Thursday, March 27, 2008

Passing on blame and interconnectedness

A blog I regularly check in on is called Bouphonia and I always go there on Fridays because of the Friday Nudibranch Blogging. (A nudibranch is a sea slug.) But for some reason until today I had never experienced any curiosity about the name. Take a look at what the ancient ritual of "bouphonia" was all about:

The weapons were then sharpened and handed to the butchers, one of whom felled the ox with the axe and another cut its throat with the knife. As soon as he had felled the ox, the former threw the axe from him and fled; and the man who cut the beast's throat apparently imitated his example. Meantime the ox was skinned and all present partook of its flesh. Then the hide was stuffed with straw and sewed up; next the stuffed animal was set on its feet and yoked to a plough as if it were ploughing. A trial then took place in an ancient law-court presided over by the King (as he was called) to determine who had murdered the ox. The maidens who had brought the water accused the men who had sharpened the axe and knife; the men who had sharpened the axe and knife blamed the men who had handed these implements to the butchers; the men who had handed the implements to the butchers blamed the butchers; and the butchers laid the blame on the axe and knife, which were accordingly found guilty, condemned, and cast into the sea.

The name of this sacrifice,--the murder of the ox,--the pains taken by each person who had a hand in the slaughter to lay the blame on some one else, together with the formal trial and punishment of the axe or knife or both, prove that the ox was here regarded not merely as a victim offered to a god, but was itself a sacred creature, the slaughter of which was sacrilege or murder.

-- Sir James Frazer

I would submit that this ritual acknowledges both the human tendency to pass blame along and also the futility of trying to escape it. The reality of interconnectedness means that no one can truly deny responsibility for what happens in our community. And, remember. It's a small world these days. Our community is the whole planet, isn't it?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Ellie. The name's absolutely central to me, and you interpret it exactly the same way I do.


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