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A ritual is a formalised, predetermined set of symbolic actions generally performed in a particular environment at a regular, recurring interval. The set of actions that comprise a ritual often include, but are not limited to, such things as recitation, singing, group processions, repetitive dance, manipulation of sacred objects, etc. The general purpose of rituals is to express some fundamental truth or meaning, evoke spiritual, numinous emotional responses from participants, and/or engage a group of people in unified action to strengthen their communal bonds. The word ritual, when used as an adjective, relates to the noun 'rite', as in rite of passage. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual [May 2005]
Religion [...]A ritual can comprise a prescribed form of performing worship in a particular religion or religious denomination. Rituals can express a part of a larger social doctrine, or of a personal one.
Although ritual is often used in context with worship performed in a church, the actual relationship between any religion's doctrine and its ritual(s) can vary considerably from religion to religion. Ritual often has a close connection with reverence, thus a ritual in many cases expresses reverence for a deity.
Religious rituals have also included human sacrifice and other forms of ritual murder. --http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual 
Sociology [...]Outside worship and reverence, rituals can have a more basic sociological function in expressing, inculcating and re-inforcing the shared values and beliefs of a society. Rituals range from the grand and ceremonial (such as royal coronations) to the trite and everyday (such as the outbursts of hand-shaking which may occur when people meet).
Rituals have formed a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. The earliest known evidence of burial rituals dates from around 20,000 years ago. (Older skeletons show no signs of deliberate 'burial', and as such lack ritual.) --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual 
Ritual murder is murder performed in a ritualistic fashion.
Ritual murders have undoubtedly occurred in the past in the form of human sacrifice, and are still occurring today, for example in muti killings.
Serial killers are also known to perform ritualistic murders.
However, many false accusations of ritual murder have been made, often against ethnic minority groups. One famous example is the blood libel against the Jews, where Jews were said to kidnap Christian children and whip them and crown them with crowns before drawing off their blood for mixing into the unleavened bread eaten at Passover.
One lasting effect of the ritual murder charges in contemporary Jewish ritual occurs during the Passover seder, or evening meal, when a large goblet of wine is placed in the center of the table and the door is opened so that any onlookers can enter to see that no blood is added. Over the years, this cup became known as "Elijah's cup."
Another example is the Satanic ritual abuse, a belief that an organized network of Satanists engages in brainwashing and abusing victims, especially children, throughout the United States or, in fact, the world. These claims remain controversial and the law enforcement sources, criminologists and religious affairs commentors generally consider this belief false or at least grossly exaggerated. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_murder [Apr 2005]
The Great Cat Massacre
The Great Cat Massacre : And Other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984) - Robert Darnton [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
First sentence: "THE MENTAL WORLD of the unenlightened during the Enlightenment seems to be irretrievably lost...""The perception of that distance may serve as a starting point of an investigation, for anthropologists have found that the best points of entry in an attempt to penetrate an alien culture can be those where it seems to be the most opaque. When you realize that you are not getting something--a joke, a proverb, a ceremony-- that is particularly meaningful to the natives, you can see where to grasp a foreign system of meaning in order to unravel it." [Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre (New York: Vintage Books, 1985) p. 78.]
In recent years the study of popular culture has become an area of interest in many disciplines. Social and cultural historians, for instance, attempt to recover aspects of everyday life of the past that have frequently been left out of the historical record. In doing so, many historians have focused on popular festivals, carnivals, rituals, and celebrations, such as Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie's Carnival in Romans (1979); Natalie Zemon Davis's Culture and Society in Early Modern France; and Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre (1984). --http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/popc/bkgrnd.html
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