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Rituals And Beliefs In Venezuela

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Theology
Wordcount: 5429 words Published: 15th May 2017

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In Venezuela and around the world has had been developed endless medical specialties, psychological, science and technology very rapidly, in the same way and nearly at the same speed, also, has emerged a large number of beliefs, myths, religions that each day rises with a booming effect. In fact, in the XXI century these religions, beliefs and superstitious practices, such as witchcraft, they manifest themselves with a large number of followers and/or curious people that are consulted with the idea that the shaman, medium or wizard help them to solve their problems, whether physical, mental, economic or any other nature.

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Some people queried for evil or revenge from others who according to them are the responsible to the origin of the conflict, and then there are those still without ever having attended a witchcraft ritual or religion and they are usually followers of Christianity or Catholicism, those people express to believe or to be under the effects of a “work” of magic and / or sorcery, or have a firm belief that witchcraft is real and something to be fear of. We often hear from these people phrases like ‘I don’t believe in witches, but if there are, there are,’ or ‘with the Saints do not play’ (referring to Santeria which is a syncretic cult of witchcraft).

Santeria: A religion that combines beliefs of the Yoruba and Bantu people of Southern Nigeria, Senegal, and the Guinea coast with elements of Roman Catholicism, with roots in the Caribbean.

Donnelly (2005:65) explains how in this century Venezuelans ‘increasingly break with a series of taboos imposed from the Spanish conquest about customs and religion’, which opens a new door to the practice of rituals, spiritualism and occultism, being a heritage of ancestors, natives and slaves of the past. This cultural legacy, talking about occultism, rites and religions intermingle to combine religion, magic, occultism, between the sacred and pagan, between the rational and irrational, is to give a deeper meaning to life or tangible and its problems, is to looking for a closer God and not abstract or distant one. (Marin,1986:27).

Because many of the religious practices and beliefs are transmitted by oral tradition, such as Santeria, they have not established a clear basis; in fact many of these religions and pseudo religions are characterized by a complex process of syncretism that even today continues.

According Gruson (1970:34), the most popular religion is Catholicism, where 80 percent of the population consider themselves Catholic, whether or not they are participants. The faithful believe in God, but he is far from this world, the rites are directed towards the saints, the Virgin and the Souls who are closer to the humans. Religion provides the afflicted people the solution of many problems, including physical and mental health; also it has recreational purposes (dances, parties), psychological (ego gratification, when a person has an important position in the ritual organization), social (cronyism) and medicinal (miracle cures).

Popular religions believe in nature spirits and other supernatural entities, ghosts and miraculous goblins, this is considered Catholic and does not cause damage to the basic structure of religion. Private rites are secrets, they are done in time of crisis, performed with a single purpose, but the intention is to alleviate the problem of the client or do evil, while the public rites are rather linked to official Catholicism.

A mixture between paganism and sacred characterizes popular Catholicism. The rituals and symbols of Catholicism often have a different meaning for members of the educated classes than lower class or humble peasants. Catholics go to church, but also they practice rites of Santería at spiritualist centres, at the same time they may visit the graves of “folk saints”, spiritual healers or get a consultation via Internet. Even in most TV channels is possible to watch programs of cartomancy, tarot, among others, with a considerable rating, over 7%. (IBOPE AGB Venezuela, 2010).

For example, baptism is considered a rite that protects the newborn against all evil influences; the cross for example, contains powers to ward off evil spirits. Although the Christianization of the Indians and black slaves during the colonial era, many concepts and oldest religious practices were preserved, which could flourish outside of official Christianity, all this is embedded so strong on this culture, that some medical professionals recommend the use of spell against the evil eye and shingles (sufferings of religious connotation) (Molina,1947:90-110).

There is no evidence of serious or reflective studies regarding the present topic, but it is interesting to note that religious and pagan is widespread in this country, rituals of witchcraft, sorcery, popular religiosity and Catholic beliefs has been mixed together; among the most common are Nigerian Santeria or traditional and Cuban santeria (Martin, 1983:74).

The practice of psychotherapy in Venezuela is new, there are very few professionals in the country and it is not specifically regulated by any entity, except the Venezuelan Association of Psychotherapist (AVEPSI), located in the capital city Caracas and formed in 2009.

The practice of this specialty in Venezuela is highly welcomed by the general public, but a continuous education and feedback from the therapist towards the client and vice versa, in areas such as clinical hypnosis, beliefs in the supernatural, myths and rituals are necessary. The therapist may face a diversity of situations, similar to those faced Carl Jung and referred in his thesis “On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena” (1902) in which he describes a young woman apparently suffering supernatural attacks.

According to the previous explanation, surges a need to do a study that lead to answer the following question:

Does beliefs; religious or esoteric practices of Venezuelans influence the psychotherapeutic practice in Venezuela?

From the above question arise the following objectives:

General objective

Describe the influence of religions, beliefs, magic and witchcraft in the practice of psychotherapy in Venezuela


Identify religious beliefs, magic or witchcraft on patients attending psychotherapeutic consultation.

Estimate approximately the practice of religious rituals, magic or witchcraft in clients attending to psychotherapeutic consultation.

Recognize the efficiency of Psychotherapy Techniques in the treatment of clients with religious tendencies or witchcraft practitioners.


Theoretical Framework

Rites and Beliefs in Venezuela

Some scholars take the practice of witchcraft in Venezuela as somewhat folkloric (Cazabone, 2009:89) unlike other countries where some rites have diabolical connotations with animal sacrifices involved.

This folkloric aspect is closely linked with the Venezuelan humorous character, who in general do not take very seriously the powers of magic; the ‘just in case’, or ‘I don’t believe in witches, but if there are, there are’, gives a sense of belief in certain aspects in the ‘occult’.

Branch (in Zalazar et al, 2001:67) concluded that this Venezuelan way of be is a historic stereotype, derivative from miscegenation and the character of the participants on it, highlighting the ingenuity of indigenous, the hard labour of black workers and the conqueror’s arrogance. These archetypes explains Branch, “play an important role to explaining the Venezuelan people characteristics “, concluding that the Venezuelan broadly is cheerful and humorous by its black and Spanish heritage, smart for his Spanish and Indian roots, loving and generous the Indian heredity, but by the other hand, the negative side, lazy by the Indian essence, disorganized and wasteful by their black ancestry, disrespectful to the law and violent by the Spanish origin, nevertheless none of these influences have or are backed by scientific evidence, ‘are simply social images that continue to be relevant’ (Zalazar et al, 2001:89).

Moreover, beliefs and magic-religious practices are a privileged means to express realities, conflicts, emotions and hidden feelings, taking place beyond the ability to be rational.

Christian (2009:30-45) explains that ‘a great number of people light candles to different deities (Black First, Philip Black, Guaicaipuro, Maria Lionza, etc.) In order they may grant miracles or favours’.

This use of gadgets is a psychological strategy, Figueroa (2005:82) explains that humans use to control their lives and overcome their limitations in an environment that sometimes exceeds his capacity for understanding and action.

Moreover, the use of talismans and / or amulets or just called “vulture seed”, the “aloe plant” are used in rituals and cults as a means of protection or lucky charms.

Cabazone (2009:97) describes that the leader and ex-president Romulo Betancourt said with an air of certainty that ‘his pipe was put under spell by a witch, and many believed that this was the key to its success’. Magic and all its techniques is one of these resources and sometimes this faith on a ritual or belief generates spectacular solutions.

Figueroa (2005:89) suggest, that the use of talismans and amulets dates from the ancient times and worldwide great men, politicians, artists, soldiers, athletes, etc., have behaved and carry symbols of good luck, giving high regard to the power of positive suggestion, so have been able to accomplish their purposes. The psychological effect makes believers to have faith on the amulet, rite, or talisman.

The role of religion in Venezuelan culture and beliefs

As discussed, the cultural background and miscegenation have been influential in Venezuelan culture, even on the whole Latin America despite an apparent secularization.

Notably, worldwide, all cultures of the world were shaped by religion, no one ethnic group escapes this process and on the same area, magical religious traditions and customs have influenced significantly in social relationships, community life and moral codes, ‘this faith in supernatural beings is evident not only in Venezuela but throughout the world’ (Pollak-Eltz, 2004:69).

In Venezuela and throughout Latin America, Catholicism, shaped the culture that until recently had absolute monopoly; all social classes were influenced. Today the official and popular religions are expressions of different types of lifestyles, on the one hand, traditional or popular religiosity has curative and magical and is generally practiced by popular sectors and secondly official Roman Catholicism practiced by people in urban areas.

In this sense, the proliferation of rites and beliefs and personal interpretations of followers and practitioners and the lack of a defined priestly liturgy make these practices and cults an easy target of charlatans and abusers.

Among the most popular cults is that of Maria Lionza, in which the medium is “possessed” he or she fall in trance (matter) and them the spirit that possesses the person is consulted and this gives advice to the person seeking help. The cult of Maria Lionza is complex and covers all magical and religious beliefs of Venezuelan people and forms a synthesis of magical practices, within a religious context. (Pollak-Eltz, 2004:82).

Can be said that this is a syncretic cult with “practical” solutions through rituals that recognize the values of Christianity, in fact, Maria Lionza is sometimes identified with the Virgin of Coromoto and/or an indigenous spirit.

Magic is present on this cult and its techniques are neither good nor bad, but can be used for do good or evil. Wizards pretend to manipulate those forces and claim to possess supernatural and extraordinary powers to communicate with the supernatural world (matter).

Pollak-Eltz (2004:83) states that ‘Faith is the cause of miracles’. Because these techniques can be learnt, the magician is not responsible for acts performed; he or she is an officer to whom the client pays their services. This magician or medium often has the knowledge to solve problems and cure diseases, and is an excellent psychologist despite his limited formal education.

According Pollak-Eltz (2004:106) or pagan religion of witchcraft was faded from the countryside to the cities. This culture is broadly Christian and despite advances in technology and medicine is popular religiosity more alive than ever, and that’s because the popular religion is utilitarian, giving spiritual support and serves as a psychological calming in times of personal crisis.

Saignes (in Pollak-Eltz 2004:65), states that ‘Historically, whites and slaves used to consult black healers that often had more success than white surgeons in healing the sick. Their knowledge on medicinal plants and magical rites brought a increased the prestige of the African medicine-men’.

This figure of the magician or sorcerer could be seen as the representation of an idol, which has the privilege to channel and guide the prosperity or misfortune at will of others.

This is reflected according to Rojas (2006:30), in the particular character of Venezuelan people when they worship a person or religious figure on which can be trusted and surrender.

Popular Religion

The misfortunes and influence that the church had in the 19th and 20th has no relevance in how Venezuelans built his ideas about faith and deities. Since colonial times, this unique blend between religion and popular religion came framed on a profound mystery of the supernatural and esoteric (Gackstetter et al, 2010:45).

There is a term called “The three powers”, has nothing to do with the Catholic Trinity. Maria Lionza is symbolized as the Virgin Mary, these represent the three main components of the country identity, in other words, European, African and indigenous. On this court of spirits enters Simon Bolivar (liberator of Venezuela from Spanish rule) Andrés Bello, Negro Felipe (First Black, a black slave who was also murdered by the colonists), Negra Matea (Bolívar’s nanny), Jose Gregorio Hernandez and other Catholic saints.

The cult of Maria Lionza is not a religion guided or hierarchical; the shaman or mediums simply ask questions to the believers about their families, problems, disputes, financial problems, or medical problems. Sometimes people who seek help and have a relative in jail, seek help from Juan Vicente Gomez, those political questions do through Simon Bolivar. Believers generally have a high intensity of spiritual devotion, and made a pilgrimage to Sorte Mountain (near Chivacoa in Yaracuy State) with the belief that the goddess will solve the situation or mishap.

Believers choose a corner in the woods or a bend in the river to build an altar from which invoke, this is called portals. Usually is decorated with photographs, figures and figurines, glasses with rum or brandy, cigars, cigarettes cross, flowers and fruits.

There are several versions of this legend. One of them says that a green-eye Indian woman called Yara was baptized as Maria del Prado of Talavera de Niva. The Cacique Yaracuy sent her to the mountains where it is said she rode on an ounce (leopardus pardali). So Mary was called ‘the Onza’ and then Maria Lionza. It is believed that her cult was born of devotion to the forces of nature and the spirits of the rivers, jungles and caves.

Maria Lionza is part of a “trinity” along with Guaicaipuro, an Indian chief murdered by the Spanish colonists, and Negro Felipe. These three saints are the leading figures of the cult and lead several “courts” of lesser deities. These courts are:

The Indian Court led by María Lionza and composed of many Venezuelan Indian chiefs.

The Medical Court led by José Gregorio Hernández and composed of many other famous doctors.

The Court of the Juans made up by a number of figures belonging to Venezuelan folklore.

The Teachers’ Court led by Andrés Bello and some other authors.

The Black and African Court, led by popular black figures of Venezuelan history such as La Negra Matea (who was a slave to the Bolivars and nanny of Simón Bolívar), and El Negro Primero (Pedro Camejo) who was known as Negro Primero because he was black and also among the first to go into combat.

The Celestial Court composed of a number of Catholic saints.

The Political Court, which includes Simón Bolívar.

The Court of Malandros, made up of deceased criminals.

The Viking Court, with various of the important Viking chiefs.

Maria Lionza has had a great social and cultural significance that transcends their followers. Her cult was unveiled outside Yaracuy to the 50s of last century, when in 1953 during the tenure of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez, the sculptor Alexander Hill (1901-1953) built the famous sculpture of Maria Lionza on a Tapir, (Tapirus terrestris), which has been for over 50 years on the Eastern Freeway in Caracas. On this cult nothing is written, is transmitted orally from generation to generation (cited in http://www.rnw.nl/espanol/video/cultos-populares-venezuela-adoraci%C3%B3n-de-mar%C3%ADa-lionza., 2021).

Most relevant Churches and cults in Venezuela

Among religious organizations and cults largest in the country are:

(source: Directorate of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice in Venezuela,1989).

1. Protestant or Evangelical: After the “Diet of Speyer* or Diet of Spires protest in 1529, there was no intention of proselytizing in Latin America, neither to the evangelizing mission. The main interest was focused only on the Reformation, which resulted that Protestantism could not take root in Latin America until the mid-nineteenth century with little success. However, over the years the indicators have changed, even the statistics of late twentieth century are really growing not only in terms of evangelical denominations but also on other spiritualistic denominations. They are grouped into the following:

a. Anglicanism.

b. Presbyterian Church

c. Lutheran Church.

d. Baptists.

e. New Tribes Mission.

*Diet of Speyer or Diet of Spires refers to any of the sessions of the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire, of which 50 took place between 838 and 1570 in the city of Speyer (Spires), now in Germany. The most famous sessions occurred in 1526 and 1529 (Wikipedia 2011).

2. Confederate Evangelicals: Religious currents coming from the United States and has Christian connotations.

3. The Pentecostals: They represent a rapidly growing movement with unique characteristics. This religious movement is marked by Methodism and the American Baptists. Pentecostals came to Venezuela in 1940, and its founder the Rev. Irvin Olson, an American Baptist who chose Barquisimeto as pilot center to establish the first “Assembly of God” in Venezuela. Then extend his work to Caracas the capital city and Falcon.

4. Pseudo Christian religion or Millennialists: These religions tend to grow easily. They have in common that their founders made a personal interpretation of the Bible, creating a new dogma around it, which means, to give different meaning to the tradition, followers believe to have the absolute truth (Mangas and Montero, 2001:110).

In Venezuela there are three organizations: The Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA), Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, the latter without registration within the Directorate of Justice and Religion.

a. Seventh-day Adventists Church.

b. Jehovah’s Witnesses.

c. Mormons.

5. Spiritual Centre: Its the Venezuelan significant inclination toward the esoteric, rituals and astral. It is not based on beliefs but on personal needs.

This conciliation between the sacred and the profane has its essence in animism and polytheism primitive Strengthened by the African Christian cult with an apparent institutionalism. The Indians embraced the faith of the Catholic Church, but the survival of their beliefs and their closeness to the African slaves produced that Kind of new beliefs.

5.1. The popular indigenous court: This tendency is associated to aboriginal elements. For example, the Indian man thought on the power of natural phenomena, on the stones, lakes, rivers, and the acquisition of that supernatural power conceived by their gods. These beliefs were transmitted to subsequent generations and were fed by transcultural elements including Santeria and Spiritualism. There is no hierarchy that identifies these elements on the contemporary society. What for the Indian was a deity for the healer now is a means of economic livelihood and it is seen as a company with excellent clientele.

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5.2. Spiritualists: Along with santeria, this is one of the most advanced forms of mysterious beliefs based mostly on spiritualism of Allan Kardec, French teacher and educator. He is known today as the systematizer of Spiritism for which he laid the foundation with the five books of the Spiritist Codification. It is believed that Spiritism entered to our country under the influence of immigrants from Brazil and Colombia, product of oil fever.

There is no hierarchy around which are organized. The chief head leads the worship and is invoking otherworldly beings, becoming the medium and are called to perform miracles, healings, among others of its kind.

5.3. Santeria: This form of religion is more complex than others. There is a mix of indigenous elements with spiritualist elements, African and Christian origining a semi-organized hybrid. This religion takes the structure of an ancient African tribal religion of the coast of Nigeria, and has three priestly orders: the babalaos, the Orishas ministers and priests of a particular deity. African slaves brought this religion and their main centres are in Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti, subsequently gaining followers in Colombia and Venezuela (Gonzalez-Wippler, 1989:45).

The Santeria in Venezuela have made an even greater mixture, they have found an equivalence between the African gods with Catholic saints, so, for example, Chango (god of lightning and thunder) has its equivalent on Santa Barbara, Oshun (river goddess) at Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity of Copper) and so on, giving a deity character to popular saints like Jose Gregorio Hernandez, Maria Lionza, Negro Felipe, among many others.

To the priests formation a kind of tutor is assigned, who is responsible to teach the apprentice all mysteries and then a new priest is ordained. They prepare their ceremonies at sites near rivers or on a mountain as located at Sorte, Yaracuy. Once ordained, the priest is ready to heal, and to remove evils spirits, that acording to them are the ones who tie the individual. Constants pilgrimages are made from inside the country to Sorte Mountain. There are transport companies that offer their services to the mountain, plus a large number of ordained priests, commonly called doctors or sorcerers, who organize these trips from their centres. It will be noted that trade (merchandising) around these cults is prosperous (consultations, travel, esoteric products, candles, text, perfumes, etc).

5.4. The cult of Maria Lionza: The cult of Maria Lionza comes to represent the formation of a Venezuelan indigenous religion with elements of other cultures, in which prevails the origing of the worship of a deity indigenous enriched with African’s religious culture and spiritualism.

6. Sects

6.1. The Moonies: The name usually are due to its founder Sun Myung Moon, born in North Korea in 1920. The organization has the official name of “Association for the Unification of World Christianity” (AUCM) and aims to create a society based on the seeding of spiritual values and on the driving of the family towards real peace.

6.2. Scientology: Its founder is the American Lafayette Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), a specialist in 25 professions in which stand out those of the writer of science fiction (65millones of copies sold of the book “The Way to Happiness” and screenwriter) . The church is considered a company in all aspects. They have a very distinct structure. Its principles are based on the “Dianetics” which consists of the individual healing itself freeing the enslaved spirit. The procedure to achieve this end is by attending sessions called “audition” where the individual is subjected to purification by employing a tool called “electropsychometer” device that detects areas of spiritual distress. This method is progressive. The initiate discards their old beliefs and acquires new rules that he/she must comply according with the amount of promotions obtained.

6.3. Eastern Syncretism: Unlike the animadversion generated in Venezuela during a good part of twentieth century the sects, today are accepted and a significant number of Venezuelans profess parallel and simultaneously in their religion some of these beliefs. It is common to hear things like this: “I am a Catholic but I received the tao” or “I am a Catholic but I like going to the talks of Buddhist metaphysics.” All this is due to the openness of the Eastern sects who reconciled Christianity with their religious precepts and the openness of Venezuelan society to allow several beliefs coexist with both.

The use of ritual in psychotherapy as a tool for change

The use of rituals is an effective tool in some patients on the practice of psychotherapy in Venezuela and is often the only way to convince the patient that his mind can be healed, free from beings, spirits, influences, or spells that threatening the physical and mental health of the person.

The ritual was always an issue discussed by anthropologists who have described the customs and rituals of peoples and communities. Its therapeutic efficacy for change has been described by many clinicians in systemic literature (Ochoa de Alda, 1995:89).

Notably rituals are not heritage of therapists, but procedures of the peoples, families and cultures. An important point is that, in practice as therapists, it should take into account the importance of these phenomena on individuals and families who participate in these traditions (and any other), and knowing these procedures, that are made spontaneously it may arise new ideas for generating alternatives that can be used on a therapeutic context, in order to try to encourage changes that help to get a more adaptive performance, not symptomatic, of families and individuals who, because of their suffering, come to seek therapy. In addition, and of course, as an element well worked, can provide substantial information, especially relational.

In psychotherapy is considered that a ritual includes a set of actions and / or symbolic interactions more or less structured, they are not restricted only to the completion ceremony, but include the entire process of preparation, the implementation experience and reintegration back to everyday life (Rappaport, 1971:12).

A ritual must be composed of the following elements: symbols, open and closed parts and the need to be developed in a space and in a special time (Whiting, 1991:56). The symbols or symbolic actions are the minimum element would constitute a ritual. The link to the meaning of the symbol that appears is usually a personal construction, family or social. Besides rituals symbols consist of open parts and closed parts together. The enclosed parts are the parts of unchanging ritual common to all performing the ritual, these parts provide the minimum structure rigid enough to reassure strong emotional components, transmit important values and give concrete form to the shares. Instead open parts provide sufficient flexibility for each of the participants in the ritual hand contribution to personal and idiosyncratic experience. In the rituals with an important cultural root is usually prescribed by tradition the place and time that will be the realization of the ceremony.

The symbols or symbolic actions are the minimum element that would constitute a ritual. The link of the symbol regarding to the meaning that appears is usually a personal construction, family or social. Besides symbols, the rituals consist of open parts and closed parts that are joined. The closed parts are the parts of unchanging ritual common to everyone who is performing the ritual, these rigid parts provide the minimum structure enough to bring security against strong emotional components, transmit important values and give concrete form to the actions. Instead open parts provide sufficient flexibility for each of the participants in the ritual and the possibility that each one can make his/her contribution according their personal and idiosyncratic experience. The rituals, which have an important cultural root, are usually performed following the tradition, on the place and time specific to the achievement of the ceremony.

Type of rituals

Rites of passage or transition rituals: described in 1909 by A. Van Gennep. These rituals are performed in the transitions experienced by individuals and groups throughout the life cycle, marking the end of a stage of development and the beginning of a new one. Van Gennep after studying various cultures argues the universality of such rituals.

Continuation: rites of intensification. Unlike the transition rituals that are usually performed only once in life of every individual, continuity rituals are executed repeatedly, their purpose is to set the pace of life and maintain continuity, normality within each stage of life cycle.

Healing rituals: This would include the rituals performed to cure, heal and keep out certain diseases.

Therapeutic Rituals: This includes rituals developed by therapists and used in psychotherapeutic practice, nevertheless psychotherapy may be considered in some cases as a ritual. Haley (1973) considered the treatment that is carried out to treat certain problems and that arise in adolescence (psychosis, behavioural disorders, anorexia…) is like an initiation ritual, through which it promotes individuality and necessary emancipation required from the young, as a way to restore him or her to a normal life cycle.

Functions of rituals:

Ochoa De Alda (1995:56) explains that the main functions that meet the rituals described in the life of societies, peoples, families and individuals are:

Rituals make life predictable, providing a sense of belonging to the group that affects the sense of identity of individuals that form it. Rituals, does order and regulate the social functioning, confirming the social structure, while promoting an evolution in this with minimal conflicts.

Another primary function is the transmission of culture, values and lasting norms. By one hand, it does create a sense of solidarity, cohesion and continuity in groups, and on the other hand, contribute significantly to the creation of the belief systems of a group (Van der Hart, Voogt and Witzum, 1989:56).

The traditional rituals not only channelled social coordination between individuals, families, communities and villages in the here and now, but also between the past, present and future represented by the different generations (Davis, 1987:67).

The rituals of transition, allow passing from one stage to other on the life cycle. Its first element of action does that roles, relationships, and world standards are modified during their execution (Davis, 1987:78). Admitting that any transition is to a greater or lesser extent an imbalance, ritual ceremonies


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