Terminology of Ritual and Religion


  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 15-05-12 20:26

Ancestor/Ancestor cult

  • Human beings are made up of two parts: the body and the spirit
  • Retain an active interest in society.
  • Could be appeased with offerings in order to keep them on 'your side'
  • Belief in ancestral spirits provides a strong sense of continuity


Definition (1-2 marks): Worship of dead, may be special to the community

Link to the period (1 mark): Roman – worship of dead ancestors in the family home.

Named site (1 mark): Lararium in the House of Vettii, Pompeii

Specific evidence (1 mark): The lararium in the house of Vettii imitates the form of a temple. Columns support a pediment, and frame a central painting. Two dancing Lares (guardians of the family who protect it from external threats) hold raised drinking  horns. They are positioned at either side of the Genius (who represents the spirit of the male head of the household who is dressed in a toga and making a sacrifice. Beneath them is a serpent. Snakes are often depicted in Larariums, and were considered guardian spirits of the family. 

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  • Animals, plants, springs, mountains, other natural features and people may all have their own individual spirits
  • Many people who believe in animism regard themselves as part of nature rather than being separated from it. 

Definition (1-2 marks): the belief in the spiritual properties of natural phenomena e.g. rocks, rivers etc. - also the presence of a deity

Link to the period (1 mark): Water as part of Roman ritual 

Named site (1 mark): Nymphaeum at Carrawburgh

Specific evidence (1 mark): Well is linked to water deities, specifically Coventina. Votive offerings would be made to Coventina who was classed as a guardian of well. 

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Art & Iconography

  • The system of using symbolic pictures, images, or figures to represent a subject or theme

Definition (1-2 marks): Study of meaning behind images - used of images in scared places to communicate elements of faith

Link to the period (1 mark): Roman - depictions of deities and rituals (wide range)

Named site (1 mark): Mithraeum at Carrawburgh 

Specific evidence (1 mark): Tauroctony - Mithras slaying the divine bull and releasing light and life into the earth

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  • Occurs in a number of different chronological stages
  • The body is burnt and the spirit is released, then a secondary ceremony takes place where the ash is buried.

Definition (1-2 marks): Ritual burning of a deceased body - funerary/burial ritual

Link to the period (1 mark): Main of burial during the early Roman period 

Named site (1 mark): Verulamium cemetery 

Specific evidence (1 mark): "Bustum" cremations - pit into which burnt remains fell and the remains of feasts added

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  • exposing the body for scavengers and the decay process to clean the flesh from the bones. 
  • knife marks on the bones may suggest that flesh was removed to free the soul to journey to the ancestors or the underworld. 

Definition (1-2 marks): Leaving a body to become de-fleshed - either through natural processes or deliberate - an act of purification which allows the soul to escape

Link to the period (1 mark): Long burrows in the neolithic

Named site (1 mark): West Kennet long burrow, Wiltshire

Specific evidence (1 mark): Evidence of rituals in the front of the long burrow - removal of bones - disarticulated remains of 46 individuals. When a person died their body would be left on an altar. When the excarnation was complete and the flesh had rotten away, finger bones and toe bones would fall through the gaps in the woven structure or fall off the side. When a site with lots of small bones are found, it is likely to be the site of excarnation.

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Focus of Attention

  • building, statue or natural feature which focuses the attention of a worshipper as a place to which to address his/her gaze, prayers or offerings. 

Definition (1-2 marks): A feature which worship is directed towards - something that changes the focus of someone's worship

Link to the period (1 mark): Happened all through the Roman period - temple complexes with alters and public worship 

Named site (1 mark): Coventina's well

Specific evidence (1 mark): The altars in front of the cella

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Funerary Ritual

  • Any religious activity that is related to the disposal of the body after death. This may be to do with the physical treatment of the body and its preparation or furnishing it with items for the afterlife or also communal activities involving offerings, song, music and prayers.  

Definition (1-2 marks): Acts/rites of passage to mark the life a deceased individual 

Link to the period (1 mark): Ancient Egyptian - Mummification

Named site (1 mark): Tutankhamun's tomb

Specific evidence (1 mark): Egyptians believed that when someone died, their bodies had to be preserved so that they could use them in the afterlife. Body was washed and purified, organs were removed and placed in canopic jars (only the heart remained) body filled with stuffing, body dried with natron, wrapped in linen with amulets placed inbetween linen to protect the body in its journey to the underworld. tomb walls painted with images of the dead persons life, grave goods placed in tomb for afterlife journey

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Grave Goods

  • Goods buried with the bodies to take to the afterlife

Definition (1-2 marks): Artefacts deposited into grave with body - symbolic value 

Link to the period (1 mark): Part of Roman contractual relationship decline with introduction of Christianity 

Named site (1 mark): Lady of Spitalfields

Specific evidence (1 mark): Jet box and glass flasks found in coffin 

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  • deliberate setting of the dead outside the land of the living
  • roman inhumations were outside the walls of the fort/town

Definition (1-2 marks): Burial of a body in the ground 

Link to the period (1 mark): More common in the late Roman period - Christianity 

Named site (1 mark): Lady of Spitalfields

Specific evidence (1 mark): Stone Sarcophagus and lead coffin with scallop shell design (paganistic) but with arms crossed (christian) 

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  • a boundary, space or time which is between two worlds
  • between land and water or living and the dead
  • dangerous and usually marked by ritual

Definition (1-2 marks): The movement between the scared and the everyday 

Link to the period (1 mark): Roman - Temenos wall act as liminal boundary at temples 

Named site (1 mark): Temple of Claudius, Colchester

Specific evidence (1 mark): Temenos wall as a boundary zone around the temple 

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  • can be linked to animatism. 
  • The belief that an individual can alter events via potion, spells or chants. 

Definition (1-2 marks): The belief that an individual can alter events via potion, spells or chants. 

Link to the period (1 mark): Palaeolithic

Named site (1 mark): Lascaux

Specific evidence (1 mark): cave paintings interpreted as hunting magic (sympathetic magic) , drawn to bring prey to the hunters. 

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The belief that an individual can alter events via potion, spells or chants. 

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Priest/Ritual Specialist

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Purity & Cleansing

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Rites of Passage

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Rites of Intensification

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Ritual Feasting

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Sensory Experience

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Shrine/Temple/Ritual Structure

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