set of actions performed according to an established sequence, mainly for their symbolic value

A ritual (or a rite) is a set of actions people do. In a ritual, the actions are important because every action stands for something. Each ritual of a type is done in a certain way.[1][2] Danger might be involved in carrying out the ritual. When the ritual has been performed successfully, it is often followed by a celebration.

A Nazi membership with commitment and consequences
Also a membership, with quite different consequences
A Dogon ceremonial mask
Matriculation at Oxford University

Rituals can mark a personal change. For example, a rite of passage may show that a child has reached the age of majority. All societies seem to have had them.[3]

A religious rite is a religious ceremony. Many rituals have a religious significance and are part of the religion or traditions of a community. The rite signals that those who take part are members of the religion, or believers in the religion. The rite may signal status, qualification, prayer and commitment to the god or to the belief.

A rite need not be to a religion as understood in the present day. Fervent support of a sports team, or kissing the ring of an organised crime lord, or a military enrollment is equally a rite, because it has consequences for the behaviour of the person, and for their beliefs.[4][5]

A ritual can also be linked to obsessive compulsive disorder, when a person believes that performing the ritual again and again is necessary.


  1. Turner, Victor W. 1969. The ritual process. Penguin.
  2. Bell, Catherine 1992. Ritual theory, ritual practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Padilla, Mark William (editor) 1999. Rites of passage in Ancient Greece: literature, religion, society. Bucknell University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8387-5418-X
  4. Hall, Richard Andrew 2007. The world of the Vikings. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0500051443
  5. McNab, Chris 2013. Hitler's elite: the SS 1939–45. Osprey. ISBN 978-1782000884