Rituals and celebrations


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A gospel choir leads the congregation in song during a Sunday service at the National Pentecostal Church, Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Dieter Telemans/Panos

Essay/
Cognition and intelligence
One more time

Why do we listen to our favourite music over and over again? Because repeated sounds work magic in our brains

Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis

Tibetan monks dressed as demons attend the Beating Ghost festival at the Yonghe Temple, March 2015. Photo by Wang Zhao/Getty

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Religion
Not your Tibetan Buddhism

Behind the beatific image of Tibetan Buddhism lies a dark, complicated reality. But is it one the Western gaze wants to see?

Mark Hay

Cards from the Visconti di Modrone set, Italy, 1466. Courtesy the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

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Stories and literature
The truth about tarot

Whether divining ancient wisdoms or elevating the art of cold reading, tarot is a form of therapy, much like psychoanalysis

James McConnachie

A Siberian Shaman. Photo by Alexander Nikolsky/The Siberian Times
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Philosophy of religion
Inside the mind of God

Punitive Big Brother; cosmic petty-thief-catcher; vigilant landlord. Why is God so interested in bad behaviour?

Benjamin Grant Purzycki

Illustration by Lee Moyer
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Metaphysics
Everything and Moore

The legendary comics author Alan Moore has written a million-word novel, tribute to every eternal speck in his universe

Tim Martin

Riding the storms; detail from artwork by Kinuko Y Craft. Photo by National Geographic/Corbis
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Mental health
Learning to fall apart

My OCD had been creating vivid, painful rituals for years. So could Buddhist ritual give me a means to fight back?

Matt Bieber

Mysterious meanings; a Taoist priest stands in an entrance to the 700-year-old Dongyue Temple in central Beijing November 5, 2012. Photo by David Gray/Reuters
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Consciousness and altered states
The uncertainty machine

Forget prophecy and wisdom. Using the I Ching is a weirdly useful way to open your mind to life’s unexpected twists

Will Buckingham

Not magic but medicine. Photo by Getty

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Consciousness and altered states
A good trip

Researchers are giving psychedelics to cancer patients to help alleviate their despair — and it’s working

Linda Marsa

Facial acupuncture is administered to a patient in Beijing. Photo by Justin Jin/Panos

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Medicine
Do some harm

Traditional Chinese medicine is an odd, dangerous mix of sense and nonsense. Can it survive in modern China?

James Palmer

Yanomami Indians from two different villages meet in Novo Demini on the border between the states of Amazonas and Roraima, 15 October 2012. Photo by Odair Leal/Reuters

Essay/
Evolution
Is there a war instinct?

Many evolutionists believe that humans have a drive for waging war. But they are wrong and the idea is dangerous

David P Barash

Lice, or ‘worms with feet’, were a common cause for concern in the Middle Ages. From ‘The Golden Haggadah’ (c1320 CE), Spain. Manuscript courtesy of the Trustees of the British Library

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History
Medieval parasites

People in the Middle Ages took great care over cleanliness – except the clergy, who accepted filth as a sign of devotion

Katherine Harvey

Moai on Rapa Nui. Photo by Stefan Boness/Panos

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Rituals and celebrations
The love of stuff

The problem with our society is not that it values material things too much but that it doesn’t value them enough

Nick Thorpe

A Tamil man falls into a trance-like state as he performs the Vel Kavadi ritual. Photo by Mark Henley/Panos
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Anthropology
Trial by fire

From fire-walking to the ice-bucket challenge, ritual pain and suffering forge intense social bonds

Dimitris Xygalatas

Detail from Interior with Young Woman from Behind by Vilhelm Hammershoi /Wikimedia
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Biography and memoir
Like a prayer

Even secular people need time out to meditate, reflect, and give thanks. Is prayer the answer?

Heather Havrilesky

Model Karlie Kloss walks the runway during the 2012 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory in New York City. Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty

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Anthropology
Is nothing sacred?

Every culture looks for creative inspiration to other cultures, but is there a point when this is just outright theft?

Nabeelah Jaffer

In the Highlands of New Guinea, 1970. Photo by Burt Glinn/Magnum

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Rituals and celebrations
Possessed by a mask

Every human culture has used masks for ritual disinhibition, shaming and play. Is being online the ultimate masquerade?

Sandra Newman

Philip Pullman says that his daemon or animal familiar would be a thieving magpie or raven. Illustration by Richard Wilkinson

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Rituals and celebrations
All his materials

In a rare interview, Philip Pullman tells us his own origin story, and why the great questions are still religious ones

Peter Jukes

A Jeep full of the Daughters of Charity in St Louis, Missouri in 1964. Photo by Bert Glinn/Magnum

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Anthropology
Did laughter make the mind?

A psychological relief valve and a guard against despotism, laughter is a uniquely human – and collective – activity

Chris Knight

Subterranean forces: Tanna Island, Vanuatu. Photo by Joey L

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Anthropology
Human rites

Rituals bind us, in modern societies and prehistoric tribes alike. But can our loyalties stretch to all of humankind?

Harvey Whitehouse

In the time of Charles Dickens, being left alone at the altar was meant to be a disaster for life. Nowadays, it can be an occasion for a feast. All photos by Anna Eckold
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Rituals and celebrations
Mrs Myself

Self-marriage promises love and fulfilment – but is it a radical act or a depressing concession to self-absorption?

Polina Aronson

Illustration by Richard Wilkinson
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Food and drink
Sacrament

Wine is an elixir, a miracle-worker and shapeshifter – no wonder even the most secular of us hold it sacred still

Ross Andersen