Many friends have forwarded emails asking not to spend a dime today or turn my back or stand upside my head. Lot of hoopla over the $40 million tag, lot about the corporation money flowing into the ceremonies, lot on the lameness of the celebrities. Here on campus, there are elaborate counter-Inauguration talks and happening. At first, I admit to being befuddled. What matters? He got elected. THAT was the crucial part. This is just a ritual. Why is everyone so worked up about this? Why are the Repubs spending so much money? Why the lunatic left send me mass emails? Come on, people, it's just Inauguration Day!
Then I got to thinking about why people would be worked up over this. The Inauguration Day is an essential ritual of this, or any, republic. The pomp and circumstance is designed to construct the very mythology of consensus among the people. The ritual is structured by populism so that we, the people, can identify with the political regime. It gives the necessary means to unify the electorate after a contentious election. It grants the president-elect the symbolic power to rule. Its forebearer, the coronation, similarly granted the divine power to rule.
Since I am currently re-reading Kantorowicz's King's Two Bodies, I sought the description of the ceremonies of the day and thought it would be amusing for all of you to compare them to some other reginal coronations.
The ancient to medieval Hindu kingship rituals were collectively referred to as raja-karma [royal rituals]. The ceremony had to be held on the proper day and time with respect to the kings heavenly charts and the stars etc. Before the actual day of the ceremony, an elaborate ritual of purification and pacification of evil spirits etc. was performed at the site.
The king, who must have fasted and abstained from sexual intercourse the night before shows up in brand new clothes at the break of dawn and looks for omens in the morning sky. After that the ceremony starts [note that throughout the ceremonies, there is constant recitation of various mantras]:
Within the medieval European context, the coronation is also the site where heavenly power transfers into the earthly vessel and the king becomes an instrument of god's will. For example, here is the Tudor ceremony:
Among the Nigerian Umundri, the coronation ceremony transforms the man into a king with divine powers. He is chosen from among the royal families by the ancestral spirits (a dry wall of his compound falls for no discernable reason). He has to be an orphan. The ceremony opens with the ritual of death. This account was observed in the early 20th century.
1. Inden, Ronald. Ritual, Authority and Cyclic Time in Hindu Kingship.
2. Bayne, C.G. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.
3. Jeffreys, M.D.W. The Divine Umundri King