In sociology class as well as in the readings we learned about and discussed symbols and had some interesting symbolic stories. Symbols are anything that carries particular meaning or represents a concept or idea. Now with that said, in the Down to Earth Sociology book we read an interesting chapter titled “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” by Horace Miner, which I found to hold many symbols and to be very symbolic of the society we live in and value today.
The chapter begins by explaining their economics and hastily jumps into their rituals. These rituals they talk about are a focus on the human body’s appearance, health, its natural tendencies, ugliness, and performing rituals to better the human body. I found this to sound very similar to what many people in today’s society do in the bathroom. We all go into the bathroom to look at ourselves in the mirror and assess how we can clean and better ourselves for the day. They talk about the Naciremas having shrines where they fulfill these daily rituals and these I believe to be symbolic for the bathrooms of today’s society. The chapter continues to talk about charm boxes in the shrine rooms which hold charms and magical potions. These charms and magical potions come from medicine men which require a gift in exchange for the potions and charms. The charm box, and the charms and potions which it possesses, are symbols for what would be a medicine cabinet and medications. The medicine men would be pharmacist who supply the charms (medication) for a gift (money/payment).
Next are the “holy-mouth-men” who the Naciremas believed performed rituals on their mouths that would improve their social relationships, better their teeth, and influenced them to perform daily rituals at home on their own mouths which consisted of “inserting a small bundle of hog hair into the mouth, along with certain magical powers, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.” I believe all of this to be symbolic of visiting a dentist and brushing your teeth. We are always told that seeing the dentist is important because it is important to have nice teeth for your health and it will better your social relationships, much like what the Naciremas believed. In today’s society we also believe in brushing your teeth 1-2 times a day much like the Naciremas did with their hog hair and magical powers but we instead do it with a toothbrush and magical paste (toothpaste).
Another thing which the Naciremas believed and took part in was visiting the medicine men at the temple or latipso where they would only be admitted, cared for, and treated for illness if they could afford to give the medicine men a nice gift. Once in the latipso they would be stripped of their clothing (which was unusual for them because they are secretive about their bodies and never showed them). All of this seems very symbolic for today’s doctors offices (hospitals), where people will be cared for, and treated for illness if they have the money to pay for such treatment and the doctors (medicine men) time. A common practice in a doctors office or hospital is that for certain procedures it is required to take your clothes off which just as it is uncomfortable for the Naciremas, as it is uncomfortable for us too because of the same sort of secrecy.
The last thing that I would like to discuss that I found to be very symbolic and current in today’s society was the Naciremas practice of fasting to make people skinnier, feasting to make people fatter, or even rites to make women’s breasts larger if small, or smaller if to large. Just as in today’s society we have many dieting and fasting “rituals” as to make people fatter or skinnier, similar to that we have procedures to make women’s breasts larger or smaller. The Naciremas had general dissatisfaction with their bodies especially weight issues and breast size. This is very prevalent in today’s society in many ways directly how the Naciremas viewed it and in other ways.
It is funny how many of these things that the Naciremas believed in and participated in many and many years ago can be so symbolic and prevalent in today’s society. One thing that was discussed is how blindly people will follow rituals or follow in their elders footsteps with no explanation or reason why. This can be seen just as well in the rituals of the Naciremas as it can be seen in the “rituals” of today. For all we know the story of the Naciremas could be what we derived from or could even be about us today just in different terms so it is more easily understood how ridiculous some of the things we do are.