1. Beginning with the initial phase (separation),Turner asserts that a passage in space, or physical relocation, occurs to symbolize the individual’s transition from pre-ritual to post-ritual status. He indicates "the spatial passage may involve a long exacting pilgrimage" (Turner, Ritual 25). A separation process fitting this criteria is indeed a significant aspect of the rave event. The actual location of the rave is usually kept a secret until the last moment, both to avoid interception by anyone who might want to prevent it from happening, and also to reinforce its underground nature. The journey to the event itself often involves a long drive to a remote location. Making this "pilgrimage" to the rave further "exacting," ravers can expect to arrive at the designated location only to find themselves at a decoy venue, faced with an additional trek to the real venue. I’ve been told this can happen several times before the true location of the event is reached, and that it is an accepted element of the night-long process.

  2. The transition phase of van Gennep’s three-part model is the point where participants enter an ambiguous, unstable, in-between state. Here the concept of real time is altered, participants are rendered anonymous by various means, and all manner of inverted behaviors occur (Turner, Ritual 24). The realization of communitas, which, according to Turner, is closely related to liminality, is an important aspect of this phase. In keeping with this goal, ritual participants are often cloaked in anonymity, or rendered invisible, by one means or another (Turner, Ritual 26). Once again, parallels may be drawn between this theoretical stage and things that occur in the rave context. One of the main objectives of rave participants is to reach an altered, transformed, or ecstatic state, in which it may be fair to say that the perception of time is affected. As previously mentioned, this altered state is accomplished through a combination of means designed to effect sensory bombardment. Note the objectives expressed at hyperreal.org’s FAQ website regarding how music functions at these events:

    In general, the purpose of the music played at raves is to make people dance. But it is more than that: the music has to take people to another place. Most music played at raves is intended to Lose yourself in. Techno played at raves is a faceless, nameless organism, Time stops when the mind’s clock of frequent distractions is disconnected by the surreal, hypnotic Syncopated rhythms being woven around your head by the DJ. Time stops and the Vibe begins. (Brown par. 9)
  3. With regard to inverted behaviors at raves, I would suggest the following: the activity typically begins when most people are going to sleep and lasts all night long; abnormally loud volume levels of music are an essential element; and, commonplace sexual behaviors and posturing, which would seem normal for this age group (young people primarily in their teens and twenties), are decidedly taboo and deemed "uncool." Although there is an element of conformity amongst some ravers in terms of attire, there can also be a carnival-like approach to dress—glitter makeup, the attachment of wings, plastic beads, etc.—depending upon which of the various rave subcultures a participant is oriented towards.15 This intention is illustrated by the following posting to the San Francisco raver internet discussion list sfraves:16

    Dressing up for a rave is an act of anticipation. For me, it means a conscious effort to contribute to the vibe of the party. It means wearing something I would not be comfortable wearing on the street. By dressing up, you become part of the visuals team. "Candy rave" is by no means the only option for contributing to a rave by what you wear, but it is a style that lends itself particularly well to the environment. Basically any outfit that is something different from how you would normally dress in public, that shows a certain amount of effort or creativity, that shows a predilection for fun, zaniness, irreverence, etc., is something I would probably delight in seeing at a rave. (posted 11 Dec 1998)
  4. Such costuming, as well as conformity of dress, can point to a desire for anonymity.The fact that the event as a whole takes place in near darkness contributes further to a goal of invisibility on the part of ravers. The generally playful and theatrical atmosphere of the liminal phase of rave is illustrated by this posting during the planning stages of an event:
    If you want to join in the Cosmic Elfs parade of Mischief, bring lasers, flashing lights, ray guns, glow sticks, funny looking hats, or the inspiration to create havoc and mischief. Acrobats, gymnasts, and pranksters encouraged. The parade of mischief starts @ 4:20. (posted to sfraves 21 Nov 1998)

    Watch a personal light show at Camp Harmony 2000
    (August 19, 2000)

    Watch Video from Innercense
  5. According to Turner, the liminal phase of ritual is functional in two ways: it serves as a forum for social commentary (or "letting off steam"), and for the generation of "liminoid" phenomena (Ritual 32). "Social commentary" includes expressions of resistance to social norms or the status quo. Turner suggests that particularly in "technologically complex societies," behavior in this phase can take the form of subversion (Ritual 41). It doesn’t take much imagination to identify resistant or radical behaviors within the context of rave: illegal drug use, disturbance of the peace (aurally speaking), and anti-mainstream rhetoric are just a few examples. Regarding the second function of the liminal phase, Turner uses the term "liminoid" to refer to the creative products of a liminal state of being. I would suggest that examples of liminoid phenomena produced at raves include the developed styles of individual DJs, the elaborate hi-tech animations of laser artists, and the building of fantastical "sets" in various rooms or spaces of the rave site, including the hanging and draping of homemade banners, strings of lights, and other miscellaneous materials and objects.

    Watch laser artistry at Camp Harmony 2000

  6. Within the elaborate playground of the rave space, Turner’s concept of liminality is applicable. For Turner, though, the absurdity of the liminal phase of the rite of passage ritual is meant to bring into dramatic relief the "the culturally defined proper order of things." In the utopian "ideology" of raving, by contrast, the rave event points to an idealized version of how the world should be. However, the "pointed to" in rave is not the result of a dramatic representation of its opposite or inversion, as in Turner's model. The inversions and absurdities of raving are more simply part of playing.

  7. In the final theoretical stage of the ritual process, the aggregation or reintegration phase in Turner’s model, participants engage in "cooling down" behaviors through which they are restored to the mundane world in a changed state (Turner, Anthropology 9). I have personally never stayed at a rave all night long, but I recall the intensity with which a raver friend of mine describes the feeling:

    It’s almost a rite of passage every time you go through one of these all night things. You stumble out into the cold light of dawn with this crowd of people that has been through this amazing experience together. And the bonds between the people is just incredible. I mean, you don’t really experience it if you go [leave] at 2:00 [a.m.] but if you go all the night. You sort of force yourself to keep awake, and have been through these ecstatic moments together, and been on this journey together, and now you sort of come back to reality in the morning. Sort of stumble out the door and the lights and the sun will be out…and you just kind of look at each other. There’s this incredible bond, you know it’s like you’re a big family that’s sort of gone through this together… (Personal interview, 21 May 1998)
  8. Although rave is generally considered to be a secular phenomenon, it should be recognized that a strong element of spiritualism is associated with the rave experience for many participants. Note the following testimonial in which a raver describes the enlightenment vibe he experienced with his initiation into the rave scene.
  It wasn’t until I was 25 that I discovered the scene. It was like becoming color for the first time . . . The first thing I did was run out to my truck to go for a drive and listen to "follow me." found myself unable to resist shouting with joy, dancing with all available limbs, and grinning madly at the people next to me at a traffic light! Think about it - the beauty of everything around you that you might have taken for granted (or may still): the moon shining down on the trees, the soft glow of a neon light, the beautiful fluidity of a person walking, a woman laughing; the smell of fresh air, the taste of cold water… There is no predictability, there is no order - there is only exquisite randomness of the universe and this amazing existence that we find ourselves in. I love being awake, I love having my eyes open, I love every moment that I’m alive. I’ve been painted by the brush of raving with a palette of vibes, people, love, music, unity, movement, peace, and togetherness. I am in color. (posted to sfraves 13 June 2000)

Development of rewarding alternatives, including a sense of belonging in "straight" society, is a critical aspect in treating young people involved in these drug-dominated cultures.

Psychiatric Annals, March 1994.17

  1. Effusive testimonials describing a first rave experience are quite common. This may be connected to an intense feeling of communitas often experienced (related to PLUR), a level of heightened sensory/aesthetic gratification perhaps not previously experienced, a mind-expanding drug experience, or perhaps a combination of these. William Wedenoja, in discussing the psychosocial effects of ritual stimulation, suggests that the emotional, physiological and cortical states of a collective group may be "synchronized" when group members are all exposed to the same "driving stimuli," and that a sense of communitas might result from this synchronization (Wedenoja 285).18 He adds that a state of exhilaration may serve as a reinforcement agent in group cohesion. Along these same lines, Judith Becker states that rhythmic entrainment "invokes realms of knowledge to which we otherwise have little access and provides a deep and sometimes abiding sense of well-being" (Becker 50).

  2. Whatever the causes of this euphoric or oceanic experience within rave, it is important to note and (for the purposes of this discussion) that this state is relatively temporary and does not constitute a change in the social status of the individual. Unlike the rite of passage model, ravers don’t really transition from one social status to another during the course of a party and emerge permanently changed in the eyes of society. (Yet in a larger sense, rave might be viewed as a playing with the transition from adolescence to adulthood.) Rather, it seems, rave-goers enter a ritual, liminal, play-inducing space, they do their thing, and then they exit that space. Ravers do indeed reenter the mundane world after a rave, and although there is much testifying to a personal and perhaps even a spiritual transformation as a result of raving, a transformation in the kind of social status that rites of passage theoretically incur (e.g., marriage, transition to the afterlife, adulthood) is more difficult to argue.

  3. With regard to specific "cooling down" behaviors indicated in the third stage of Turner’s model, the post-performance period of the rave is formalized through a "chilling out" that takes place in virtual space the day after the event. Raves usually take place on Friday and Saturday nights. Over the course of the remainder of the weekend, rave participants "meet" on the internet to discuss what they liked or didn’t like about the event, and to submit informal reviews about particular DJs or other aspects of the experience. Note the following examples:

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the visuals were out of this friggin world!!!!!!!!!! Not only was the whole video game thing totally cool, but did anybody see the faces that were slowly morphing into other faces, or what looked like time-elapsed photography of a vine wrapping around a stick or some weird stuff like that? I wasn’t even f-ed up but the visuals were making me trip out. (posted to sfraves 23 November 1998)

    I do gotta say that Warmth was one of the best raves I’ve been to since the last Warmth…I know tha music was going off in all three rooms, but I was completely stuck in tha jungle room for about the entire night with the exception of a few fruit runs (tell me you don’t love pineapple when you’re on e). So as you know, the music in the jungle room was sick as fuck. At Audio Impact Jamalski kicked this dope ass flow to me about ecstasy and mushroom tea (the music was off the hook there too) and he was fucking shit up at Warmth…Hak and Siphon all REPRESENTED and showed this girl much love with some SICK ASS BEATS!!! Lord knows I was loving it. Yeah so if you were in there I was in a snakeskin print dress dancing my ass off loving every beat in front and behind the turntables like 4 tha whole night. (posted to sfraves 22 November 1998)
  4. Turner’s post-industrialized version of the rite of passage ritual differs from van Gennep’s model in another significant way, making it more applicable to rave. Unlike "tribal" rites of passage, asserts Turner, members of post-industrial societies engage in ritualized cultural performances by choice—mainly the result of leisure time and a desire to be entertained. Participation in tribal ritual, by contrast, is obligatory. Here, ritual activity is the critical "work" of the tribal community, the performing of "symbolic actions and manipulating symbolic objects" in the service of a seriously important outcome such as fertility, averting illness, etc. (Turner, Ritual 32). A great deal is at stake, as tribal celebrants are seeking—in many ways—assurances of survival. Ravers, by contrast, attend parties by choice—they are not required by their communities to participate in raving. And although some rave participants may view the return of post-industrial society to an innocent, primordial phase as the symbolic "work" of raves, this non-obligatory and largely entertaining cultural performance is not intended to be efficacious in the same critical sense. Rave participation is more in keeping with Turner’s concept of liminal "play," as party goers are more likely seeking a particular kind of social, aesthetic, or emotional experience.

  5. Another model of ritual experience, namely, T.J. Scheff’s psychoanalytic theory of catharsis in ritual healing, offers what may be a more useful analytic frame for this discussion of rave as ritual. Scheff’s work, an adaptation of Freud’s well-known catharsis theory, has been used by Carol Laderman in an analysis of Malay shamanistic healing,19 and referred to by William Wedenoja in conjunction with his work with the Revival ritual trance cult in Jamaica. According to Scheff, there are three elements or stages in the ritual cathartic process: an "emotional distress" (classically caused by a repressed emotion from a past traumatic experience), an aesthetic "distancing element" (something that allows an individual to be simultaneously both participant and observer of a re-enactment of that bad experience), and finally, a cathartic discharge or release of emotion. Scheff extends the application of this model from the individual psychotherapeutic context to mass entertainment rituals such as watching movies and sports games, hypothesizing that these activities fill a void in modern society created by the severance of "the connection between strong emotion and ritual" (Scheff 128). If we broaden the definition of "emotional distress" and allow for distancing elements that do not necessarily represent re-enactments of bad past experiences, this model may work well for rave.

  6. If we cast rave as a cathartic ritual, what can we identify as the "emotional distress" in need of release? Unlike the healing rituals described by Laderman and patients undergoing psychoanalytic "treatment" discussed by Scheff, there is no identifiable overt "sickness" that needs to be healed, or particular repressed emotions of past trauma to be relived, in the case of rave participants. As Wedenoja in fact suggests, an abnormal psychic conflict or illness need not be a prerequisite to ritual participation (Wedenoja 298). Scheff himself posits that rituals provide "occasions of repeated catharsis" for all members of society who in the normal course of life need to release accumulated "distressful emotion" (Scheff 116). I suggest that rave enables the release of normal youthful energy, rebelliousness, and social anxiety—and perhaps the reliving of childlike play in an emotionally safe environment. Considering the age group involved, one might also acknowledge the stress of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, which can be quite tumultuous.

  7. According to Scheff, in order for cathartic ritual to be optimally effective, the distancing element must strike a perfect balance between belief and disbelief in the minds of participants. Functioning in this "double vision" mode, the ritual communicant must be both participant and observer of the drama in which s/he is engaged (Scheff 119). If either "underdistancing" or "overdistancing" takes place, the cathartic process will fail. In the case of rave, the participant’s knowledge that s/he is performing/playing in a temporary time-space removed from the non-rave world, serves as a distancing device. Through the anonymity afforded by darkness, dress-up, clowning, and other liminal playing in a self-consciously childlike fantasy world, liminality itself also functions as a distancing element. Ravers are provided the opportunity for dramatic play with identities and ways of being that they don’t normally engage in, within a safe space set aside for this purpose. Play with belief in supernatural entities (such as the Technology Goddess), with romantic images of perfect, primordial communities and consciousness, and with the myth of dancing the world to its former state of perfection, are also examples of aesthetic distancing found in rave.

  8. We might say that the catharsis that takes place in what Turner would call the liminal phase of rave results in an emotional transformation of the participant, who likely enters the event with normal tensions and pent-up youthful energy and exits having blown off a good deal of steam. Activities resulting in cathartic release of rave are easy to identify. Hours of unrestrained dancing to the point of exhaustion, the satisfaction of engaging in "subversive" and/or hedonistic behaviors, and a general sensory exhausting, are examples that easily come to mind. Therapeutic results of raving may include escape from everyday life situations, the experience of others on an emotionally intense level or with a closeness that may not be available in ordinary social life, a sense of group belongingness, and the socially validating sense of being a part of something "special" that is different from what most people experience.

  9. In the distancing phases of Scheff’s cathartic process, (in both ritual healing and mass entertainment rituals) there is a structural separation between the individuals that are undergoing a particular rite, the healer or shaman who enables the cathartic process, and the "audience" in attendance. In the case of rave, this separation doesn’t really exist. Ravers are both actors and audience simultaneously participating in a cathartic ritual. Although much has been made of the "cult of the DJ," attention has also been given to the "leveling" of rave participants regardless of role. Rave presents a situation where there is no star and no differentiation between performers and audience. Note the following quote by a DJ posted on sfraves:

    Someone once asked me if I felt like a pilot when I DJ and if everyone dancing felt like my passengers. ‘No,’ I said, ‘everybody dancing should be a pilot. I want to be the weather. (DJ Lotus, Toronto, date unknown)
    Rave as a cultural performance is constituted by participants performing for each other and feeding off each other, creating a dynamic exchange of creative—and sometimes transcendent and ecstatic—energy. This phenomenon is perhaps similar to what Jihad Racy describes as an "ecstatic feedback model" of Arabic music performance.20 I would argue for an expansion of existing cathartic ritual theory to include performance structures that accommodate less differentiated roles among actors such as rave.

  10. In summary, although rave does not hold up to scrutiny as a rite of passage ritual in particular, this examination suggests that rave as a cultural performance nevertheless makes use of ritual elements that are powerfully efficacious and meaningful to its participants. Turner’s position that cultural performances are ritualistic is compatible with Scheff’s presentation of the theory of catharsis in ritual. Each model has been useful here. With reference to Scheff’s idea that rituals provide opportunities for repeated catharsis, it would be interesting to investigate at which point in an individual’s "raving career" does rave ritual cease to function in this capacity. When does the cathartic power of the ritual lose its effectiveness? At what point does a party-goer’s experience of rave become "underdistanced" or "overdistanced" leading, in Scheff’s theory, to its failure? And does this loss of efficacy signal a personal transition in the life of a rave participant?

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