Monday, 20 April 2009

Sacral Symbolism and Special Events

Did you ever wonder how important symbols are to our everyday lives? Believe it or not, they are often the central focus of our many activities. They also form a key part of special events.

Sacral symbolism lies at the very heart of understanding ritual, and ritual, as I have mentioned before, is very significant in special events. As Paul Avis states, “At its simplest, a symbol means imagining one thing in the form of another.”[i] He goes on to say, “It belongs to symbols to mediate a reality or meaning that transcends the symbol itself. This need not necessarily be a supernatural reality, the subject of theology, the sphere of divinity. The transcendent realm may be the spirit of a nation, a tradition, a cultural legacy, an ethical or political ideal. But it always carries a value greater than the individual. The crucial point about symbolism is that there is no access to this transcendent realm apart from its symbols.”[ii] In other words, not only may a “sacred” symbol be religious such as the Christian cross or the star of David, it may also be a national flag, monuments, a company logo, or in the case of American football, cheerleaders, mascots, and team logos. In ancient spectacles it could be the coat of arms or symbol of a sovereign, crowns and headdresses, jewelry, ritual paraphernalia such as obsidian knives, special offerings or sacrifices such as bulls or goats (or humans), statues, chariots, weaponry, and much more.

When you think about the events we all organize in this industry, especially corporate events, it becomes apparent how important symbols are to their success. Product launches, sales meetings, incentive programs, conference opening and closing ceremonies, and of course all types of sporting events, all have at their heart some form of symbol: corporate logos, product shapes and colours, spokespersons, a charismatic president, even lifestyles. Are these really much different from religious symbols? I don't think they are. The rituals associated with them often mimic religious rituals in their execution. For example, I have produced numerous corporate events for companies such as Toyota, Mary Kay, IBM, insurance conglomerates, and pharmaceuticals and the reverence paid to the corporate culture is no less strict - or inspiring - than that of any mainstream religion. From the procession to dinner to the fanfare of a new product announcement to the climax of the president's "homily," the orders of service are uncannily similar. This is secular religion at its finest.

The subject has been studied to some extent by scholars, particularly over the last 20 or so years. However, I have not seen too much written about the similarities of corporate special events to religious events that incorporate many sacral symbols. I believe it is in our best interest when creating such events to bear in mind the close connections with religion and the ways in which humans react to religious or sacral symbolism. Being able to manipulate the event to take advantage of these connections might prove beneficial.

[i] Avis, P. (1999). God and the Creative Imagination: Metaphor, Symbol, and Myth in Religion and Theology. London: Routledge. p. 103.
[ii] Ibid. Avis. p. 106.

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