Festivals or rituals?
Festival politics, religiosity and sociability,
The importance of the court jester.

Part VI – Communitas, social cohesion and sociability.

Structure and communitas.

Victor Turner identifies two contiguous and intertwined models:

1) society as a structured, differentiated, and often hierarchical system of political-legal-economic positions, separating men in terms of “more” or “less”; and

2) the society as an unstructured or rudimentarily structured which emerges in the liminal period, comitatus, community, or even communion of equal individuals who submit together to the general authority of the ritual elders.

The use of “communitas” instead of “community” differentiates this type of social relationship from an “area of common living”. The distinction between structure and communitas is not simply the familiar one between “secular” and “sacred”. By sacred, Turner not only refers to the humility of rites of passage in which there are exchanges of societal positions, implied in liminality, but also to the essential and generic human bond of this exchange, which he indicates is indispensable for society.

Communitas has an existential quality, it has an aspect of potentiality, it generates symbols, metaphors and comparisons, it produces art and religion, it breaks through the interstices of structure, in liminality; at the edges of the structure, in marginality; and from beneath the structure, in inferiority; it is sacred because it transgresses or dissolves norms, it is accompanied by unprecedented experiences, it is the product of human rationality, volition and memory.

Myths, symbols, rituals, philosophical systems and works of art are often generated in structural conditions of liminality, marginality and inferiority, providing patterns and models that periodically reclassify the reality of man’s relationship with society, nature and culture, inciting men to action and thought, each containing a multivocal character, countless meanings, and the ability to transport people through many psychobiological levels.

The dialectic generated between the immediacy of communitas and the mediation of structure, despite being inseparable opposites, is historical evidence of any great society at the level of political oscillation. While in rites of passage men are freed from the structure in communitas, only to return to the structure in a revitalized form, the exaggeration of the structure can lead to pathological manifestations of communitas outside, or against, “the law”, whereby the maximization of communitas causes the maximization of the structure, thus giving rise to the production of revolutionary efforts for renewed communitas. The transition between these states takes place through a limbo of statuslessness.

Communitas refers to a personal encounter with a feeling of togetherness that is existentially and spontaneously experienced. It involves collective ecstasy, a feeling of spontaneous love and solidarity that can arise within a community of equals, however, it is not a conscious choice. Experiencing this feeling of unity is desired and contributes to transformation, and is essential for well-being and happiness.

The communion of people with their gods, before the institutionalization of religion, was achieved through communitas in which they achieved an experience of ecstasy in groups through ritual celebration that united the community and gave a sense of security, mutual trust and a group identity.

The link between events and communitas is not unanimous. While this experience, for Turner, was correlated with both an event and the social structure, the ability to evaluate events in terms of communitas has been lost by being generally generalized.

While communitas has a quality of flow, arising spontaneously, unforeseen and without rules, between individuals, flow is an individual experience. Flow seems to be one of the ways of transforming the structure back into communitas.

Communitas, civitas and humanitas.

For people, the essence of meaning is wholeness, relationship and connection, or communitas, civitas and humanitas. The world needs a conscious communal transformation from being market instruments to the conscious cultivation of inclusive well-being, which addresses the disconnection between humanity and the natural world, and with ourselves, in terms of basic needs, deep meaning, kinship, connection, rituals of communal connection, and the sacred. To do this, it is necessary to understand both the spirit of place and the role of social change between spectator and participant, and their relationship to levels of consciousness development and the transpersonal level.

Spirit of place

The spirit of place can be developed intentionally from an understanding of the nature of the sacred place (natural, built and mental environments), and human interaction with it, capturing the well-being needs of the community, which helps to promote better human and planetary relations. There are many examples and tools for intentionally creating an authentic community, using spatial and celebratory programming as a means for this transformation, with requirements at architectural, energetic and cosmic levels, essential for true transformation, healing and the gifts of life. Throughout time, celebration has provided a vehicle for human development, serving to unite people, commune with the divine, and as a catalyst for the actions of the gods on earth, in an intimate experience of the spirit of the place, in which the man/heaven/earth line is kept open through collective consciousness, the embodiment of the symbolic and the directive of intention, integrating the horizontal and vertical dimensions of experience, just as in ancient times, thanks to its cultural interaction with tradition, ritual, eternal seasons of change, and cosmic understandings.

Participation and the development of consciousness

The history of celebration shows how man separated from the divine, how duality was reinforced, and illuminates how we can restore celebration for a fresh start. Wholeness can be achieved by entering into resonance with the community, earth or other life forms, and can help re-establish a truly symbiotic and authentic relationship of experimentation, for the transcendent benefit of all.

Our involvement with others goes through six progressive stages: withdrawal, rituals, pastime, activities, games and intimacy. By cultivating unconditional intimacy with our surroundings, our most authentic experiences will bring us peace and the sense of transcendence and redemption we seek. Celebrations can contribute to the greater good by being designed to encourage the authentic experience of communes, the communication with the transcendent, in a memorable way. The human need to experience the unity of authentic communitas means that people are searching for experiences of deep personal and cosmic proportions, initiating solutions to the pre-Christian transformative experience.

At some festivals, an authentic return to the group experience of ecstasy is emerging. The effects of well-designed and organized events can reveal a coherent whole from which to indicate best practices and cultivate the integral qualities of the community that correspond to the core values and levels of consciousness development of its citizens.

When celebrations include diverse people, there are experiences of unity at both the heterarchical and hierarchical psychographic levels, even though they may be different between different communities. Events that feature creativity, spontaneity and tolerance can appeal to those whose levels of consciousness are developed at higher levels, limiting the transpersonal realm and reporting more frequent peak experiences. Each level of development can respond to the type of event with which their self can best resonate.

The programming of events should reach the specific audience that will resonate with that level of consciousness, although people at lower levels may not be able to identify with the level at which these events are programmed, which suggests that what each person is seeking for personal fulfillment is an indicator of their level of consciousness or hierarchy of needs. Although it can’t be proven, brainwave synchronizations – or mental resonances – may occur in environments of group celebration.

The temple model of city center and programming

The case of the temple model of city center is an example of how the needs of community experience and identity, of strengthening community spirit and cultural identity, can be met with the benefits of celebrations in that center: they are an indication of community vibrancy; they contribute to quality of life; they promote citizen participation; they have economic benefits; they can create or improve infrastructure; they enhance the image and identity of a community.

Although celebrations serve as catalysts for community development, this serious value for the community may not be perceived, as the prevailing image for unenlightened community leadership may be that mere fun, frivolity and light-heartedness are not priorities in community development.

Although today’s festivals include almost everything people want (music, dancing, costumes and masks, mind-altering drinks), they present a misleading superficiality of the true experience that, although they provide experiences of camaraderie, belonging, equality and liberation, does not connect them with the gods, as the modern event experience is still that of spectator. Authentic events will need to be created to facilitate the enhanced group experience, designing the context and container to maximize the possibility of experiences in the liminal stage of unity, so it is important to identify the spirit of the place in decision-making, which requires spiritual archaeological, anthropological and psychographic understandings, as well as identifying its purpose which could help in promoting the uniqueness of the community, providing continuity and building important meaning for citizens. Only after this discovery can a festival be creatively developed, including theme, venue and program.

Transformation and social change

While the perfect integration of life – the authentic opportunity for communitas, civitas and humanitas – comes from the cultivation of horizontal and vertical existence, the acceptance of our role from a heightened perspective of consciousness can contribute to real connections, necessary for transformation, and what better way to do this than through celebrations, which are commemorations, ways of fixing time and space, and creating common bonds? Our survival may depend on our ability to rise to such occasions, so we are called to become fully conscious and transcend mindless routines, being fierce enough to transform ourselves and the world around us through participation that consciously combines spirit, place and experience in the creation of community and celebration.

States of communitas are themselves transformative in that they go to the heart of each person’s being and find in them something deeply common and shared. Communities that experience communitas are unstructured or rudimentarily structured and are made up of a community of like-minded individuals, allowing for suspicious, investigative and questioning experimentation around the prevailing moral order. By exerting a profound influence on those involved, awakening forces such as society’s mythological knowledge of itself, as well as intense emotions in their consciences, sacred rituals can give rise to communitas, which can be compared to the effects of ritual dance and collective experience at music festivals.

Anti-structures such as music festivals act as components of social change and exceptional, transformative, mystical and transcendent human experiences in the context of communitas experiences can be catalysts for such change on an individual and collective level. Both Turner’s definition of communitas and Durkheim’s collective effervescence contain concepts of unity and mystical experience.

The conditions for collective effervescence are intimacy, immediacy and intensity involving will and intention, with the potential to create new notions of society which, as far as they are concerned, allow for a readjustment of collective societal representations. In the context of exceptional, transformative, mystical and transcendent human experiences, the collective potential for transpersonal development, experienced as Jung’s collective unconscious, can be a characteristic of festivals that allow them to act as containers of transformative possibilities.


Festivals can be understood as alternative sites of consumption, through which the individual may be consuming the sociable experience for authentic purposes of self-understanding. Maffesoli’s theory of sociability suggests that, in post-modern life, a person’s interests shape identities, contributing to the formation of neo-tribes that arise as a response to the process of de-individualization and are based on a collective feeling, integral to what sociability is. An ephemeral emotional community can be formed to illuminate the present, despite its nature being fluid and non-static, with constantly changing shapes and forms, based on intangibles such as companionship and participation in experiences. Festivals are a classic example of fluidity, chance encounters and dispersion, characteristics of neo-tribes, which gives us some insights into sociability.

The processes of commodification can be subverted to realize the authentic self, both at the level of identity-building processes and consumer sociality, which are essential for the self. While modernist projects emphasize the authenticity of experience, postmodern theorists prioritize the realization of the authentic Self.

The sociality of vibe approximates the undifferentiated sensation of “spontaneous communitas” in a social conjuncture in which we participate fully, which involves the dissolution of subjectivity in which we become other to the self.


BANNERMAN, Brittany A. (2016) Transformative, exceptional human experiences at music festivals: a transpersonal phenomenological exploration, Dissertação de Mestrado, Lethbridge: University of Lethbridge.

BIAETT, Vernon (2013) Exploring the On-site Behavior of Attendees at Community Festivals: A Social Constructivist Grounded Theory Approach, Tese de Doutoramento: Arizona State University.

HASTINGS, Kathy A. (2015) Communitas, Civitas, Humanitas: The Art of Creating Authentic Sense of Community and Spirit of Place, Tese de Doutoramento: Holos University.

MATHESON, Catherine M. (2005) “Festivity and Sociability: A Study of a Celtic Music Festival”, Tourism Culture & Communication, 5, pp.149-163.

ST. JOHN, Graham (2015) “Introduction to Weekend Societies: EDM Festivals and Event-Cultures”, Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, 7:1, pp.1-14.

TURNER, Victor (1974) Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: an Essay in Comparative Symbology, Rice Institute Pamphlet-Rice University Studies, 60:3, pp.53-92.

TURNER, Victor (1969) “Liminality and Communitas: Form and attributes of rites of passage”, In The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, New York: Aldine de Gruyter, pp.94-130.

Authorship: João Carvalho [1].

Based on the project work “Business plan. Cosmic Festival. Transformational Festival”, authored by João Carvalho, under the supervision of Specialist Professor Victor Afonso and co-supervision of PhD Professor Nuno Gustavo, for completion of the Master’s Degree in Tourism, with a specialisation in Strategic Event Management, at the Estoril Higher Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies. Presented and defended on December 27th, 2019.

May, 2020.

[1] Master’s Degree in Tourism, with specialisation in Strategic Event Management, by Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Beach Break®.