabited and known territory, giving the sacred a certain impression or prerequisite for familiarity. In other words, it is only possible to recognize what is close and what is not strange as sacred. This is an important point, since the definition of sacred space is given through a rupture and that rupture implies a difference. In some way, the difference between the profane and the sacred could not go beyond the scope of a certain familiarity or it would be rejected.

Interestingly, Meslin reinforces this notion by citing the reflection of Tacitus, who noticed the evident opposition between the sacred and the profane in the dynamics between Romans and Jews. Meslin then connects appropriately this familiarity vision sacred the social religious building stylish Durkheiniana . This is the subject of further discussion by Meslin , when he argues that today many profess "foreign" religions. This may have its origin in the notion of the contemporary family that has been transformed by the “shrinking” of borders.

This would be based on the structuring aspect of the sacred and the fact that, in a way, everything else would be a replication of this dynamic between the sacred and the profane. There is an entry point for the discussion of the rite. It is in the wake of Eliade's idea that he understands that the “real world” is at the “center”, at that anchor point and that is why the attempt to reach the real world goes through the transition between thresholds. Thus, we discuss the rite as a possible way to move and reach this center, perhaps also by the repetition of the cosmic order that is given by the dynamics between the sacred and the profane , which, in turn, is ordered by the myth - and so we come to the rite that reproduces the myth.

However, it is first to briefly discuss a point that Meslin raises. It is true that the ways of understanding and reaching the divine and the sacred were and are many. We are remembered by the author of those thinkers who, through the use of reason, will try to touch the sacred. However, as Meslin himself concludes, these thoughts were unable , however much they tried to look for a rational core, to inhibit multiple religious manifestations and all their particularities. Against this, of course, opponents emerged, such as Schleiermacher , stating that religion is “a direction of the soul oriented towards the eternal” and placing religion under the domain of “contemplation and feeling”. Hegel, for his part, will understand that religion can only be understood by itself. Feuerbach takes a different path and says that man is the center, reason and target of religion , focusing exclusively on the visible side of the equation.

Considering all these thoughts and others that I have not been able to expound here due to the reasonableness of the length of the discussion, it seems to me that in fact what resolves this issue is the rite. However, the rite in this sense cannot be interpreted as that composed by the action of a body of specialized priests, in terms of which Bordieu puts this separation, as being a group that legitimizes religion. In the case at hand, the rite is that action that transcends this outstanding body. This, of course, does not mean that there is a capacity in the rite to collapse this organization, since within a structuring logic in which these specialized priests operate the rites relegated to the laity also derive from these same priests, as the orderers of the institutionalized religion itself. The rite would be inserted in the idea of ​​Weber, which Bordieu highlights, that “A Church is not simply a priestly brotherhood”. Thus, a Church or any other religious organization must necessarily be beyond a specialized group.

The rite, however, when it leaves the domain of the sacred or that instituted by a specialized body, can fall to the opposite side of the sacred and profane dichotomy and become characterized as magic or magic. Meslin points out that magic or magic would be the fallen sacred or we could say the desecration of the sacred and that it would also be the use of divinity or essentially sacred techniques for profane purposes. Thus, I insist that it is the action that characterizes and structures our relationship with the sacred. Of course, it is an action structured by language and religion.

Terrin , on the rite says that Benveniste understands comes from ritus , which means established order. Now, this talks with the idea of ​​the rite staging the myth. However, he says it could have come from air (which means way of being and organizing), or from laughing (running). Terrin notes that whatever the origin, it seems to have a religious bias. Thus, he understands that the rite is what orders and places its place in things, which therefore organize the world. In harmony with what we are discussing, the author states that the rite is an action. Thus, we left the field of pure reason, sensation and contemplation. The author puts it better than "the rite is what is performed and lived in a given religion and culture".

In the religious sphere, according to Terrin , the rite would be closed within what is considered legitimate by that religion, demonstrating that, in fact, the profaned rite can be one of the sources for magic, according to Meslin's discussion . However, Terrin tells us about the appropriation of the term "rite" and "ritual" in sociology and the emergence of a class of "profane rite". Evidently, the rite that is born in the profane world does not carry desecration, since it was born as such. It is totally different from the rite that is born or that finds recognizable bases in the sacred and is taken to the other side of the spectrum.

Terrin rightly comments that defining and identifying a religious rite are sensitive tasks. Therefore, he uses Lewis's proposition, saying that it is simpler to identify the rite by exclusion: that is, talking about what would not be a rite. In this context, Terrin talks about three areas that could serve to define the rite: operational and functional model (dynamics not evident to the rite participant); conscious model (the description of the rite by its operators); and the formal model ( actions and execution of the ritual without noticing its content). These are three approaches that can be combined and, in fact, Terrin suggests a combination of the conscious and the formal models.

However, it is about the conscious (phenomenological) model that, in fact, Terrin will look into it, as he is interested in understanding the point of view of the operator and the participant. He quotes Pausânias and Plutarco to say that the rite is “a repetitive sacred action, composed of a drómenon (action) and a legómenon (word, myth)”. Thus, the rite would be the making of the myth that operates under conditions that do not expect direct causation, but indirect and symbolic. Terrin is categorical in stating that, in fact, the rite is not concerned with acting with any more evident and concrete practical utility, but that it operates in the “symbolic and mystical” fields. However, the author reminds us that the rite also has a “mundane” character, which would perhaps be, I believe, its actual operation, which depends on the visible world. Thus, the rite as hierophany , in a way, is the very expression of the sacred and profane dichotomy. After all, through acts and materials that operate on the basis of the material and the profane (the water that will be blessed in the baptismal font, for example, does not lose its fundamental essence of water) so that symbolic and mystical expressions can be realized.

Terrin will say that the rite is “an act of worship, a moment of expression of a 'whole' at the community level”. It is true that this definition embraces the rite beyond the religious, as the author even mentions when speaking of Parkin Van Gennepe and Victor Turner and briefly discussing the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, for example. However, here, the discussion is limited to the religious scope and in this context, the rite is rather an act of worship, even if it is not an act of worship to a deity, it is a worship of a worldview that is printed by the myth. We will not follow the discussion by the types of rites, because although the material is precious, I understand that it is beyond the scope of the bias of this work.


ELIADE, Mircea. “O espaço sagrado e a sacralização do mundo”. In: O sagrado e o profano: a essência das religiões. São Paulo: Editora WMF Martins Fontes, 2018, pp. 25-61. MESLIN, Michel. “O que é uma religião?”. In: A experiência humana do divino: fundamentos de uma antropologia religiosa. Petrópolis, RJ; Vozes, 1988, pp. 21-54. BOURDIEU, Pierre. “Gênese e estrutura do campo religioso”. In: A economia das trocas simbólicas. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2007, pp. 27-78. __________. “Sobre o poder simbólico”. In: O poder simbólico. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 2004, pp. 7-16. MESLIN, Michel. “A dialética do sagrado”. In: A experiência humana do divino: fundamentos de uma antropologia religiosa. Petrópolis, RJ; Vozes, 1988, pp. 55-84. TERRIN, Aldo Natale. “O rito: definição e classificação”. In: O rito: antropologia e fenomenologia da ritualidade. São Paulo: Paulus, 2004, pp. 17-65.

GAUCHET, M. “The Disenchantment of the world”. EUA: Princeton University Press; 1999.

LATOUR, B. “Reflexão sobre o culto moderno dos deuses Fe(i)tiches. Santa Catarina: EDUSC. 2002

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