Inaugural meeting of the SIEF working group on the Ritual Year
held in the Conference Room, Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, 27 George Square, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, on Sunday, 11 July 2004, at 10 am
The meeting followed a conference of the Traditional Cosmology Society on "The Ritual Year" organised by Dr Aude Le Borgne, which had been held on 7-11 July. Some members of that conference who were interested in the new working group were unable to attend the meeting but eight members were present.
The meeting was convened by Dr Emily Lyle (a1elyle(AT)staffmail.ed.ac.uk) who read a message of welcome from the President of SIEF, Professor Regina Bendix, and opened the discussion. It was agreed that the proposer and seconders of the proposal should all be invited to be members of the committee and Dr Emily Lyle, the proposer, was elected President. Dr Irina Sedakova of the Russian Academy of Sciences (ised(AT)ropnet.ru) was elected Secretary and Dr Aude Le Borgne of the University of Edinburgh (Aude.LeBorgne(AT)ed.ac.uk) was elected Treasurer. Dr Terry Gunnell of the University of Iceland, Professor Patricia Lysaght of University College, Dublin, and Dr George Mifsud-Chircop of the University of Malta, were invited to join the committee if they wished. In addition, Marcus Baly of University College, Cork, who was present at the meeting, and Professor Birgitta Skarin Frykman of the University of Gothenburg were elected committee members.
In advance of the meeting, it had been announced that presentations could be made on behalf of those unable to attend as well as by those who were there and interesting statements received beforehand were read out from: Professor Birgitta Skarin Frykman, Professor Thomas A. DuBois, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Molly Carter, of the University of Sheffield. Dr Aude Le Borgne then made a presentation that included a web-based tutorial that she had prepared for students studying Scottish calendar customs. This led into discussion of establishing a website for the working group and it was generally agreed that this was a good idea and that the updating could be handled by members but that we needed outside help to set up the site. The President and Treasurer agreed to look into the possibilities and Marcus Baly agreed to take on the updating.
All these presentations, and the papers at the preceding conference, made it abundantly clear that there is a very active interest in the field and that there are many ideas to be explored. It was accordingly agreed that we would aim at holding an annual conference. The Secretary then announced the offers of venues that had been received and told us that preparations were already in hand for a conference in Malta on 20-24 March 2005 with George Mifsud-Chircop (mifchir(AT)maltanet.net) as local organiser. Those present expressed their gratitude for this offer and were delighted that the 2005 conference would be held in Malta. The Secretary agreed to consult with the other potential organisers who had offered venues about the order in which the conferences would be held, but announced the possibilities as: on a boat on the Volga, Russia (Irina Sedakova); at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden (Birgitta Skarin Frykman); and at the Open University, Milton Keynes, England (Marion Bowman). Since the next full SIEF conference is tentatively planned for Bristol, England, in 2008, it was suggested that holding the working group's meeting in England in the same year might be a good move.
Thought was given to the format of the conferences with a view to their being both well focussed and open to new ideas. It was agreed that each conference should include: (1) papers on one or two topics relevant to the location of the conference and/or any festival it features, the topics to be chosen by the local organiser; (2) papers and a discussion panel on the hypothesis of the life-cycle parallel; (3) papers on any additional themes agreed by the committee; and (4) papers offered on any aspect of the ritual year that are accepted by the local organiser.
The Treasurer made it clear that there is a twofold structure for subscriptions. She stated that an annual subscription of 20 euros is payable to the SIEF office in Amsterdam and she distributed the relevant membership application forms. She also announced that the current subscription for the working group on the ritual year is 5 euros. All those present paid this subscription and most also added an inaugural donation, which she received with thanks.
The working group was established under the following bylaw:
SIEF (Société Internationale d'Ethnologie et de Folklore) "Bylaws Art. 13: Scholarly commissions shall be established to foster special areas and fields of European ethnology and folklore. Every member of the Society can suggest to establish new commissions, seconded at least by five (5) other members of the Society. The Executive Board may decide to create scholarly commissions to undertake special tasks or to investigate certain problems connected with furthering the field of European ethnology and folklore."
The proposal for the working group was accepted at the SIEF conference held at Marseilles in April 2004, and the following statement was formulated about its proposed activities.
The SIEF working group on "The Ritual Year" will be able to serve as a most valuable forum for discussion. We would expect our initial meeting to begin to map out the possibilities for the immediate future and to decide on the venue for the first extended gathering. There is a considerable choice among materials and approaches and the focus might well change from time to time and from conference to conference. We would plan to be flexible and in particular to make sure that we hear presentations from scholars representing a wide range of countries and approaches. Some possible aspects are: civic ritual and processions, community identity, masking and drama, carnival and reversal, reciprocity and exchange, computerised aids to calendrical research, sports, dance and music, contemporary popular use of religious images, cosmological roots, interfaces between the secular and the religious and between different religions, festival foods, and symbolism linked to the economic bases of society, especially as concerns agriculture. The field of study that often relates to this one rather closely in teaching students is that of life cycle customs, and the perceived connections between the year cycle and the life cycle seem likely to strengthen so that it may seem more and more appropriate to consider parallels between them. As in other ethnological areas of enquiry, members will take account of continuity, change and meaning, but the thing that is unique to this working group is the framework of the year.