View Chapters

Book: The Relational Dynamics of Enchantment and Sacralization

Chapter: 2. Objects as Subjects: Agency and Performativity in Rituals

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30125


In ritual theory, objects have mostly been discussed in terms of symbols and interpretations. However, material objects that are employed in rituals are not merely passive carriers of attached cultural meanings. In this article, I will discuss how objects not only become animated in rituals but as such are also ascribed agency, whereby they further animate the ritual field. As ritual agents they achieve important performative functions in the field of transformations. The smoke of burning sage in a ritual setting is not everyday smoke but sacred, and it not only symbolizes a purification process for the participants, but – as a performative agent – it “actually” cleanses them of bad spirits. In attributing objects personhood and agency, it is thus more useful to discuss the phenomenology of animism and ritual objects as forms of relational epistemology than as cases of epistemological fallacies indicating a childish or “primitive” worldview.

Chapter Contributors