Electronic Library of Scientific Literature


Volume 43, 2/1995

The relationship between the secular and the sacred in ceremonies and festivals

PhDr. Zuzana Benuskova,
Institute of Ethnology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Jakubovo nam. 12, 813 64 Bratislava, Slovakia

In the 20th century, the importance of religion in the life of various social groups and communities has differentiated, and the process of secularization has provided an alternative every-day life independent of the sacred sphere. The influence of church institutions on the organization of social life has also changed. For many, religion is only a sort of background, which is activated especially in connection with important moments in the life of the person and society, with festivals and ceremonies.
The phenomenon of faith and religion is so closely connected with research on ceremonies and festivals that in foreign literature, it is often part of attempts to define the concept of ritual. The analysis of the secular and sacred elements in ritualized behaviour, showing that not all ceremony is connected with religion or belief in the super- natural is a reaction to the definition based on sacred character.
Research shows that secular and sacred phenomena in ceremonies have one place on the institutional level, while in industrial and post-industrial societies these two phenomena are clearly divided. They have another position on the level of their perception by the individual, or on the level of values, where they are less clearly distinguishable.
L. Schmidt takes an untraditional look at the overlapping of the sacred and the secular, giving a whole series of examples. He observes that the same custom may have various meanings for its participants, and that the search for new meanings of customs is a new chapter, which needs to be included in ethnology. In the 20th century, the Catholic Church has appropriated some attributes and celebrations which did not originate in the sacred environment, for example the Christmas tree, advent wreath and Mothers' Day.
The need for people to have a secure orientation in the world is served by the established social order, in which centralized institutions of both sacred and secular character participate. Their activity is reflected in the everyday way of life of individuals and social groups, mixing with their cultural personalities and remelting into a compromise form acceptable for majority participation. It is often difficult to decide whether this involves sacralization or secularization, since many secular ceremonies and festivals were connected with the Church, so that after a certain time, they were accepted by the people as "sacred". Important moments in the life of society and the individual may also acquire a sacralized form, with their repeated emphasizing from the side of secular central institutions, for example the orthodox rituals of modern politics. Whoever controls the course of social ritual, controls society.
Originally religious ceremonies and festivals in the calendar and annual cycle acquired secularized forms especially where they were state supported, and the participation of the Church was limited.
In the recent past research on religion in Slovakia was negligeable or conceived in a one-sided way. The politicization of religion in the years 1939-45, topical in Slovakia even after 1989, also contributed to the sensitivity of this subject. Conflicting forms of religion are also covered only minimally in Western European literature. However it also exists there, although not in such a prominent form as we meet with in Slovakia. However religion is interpreted from the political point of view, one of its levels remains relatively immune to politics. This is folk religion. The results of atheist activity in the former communist regimes should have appeared precisely on this level, but it appears the folk religion in Slovakia does not show substantial differences from neighbouring countries with uninterrupted democratic regimes. This confirms the known experience that spiritual culture does not immediately succumb to political changes, but factors are active in it, which preserve its continuity more strongly than the conflicting situations in the development of society.
Citizens found themselves in situations where they were confronted with different ideological pressures from the Church and state, and were forced to publicly express their position. This particularly applied to family ceremonies, in which the institutional component of the citizen became the object of pressures from traditions and opposing ideological systems. The problems which arose were usually not manifested in the actual course of the ceremonies, but they were experienced in the intimacy of family life.
pp. 159-166

The self-presentation of the German middle classes in Bratislava in the 19th century

PhDr. Elena Mannova,
Institute of Historical Studies, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Klemensova 19, 813 64 Bratislava, Slovakia

When studying the problems of continuity or generalization of "middle class culture" on the territory of Slovakia, it is impossible to ignore the development of the German townspeople in the period of fundamental and general societal changes in the 19th and 20th centuries. Voluntary association sources bring nearer the elements of civic culture, stage celebrations, the relation of people to art, the use of symbols, definition in relation to other groups in the population (the gentry, working class and others). Analysis of the annual reports and committee minutes of the German choral society Liedertafel in Bratislava/Pressburg (1857-1938) show that in spite of the permanent contact with the dynamic German nationalism, the Germans in the city retained an identification with the Kingdom of Hungary. The German singers manifested their identification with the Kingdom of Hungary (Hungarian language, repertoir, symbols) in contact with offices and events with public participation. They used exclusively German in internal activity. The Hungarian language and patriotic terminology relating to the Kingdom of Hungary, are replaced by the German language and German nationalist vocabulary in the changed conditions of the first Czechoslovak Republic.
If the thesis about the constituting of a "middle class" by means of a common culture applies, then the development in the Kingdom of Hungary in the 19th century, was slowly heading towards the creation of a homogenized social class, as a result of Magyarization and linguistic and cultural assimilation. The break up of the Kingdom of Hungary made a break in this process: social changed to ethnic and social communication continued on this level. The change of form and content of some types of public celebrations held by the German choral society in Bratislava (concerts, entertainments, excursions) documents the development of the self-representation of the middle classes and the transformation of the value systems under the influence of political and social relations.
In the voluntary association culture of the Bratislava Germans, traditional elements (pride in the past of the royal borough, patriotism towards the Kingdom of Hungary, attempts at good contact with the aristocracy) overlap with modern features (connection with a network of societies, the introduction of new cultural norms of particular professional groups, of the formal equality of people, emphasis on activity, action, the power of art, the idea of harmony and progress). The voluntary association culture of the Germans in Bratislava in the 19th century oriented itself towards the citizen and the inhabitant of the city, without articulating the needs of national emancipation.
pp. 167-176

The folk play about St. Dorothy in Slovakia

Nora Labadyova,
Beskydska 6, 811 05 Bratislava, Slovakia

The play about St. Dorothy is one of the less widespread folk plays in Slovakia. Thematically, we assign it to the plays on martyrdom or heroism. Groups of players performed this play around Christmas, after Christmas, in places throughout January and especially at the beginning of February, when the Church celebrated the feast of St. Dorothy (6th February).
The play originated in the early Middle Ages. It was performed in churches or monasteries on the occasion of the feast day of the saint. The subject derived from Church literature - lives of saints and legends. In the Middle Ages, this play already spread to various European countries, but the theme became most frequent in Germany and Bohemia.
The Slovak play about St. Dorothy is similar to the Czech and Moravian variants of the play from the textual and dramatic points of view, and it probably penetrated into Slovakia from there. According to some sources the play about St. Dorothy was especially performed in Augustinian monasteries. In Slovakia these monasteries were found in regions which approximately correspond to the sphere of distribution of the play. Apart from religious orders, journeymen and apprentices from glass works were spreaders of the play, since many records of plays come from the glass making region.
The play about St. Dorothy achieved its greatest flourishing in the Baroque period. In Slovakia these plays were mainly performed in the period from the First World War to the Second World War, but its occurrence was already rare.
The play about St. Dorothy is a dramatized account of events from the life of the saint. King Fabricius cannot resist Dorothy's beauty and offers her marriage. Dorothy, a faithful Christian refuses this offer. She also refuses the offer of the executioner who wants to ransom her. After many tortures, the king gives the order for Dorothy to be beheaded.
In our territory we can distinguish two types of play: the lesser Dorothy play with 2-5 characters and the greater Dorothy play with five characters. The basic story of the play requires three main characters: Dorothy, the king and the executioner. Theophilus, to whom Dorothy sends fruit from the garden of paradise, after her death, the devil with comic scenes, a knight and an angel are supplementary characters who develop the dramatic story. In Slovakia we identify four basic types of play, which are almost identical. They are distinguished only by changes in some of the speech, or by missing motifs.
The costumes and staging of the play were simple, with use of clothes of the period or their parts (military or liturgical dress of the period), which identified the characters. Originally the play was usually performed inside a house, in a street or the courtyard of a house. Later it was performed in churches. Today it is sometimes performed in a house of culture. Sometimes the participants brought with them some scenery representing a prison. All the action was performed pictorially and by symbols.
At present in Slovakia, this play is performed only rarely in some communities - in Hrinova and Horna Suca, but the tradition also survived among Slovaks living in the Romania, in the county of Bihar.
pp. 177-196

An Old Theme in the Present Time. Narratives about Death in Modern Society

PhDr. Gabriela Kilianova, CSc.,
Institute of Ethnology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Jakubovo nam. 12, 813 64 Bratislava, Slovakia

Death, as the define conclusion of the life of the individual, plays a key role in the human society. The author deals with death as a general anthropological constant narrative theme. She analyses the old personification of Death as a female being, clothed in white. The assertition is supported by the material which the author has been collecting in the fieldwork throughout Slovakia, as well as from public and archival sources.
pp. 197-204