Athar Jaber

René Girard - Violence and the Sacred

RENE GIRARD: Violence and the Sacred (1988)

1. Sacrifice

In many rituals the sacrificial act assumes two opposing aspects: sacred and criminal. 

Because the victim is sacred, it is criminal to kill him – but the victim is sacred only because he is to be killed.


If sacrifice resembles criminal violence, we may say that there is hardly any form of violence that cannot be described in terms of sacrifice.


Sacrifice contains an element of Mystery.

We must explore the relationship between sacrifice and violence.

Physiology of violence varies little from one individual to another, even from culture to another.


Once aroused, the urge to violence triggers physical changes that prepare men’s bodies for battle. It is more difficult to quell an impulse toward violence than to rouse it.


When unappeased, violence seeks and finds a surrogate victim. This tendency is not limited to human violence. Animals that are usually chosen as victims for sacrificial rituals are those who present the most human characteristics.


Nuers and Dinka civilisations maintain a bovine society that parallels their own.


Hypothesis of substitution as the basis for the practice of sacrifice.


Fairy tales of childhood where wolf, ogre or dragon eats up a large stone in place of a child as a sacrificial cast.


Stories of Cain and Abel. Farmer vs shepherd. The murderer is the one who does not have a violence-outlet.


Isaac, Esau and Jacob. Odyssey.

In each case an animal intervenes to prevent violence from attaining the designated victim.


Paul Valéry: Poetry as a purely solipsistic activity practiced solely out of love for the art.


The sacrificial process requires a certain degree of misunderstanding.


The victim is a substitute for all the members of the community, offered up by themselves.

The sacrifice serves to protect the entire community from its own violence.


The purpose of the sacrifice is to restore harmony to the community. To reinforce the social fabric.


Such practices ‘pacify the country and make people settles… It is through the sacrifice that the unity of the people is strengthened’ (Ch’U Yu II, 2).


A ritual framework is needed for a sacrifice to be such. Otherwise it become a crime and the sacrifier a madman or a criminal. Example of Ajax.


Medea. Human sacrifice rather than animal sacrifice. Her children substitute the object of her hatred (the father) which is out of reach.

Medea prepares for the death of her children like a priest preparing for a sacrifice.


There is no essential difference between animal and human sacrifice.


All reduction into categories, whether implicit or explicit, must be avoided; all victims, animal or human, must be treated in the same fashion if we wish to apprehend the criteria by which victims are selected and discover a universal principle for their action.

All reduction into categories, whether implicit or explicit, must be avoided; all victims, animal or human, must be treated in the same fashion if we wish to apprehend the criteria by which victims are selected and discover a universal principle for their action.

The wide spectrum of human victims sacrificed is heterogeneous.

Unifying factors are: exterior or marginal individuals. Either outside or on the fringes of society.


Women are never, or rarely, selected as sacrificial victims out of fear of vengeance by her parents’ clan, with whom the married woman usually retains her ties.



The sacrifice is primarily an act of violence without risk of vengeance. Between the victims and the community, a crucial social link is missing, so thy can be exposed to violence without fear of reprisal.


The desire to commit an act of violence on those near us cannot be suppressed without a conflict; we must divert that impulse, therefore, towards the sacrificial victim, the creature we can strike down without fear of reprisal.


Men can dispose of their violence more efficiently if they regard the process not as something emanating from within themselves, but as a necessity imposed from without, a divine decree whose least infraction call down terrible punishment.


Vengeance is an interminable, infinitely repetitive process.


It is precisely because they detest violence that men make a duty for vengeance.


Our judicial system does not suppress vengeance. It limits it to a single act of reprisal, enacted by a sovereign authority.


Public vengeance vs private vengeance. Public vengeance is the exclusive property of well-policed societies. The judicial system.


According to Robert Lowie there are two types of societies. One with and one without a central authority.


If primitive societies don’t have remedies for dealing with outbreaks of violence, preventive measures play an essential role. Sacrifice as an instrument of prevention in the struggle against violence.


The sacrificial process furnishes an outlet for those violent impulses, that cannot be mastered by self-restraint. The sacrificial process prevents the spread of violence by keeping vengeance in check.


The more critical the situation the more ‘precious’ the sacrificial victim must be.


Ritual and sacrificial rites assume essential roles in societies that lack a firm judicial system.


Violence and the sacred are inseparable.


Religion strives to subdue violence. It postulates a mixture of violence and nonviolence.

The same can be said of our judicial system.


Enumeration of curative procedures as steps in the direction of a legal system.


Religion shelters us from violence just as violence seeks shelter in religion.


There are as many legitimate forms of violence as there are men to implement them.


Vengeance, sacrifice and legal punishment are fundamentally the same and tend to adopt the same types of violent response in times of crisis.


Expiatory procedure of the Chuckchi people who avert a feud by killing an (innocent) member of the family. By killing, not the murderer, but someone close to him, an act of reciprocity is avoided and the necessity for revenge bypassed.


Only violence can put an end to violence, and that is why violence is self-propagating.

Analogous to avoidance of physical contact with the anathema in Greek culture.

To do violence to a violent person is to be contaminated by his violence. It is best to arrange matters so that nobody is directly responsible to his death.

Abandoned without provision in mid ocean. 

Stranded on top of mountain. 

Forced to hurl himself from a cliff. 

All attempts to achieve a radically new type of violence that will put an end once and for all to violence itself.


Attempt to halt recurrent patterns by introducing a disruptive element.


Notions of impurity and contagiousness of violence as active roles in social relations.

In many religious communities, the scene of a violent act and the related objects send out emanations that penetrate everything. Effort is made not to touch representatives of violence.

Fear of infection by the impure resemble modern precautions against bacterial infection and avoidance of pollution. 


Contagious diseases as initiation rites.


Primitive impurity rituals reveal intuitive knowledge of microbiology. Possible parallels between ritualistic precautions and public hygiene.



Ritual precautions against violence.

Sacrificial catharsis prevents the unlimited propagation of violence. A cure to the infection.


Tendency of violence to hurl itself on a surrogate if deprived of its original object can be described as contaminating process.


The slightest outbreak of violence can bring about a catastrophic escalation.

There is something infectious about the spectacle of violence.


Violence can only be countered by more violence. The real victor is always violence itself.

Like a raging fire that feeds on the very objects intended to put it out.


Religious thinking and technological research share same goal: practical action.


Metaphor of violence as a disease.


Western civilization can’t isolate and analyse the causes of violence because it enjoys an immunity from it. An immunity that has resulted in the making of our society.


Bloodletting. Spilled blood considered impure unless for sacrificial act. Its presence, stains, proclaims violence and death. It cries out for vengeance.

Menstrual blood’s as primitive taboo. Impure.

Sexuality is impure because it has to do with violence.

Sexuality is a permanent source of disorder: abduction, rape, origin of illnesses, death by childbirth, incest, adultery, quarrels, jealous rages.

Like violence, sexual desire tends to find surrogate objects if the original object of desire remains inaccessible.


Bodily reactions of Sexual excitement and violent impulses manifest themselves in the same manner.

Suppressed desire to blame all forms of violence on women?


The function of ritual is to ‘purify’ violence.
Ritual is nothing more than the regular exercise of ‘good’ violence.


Double nature of blood: pure and impure, good and evil. 

2. The Sacrificial Crisis

Euripides’ Heracles real subject is the failure of a sacrifice, the act of sacrificial violence that suddenly goes wrong.

There is no such thing as truly ‘pure’ violence. Nevertheless, sacrificial violence can serve as an agent of purification.


Being more primitive, ritualistic action is hospitable to all ideological interpretations and dependant on none.

One axiom: the contagious violence encountered by the warrior in battle.

Prescription: the performance of ritual purification.

Its purpose is to prevent the resurgence of violence and its spread throughout the community.


Sacrifice is a social act.


In addressing their prayer to images of the gods, they might just as well be speaking to the walls.


The difference between blood spilt for ritual and for criminal purposes no longer holds.

Inevitably, the eroding of the sacrificial system seems to result in the emergency of reciprocal violence.

Example of neighbours who previously discharged mutual aggression on a third party, sacrificing an ‘outside’ victim, now turn to sacrificing one another.


Empedocles’ Purification.


Tragic authors impede the audience from taking sides by conveying symmetry, reciprocity and non-difference.


Modern research suggests that individuals of different make-p and background respond to violence in essentially the same way.


The destruction of differences in particularly spectacular when the hierarchical distance between the characters is great (e.g. father and son).

Euripides’ Alcestis.

Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex proposes that all masculine relationships are based on reciprocal violence.

Laius vs. Oedipus vs. Creon vs. Tiresias.


All these acts of violence gradually wear away the differences that exist in the family and the community.


The sacrificial crisis is the disappearance of the sacrificial rites. Coincides with the disappearance of

the difference between impure and purifying violence. Purification is no longer possible and impure,

contagious, reciprocal violence spreads through the community.


Order, peace and fecundity depend on cultural distinctions; it is not these distinctions but the loss of

them that gives birth to the fierce rivalries and sets member of the same social group against each other.


Ulysses’ speech in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Observations on the interaction of violence and ‘differences.’ Reflection on the role of ‘Degree’ which is the underlying principle of all order, natural and cultural. It permits individuals to find a place for themselves in society.


It is not the differences but the loss of them that gives rise to chaos and violence. This loss forces men into a perpetual confrontation that strips them of their ‘identities.’


The collapse of cultural structure of a society leads to reciprocal violence and encourages the spread of violence everywhere.


The sole purpose of religion is to prevent the recurrence of reciprocal violence.


Ritual impurity is linked to the dissolution of distinctions between individuals and institutions.

The modern mind has difficulty conceiving of violence in term of a loss of distinctions and vice versa.


The disappearance of natural differences can instigate a sacrificial crisis.


In some primitive societies twins inspire terror. They often have a striking physical resemblance to each other. They are harbingers of indiscriminate violence. Wherever differences are lacking, violence threatens.


In these societies, the infants are ‘exposed’; abandoned outside the community under conditions that make their death inevitable. Acts of direct violence against the anathema are avoided.


Common concern: fear of pollution.


Certain societies maintain that the parents of the twins are contaminated by ‘bad’ violence. They are required to isolate themselves and submit to rites of purification before being allowed to re-join the community.

Also valid for relatives and friends of the parents.


Impurity of twins compared to impurity of warrior steeped in carnage or incestuous couple or menstruating woman.


All forms of violence lead back to violence.


Sometimes there is an opposite attitude towards twins.

The reversal corresponds to that noted regarding menstrual blood. Any phenomenon linked to impure violence is capable of being inverted and rendered beneficent. But this is only possible through ritual practice.


Malinowski’s The Father in Primitive Psychology.

In the Trobriands, maternal relatives are considered to be of the ‘same body’ and the fathers to be ‘strangers’.

Negation of similarity.

Negation serves as affirmation.

The father is the bearer of difference.


Mythical theme of enemy brothers: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Eteocles and Polyneices, Romulus and Remus, Richard the Lion-Hearted and John Lackland.

Brothers in law or other close relatives.


The representation of nondifference ultimately becomes exemplar of difference.

Violent reciprocity destroys differences.

But nondifference immediately appears as a new difference, a monstrosity such as twins.


Monstrosities recur throughout mythology. Thus, myths make constant reference to the sacrificial crisis. Tragedy has affinity for myth.


To know violence is to experience it. Tragedy is therefore linked to violence.


Once violence has penetrated a community it engages in an orgy of self-propagation. There appears to be no way of bringing the reprisals to a halt before the community had been annihilated.

3. Oedipus and the Surrogate Victim

Oedipus is prone to fits of anger. But he has no monopoly to anger in the play. Anger is everywhere.

Each of the protagonists believes that he can quell the violence. All are drawn into the structure of violent reciprocity.

The plunge into opposition reduces the protagonists to a uniform condition of violence.

The myth does not explicitly set forth the problem of differences.

Oedipus is presented as a monstrous exception to mankind; he resembles nobody, and nobody resembles him.

The tragedy differs radically.

The act of regicide is equivalent to the polis as the act of patricide to the family.

Between patricide and incest, the violent abolition of all family differences is achieved. The process that links violence to the loss of distinctions will naturally perceive incest and patricide as its ultimate goals.

The essential task is to separate once more the two strains of blood.
Incestuous propagation leads to formless duplication, sinister repetition, a dark mixture of unnameable things. There are indeed the manifestations of the sacrificial crisis.

The crimes of Oedipus signify the abolishment of differences, but because the nondifference is attributed to an individual, it is transformed into a new distinction, signifying the monstrosity of Oedipus’s situation

The plague motif illuminates the collective character of the disaster, it’s universally contagious nature.

With the patricide/incest motif, violence and nondifference are presented in magnified and concentrated form.

Nothing has been truly abolished, nothing added, but everything has been misplaced.

Oedipus has become the prime example of the human scapegoat.

The plague is what remains of the sacrificial crisis when it has been emptied of all violence.

Finally, the full burden of guilt settles on one. It might very well have settled on another. What is the mysterious mechanism that determines how guilt shall fall?

The attribution of guilt that passes for ‘true’ differs in no way from the attributions that will be regarded as ‘false’. In the case of ‘true’ guilt no voice is raised to protest the charge. The mythical attribution can be defined as a phenomenon of unanimity.

At the point where two, three, or hundreds of symmetrical and inverted accusations meet, one alone makes itself heard and the others fall silent.

The old pattern of each against another gives way to the unified antagonism of all against one.

Idea of the double.

If violence is a great leveller of men and everybody becomes the double or ‘twin’ of his antagonist, then all the doubles are identical.

A single victim can be substituted for all the potential victims.

All the differing antagonisms now converge on an isolated and unique figure, the surrogate victim.

The members of any community instinctively seek an immediate and violent cure for the onslaught of unbearable violence and strive to convince themselves that all their ills are the fault of a lone individual who can be easily disposed of.

Euripides’ Andromache is the incarnation of the sacrificial crisis that threatens the community.

‘We want no such customs here’: displays collective fury and fear.

Reciprocal violence is a vicious circle. Vengeance and reprisals.

Each person prepares himself for the probable aggression of his neighbours and interprets his neighbour’s preparations as a confirmation of the latter’s aggressiveness.

The mimetic character of violence is so intense that once installed in a community it cannot burn itself out.

Process of depriving men of the knowledge of the violence inherent in themselves with which they have never come to terms.

Finding a surrogate victim constitutes how men expel from their consciousness the truth about their violent nature.

The crisis is a mysterious illness introduces into the community by an outsider. The cure lies in ridding the community of the sole malignant element. 

The surrogate victim plays the same role as the objects the shamans claim to extract from their patients. Objects that are identified as the cause of the illness.

Freud’s explanation failed to establish the identity of the object being ‘suppressed’: not the desire for patricide or incest but the violence that lurked behind these all-too-visible motifs. The menace of destruction that was diverted and concealed by means of the surrogate victim.

Oedipus is still dangerous but simultaneously precious. His corpse is looked upon as a valuable relic.

Oedipus is still dangerous but simultaneously precious. His corpse is looked upon as a valuable relic.

Because the violence directed against the victim was intended to restore order and tranquillity, it seems logical to attribute the happy result to the victim himself.

The surrogate victim symbolizes the change from reciprocal violence and destruction to unanimous accord and construction.

The surrogate victim, the final victim, appears as a being who submits to violence without providing a reprisal.

Sophocles’ two Oedipus tragedies show a pattern of transgression and salvation.

Stories of collective salvation in which the death of a single individual also results in the death of the evil spirit, monster or the end of a plague.

4. The Origins of Myth and Ritual

Two theories:
1.       Origins of ritual attributed to myth.
2.       Origins of myth, and gods, attributed to ritual (Hubert and Mauss).

Sacrifice engenders religion, it is the genesis of the gods, but it primarily deals with humankind. It is in human terms that we must attempt to comprehend it.

The resemblances among the rites practiced in disparate cultures are striking.

From time to time a voice in heard calling our attention to the very strangeness of institutions such as sacrifice and attempting to satisfy our deep need to find a firm basis for these institutions.

‘Man must have been subjected to some particular overwhelming experiences to have been led to introduce such cruel practices into his life. What could have been the reasons?
If murder plays such a decisive role in the sacrificial rite, this means that it must have played an important part in the initial impulse’, Adolphe Jensen.

The extraordinary number of commemorative rites that have to do with killing leads us to imagine that the original event must have been a murder.

See Freud Totem and Taboo.

The objective of the ritual is the re-enactment of the surrogate-victim mechanism; its function is to perpetuate or renew the effects of this mechanism; that is, to keep violence outside the community.

Sacrifice has a cathartic function and the sacrificial crisis is the loss of this function, as well as of all cultural distinctions.

The violence directed against the surrogate victim might well be radically generative: by putting an end to the vicious and destructive cycle of violence, it simultaneously initiates another and constructive cycle, that of the sacrificial rite – which protects the community from that same violence and allows culture to flourish.

If this is true, the generative violence constitutes the origin of all things that men hold most dear and that they strive most ardently to preserve.

The mythical narrative sometimes takes the form of a contest or game, a quasi-sportive or pugilistic event that evokes the rivalries inherent in the sacrificial crisis.

Lithobolia. The annual festival commemorating the stoning to death of the foreigner.

Description of the ancient practice involving a Pharmakos.
An unfortunate soul kept at hand at public expenses to be sacrificed whenever a calamity emerged.
Paraded around the city as a sponge to soak up impurities and then expelled or killed.

Dual perception: scorned and subsequently venerated. Metamorphosis (death and resurrection). The victim draws to itself all the violence and through its death transforms the baneful violence into beneficial.

Pharmakon means both poison and the antidote, sickness and cure. Dual meaning, like the blood.
Its administration is best left in the hands of specialized people: priests, shamans, doctors.

The modus operandi of violence – sometimes pernicious, sometimes beneficial – is taken as the model for the entire universe.

The scapegoat represents the metamorphosis of reciprocal violence into restraining violence through the agency of unanimity. Structure of all cultural values.

Divinity and experience by Godfrey Lienhardt. Description of Dinka ceremonies.
Metamorphosis from reciprocal to unilateral violence.
Greek Bouphonia.
Beating or insulting a cow or calf during ceremonies. The curses are seemingly able to destroy the victim. Killed by words (see Tiresias against Oedipus).

Scorned before death and praised after, the victim incarnates both beneficial and baneful violence. Having been so flagrantly abused, it is only reasonable that the victim should be greatly honoured.

We are dealing with an animal pharmakos that assumes hostilities that all the members of the community feel for one another.

The theme of unanimity recurs frequently in all aspects of religious life, in rituals, in myths.
The sacrificial ceremony requires a show of collective participation. Examples: Arabian camel sacrifice; Odysseus-Cyclops; Hindu Yadjor-Veda; Ceram Islanders; Ngadju-Dayaks; Kaingang, etc.

The function of sacrifice requires a surrogate victim = violent unanimity.

The ritual victim is never substituted for some member of the community: It is always substituted for the surrogate victim.
Ritual sacrifice is founded on a double institution:
1.       Substitution of one member of the community for all = surrogate victim.
2.       “ritualistic substitution” of the original victim with a victim belonging to the sacrificial category.
I.e. The surrogate victim comes from inside the community, the ritual victim from outside. Otherwise the community might find it difficult to unite against it.

Event the most violent rites are specifically designed to abolish violence.

The rite aims at the most profound inner peace known to any community.

Sacred monarchies of Africa: solemn occasions, require the king to commit all the forbidden imaginable acts: incest; bathed in blood and fed forbidden and evil food.
Pouring blood of a sacrificed animal on the king  

Investiture hymn of the Mossis (Ougadougous):
You are a turd
You are a heap of refuse
You have come to kill us
You have come to save us.

Enigma of royal incest accepted in some societies and forbidden in others. 

5. Dionysus

Most societies have festivals with ritualistic character. Of interest are observances that involve deliberate violation of established laws. E.g. Sexual promiscuity or incest.
Broad context: elimination of differences. Familial and social hierarchies are temporarily suppressed or inverted. Acts of outrageous behaviour are permitted and encouraged.
Destruction of differences is accompanied by violence.
The festivities commemorate a sacrificial crisis. Fundamental purpose of the festival is to stage a sacrificial act that marks both the climax and the termination of the festivities.
The crisis is celebrated because seen in retrospect is represents the catalyst to the cathartic process.
The violent dismissal of distinctions acquires a positive connotation.

There is a direct link between the sacrificial crisis and its resolution. The crisis is inseparable from its happy ending and becomes the cause of jubilation.
Relationship between the crisis and its solution can be seen from two divergent angles:
Crisis and conclusion as a continuity (celebrated by frenzy anarchy), or as a rupture (celebrated by extreme austerity).
In the second instance we can speak of an “Antifestival” wherein the crisis is perceived in a negative light.

Exorcism is an act of violence perpetrated against the devil.
Preliminary quarrel in rituals is a reminder of the sacrificial crisis.

General theory of sacrificial crisis resolved by violent unanimity clarifies obscure practices of festivals.

Holiday-gone-wrong theme. Festival gone wrong. Example of Yanomamo or Kaingang where the festival has lost its ritual characteristics and entered a vicious loop of violence.

“We shall make beer for him.”

Analysis of Euripides’ Bacchanae.

Touch on head, waist and feet.
Sparagmos: dismemberment of the body.
1.       Unanimity: everyone participates in the killing.
2.       No weapon is used (see Dinka, Swazi Incwala and other primitive societies’ sacrifice).
3.       The violent death provides the necessary outlet for the mass anguish and restores peace.
See ritual in Pasolini’s Medea.
The rite is achieved toward order and tranquillity, not violence. It strives to achieve violence solely to eliminate it.

Through divine intervention, Religion humanizes violence; it protects man from his own violence by taking it out of his hands. Religious misinterpretation is a constructive force as it purges man from the suspicions that would poison his existence if he were to remain conscious of the actual crisis.

To think religiously is to see violence as something superhuman.
A claim is made that attributing violence to religion is safer than recognising our own intrinsic, more destructive, violence as this would not have any limits. Whereas religion clearly delineates and channels it.

Mythological elaboration is an unconscious process based on the surrogate victim and nourished by the presence of violence. This presence is not repressed, rather detached from man and made divine.

Peripheral function of women, children and old men in rituals, festivals and in society in general.
Men are the cause of action and violence.
Motionless groups of people gathered in peripheral houses compared to people who cluster on side-walks or street corners whenever “something is going on”. Desire to see all the action while maintaining a safe distance.

6. From Mimetic Desire to the Monstrous Double

Violence is the divine force that everyone tries to use for his own purposes and that ends by using everyone for its own.
See Dionysus of The Bacchae.

At the very height of the crisis, violence becomes simultaneously the instrument, the object, and all-inclusive subject of desire.
Social coexistence would not be possible without a surrogate victim. Violence needs to be transmuted into culture. The vicious circle of reciprocal violence, destructive in nature, is replaced by the vicious circle of ritual violence, creative and protective in nature.

In the dynamics of desire there is another entity beside the subject and the object: the rival. The subject desires the object because the rival desires it.
Desire of an object possessed by a model figure.
Mimesis with the model is engaged.

The characters in tragedy are ultimately indistinguishable.
Tragedy is interested as reversal as such.
Near the climax, the rhythm of action is increasingly faster.
Stichomythia: the exchange of insults and accusations that corresponds to the exchange of blows.

As long as violence remains present among men, and as long as men pursue it as an absolute, as a divinity, it will continue its devastating oscillations.

Violence tends to generate unanimity, either in favour or against it. Violence promotes imbalance, tipping the scales of Destiny in one direction or another.

Play has a religious origin, insofar as it reproduces certain aspects of the sacrificial crisis. The contest has no other objective than itself, but it is regulated so that it cannot degenerate into a brutal fight.

Thymos: to make smoke, to offer sacrifices; to act violently, to run wild.
Cyclothymia: the alternating presence and absence of thymos.

When all differences have been eliminated and the similarity between two figures has been achieved, the antagonists are double.

The Dionysiac state of mind erases all differences. It is a hallucinatory state that is a formless and grotesque mixture of things that are normally separate.

The antagonists become doubles (see Dostoevsky The Double).
When violent hysteria reaches a peak, the monstrous double looms up everywhere.
The decisive act of violence is directed against an omnipresent vision of evil and at the same time is sponsored by it.

Pentheus and Dionysus become double and one.

Empedocles’ description of the birth of monsters:

58. The dismembered limbs, subservient to the will of hate, wander about separately, yearning to
59. But as soon as a god draws closer in harmony to another god, the limbs begin to link up at random, and they all rush together.
60. We find creatures with revolving legs and countless hands.
61. Other are born with two faces, two torsos; there are cows with human heads and men with the heads of cows; and hermaphrodites, whose sex is shrouded in mystery.

Discussion of the themes of possession and the ritual use of masks.
Possession tends to acquire a ritual character. Ritual possession seems inseparable from the sacrificial rites that serves as its culmination.
Ritual use of masks will serve a religious function. They are another aspect of the monstrous double.
Masks stand at the frontier between the human and the “divine”.

6. From Mimetic Desire to the Monstrous Double

7.Freud and the Oedipus Complex

General analysis of Freuds Oedipus complex.

Mimetism is a sort of continual conflict. By making one man’s desire into a replica of another man’s desire, it invariably leads to a rivalry; and rivalry in turn transforms desire into violence.

Identification with the father and mimetic desire. Desire of the son to take over the things that belong to his father.

The (concept of) incest and the patricide wish, do not belong to the child – he is too innocent and unaware of social conventions – but spring from the mind of the adult, the model. In the Oedipus myth it is the oracle who puts such ideas into the father’s head. The son is always the last to learn about his desires, and it is the adults who enlighten him on the matter.

Desire is directed towards the objects protected by the other’s violence. The violence has been experienced by the son during the prohibition of the father to possess and interact the desired object. The link between desire and violence is thus forged and will never be broken.

At the origin of individual or collective “adjustment” lies concealed an arbitrary violence. The well-adjusted person conceals his violent impulses while the “maladjusted” cannot tolerate the concealment. “Mental illness” and rebellion, like the sacrificial crisis the resemble, commit the individual to falsehood and to forms of violence that are more damaging to him than the disguised violence channelled through sacrificial rites.
Many psychic issues are a reaction against the violence and falsehood found in any human society.

Malinowski’s The Father in Primitive Societies. In Trobriander society the maternal uncle replaces the father.

Sophocles’ The Women of Trachis where Hercules asks his son Hyllos to burn him and to take his wife Iole. 

6. From Mimetic Desire to the Monstrous Double

General analysis of Freud’s Totem and Taboo.

Darwin’s primal horde is a caricature of the family, and the sexual monopoly of the dominant male coincides with the future prohibitions regarding incest.

The festival is a permitted, or rather obligatory, excess, a solemn breach of a prohibition. And when the deed is done, the slaughtered animal is lamented and bewailed.

The rite is invariably presented in the form of a murder, a transgression both culpable and obligatory whose virtue lies ultimately in its very impiety.

Religious totemism relates to the operation in which violence produces an inversion by means of an actual act of collective murder.

On the importance of unanimous participation in the rites. If they were not performed by the entire group acting in unison, they would be nothing more than criminal acts of destructive intent.

Sacrifice at the altar was the essential feature in the ritual of ancient religions. It plays the same part in all religions, so that its origin must be traced back to very general causes, operating everywhere in the same manner.

St. Nilus description of the sacrifice of a camel practiced by a tribe of the Sinai desert.

In every instance (of a sacrifice), a mob murder is being re-enacted.
All ritual practice, all mythical implications, have their origins in an actual murder.

The hero of tragedy must suffer; to this day that remains the essence of a tragedy. He must bear the burden of what was known as “tragic guilt”.
This is the guilt he must take on himself in order to relieve the Chorus from theirs as originally, it had been the members of the Chorus who caused the Hero’s suffering.
The crime which was thrown on the shoulders of the hero is precisely the crime for which the members of the Chorus were responsible. The chorus being here the general community.
Tragic hero = Surrogate victim.
But the surrogate victim, even when falsely accused, may be as guilty as the others (see Dostoevsky’s The Brother Karamazov).

The modern crisis, like the sacrificial crisis, can be defines as the elimination of differences.

If violence is unleashed, prohibitions become indispensable, for without them human society would vanish. Yet is there any reason why human society should not vanish?

Animals possess individual breaking mechanisms against violence. Mankind lacks this protection.
There is no society without religion because without religion society cannot exist. 

9. Lévi-Strauss, Structuralism, and Marriage Laws  

General analysis of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ thought on kinship and marriage.

“Prohibition is merely the reverse of positive obligation”, according to Lévi-Strauss as opposed to René Girard for whom prohibition comes first.

Today the reign of violence is made manifest in the form of technological weaponry. These weapons are what is keeping the whole world in check. And it is this force that prevents the whole humanity from destroying itself.

Structural analysis cannot deal with everything, but within its limits it is highly satisfactory.

The sacred concerns itself above all with the destruction of differences. This nondifference can only appear in the guise of a new and equivocal kind of difference: A double, multiple, monstrous, fantastic. Doubtful significations that imply too little and too much: twins, illnesses, contaminations and contagions, excrescences and deformations, all forms of monstrous and bizarre. Sexual transgressions, acts of violence exceptional behaviours in defiance of explicit gestures of communal unanimity.

As long as meaning is healthy, the sacred is absent.

Description of Bororo myth and Tsimshian myth.

Conclusion: one cannot exert violence without submitting to it.

Mutilations symbolizes the working of the crisis in dramatic fashion.  It must be viewed both as the creation of fearfully deformed beings and as the elimination of all distinguishing characteristics.

The process imposes uniformity, eliminates differences but it never succeeds in establishing harmony. In the image of monstrous mutilation, the procedure of reciprocal violence is expressed in such powerful condensed form that they appear bizarre, indecipherable, and “mythic”.

During rites performed at Tsimshian noble marriage, stones are thrown, and many heads are battered. The scars and wounds…[serve] as proof of the wedding contract.

The theme of violent undifferentiation includes that of castration. Also, psychoanalytical.

 General analysis of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ thought on kinship and marriage.

“Prohibition is merely the reverse of positive obligation”, according to Lévi-Strauss as opposed to René Girard for whom prohibition comes first.

Today the reign of violence is made manifest in the form of technological weaponry. These weapons are what is keeping the whole world in check. And it is this force that prevents the whole humanity from destroying itself.

Structural analysis cannot deal with everything, but within its limits it is highly satisfactory.

The sacred concerns itself above all with the destruction of differences. This nondifference can only appear in the guise of a new and equivocal kind of difference: A double, multiple, monstrous, fantastic. Doubtful significations that imply too little and too much: twins, illnesses, contaminations and contagions, excrescences and deformations, all forms of monstrous and bizarre. Sexual transgressions, acts of violence exceptional behaviours in defiance of explicit gestures of communal unanimity.

As long as meaning is healthy, the sacred is absent.

Description of Bororo myth and Tsimshian myth.

Conclusion: one cannot exert violence without submitting to it.

Mutilations symbolizes the working of the crisis in dramatic fashion.  It must be viewed both as the creation of fearfully deformed beings and as the elimination of all distinguishing characteristics.

The process imposes uniformity, eliminates differences but it never succeeds in establishing harmony. In the image of monstrous mutilation, the procedure of reciprocal violence is expressed in such powerful condensed form that they appear bizarre, indecipherable, and “mythic”.

During rites performed at Tsimshian noble marriage, stones are thrown, and many heads are battered. The scars and wounds…[serve] as proof of the wedding contract.

The theme of violent undifferentiation includes that of castration. Also, psychoanalytical.

10. The Gods, the Dead, the Sacred, and Sacrificial Substitution

A general resume of the book so far.

Violence is sometimes reciprocal, sometimes unanimous and generative.
Dionysus, Zeus, Janus and other gods are both good and bad.
Foreign war is another form of sacrificial violence.

In Oedipus all main characters are monsters: Oedipus, Tiresias, the Sphinx.
The king too as well as all the gods who are made up of various parts taken from human, animal, inorganic and cosmic matter.

Worship of the dead. The crisis becomes evident in the loss of difference between the living and the dead.

The surrogate victim dies so that the entire community can be reborn in a new cultural order.
Death contains the germ of life.

Sacrifice can be defined I terms of the sacred: a maleficent violence polarized by the victim and metamorphosed by death into benevolent violence.

Men do not worship violence as such. Violence is venerated insofar as it offers men what little peace thy can ever expect. The best men can hope for in their quest for nonviolence is the unanimity-minus-one of the surrogate victim.

The metalworker, master of a powerful form of violence.

Many languages contain terms that reveal the nondifference between violence and the sacred.
Sacer; Kratos; Thysias; They display the conjunction of good and bad violence within the sacred.

The surrogate victim is generally destroyed and expelled from the community. The community purges itself from the infection.
Once the outer limits of the community have been crossed, we enter the domain of savage sacredness. The real of gods, supernatural creature, monsters, the dead, of nature (as opposed to culture), the cosmos and the rest of the humanity. 

The birth of the community is an act of separation.

All sacrificial rites are based on two substitutions. The first substitutes a single victim for all the members of the community. The second substitutes a victim for the surrogate victim.
Once the victim is obtained, it is made look like the original victim. This is part of the Sacrificial preparation.
The goal is to make the victim wholly sacrificeable. Two approaches:
1.       A victim that is too much a part of the community must be made to appear more foreign. Example of the sacred king. Too integrated therefore required to commit horrendous crimes (incest).
2.       A victim who is too foreign to the community must be reintegrated. Example of Dinka sacrifice of cattle: never fresh from the herd but only after a period of isolation from cattle, sheltered near human habitations.

Sacrificial preparations involve many actions that may seem contradictory, but all are adapted to their goals. 

11. The Unity of All Rites

Analysis of cannibalistic rituals of the Tupinamba people.
Two form of cannibalism: inside or outside the community.
People killed outside the community were eaten without ritual.
Inside, prisoners were integrated in the community and sacrificed in a much later stage (months or years).

The surrogate victim (the prison) brings communal cohesion.
Its mechanism is redemptive twice over: it quells violence by promoting unanimity and it keeps the horrendous truth from men by preventing an outbreak of violence.
The prisoner was both honoured and vilified. He represented the primordial victim.

The victim is not killed to be eaten but eaten because he has been killed.

The essential trait of any ritual is its sacrificial aspect.

Violence in the Tupinamba is shifted from the interior to the exterior. It keeps violence from exploding where it would do more damage.

Comparing cannibalism with nationalistic myths of modern, nineteenth-century world.
Foreign war is to avert the threat of an internal dissension by adopting a form of violence that can be openly endorsed and fervently acted upon by all.

The ritual described practices differ greatly in character as in location. Yet, despite their diversity, they all demonstrate that the surrogate victim is the basis of all religious systems.

Rites of passage.
Two distinct stages:
1.       Change or loss of previous status loss of differences).
2.       Acquisition of a new status.

If all violence involves a loss of difference, all losses of difference involve violence.
Contagious violence. The individual who is in “passage” is regarded as a criminal or the victim of an epidemic. Victim must be isolated, quarantine.
They are kept on the periphery of the community.

Celebrants in certain festivities are required to perform several actions that are normally forbidden.

Wherever there is a potential for dangerous change, the remedy lies in ritual.

The structure of the sacrificial crisis and of generative violence permits us to understand the means by which violence is deflected and diffused in human society. And this explains why rites of passage are characterized by impressive, painful and sometimes unendurable ordeals.

Violence is often materialized as an impurity or blemish that is in a physical substance.
Analysis of the word Katharma.
Cathartic medicine. Medical catharsis. Human pharmakos. medical pharmakon. 
Analogy of sacrificial crisis with disease. “Booster shots” correspond to the repetition of sacrificial rites. Vaccination is a metaphorical displacement of sacrifice.

Aristotle use of the term in his Poetics.
Tragedy assumes some of the functions of ritual. The temple and the sacrificial altar are substituted by the theatre and the stage. After the performance the spectators will be purged of the evil afflicting them.
A performance constitutes a sort of rite.

Having accompanied the hero part of the way, the audience suddenly perceives him as “other” and abandons him to his fate, his superhuman ignominy and glory.

Plato’s vision vs. Aristotle’s.

Follows an expanded concept of sacrifice.

Correlation between the elimination of sacrificial practices and the establishment of a judicial system. The penal system owes its origins to generative violence.

Lapidation as a means to absolve the group that carries out the death penalty.

Public exposure of criminals prior to their conviction. Plato says criminals should be exposed “at the frontiers of the country”. As well as any object related to the sacrilegious death (bones, stones, animals).

The expulsion from the community as a capital punishment was carried out without any formalities if the criminals were foreigners. i.e. individuals “external” to the communities.

Legal punishment can be traced back to spontaneous unanimity, the conviction that compels an entire community to vent its fury on a single individual.

The unity that underlies all mythologies, rituals, and human culture is the community’s spontaneous outburst of opposition to the surrogate victim.

The commonplace as focal point. The most encountered cultural elements are the ones most likely to lead to the truth.

Two variants of the same ritual can stand in opposition (festival vs. anti-festival).

Similarities between Tupinamba, Aztec and African king rituals.

Scapegoat phenomena are the very basis of cultural unification, the source of all rites and religion.

In time, the concluding sacrifice is eliminated when all vestiges of the generative violence have been removed, and we are left with a “festival” in the modern sense.

The rite constitutes the original interpretation of the generative violence.

Considering the monarchies of the Ancien Régime in the light of sacred kingship.
The life and death of the monarchic concept in France is structured by the influence of sacred violence.

Human society begins with religion, which is just another term for surrogate victim.
The surrogate victim in generated as a solution when a societal unity is needed but impossible to obtain due to internal conflict.

The role of the surrogate victim is honoured by architectural sites dedicated to the spirit of the collective unity: tombs of heroes, the omphalos, the agora and in the polis itself.

The traditions attached to these localities and the rituals associated with them make clear that sacred mob violence formed the origin of the polis.

Ends with Anaximander quote.  


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