Signs of Meaning

The Meaning of Meaninglessness as Key to the Understanding of Ritual Reality


  • Wilhelm Dupré Radboud University, Nijmegen



Ritual behaviour, ritual process, cultural reality, meaning/meaninglessness, levels of ritualization, vanishing point, myth, magic, emerging god-notions


The widspread occurrences of ritual activities make us wonder about their meaning and possible contribution to the achievement of humanity. To meet this challenge, the paper concentrates on ritual phenomena within the whole of cultural reality and as elements of the ritual process. In both instances, it is the tension between apparent meaninglessness and actual meaningfulness in ritual behavior which serves as key to the understanding of this behavior and its accomplishments. Whereas the cultural character of ritual phenomena connects them with the center of cultural reality, the ongoing ritualization of attitudes and activities binds and submits them to the vanishing point of ritual reality. The meaning of ritual phenomena correlates thus with the actual approximation to the center of cultural reality as well as with the attunement to the vanishing point of the ritual process. The effects of approximation and attunement can be recognized in the esthetical value of ritual expressions. But in essence they account for the religious and, by contrast, magical relevance of ritual phenomena. For depending on the intensity of approximation and attunement, ritual phenomena may be religious rather than magical, or magical rather than religious. However, inasmuch as the vanishing point of the ritual process intimates the end of ritual meanings, it is in the emptiness of this point that we encounter the tacit God of ritual relations as the nameless Beyond of ritual activities and as measure of variable god-symbols in terms of cultural reality.


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How to Cite

Dupré, W. (2017). Signs of Meaning: The Meaning of Meaninglessness as Key to the Understanding of Ritual Reality. Implicit Religion, 19(4), 553–574.



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