Reclaiming the golden calf: Ritual design as creative genre

  • Mars Lewis Auckland University of Technology
Keywords: Ritual, Ritual Design, Myth, Design, Golden Calf, Death Anxiety, Symbolic Immortality


This presentation summarises how I am progressing an experimental genre of creative writing – ritual design. My project draws upon a surprisingly strong reaction I had to reading the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32. I am creatively engaging and changing this story. In the traditional version, while Moses receives stone tablets with God’s commandments, the Israelites, encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, celebrate around a golden calf. God is furious and plans to destroy the entire community, but Moses intercedes. Moses then passes along God’s order to the priestly tribe, the Levites: Take your swords and kill your family and neighbours who celebrated around the calf. The Levites obey and massacre about three thousand people. My project deconstructs and re-envisions this myth, as I believe this is one of the worst stories ever told, a story about slaughtering family and neighbours for heterodox expressions of religiosity. My thesis creatively engages three frameworks – amythia, death anxiety and ritual – while pursuing this driving question: How might re-envisioning the golden calf story be conceived and designed as (1) a ritualised symbolic immortality project that (2) redresses amythia and (3) regulates death anxiety? Considered together, amythia and death anxiety may foster anxiety and related psycho-social challenges, while creative symbolic immortality projects and ritualisation may mitigate these challenges. Speculatively, re-envisioning myth engages these regulatory factors; rituals of creation and rituals of engagement may help to regulate death anxiety, while the re-envisioning effort may serve as a symbolic immortality project. My methodology applies ritual design as a genre of creative writing that encourages readers to reconsider and personalise their own received mythologies and rituals. The creative component of my thesis portrays a community of priests who are changing the golden calf story and leveraging the above frameworks to inform their religious practice.


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How to Cite
Lewis, M. (2022). Reclaiming the golden calf: Ritual design as creative genre. Rangahau Aranga: AUT Graduate Review, 1(3).