Shamans and Sacraments: the meaning of rituals


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Is the need for ritual hard-wired into human beings?

From a Cherokee medicine man smoking a pipe to Sufi mystics whirling in ecstasy or Pope Francis celebrating mass – different as they may seem, all of these people engage in a form of religious ritual. There are even secular rituals, such as the chanting on football terraces. Wherever you go in the world, you will find people engaging in some form of ritual.

What is it that makes rituals so universally meaningful and compelling? To find out, Jane Little talks to Nicholas Taylor, a shamanic practitioner who’s undergone a ritualistic live burial; Peter Williams, a traditional Catholic; and Isabel Clarke, a clinical psychologist.

This podcast was produced by CTVC for its Things Unseen series of podcasts. CTVC is an award-winning media company producing television, radio and new media content on social issues, current affairs, religion, ethics, history and education. Pod Academy is grateful to them for enabling us to carry this podcast in our Faith and Non Belief Strand.

About Things Unseen

In 2013, the independent production company, CTVC, commissioned a piece of original research, The Spirit of Things Unseen, on belief in post-religious Britain.

The findings showed that over three-quarters of all adults (77%) and three fifths (61%) of non-religious people believe that “there are things in life that we simply cannot explain through science or any other means.”

The research also revealed that nearly 60% of the UK population believe in some kind of spiritual being, and more than half of all adults think that spiritual forces have some influence on earth.

To engage with the growing group of people who place themselves outside formal religion, but have a sense that there is “more to life than meets the eye”, CTVC created a new regular podcast, Things Unseen.

Things Unseen aims to address the needs and interests of those who no longer feel they belong to a religious community, but retain some spiritual beliefs. At the same time, it also wants to engage with people who still identify with one of the main faiths – and provide a platform for both groups to talk to each other.

You can contact the Things Unseen team by

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