Seasonal Rituals

Temporal rites are those celebrations and rituals that mark the seasons and important events within the cycle of the year.  In agricultural societies the rites were probably connected with such events as planting, the appearance of the first fruits and harvest. In hunting societies, the rites probably commemorated the beginning of the season for hunting. In nomadic societies temporal rites were probably associated with the time of the year when one changed pastures or set out for a new location. 
In basic or "primitive" religions, the change of seasons was understood as the direct result of the activities of the spiritual powers or gods.  Indeed,  some of the most ancient sacred sites were built in alignment with the seasons. For example, Stonehenge in England (built around 3,100 BCE) is aligned to the rising of the sun on the summer solstice  - the longest day of the year. 
Even earlier (and actually more impressive) is the passage tomb at Newgrange in Ireland.  This passage tomb is constructed so that the sun's rays only enter the innermost chamber for a few minutes at sunrise on the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year).  
It is quite probable that each place was meant to mark the turning point of the seasons and that  rites and ceremonies were performed to recognize and honor the spiritual powers or gods that brought about the change of seasons. In some way, these rites and ceremonies helped to insure that the cycles necessary for life would continue. 

As your text points out, "Seasonal ritual is always directed to securing the well-being of both the community and the individual."  Seasonal rituals assume that life is a "series" of leases that must be renewed each year. The general pattern for the seasonal rituals is:

  • Rites of mortification: fasting and repentance as a means of preparation for the coming of the new.
  • Rites of purgation:  sacrifices of expiation to rid the individual and community of guilt.
  • Rites of invigoration:  the community attempts to renew the lease of life through rituals that affirm the social order and spiritual well-being.
  • Rites of jubilation:  rites that celebrate the renewal of the lease on life.

You text details how the ancient Babylonian festival of the New Year (Akitu) embodied these elements. We should also point out that many modern religious observance follow the same pattern as seasonal rituals. In Christianity, the Lent-Easter cycle clearly reflects the renewal of life that is inherent in seasonal rituals.

  • Ash Wednesday is a time of mortification and repentance in which individually and collectively sin is confessed and one enters into a time of self-examination
  • The Forty days of Lent that follow Ash Wednesday can be understood as rites of purgation. These days are meant to be a time of fasting, self-denial and repentance to rid oneself and the community of sin and guilt.
  • The events of Holy Week that lead up to Easter can be understood as rites of invigoration. These events ritually reenact the last week of the earthly life of Jesus.  Participation in the rituals of this week allows individuals to participate in the foundational acts that bring out salvation; that is the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Finally, Easter is a rite of jubilation.  It is a time when Christians celebrate the renewal of life and re-experience and re-appropriate the gift of new life brought about by the resurrection of Jesus.


It should be obvious from the above example that the categories of reenactment, rites of passage and seasonal rituals are not mutually exclusive.  That is, a ritual of reenactment such as the hajj can also be a rite of passage since it involves transformation of one's status.  Similarly, seasonal rituals usually involve rituals of reenactment that imitate and make present an original archetypal event.