Shakespeare’s fairy queen asserts—in fact, takes for granted—that there is a robust, causal connection between the conduct of ritual and the order of nature. If you neglect the rituals on which the order of nature depends—or if your estranged husband interferes in them—then “the seasons alter”. Of course, this is a fairy story. But there are good reasons for taking fairy stories seriously, and that seems to be the case here.
To see why, let’s jump ahead four centuries to take a look at the work of anthropologist E. N. Anderson. Anderson, who teaches at the University of California-Riverside, has spent his career studying the ethnoecology of traditional societies, including extensive fieldwork in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia and with the Yucatec Maya in Mexico, and less extensive studies in some two dozen other countries, including Australia, Madagascar, Scotland and Ireland, Turkey, northern California and the northwest coast of the U.S. and British Columbia. This gives him a seriously in-depth, cross-cultural perspective on how, to borrow a phrase from Jared Diamond, societies choose to succeed or fail in the essential task of achieving a sustainable relationship with their environment. This perspective, elaborated in three books published over the past 20 years, is in remarkable agreement with Titania’s insistence on the necessity of ritual.