Ritual Perfection and Ritual Sabotage in the Veda

by Brian K. Smith
Ritual Perfection and Ritual Sabotage in the Veda
Brian K. Smith
History of Religions
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It is gratifying that the Vedic ritual-which forms, as Frits Staal has noted, "the richest, most elaborate and most complete among the rituals of mankind"' -has received renewed attention by this generation of Indologists for what it might suggest about larger issues for the dis- cipline of the comparative study of religion. Following the long hiatus since the publication in 1898 of Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss's anthropological classic, Essai sur la nature et la fonction du ~acrijice,~ contemporary scholars such as Staal, Madeleine Biardeau, and J. C. Heesterman have again used Vedic ritual exempla in putting forward important theoretical insights into the nature and function of ritual and religion.

In this article I will focus attention on certain features of the Vedic ritual-some of which are fairly well known and others that have been,

I am grateful to those in attendance at Columbia University's seminar, The Veda and Its Interpretation (December 8, 1994), and the Winter Lecture Series sponsored by the Center for the Study of Religion and the Program in the Study of Religion, University of California, Los Angeles (January 20, 19951, for their helpful comments and responses to oral versions of this research. Throughout, all translations of Vedic texts are mine.

' J. F. Staal, "Ritual Syntax," in Sanskrit and Indian Studies, ed. M. Nagatomi et al. (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1979), p. 122.

First published in L'Annie sociologique and later translated into English as Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, SacriJice: Its Nature and Function, trans. W. D. Hall (Chi- cago: University of Chicago Press, 1964). All subsequent citations are from the English translation.

O 1996 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved


to my knowledge, wholly ignored-that also may serve as exempla for our understanding of religious ritual in general. These features concern two sorts of inversions and reversals.

First, there are many texts that declare that certain activities in the ritual are to be done in a way that is specifically said to be the exact opposite of the manner in which those activities outside the ritual are normally done. This type of reversal, a common enough feature of rituals around the world,3 is in the Vedic case meant to establish that ritual action is fundamentally different from-and is indeed the absolute in- verse of-ordinary human activity. Such a conception raises one set of possibly generalizable insights about the nature of ritual and its relations with nonritual activity.

The second set of exempla I will present below are far less well known and typical. These concern what I call "ritual sabotage," whereby the priest, unbeknownst to his patron, brings disaster on the sacrificer by means of another type of inversion and reversal. In these cases, the ritualist performs the rite in the "wrong" way in order to achieve goals quite different from those supposedly attained by doing the rite in the "right" manner. While the first set of exempla can help us think about how ritual activity is conceived of and represented as different from or- dinary human activity, the second set of Vedic examples confronts us with questions about ritual's supposed efficacy.

The Vedic ritual is presented not only as a realm wholly different from the external world of human activity but also as the arena in which beings and events in the real world can be controlled and manip- ulated. How these two seemingly contradictory notions can be recon- ciled and explained from the point of view of the ritualists is one task I will attempt to undertake here.

Another is to offer one explanation as to why the Brahmin priests of ancient India might have felt compelled to create a "perfect" ritual world with reputedly enormous capacities for influencing the nonritual world-including the ability to adversely affect the (extraritual) health and welfare of their patrons. While claims concerning the awesome po- tency of the Vedic ritual have often been duly noted by scholars, it is much rarer to find any attempt to explain why the Brahmins who

"Ritual is, above all, an assertion of difference," declares Jonathan Z. Smith in his To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987),

p. 109. Compare Terence S. Turner, "Dual Opposition, Hierarchy and Value," in Differences, valeurs, hierarchie: Textes offerts a Louis Dumont, ed. Jean-Claude Galey (Paris: Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales, 1984). One also recalls here the many instances of ritual inversion-the suspension of taboos, transvestism, sexual licen- tiousness, etc.-associated with liminal states discussed by Victor Turner in his The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago: Aldine, 1966).

invented the ritual and endowed it with such potentialities might have found it in their interest to do so in the first place.

Finally, I will suggest some implications for the general study of rit- ual and religion implied by the two apparently different but, I believe, mutually explicable types of inversions-one designed to obtain ritual perfection and the other to result in ritual sabotage. In particular, I want to reopen an old question: How does ritual "work"? What kind of efficacy does ritual have, and how is the nature of that efficacy differ- ently understood by the actors themselves, on the one hand, and by scholars in the discipline of the study of religion on the other?

I1 According to the Veda, the ritual realm is to be spatially and conceptually set apart from the nonritual realm. Spatially, this is achieved by the de- marcation of a distinct space for the ritual (a science that was developed in those appendices to the Veda called the Sulba Siltras), thereby creating a visually recognizable enclosure for the ritual activity. The ritual arena is thus made to be a world unto itself, a delimited realm where activities are focused and controlled. Conceptually, the ritual is distinguished from the sphere of ordinary activity by a series of acts also designed to mark the yajfia, or sac- rifice-and all the things and beings that participate in the yajfia-as clearly distinguished from the extraritual sphere. Participants undergo preparatory consecration rites that bestow special standing on them. The sacrificer, through various kinds of consecration rites laden with the symbolism of gestation and birth, is "reborn" "out of the sacrifice" (Sata- patha Brahmana [SB] or into what one text says is "a world made by himself" (i.e., the yajfia; SB Thereafter, the sacrificer is identified with the sacrifice as well as with the Cosmic Man (purusa vai yajfiah; e.g., SB; or Prajapati (SB, and with the oblation or victim of the ~acrifice.~

Most important, the sacrificer is said to take on a new identity as a divine rather than human being: "He passes from the world of men to the world of the gods" when he is consecrated for his ritual duties (SB

The Brahmin priests also take on a new status as a result of their entering the ritual realm. The priests are, in general, to be regarded as "human gods" (rndnusya devas; e.g., SB, and fees paid to them are equated with the oblations offered to the gods. Particular priests are often identified with particular deities: The hotr priest is, for example, identified with Agni (Rg Veda Samhita [RV] 8.49.1; 10.2.1, 10.7.5,

"Through this proximity the victim, who already represents the gods, comes to rep- resent the sacrifier [i.e., the sacrificer] also" (Hubert and Mauss, p. 32).

10.91.8; Paficavimia Brahmana [PB] 24.13.5; SB, the brah- man priest with Brhaspati (RV 2.1.3; 10.141.3; Taittiriya Brahmana; SB;; Taittiriya Samhita [TS], and the adhvaryu with Vayu (e.g., Kausitaki Brahmana [KB] 6.10-1

Implements and materials used in the yajfia-including such things as ladles, spoons, wooden swords, grass, oblation materials, and the sacrificial fires-are also ritually transubstantiated. The three fires of one type of Vedic ritual are regularly correlated with the three cosmo- logical worlds and with certain deities (e.g., SB, the wooden sword (sphya) is identified with Indra's thunderbolt (e.g., SB, the upabhrt ladle is equated with food and the Vaishya class (e.g., SB, and so on.

In this way, the things and beings that participate in the ritual are lent new identities; they become something more than themselves and some- thing other than what they once were in the extraritual world. Suppos- edly resembling or homologous things, entities, and phenomena were linked by the connections, or bandhus, the ritualists forged between the participants of the sacrifice and correlates with various other realms of the visible and invisible universe. Human beings in possession of this esoteric analogical knowledge, the learned Brahmin priests, could claim to understand and control the natural, supernatural, and social realms from within the confines of the ritual world that they had carved out of the real (i.e., nonritual) world. They could claim, in sum, that their yajfia was both efficient and efficacious because of the bandhus that made possible the manipulation of the outside world from within the boundaries of the ritual world.

But action in the ritual world was not of the same order as action out- side. The activities of the ritual are radically distinguished from, and in fact often are represented as the absolute inverse of, ordinary human activities. Paradoxically, for ritual activity to have efficacy in the nonri- tual world, it must be completely unlike activity as practiced in that world. The participants of the sacrifice, having entered into a separate and sacred ritual sphere and having themselves been transformed and identified with the gods, are required to act accordingly-to act like the gods do and to leave behind the ways of human beings. Sylvain Ltvi has summarized this basic assumption of the ideology of Vedic sacrifice: "Because the sacrifice is the secret of the success of the gods, the law of the sacrifice is to imitate the gods. . . .The sacrifice being a

Priests of different kinds are also associated with various correlates in the realms of space (i.e., the three worlds of Vedic cosmology [sky, atmosphere, and earth] or the four cardinal directions), time (i.e., the three, five, or six seasons), and scripture (i.e., the three or four Vedas). See Brian K. Smith, Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian Varna System and the Origins of Caste (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

divine work and having as its object the transformation of man into god, all that which is properly human is contrary. To imitate the gods also means abandoning the human ~ondition."~

For the Vedic ritualists, the human condition is regarded as the exact opposite of the divine; imitating the gods from within the ritual world means transposing the customs and practices characteristic of humanity. In contrast to the "perfection" (samyddha or sampanna) characteristic of divine beings, the earthly and human is said to be imperfect and "un- successful" (vyyddha; SB "What is 'no' for the gods is 'yes' for man,'' says one Brahmana (Aitareya Brahmana [AitB] 3.5) in order to underline the utter difference between the two kinds of beings. In sev- eral passages we read that satya, here in the sense of ritual exactitude, is a quality of the gods, while anrta ("error" or "disorder") is the dis- tinguishing mark of things human (SB;,

The Vedic ritual, in that it replicates the divine world, is set apart and made extraordinary or special (which is, after all, one definition of the sacred) by actions that in order to be "godlike," "perfect," and "success- ful" are the reverse of the normal method used in the ordinary and merely human extraritual world. Often enough, this kind of inversion is portrayed in spatial terms. The north is regularly constituted as the cardinal direction associated with human beings. It may, therefore, be described as the "world of the living" (e.g., KB 18.4) in contrast with the south, the world of the ancestors who are "far away from men" (SB' But the north also is contrasted with the east, the region of the gods (e.g., SB, in binary opposition meant to highlight the difference between the human and the divine and to provide meth- ods for divinizing the sacrificial action by reversing the ordinary human practice.

In the course of giving instructions as to how to build a shed used in the soma sacrifice, for example, we read that "in human [practice] a hall or shed is constructed with the top beams running from south to north [i.e., pointing north], because the north is the quarter of men. It is only for a consecrated [and therefore divinized] person, and not for an unconsecrated person, that it is [constructed] with the top beams running from west to east" (SB; cf. SB This reversal of the human practice in this instance, a parallel text assures us, makes the sacrifice successful (the sign of things godlike) and prevents its failure (the characteristic of the human, all too human) (SB

Sylvain LCvi, La doctrine du sacr$ce dans les Brahmanas (Paris: Leroux, 1898), pp. 83, 84.

'For other oppositions between the north and humans and the south and ancestors, see


In other cases, this kind of spatial inversion representing the ritual transformation of the human into the divine is couched in the language of right and left. In the yajfia, the right horse of a team is yoked first, and then the left, "for thus it is [done] among the gods; [it is done] otherwise in human [pra~tice]."~

Or again, in a text dealing with the rites for consecrating the sacrificer, we read that the right eye should be anointed first, "for in human [practice] the left [eye] is anointed first, but with the gods [it is done] in this way" (SB He should cut the nails of his right hand first, "for in human [practice] those of the left hand [are cut] first, but with the gods [it is done] in this way." The nails on the thumbs are the first to be cut, "for in human [practice] those of the little fingers [are cut] first, but with the gods [it is done] in this way." A comb is passed through the sacrificer's beard on the right side first," for in human [practice they comb] first the left whisker, but with the gods [it is done] in this way."9

These types of ritual inversions, designed to make ritual activity di- vine and perfect and therefore the opposite of ordinary human activity, extend also to the very centerpiece of the Vedic sacrifice-the killing of the victim. In the following text, we are told how sacrificial killing is to be distinguished from ordinary slaughter by contrasting the divine method (suffocation or strangulation) with the cruder means used by humans and ancestors:

They then go back again [to the altar] and sit down turning towards the dha- vaniya fire, "so that they should not be spectators of its being made to acqui- esce [to its own death, samjfiapyamdna]." They do not kill [praghnanti] it by [striking it on] the forehead, like humans, nor behind the ear, for that is way [of killing] among the ancestors. They either keep its mouth closed [and thus suffocate it], or they make a noose [and strangle it to death]. Thus he does not say, "Kill [jahi]! Put it to death [mdrayeti]!" for that is the way of humans. [Rather, he says] "Make it acquiesce! It has passed away!" for that is the way of the gods. For when he says, "It has passed away," then this one [the victim] passes away to the gods. Therefore he says, "It has passed away." (SB

By eschewing the human technique for killing animals and the straight- forward terminology humans use to refer to such an act ("Kill! Put it to death!") and by substituting the godlike method of slaughter and the divine euphemistic language of killing ("It has passed away"), a pro- fane act is transformed into a sacred one. Such mystification of the

SB; SB specifies that "in human [practice] they indeed yoke the left horse first, but with the gods [it is done] in this way." Compare SB;

SB For other such inversions see SB ("What is human is inauspicious at the sacrifice");,; TS; Maitrayani Samhita


central act of sacrifice was later seized on to justify the continued prac- tice of sacrifice even in a post-Vedic age that had apotheosized the apparently contradictory principle of ahimsd, or nonviolence. As Manu puts it, echoing the sentiments of the Vedic text cited above, "Killing in the sacrifice is not killing" (Manu Smrti 5.39).

The insistence that ritual activity is of a fundamentally different, or even inverted, nature than ordinary human activity outside the ritual suggests something possibly generalizable about the theory, practice, and meaning of ritual. It has often been noted that ritual is, among other things, formalized, ruled, and repeatable-and therefore predict- able and controlled activity. This dimension of ritual places it in stark contrast with activity outside of the confines of ritual: ordinary, non- ritualized activity is, as we all know too well, not subject to absolute control and is usually not predictable.

The incongruity between the perfect ritual and the imperfect non- ritual worlds is a fact that does not, according to Jonathan Z. Smith, escape the attention of the ritualists. Smith has suggested that there is a "gnostic dimension" to ritual in that the latter "represents the creation of a controlled environment where the variables (i.e., accidents) of or- dinary life may be displaced precisely because they are felt to be so overwhelmingly present and powerful. Ritual is a means of performing the way things ought to be in conscious tension to the way things are in such a way that this ritualized perfection is recollected in the ordi- nary, uncontrolled, course of things.'"' Ritual is here portrayed in much the same way it is in the Veda-as a laboratory in which that which is human (i.e., imperfect, impotent, and unpredictable) is trans- formed into that which is divine (i.e., perfect and within one's absolute control). Ordinary activity and its unpredictable nature is transformed into ritual activity where, because action is predictable and controlled, humans imitate the omniscience and omnipotence they often attribute to their gods. And, Smith argues, this radical discrepancy between rit- ual and nonritual action becomes a point of philosophical pondering on the part of the religious about the disjuncture between ideals and re- ality, between what we should do and what we must do.

Heesterman has put forward a somewhat similar argument for the Vedic sacrifice." By means of the bandhus, or connections, that allowed

'O Jonathan 2. Smith, "The Bare Facts of Ritual," in his Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 63.

" Or, more exactly, what Heesterman calls the "classical ritual" that developed out of an agonistic "preclassical sacrifice." See J. C. Heesterman, The Inner Conflict of Tra- dition: Essays in Indian Ritual, Kingship, and Socie~ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), and The Broken World of SacriJice: An Essay in Ancient Indian Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

for complete control of the outside world from within the boundaries of the sacrifice, the Vedic ritual became a transcendent realm-"systema- tized and mechanisticw-where uncertainty and risk were replaced by "the failsafe certainty of ritualism."12 The invention of a transcendent ritual was intended to create a place where human beings could become emancipated from the human condition-where, through the reversals and inversions we have witnessed above, men could become gods. The price paid, however, for the perfection of the ritual order was its com- plete divorce from the real world, from the very human condition it attempted to transcend. Perfection could "only be realized outside soci- ety and for the limited duration of the ritual,"13 and therefore, the Vedic ritual became "separate, unrelated to anything outside of itself."14 The Vedic ritual, in sum, was "a closed system that has meaning only in itself, in its own inner order-an order that is as strict as it is artificial." And, Heesterman concludes, "it is in this sense one may agree with Professor Staal's thesis of the meaninglessness of ritual."15

Staal's controversial thesis is by now well known. Drawing on the Vedic exempla (and, interestingly, only the Vedic exempla for a theory presented as applicable to all ritual), Staal argues that ritual in general "has no meaning, goal or aim" and, thus, is best described as "pure activity," purposeless and meaningless: "To say that ritual is done for its own sake is to say that it is meaningless, without function, aim or goal, or also that it constitutes its own aim or goal."16 What Heesterman has argued is a "transcendent" realm of perfected ritual activity, "sepa- rate, unrelated to anything outside of itself," becomes in Staal's hands the arena of action done for its own sake and, therefore, without pur- pose or meaning.

All of the above theories, however, are seriously flawed in light of the Vedic evidence. For one thing, the quest for perfection in the Vedic sacrifice, represented in part by the discourse and activities meant to transform the human into the divine, was doomed to failure. For rit- ual (and not just Vedic ritual), too, is ultimately a product of human beings, who, despite audacious claims to the contrary, can ultimately never really escape the human condition. As Heesterman rightly notes, "We find that Vedic ritual in fact undermines its own claim to be the absolute universal order. In the first place, one can, of course, never be completely sure that one has not unwittingly committed an error in the

Heesterman, Inner Conflict of Tradition, p. 91.

l3 Ibid., p. 101.

l4 J. C. Heesterman, "Veda and Society: Some Remarks apropos the Film 'Altar of Fire,'" in Proceedings of the Nordic South Asia Conference, June 10-12, 1980, ed. Asko Parpola (Helsinki: Studia Orientalia, 1981), p. 55. l5 J. C. Heesterman, "The Ritualist's Problem," in Amytadhara: Professor R. N. Dan- dekar Felicitation Volume, ed. S. D. Joshi (Delhi: Ajanta, 1984). l6 Frits Staal, "The Meaninglessness of Ritual:' Numen 26 (1979): 8-9.

ritual proceeding, which, if unrepaired, will irretrievably impair the rit- ual order. Thus there is always an element of ~ncertaint~."'~

Indeed, there is (and in more senses than one, as we shall see be- low). The subsequent history of Vedic ritual in the post-Vedic period has been characterized by the endless production of ritual manuals, or prayogas, that attempt, with ever increasing specificity, to account for all eventualities and to cover every possible error. The enterprise is as futile as it is Herculean: there are simply too many possible contin- gencies, too many details to bring under control, and too many exigen- cies even within the carefully delineated and demarcated zone of ritual activity. Perfection is indeed for the gods, and despite claims to the contrary, the Vedic ritual is ever the work of fallible humans.

Furthermore, while Staal might regard the Vedic ritual as purpose- less and, therefore, without meaning, the Vedic ritualists certainly did not. The whole point of the ritual as a whole and nearly every rite in it was to effect a change on the subjects undergoing the process and on the world outside the domain of ritual activity.

This leads us into the second set of exempla to which I wish to call attention. These, too, entail certain kinds of reversals and inversions, but in these instances the intention is not to achieve godliness or to distinguish the ritual from the real world. Rather, here we are dealing with inversions and reversals that are clearly and certainly designed to affect the condition of the sacrificer. They are, in fact, designed to subvert the ritual's ordinary purpose and to secretly undermine the sacrificer's goals in performing the ritual.

I11 While sacrificial activity may often be represented as the opposite of ordinary activity, the Brahmin authors of the Veda also represented the ritual world as having awesome potency over the nonritual world that is in some ways conceived of as its negative image. According to the ritualists themselves, the sacrifice did not so much transcend the world as provide the context for controlling it; the ritual was certainly not regarded as purposeless but was put to a variety of uses (cosmological, sociological, anthropological, and soteriological, etc.). Nor was ritual regarded as a world of idealized and perfect activity wholly divorced from and in conscious tension with the real world, where things must be done differently. Rather, the Vedic ritual was represented as the do- main where, by virtue of its distinction from the limitations of activi- ties performed in the real world, control over that world could be most efficiently exercised.

"Heesterman, Inner ConJicf of Tradition, p. 88.

The powers and imminent dangers of the sacrifice are often stressed in Vedic texts; the ritual is sometimes called a "difficult journey" (diiro- hana). To a very large degree, it is what one scholar has called "the intricacies of the ritual"-the necessity to attain godlike exactitude and perfection-that pose the "greatest source of danger for the sacrificer. No detail must be overlooked, no act incorrectly performed."'8 The quest for perfection, for control of each and every detail, necessarily entailed anxiety about what would happen if mistakes were made.

Perfection in sacrifice is predicated on priests who know how to do it, who are learned and experienced. One must have confidence (Srad- dhd) in them and the ritual they oversee, and as LCvi has pointed out, Sraddha and satya, ritual exactitude, are regarded as synonyms in some texts: "Exactitude and confidence are so close that they are easily conf~unded."'~

An ignorant priest does not only fail to inspire confidence; his ineptitude can bring about dire consequences to the sacrificer. In a rite performed in the Rajastiya ritual, a learned priest is to recite certain mantras for the propagation of the king's cows, horses, and subjects: "He becomes multiplied with offspring and animals who thus at the end invokes the propagation of cows, horses, and men. The Kshatriya for whom those who know sacrifice thus is never brought low. But those who do not know thus bring low the one for whom they sacrifice. Just as outcastes, or robbers, or evildoers, seizing a wealthy man in the wild, fling him into a pit and run away taking his wealth, so these priests fling the sacrificer into a pit and abscond with his wealth" (AitB 8.11).

But, as LCvi also has pointed out, the choice of priests who are learned and experienced "does not absolutely do away with these for- midable risks, but attenuates them. The science of the priest is an as- surance against involuntary mistakes. But there still remains a danger, and it is the most terrible of all. Couldn't the priest who holds in his hands the welfare and life of the faithful be tempted to abuse it?"20 Here, then, is another source of anxiety for the sacrificer. For, despite a rite called the tdniinaptra that is meant to bind the priests to the sac- rificer and preclude what one texts calls treachery (drogdhavya; AitB 1.24; cf. TS; Maitriiyani Samhita 3.7.lo), "the Brahmins, with their customary indifference, teach a multitude of malevolent proce- dures for the use of priests employed at the sacrifice.021

l8 Walter 0. Kaelber, "The 'Dramatic' Element in Brahmanic Initiation: Symbols of

Death, Danger, and Difficult Passage," History of Religions 18 (1978): 63.

l9 LBvi (n. 6 above), p. 109.

20 Ibid., p. 127.

21 Ibid., pp. 127-28.

Thus, one must be wary of priests who, although learned, are greedy, held in ill repute, or, especially, untrustworthy. A priest who the sac- rificer suspects is only in it for the money (who thinks "May he give to me, may he choose me") "does not benefit the sacrificer," nor does a priest with a bad reputation, who is likened to vomit: "What is [called that which is] 'vomited' is when he chooses as priest one who is spo- ken ill of. Just as here men are disgusted by what is vomited, so are the gods [by the choice of such a priest]." But one must be especially careful not to employ a priest whom one fears will "oppress" (bddheta) the sacrificer or "make confusion in the sacrifice" (yaj~ave~asa).22

Other texts, however, go on to describe in some detail how a priest of this third type-a priest who, in short, has it in for the sacrificer who has employed him-can indeed "make confusion in the sacrifice" and wreak havoc on the sacrificer. Various methods are used to subvert the sacrifice, ranging from intentional mistakes, substitutions, and omis- sions to the use of one of several optional rites. In every instance, vari- ous kinds of dire consequences are expected from such subversion.

A priest can, for example, deprive the sacrificer of his livestock, should he take a mind to, by substituting a piece of meat that is without fat for one that has fat on it: "If he [one of the officiants performing a soma sacrifice] desires of him [the sacrificer], 'May he have no live- stock,' he should give him a [piece of the animal slaughtered as a sacrificial victim] that is without fat. Livestock have [in the ritual] the form of fat. By their very distinctive form he deprives him of livestock, and he [the sacrificer therefore] has no livestock" (TS 6.3.1 1.5; cf. Apastamba ~rauta Sutra 7.26.4).

A priest who surreptitiously uses a particular chant in the soma sacrifice can also defraud the sacrificer of his livestock and make the sacrificer "become worse" (PS 2.13.1-2). Elsewhere, we read that if a priest wishes his sacrificer to "become better" and obtain "splendor" (varcas), he should insert a hair from a reddish sheep (the reddish color acting as an analogue to the splendor of the sun) in a strainer used to purify water. If, however, he wants the sacrificer to "become neither better nor worse," a gray hair is employed. And if the priest should wish that the sacrificer "become worse," a black hair is placed in the strainer (Jaiminiya Brahmana [JB] 1.81). The sacrificer's fate thus lies in the hands of the priest and his desires.

22 AitB 3.46. The text goes on to say that the sacrificer "should not desire these three" types of priest, but "if against his desire he should have one of these three," the sacrificer should recite a particular mantra that "overcomes all errors in the sacrifice." "'Even if the priests are perfect,' he [a learned sage] used to say, 'he should mutter this [mantra].' "

Similarly, in the Aitareya BrBhmana (3.7) the priest is given the same three options and is instructed to "do to him [i.e., the sacrificer] as he may desire." If he wishes the sacrificer to "become better" he recites a verse somewhat quietly and then raises his tone for the va~at call (a cry used while actually pouring the oblation material into the fire). Should the priest think, "As he has been before sacrificing, so let him be after sacrificing," he should use the same tone for both parts of the recitation. But if the priest wants to make the sacrificer "worse," he should raise his tone for the verse and then use a quieter tone for the vasat call: "Truly thus he makes him worse."

In another, somewhat elaborate instance (AitB 3.3), the priest is taught how to recite various verses "in the proper and correct order" (yathiipiirvan yjiiklptam) so as to make the sacrificer whole in body and soul and to insure his prosperity. But he may also choose to recite these verses "in a confused manner" (lubdham) by secretly skipping over part of the verse to achieve different results.23 If he wishes to deprive the sacrificer of his ability to exhale, the "confused" verse is recited to VByu; a verse similarly mangled to Indra and VByu results in the sac- rificer's losing both his powers of inhalation and exhalation. Blindness will afflict the sacrificer if the misshapen verse is dedicated to Mitra and Varuna, deafness with one to the ASvins, and loss of virility by means of a confused verse directed to Indra. The sacrificer becomes crippled with a "confused" recitation to the ViSva Devas and is deprived of his speech by the perversion of a verse to Sarasvati.

These methods of ritual sabotage are sometimes given particular la- bels to set them off from the normal means of doing things (i.e., the method that is designed to benefit the sacrificer rather than harm him). In one text, the Veda calls such techniques demonic (dsurya), neither the practice of humans nor of gods or ancestors, in the course of de- scribing how a priest can deprive the sacrificer of the power of speech and appropriate that power to himself: At the sacrifice of one "of whom he wishes, 'May I make his sacrifice demonic, may I possess myself of his [power of] speech,' he should, while pushing the dronakalaia [a bucket used to hold the soma juice] forward, touch the axle [of the soma cart] with his arms. Thus he makes his sacrifice demonic and possesses himself of his [power of] speech. [At a sacrifice of one] whom he likes, he should push it forward without touching the axle.

23 The text seems to indicate that the priest passes judgment on the sacrificer and de- termines whether or not to subvert his sacrifice on moral grounds. The section of the text dealing with the various methods for sabotaging the ritual begins as follows: " 'Should the ho(r consider the good or evil of his sacrificer,' he [a learned sage] used to say? He should do to him at this point as he desires."

The dronakalaia is the breath; thus he puts his breathing into good order" (PB 6.5.15).

It is usually very small variations in the ritual order, variants that would almost certainly go unnoticed by the sacrificer, that carry con- sequences of unbelievable magnitude. A priest who wants his sacrificer to become "rootless," "homeless," or "without a safe abode" (anaya- tana~at)~~

omits a mantra that is to be recited silently and that is re- garded as the root of the sacrifice: "Truly he thus comes to ruin [parabhavati] along with the sacrifice, which being without root is also ruined" (AitB 2.32).

Omitting the silent recitation of a mantra would be wholly undetect- able. But most, if not all, of the other cases of ritual sabotage are also beyond the notice of all but the most obsessively observant and learned experts of ritual. In the course of describing the proper way of offering certain oblations in the New and Full Moon Sacrifice (the priest should stand upright and pour three spoonfuls of butter into the fire), one ritual text almost casually notes that "if he desires that the sacrificer should die, he should offer the oblation having adopted a bending pos- t~re."~~

A sacrificer, one presumes, could easily miss such a variation in posture over the course of a long and tedious exercise such as the New and Full Moon Sacrifice.

The fact that these techniques for sabotage are, we must assume, meant to be undetected by the patron is an important point to which we will return. But let us first consider this: What kind of sacrificer do these texts assume when they so cavalierly provide the surreptitious ritual means for impoverishing, impairing, or eliminating him? The an- swer is that the sacrificer is normally assumed to be a Kshatriya, a king or a ruler of some means. "It is not the Brahmin but rather the Ksha- triya who constitutes the yajamiina par excellence," writes Biardea~.~~ Some texts that deal with ritual sabotage make this rather explicit: It is the Kshatriya patron whose sacrifice is subverted by the Brahmin priests.

Many rites involve the establishment of one or another ritual entity or implement as a symbol for the ksatra, the elemental metaphysical power that finds its human expression in the Kshatriya social class, and others that act as representatives of the vii, the commoners or subjects

24 For the various meanings of the word cfyatuna, see Jan Gonda, The Meaning of the Sanskrit Term Ayatunu (Adyar: Adyar Library and Research Centre, 1969).

25 The text comes from the Satyasadha Srauta Siitra and is quoted in ~rautukoia, trans. R. N. Dandekar, vol. 1, pt. 1, English Section (Poona: Vaidika SamSodhana Man- dala, 1958), p. 418.

26 Madeleine Biardeau and Charles Malamoud, Le .sacrifice duns l'lnde ancienne (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1976), p. 28.

of the ruler. Manipulation of these ritual items are in the normal course of the ritual designed to insure that the relationship between the ruler and his subjects is in order: The ruler is made more "virile" than his subjects (SB or obtains his own strength by draining it from the people he rules (SB Power is concentrated in the single figure of the king, while abundance, prosperity, and productivity are bestowed on his subjects (e.g., SB

No matter what the particulars of the ritual symbolism, the ordinary end is to establish and maintain the hierarchical distinction between the Kshatriya ruler and vii. There normally should not be a "categorical confusion" between the inferior and superior (pdpavasyasa), and one normally should not "make the vii equal [pratiprati ] and resistant [pratyudyamin] to the ksatra" (SB An error in rites of this kind, it is said, would "cut off the vii from the k~atra, and the ksatra from the vii; he would cause confusion between the inferior and the superior and the sacrifice would fail" (SB; cf. SB

But in some instances, it is precisely such a confusion that the rites are meant to bring about. In the Aitareya Brahmana (3.19), the meth- ods used for sabotaging the sacrifice are called "witchcraft" (abhicdra) and are contrasted with the method of doing the rite that will send the sacrificer to the world of heaven. The latter is supposedly effected by inserting into the middle of the recitation of a particular hymn, the "proc- lamation" (nivid), that contains invocations of particular gods. But be- cause the hymn is identified with the vii and the proclamation with the ksatra, by changing this pattern in such a way that proclamation and the hymn are differently divided, the presiding priest can sever the sacrificer-king from his subjects.

Similarly, because of the homologies between the king and the dronakalaia, on the one hand, and the stones for pressing soma and the vii on the other, the priests can, by particular ritual actions, place the king firmly in power over his subjects. Alternatively, however, in cases where a king "having come into power does not respect him [the priest], he should desire, 'May he become besieged on this very spot within [his kingdom].'" In this case, the priest can subtly alter the rite in such a way that "the subjects overcome him, because his might is waning and he is bereft of his support" (JB 1.79).

The Brahmins not only claimed to control the relationship between their royal patrons and the subjects of the kingdom but also from within the boundaries of their ritual made sure that their own social class was given precedence over all others: "The call is the brahman power, the proclamation the ksatra, the hymn the vii. He calls, then he inserts the proclamation. Truly thus he makes the ksatra dependent on the brahman. Having inserted the proclamation he recites the hymn.

The proclamation is the ksatra, the hymn the vii. Truly he thus makes the vii dependent on the ksatra" (AitB 2.33). So far, so good. This is what the text prescribes in the case of a sacrificer for whom one wants " 'all to be in the proper order and correct for him'-he should call, then insert the proclamation, and then recite the hymn. Thus is the ordering of all"-Brahmins first, then Kshatriyas, and then the com- moners. But the text also provides the means for overthrowing this order, for depriving the Kshatriya sacrificer of his elemental power, and for separating him from those he is meant to rule: "If he desires of a man, 'Let me deprive him of the ksatra,' he should recite the hymn in the middle of the proclamation. The proclamation is the ksatra, the hymn the people. Truly thus he deprives him of the ksatra. If he desires of a man, 'Let me deprive him of the vii,' he should recite the proc- lamation in the middle of the hymn. The proclamation is the ksatra, the hymn the vii. Truly thus he deprives him of the vif' (AitB 2.33).

If ritual activity was often regarded as the inversion of ordinary hu- man activity, these instances of ritual sabotage might be conceptualized as inversions of inversions, reversals of the ritual mode of action that is itself portrayed as the reversal of ordinary action in the external world. In any event, these examples of treachery appear in the Veda with enough regularity to suggest that the option to subvert the patron's ritual-and especially the ritual of the Kshatriya-was ever available to the Brahmin specialist. Working from within his ritual sphere, the priest could, or so it is claimed, adversely effect the status, welfare, and health of his benefactor.

IV One question that arises is, simply, why? Why would a Brahmin priest wish to undermine his patron's sacrifice? A text cited above indicates that the Brahmin who is not properly respected might want to sabotage the ruler in this way; other possibilities also come to mind (perhaps the priest has been offended in some way, simply does not like the king, etc.). But perhaps we are also faced here with one aspect of a much larger issue concerning the tension between Brahmin priests and Ksha- triya warriors in ancient India. To this possibility I will return, for herein lies, I believe, the secret to understanding the connections between the two types of inversions and reversals surveyed above. A second question regarding ritual sabotage arises: Did the Brahmin priests really believe that they had it in their power, by means of the manipulation of ritual recitations or symbols, to effect such drastic damage on their victims? Did they, in sum, really believe in the efficacy of their ritual? My guess (and it can only be a guess, as I lack the ability to enter the minds of others long gone) is yes. There is no evidence

anywhere in the Veda that the Brahmins were not fully convinced of the tremendous power inherent in their ritual-and that this power was available for all kinds of potential uses, good and ill. But the question of what might have stimulated the Brahmins to construct this ritual world and endow it with such power has not, in my mind, been ade- quately addressed in previous scholarship. If we assume that the Brah- mins did indeed believe in the awesome potency of their ritual, the questions still remain: What possible causes might there have been that would have led them to create such a tool in the first place? And why did they at least sometimes use that tool to undermine their patrons?

Finally, a third query stems from our survey of the instances of ritual sabotage: How are we to make sense of claims like those we have wit- nessed above? Are we simply to report, without further comment, that in the Veda it is said that a Brahmin priest can render another human being mute by pushing a bucket a certain way, cause the ruler to become homeless by not silently reciting a particular Vedic verse, deprive him of his livestock by offering him fat-free meat, or bring about the sacrificer's death by offering an oblation with bent rather than straight knees? Or are we obliged to attempt some explanation, some interpretation, as to what significance and meaning such claims might have for those of us who, one presumes, do not believe them possible? Put otherwise, in what possible sense could such rites of sabotage be regarded, from our point of view, as efficacious?

Even in the normal course of things in the Vedic ritual, the Brahmins arrogated to themselves the means for establishing their social superi- ority over the rulers and kings who were their predominant patrons. The ritual, far from being irrelevant to or transcending the social world, was in fact considered the workshop in which the Brahmins constructed the hierarchical order of things-in the cosmos as a whole and in society in particular. Various rites and symbols in rites were overtly designed to establish the Brahmin's preeminence and the Kshatriya's secondary (and, as one text says, "weaker") place; this is the "proper order of things" (yathiipiirva) according to many Vedic source^.^'

But such supposed ritual power over the social world was, as we have seen, predicated on the constitution of the ritual domain as the inversion of the ordinary and human means of doing things, of effect- ing results. The Brahmin's ritual sphere was consciously and defini- tively distinguished from the external world-a world, it must be said, where power was (and is) exercised in a somewhat different form. The

27 See, e.g., SB; PB 2.16.4; 11.1.2; 15.6.3; AitB 8.1, 8.4. At PB 2.8.2 and PB 11.11.8, such techniques are used to make both the Kshatriyas and the commoners subject to the Brahmin class.

disjunction that Heesterman and Staal have made so much of between the perfect and godlike world of the Vedic sacrifice and the nonritual world of Vedic social reality is also the disjunction between ritual (or symbolic) power and its reputed efficacy, on the one hand, and extra- ritual physical (or instrumental) power and its more apparent causal capabilities, on the other.

It is a by now tired syllogism in Indology that Brahmins exercised what is called "spiritual authority" while Kshatriyas wielded temporal power.28 Together forming the ancient Indian ruling class, Brahmins and Kshatriyas based their social claims to hierarchical superiority on rather different principles-and this in a world that in Vedic times was unabashedly characterized by violence and competition, or what Hees- terman has called "ag~nisrn."~~

As it is said in the Veda, Brahmins and Kshatriyas have different "weapons"-one grounded in the ritual and its supposed power over the nonritual world and the other deriving from warfare and coercive force: "The weapons of the brahman are the weapons of the sacrifice; those of the k~atraare the horse chariot, armor, and bow and arrow" (AitB 7.19).

Weapons of such very different sorts would seem to have radically different potencies in the rough-and-ready real world of ancient India. A well-aimed arrow from the bow of a warrior careening about on his chariot would seem to have a more obviously demonstrable effect on the condition of a human being than the garbling of a verse in the ritual in order to blind or maim the sacrificer.

There are, in fact, indications even in the Veda (a set of texts that almost certainly were composed entirely by Brahmins) not only that there was conflict and competition between the two upper classes3' but also that the Kshatriyas had certain undeniable advantages over the priests as both classes jockeyed for position in the social hierarchy. Brahmins, as well as Vaishyas and Shfidras, are said even in the Brah- mins' own Veda to be "subordinate" to the Kshatriya (TS and "subject to him" (JB 1.285). Priests are sometimes depicted as con- cerned about the prospect of a Kshatriya's appropriating their property

28 See, e.g., Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power in the Indian Theory of Government (New Haven, Conn.: American Oriental Society, 1942). Louis Dumont has spoken of this dichotomy in terms of purity versus power (see Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications, trans. Mark Sainsbury, Louis Dumont, and Basia Gulati, rev. ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

29 I have explored some of the aspects and implications of this Vedic worldview based on violence, competition, and coercion in Brian K. Smith, "Eaters, Food, and Social Hierarchy in Ancient India," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 58, no. 2 (1990): 177-295.

30 See, e.g., SB; TS

(e.g., Atharva Veda Samhits 12.5.5-1 1; 5.19.1-4) or, in general, run- ning amok, "continually kill[ing] his enemies" (TS

The development of a complex ritual sphere, conceived of as the domain of godlike perfection wholly unlike the exterior world and yet dominant over that exterior world, was perhaps stimulated by more than purely a spiritual or religious urge. It is, I hypothesize, at least partially because of the perceived and real disadvantages Brahmins faced in stak- ing their claims to superiority in a social and political world ruled by Kshatriyas that they developed an alternative sphere, with alternative "weapons," from which they could better compete-a world, in fact, where they held all the cards.31

Not the least of these cards were those that supposedly made it possible for the Brahmins to do serious injury, by ritual means, to Kshatriya patrons who had for one reason or another displeased the priests. Furthermore, as we have witnessed, the ritual sabotage was done surreptitiously, without the knowledge or awareness of the sacrificer. Let us at this point contemplate the question I posed earlier: In what possible sense can such rites of sabotage be regarded as efficacious?

We must now gingerly open a rather large can of worms. The issue of ritual's efficacy has worried anthropologists from Edward Tylor, James Frazer, Lucien Ltvy-Bruhl, Emile Durkheim, and Bronislaw Malinowski to more modern observers and theorists like Max Gluckman, Godfrey Lienhardt, and Stanley J. Tambiah.32 How are we to make sense of claims, issuing forth from traditional and/or religious contexts, that seem to insist on the efficacy of ritual action? Put otherwise, do rituals "work" and, if so, how?

Answers to this query have been various. Early theorists like Tylor and Frazer argued that although "primitives" did indeed believe in the effi- cacy of their rituals ("magic" was the term often used in this context), they were, of course, mistaken. They had confused ideal connections in the ritual (e.g., identifications of ritual symbols and social classes) with the real connections that comprise causality in the external world. The term urdummheit was even coined to describe this primitive stupidity.

The "primitives" subsequently were defended against such charges on a variety of grounds. Some argued that ritual sometimes did indeed at least seem to have the effect on the external world that its partici- pants intended. But these effects would have occurred anyway: the rain

31 For an extension of this argument into slightly later times, when the Brahmins em- braced concepts like ahimsn and vegetarianism to similarly undermine the Kshatriyas' status based on physical coercive power, see B. K. Smith, "Eaters, Food, and Social Hierarchy."

32 For a survey of the problems entailed, see Emily M. Ahern, "The Problem of Efficacy: Strong and Weak Illocutionary Acts," Man, n.s., 14, no. 1 (1979): 1-17.

dance "works" because sooner or later it rains, a death spell succeeds because the target of the spell does eventually die, and the like. It was in part for reasons like this that E. E. Evans-Pritchard pointed out that ritual magic is "unfalsifiable" and self-legitimatir~g.~~

Another tack was followed by Durkheim and his followers, who maintained that ritual was indeed efficacious but not in the way that its traditional participants It had social results effected through symbolic means. Thus, a distinction could be drawn between symbolic, or expressive, ritual action and technical, or instrumental, action in the nonritual world. Ritual activity that seems to be directed toward causal ends in the external world really (i.e., from the point of view of the observer) only symbolizes or dramatizes the desire the participants have for seeing their wish actualized. Rituals do not "do" things; they "say" things.

Some anthropologists, like Tambiah, have gone so far as to argue that the "natives" themselves did not intend ritual to affect the world outside but only to alter the experience of the performers: "All ritual, whatever the idiom, is addressed to human participants and uses a tech- nique which attempts to re-structure and integrate the minds and emo- tions of the act01-s."~~

This position holds that not only is the ritual action really only psychosocial in its effects but it is in fact the only intended end of the ritualists themselves.

Many others, however, were led to the position that (1) although rit- ualists themselves meant for their rites to have a real, causal effect on the external world, (2) their actual effects were only psychological or social, and (3) the ritualists themselves were not always aware of these actual psychological and social effects (2), believing that their rituals pertained to the causal manipulation of the external world (I).~~

Yet, others noted that rituals of certain sorts had the intended real causal effect because of another kind of psychosocial factor: in societies

33 E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft and Magic among the Azande, abr. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), esp. pp. 201-4.

34 See Durkheim's reflections on the efficacy of ritual in fimile Durkheim, The Elemen- tary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. Joseph Ward Swain (1915; reprint, New York: Free Press, 1965), esp. pp. 398-405.

35 S. J. Tambiah, "The Magical Power of Words," Man, n.s., 3 (1968): 201-2. Tambiah revised his opinion in a later work in which he noted that rites are indeed often "geared to achieving practical results such as cure of disease or production of a fine crop" (S. J. Tambiah, "Form and Meaning in Magical Acts: A Point of View," in Modes of Thought: Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies, ed. Robin Horton and Ruth Finnegan [London: Faber & Faber, 19731, p. 226).

36 For reflections on the ramifications of this discrepancy between the causal claims of the ritualists and those of the anthropologist, see John Skorupski, Symbol and Theory: A Philosophical Study of Theories of Religion in Social Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

where the power of magic is assumed and generally (if not universally) believed, casting a spell on an individual can indeed make that individual succumb to the spell-not because of the automatic efficacy of the spell itself but because of its psychic effect on the victim. As Mauss wrote in the concluding pages of his General Theory of Magic, "A feeling of universal consensus may create a reality. . . . It is because society be- comes activated that magic works. . . . Society is willing to be hypno- tized by any kind of simulation performed by the magi~ian."~' Magic works because of a kind of shared delusion that is actualized among the members of certain societies where the assumptions of magic are uni- versally shared and validated. But the premise is that magic can work only when the particularities of the spell are known to all those con- cerned, especially the victim.

Let us now return to the case of Vedic sabotage. There seems to be no doubt that the Brahmins of old thoroughly believed in the efficacy of their ritual. We can, I think, rule out the possibility that the Brah- mins did not believe that their ritual sabotage in and of itself would actually have an effect on the condition of the sacrificer. I think it was clear that they did; they were not just symbolizing or dramatizing their desire for the sacrificer to die; become impotent, crippled, blind, or speechless; or lose his livestock but were convinced that such events would occur as a direct result of ritual machinations. And, from the point of view of the modern observer, they were wrong.

Furthermore, and this is the catch, it would seem as though all contemporary psychosocial explanations of the real effects of the ritual are also precluded. The instances we have cited of ritual sabotage are done secretively and without the knowledge of the sacrificer. There- fore, there can be no expressive or symbolic component, or, at best, the priests were expressing and dramatizing their wishes only to them- selves and not to those whose physical well-being they wished to change by such dramati~ing.~~ If the key participant, the sacrificer, is unaware of the sabotage done to him, no communication, let alone any psychosocial effect, can follow-the sacrificer will not leave the ritual 37 Marcel Mauss, A General Theory of Magic, trans. Robert Brain (1902-3; reprint, New York: Norton, 1972), pp. 133, 134. 38 There was perhaps a kind of cathartic effect of such rituals of sabotage, whereby the priest could feel satisfaction at getting even or in some way venting his hostility on the targeted sacrificer. Such expressions of Nietzschean ressentiment would be all the more understandable if we assume, as I do, that the Brahmins felt themselves to be at a real disadvantage vis-it-vis the Kshatriyas in the ancient Indian social scene. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how this sort of catharsis could really be achieved without the partici- pation of the victim. If the sacrificer does not succumb, in one way or another, to the spell (because he does not know the spell has been cast), how could the priest feel any emotional satisfaction in his work? and worry himself into death or blindness because he does not know that his ritual has gone awry. We are left with the question as to how Vedic ritual sabotage might really have worked. And we cannot fall back on the explanation that the priests used these ritual means to effect changes on the sacrificer that would have occurred anyway. While it may be that the priest who offers an oblation with a bended rather than straight knee would indeed witness, sooner or later, the targeted sacrificer's dropping dead, most other examples given above (blindness, deafness, loss of virility, loss of speech, homelessness, loss of livestock, the revolt of one's subjects) seem far less certain to occur in the normal course of things. There is, it appears to me, but one of two ways out of this interpretive stalemate. The first option requires that we read beyond and outside of the text and imagine a contextual situation that would make psycho- social efficacy possible. Perhaps, although the texts do not say so, the priests did indeed make it known to the sacrificer, either while actually doing the subversion or after the fact, that they had sabotaged the ritual and what the expected consequences of that fact would be.39 This would allow for the communicative, symbolic, or dramatic dimension of the ritual to be reintroduced and also the possibility that through such dra- matization the intended purpose of the rites would find fulfillment in the disturbed consciousness of the sacrificer. This, however, would seem to be a risky business for Brahmin priests whose targets of sabotage were rulers and warriors. Armed with his own "distinctive weapons," the betrayed Kshatriya sacrificer might well choose to exact his revenge, in his own distinctive way, for such a misuse of the ritual "weapons" wielded by the Brahmin. It is possible that this is precisely the reason why the texts themselves give no indication that these rit- uals of sabotage are to be made known to the sacrificer. The second option is that, despite the claims and, one supposes, the beliefs of the priests to the contrary, these rites did not have eficacy in any way whatsoever-they neither had the concrete, automatically provoked physical effects they were intended to have by the Brahmins nor did they carry any psychosocial effects the outside observer might wish to attribute to them. This, it would seem, is a real hermeneutical 39 It also possible, even likely, that the Brahmins made it known, in general, that they had the means for doing such things whenever they wished. We may suppose, in other words, that as part of the Brahmins' attempt to convince themselves and others of both the potency of their ritual and their status claims based on ritual expertise that they advertized, as part of a publicity campaign, the possibility that priests could subvert the sacrifices of their patrons. But such a supposition still does not answer the question of how a particular rite of sabotage, with the particular intention to undermine the life, health, or well-being of a particular sacrificer, could have efficacy. option given the peculiarities of the Vedic evidence. Choosing such an interpretation, however, would require that the entire theoretical ques- tion of the efficacy of ritual be reopened and that these instances from the Veda be taken into serious consideration. It may well be impos- sible, in light of these examples, to continue to regard all religious (or "magical") rituals as necessarily having an effect, of one kind or an- other, on their participants. Selecting this route will not only revise a significant aspect of the study of ritual but also force contemporary scholars of religion to con- front a fact we often do our best to avoid: that there are, inevitably, insoluble conflicts that arise because of different assumptions held by the religious insider (e.g., the Vedic priests who would insist on the causal efficacy of their rites) and the secular scholarly outsider (who, in this case at least, may be forced to reject this type of claim to efficacy, as well as the psychosocial efficacy imposed by the outsider on such rituals). This is but one example of a whole series of similar conflicts that arise when religion is studied from a perspective based on radi- cally different principles from those assumed and propagated by the religious.40 LCvi-Strauss puts the matter concisely and, I believe, cor- rectly when he writes: "No common analysis of religion can be given by a believer and a non-believer, and from this point of view, the type of approach known as 'religious phenomenology' should be dis- missed."41 Despite, and indeed contra, the claims of the believers, it may very well be that we need to consider these exempla taken from the Vedic corpus as evidence that there are at least some rituals we confront in the history of religions that do not "work" at all. Although the Vedic ritual certainly should not be regarded as meaningless, as Staal has suggested, it may be necessary to regard at least part of it as wholly inefficacious. University of California, Riverside 40 I speak not only of the differing views about causality but also of the conflicts that arise from the recognition of the human origins of all religious discourse (vs. religious claims to divine or transcendent origins), the particular perspectives and subjective in- terests that those who produce religious discourse represent (vs, religious claims to objectivity and absolute truth), and the historical and cultural conditioning of all religious producers and products (vs. religious claims to timeless universalism). For a discussion of the problem with other examples, see B. K. Smith, Classifying the Uni- verse (n. 5 above), pp. 322-25. 4' Claude LBvi-Strauss, "The Bear and the Barber," in Reader in Comparative Reli- gion: An Anthropological Approach, ed. William A. Lessa and Evon 2.Vogt, 3d ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). p. 188.

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