Every culture and religion has its rites and rituals—solemn or festive practices that keep traditions alive. Some are tied to long-standing religious practices, such as the Festival of Lights (better known as Hanukkah) in Judaism, or Ramadan in Islam. Of course there are rituals we now consider barbaric, like animal (let alone human) sacrifices and Satan worship.
Of course, the barbaric rituals are the ones that can make for compelling fiction, especially in the occult/horror genre. David Seltzer’s 1976 novel The Omen (based on his screenplay of the film, starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick), we learn a great deal—probably more than we care to know—about the kind of ritual needed to stop a devil-child from taking over the world. In The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty dramatizes the ancient ritual of exorcism, the casting out of a demon inhabiting a human being.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Rituals deepen one’s experience of a religion or cultural tradition. Cultural anthropologists such as Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough or Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa are excellent sources for learning about ancient and primitive religious rituals.
1. Outline a horror story that includes one or more rituals. Research the practice of these rituals so that you can convey them realistically.
2. Study the religious or coming-of-age rituals practiced by a non-Western culture, such as Samoan or Tibetan; then, outline a story that is set in this culture.