Signs and Symbols; Rituals and ceremonies
© Werner Hammerstingl,2000
This lecture is a rather broad survey of the various means employed across a variety of social paradigms to communicate.
The underlying premise here is that we navigate our way across and around constructed as well as natural environments by paying attention to what is loosely described as "signs and symbols". We engage in rituals and ceremonies to affirm and communicate symbolic institutions.

Definitions of terms:
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English signe, from Old French, from Latin signum mark, token, sign, image, seal; perhaps akin
to Latin secare to cut .
Date: 13th century
a motion or gesture by which a thought is expressed or a command or wish made known or SIGNAL  a
fundamental linguistic unit that designates an object or relation or has a purely syntactic function or one of a set of
gestures used to represent language; also : SIGN LANGUAGE
or a mark having a conventional meaning and used in place of words or to represent a complex notion
or one of the 12 divisions of the zodiac
or a character (as a flat or sharp) used in musical notation (2) : SEGNO b : a character (as ÷) indicating a
mathematical operation; also : one of two characters + and ? that form part of the symbol of a number and characterize
it as positive or negative
or a display (as a lettered board or a configuration of neon tubing) used to identify or advertise a place of business or
a product ; a posted command, warning, or direction ; SIGNBOARD
or  something material or external that stands for or signifies something spiritual b : something indicating the
presence or existence of something else <signs of success> <a sign of the times> c : PRESAGE, PORTENT
<signs of an early spring> d : an objective evidence of plant or animal disease
or  plural usually sign : traces of a usually wild animal <red fox sign>
- signed adjective
synonyms SIGN, MARK, TOKEN, NOTE, SYMPTOM mean a discernible indication of what is not itself directly
perceptible. SIGN applies to any indication to be perceived by the senses or the reason <encouraging signs for the
economy>. MARK suggests something impressed on or inherently characteristic of a thing often in contrast to general
outward appearance <a mark of a good upbringing>. TOKEN applies to something that serves as a proof of something
intangible <this gift is a token of our esteem>. NOTE suggests a distinguishing mark or characteristic <a note of irony
in her writing>. SYMPTOM suggests an outward indication of an internal change or condition <rampant crime is a
symptom of that city's decay>.

As I have described in my lecture on semiotics, semiotics seperates the representation or sign into two separate elements:

Main Entry: 1sym·bol
Pronunciation: 'sim-b&l
Function: noun
Etymology: in sense 1, from Late Latin symbolum, from Late Greek symbolon, from Greek, token, sign; in other
senses from Latin symbolum token, sign, symbol, from Greek symbolon, literally, token of identity verified by
comparing its other half, from symballein to throw together, compare, from syn- + ballein to throw -- more at DEVIL
Date: 15th century
1 : an authoritative summary of faith or doctrine : CREED
2 : something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or
accidental resemblance; especially : a visible sign of something invisible <the lion is a symbol of courage>
3 : an arbitrary or conventional sign used in writing or printing relating to a particular field to represent operations,
quantities, elements, relations, or qualities
4 : an object or act representing something in the unconscious mind that has been repressed <phallic symbols>
5 : an act, sound, or object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response
The best introduction on semiotics that I've found to date is by Daniel Chandler (University of Wales) and you can get to it from here

We can easily distinguish between 3 categories of symbols:

  •     image related symbol
  •     concept related symbol
  •     arbitrary symbol (often used in trademarks)
  • General (public) use of symbols Private or personal use of symbols  

    Some examples of Body modifications as symbols:

    Ritual and Ceremony



    \Rit"u*al\, a.[L. ritualis, fr. ritus a rite: cf. F. rituel.] Of or pertaining to rites or ritual; as, ritual service or sacrifices; the ritual law.

    ritual adj 1: of or relating to or characteristic of religious rituals; "ritual killing" 2: of or relating to or employed in social rites or rituals; "a ritual dance of Haiti"; "sedate little colonial tribe with its ritual tea parties"- Nadine Gordimer n 1: any customary observance or practice [syn: {rite}] 2: the prescribed procedure for conducting religious
    ceremonies 3: stereotyped behavior have ancient roots.

    \Cer"e*mo*ny\, n.; pl. Ceremonies. [F. c['e]r['e]monie, L. caerimonia; perh. akin to E. create and from a root signifying to do or make.]
    1. Ar act or series of acts, often of a symbolical character, prescribed by law, custom, or authority, in the conduct of important matters, as in the performance of religious duties, the transaction of affairs of state, and the celebration of notable events; as, the ceremony of crowning a sovereign; the ceremonies observed in consecrating a church; marriage and baptismal ceremonies.

    According to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof shall ye keep it [the Passover].

    Bring her up the high altar, that she may The sacred ceremonies there partake. --Spenser.

    [The heralds] with awful ceremony And trumpet's sound, throughout the host proclaim A solemn council. --Milton.

    2. Behavior regulated by strict etiquette; a formal method of performing acts of civility; forms of civility prescribed by custom or authority.

    Ceremony was but devised at first To set a gloss on . . . hollow welcomes .
    . . But where there is true friendship there needs none. --Shakespeare.

    All ceremonies are in themselves very silly things; but yet a man of the world should know them. --Chesterfield.

    3. A ceremonial symbols; an emblem, as a crown, scepter, garland, etc. [Obs.]

    Disrobe the images, If you find them decked with ceremonies. . . . Let no images Be hung with C[ae]sar's trophies. --Shakespeare.

    4. A sign or prodigy; a portent. [Obs.]

    C[ae]sar, I never stood on ceremonies, Yet, now they fright me. --Shakespeare.

    Master of ceremonies, an officer who determines the forms to be observed, or superintends their observance, on a public occasion.

    Not to stand on ceremony, not to be ceremonious; to be familiar, outspoken, or bold.

    Ancient Ceremonies and Rituals often revolved around issues realted to:

    Modern Rituals and Ceremonies are practiced by:


    Rituals and (to a lesser degree ceremonies) directly related to the practice of Photography

    a: the ritual when the camera is openly acknowledged as a ingredient in any social event/ceremony.
    Openings and any other major social endeavor and achievement
    Engineering feats and their "opening events".
    Sporting highlights and events
    Groups identifying with particular aims and objectives
    Death-defying stunts
    Deaths (less so natural deaths)
    Celebrations and other newsworthy gatherings.
    Major festive occasions
    Concerts, performances and signings.

    b: the ritual/ceremony/event which we discover via the camera having been there.
    Taboo rituals
    Covert events and activities

    Please note: this is a far from exhaustive list of issues and structures for analysis and debate around this topic and I welcome critical and constructive comments.
    You can e. mail me at