The Art of Ritual: Changing Ways of Life and Death (April/May 2022)

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The next rendition of my Art of Ritual course for the Morbid Academy (the online teaching branch of the popular Morbid Anatomy enterprise) begins on April 20th:

The intangible culture of death ceremony became increasingly bureaucratized throughout the Industrial Age, as hospitals, businesses, religious institutions and civic authorities overtook what had previously been intimate, participatory experiences.

During the 1960s and ’70s, however, the intense questioning and experimentation of the counterculture movement spurred a radical shift in the mortality paradigm. “Suddenly”, in cultural terms, it became possible to imagine new ways of life and death.

This course explores an emergent, dynamic and positive response to the existential problem of death denial, centered on the simple philosophical premise of “mortality sapience”; that by remembering death, we can learn to seize the day.

In that spirit, artists, designers and activists are now working to change the mainstream mortality narrative through the media of end-of-life, funerary, memorial and memento mori ritual. Some are the work of individual creators, like Itaru Sasaki’s “telephone of the wind” in Otsuchi, Japan, or of loose collectives, such as the massive All Souls Procession in Tucson, Arizona, USA. Some take place at the cutting edge of ecotechnology, like the laying-in ceremony of recomposition (human composting) funerals. Still others are emerging organically as experiential folk-culture, such as the popular practice of creating street shrines.

By acknowledging death, honoring those who have passed and reminding the living to appreciate their lives, these new rituals serve to connect us, simply and profoundly, as mortal human beings. Taken together, they comprise an emerging praxis of ceremonial innovation.

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