The people enter the ritual room, each with a sharp implement in their hand. They carry satchels over their shoulders that appear to contain a variety of different tools. As they enter the room, they stack their satchels around the outside edges of the room.
The room is well-lit. It has tables setup in rows with a chair on each end. Each of the people sit within a chair. Strangely, they do not sit next to each other. Each person is far enough apart to see the other person, but not close enough to share any intimate communication.
The authority figure (perhaps a priest or a minister) enters the room. He is older than most of the people. Most of the people are about 18-24 years old, where the priest is easily past 40, perhaps even past 50.
The priest speaks briefly and then passes an offering out to each of the people. The people each take exactly one of the items offered and any remainders are given back to the priest. The room is silent. The priest writes a number and some letters on a large writing stone, that all the people can see. The priest speaks again briefly.
In silence, the people use their sharp implements to make markings upon the offering. Each persons markings are unique. The people are concentrating and working very hard to get their markings just right. Some of the markings are letters and numbers, others are letters and numbers being scratched out and replaced with other markings.
After what seems like a long time (perhaps 2 hours), some of the people start getting up. One at a time mostly, and returning the offering to the priest. The priest accepts the offering without a word or an expression. After giving their offering, the people pick up the satchels they brought in (the same satchel), and depart the ritual room.
After three hours the priest speaks again, and the remaining people stop marking their offerings. The priest walks by each row of tables, and the remaining people give the offering back to the priest. The priest is still expressionless.
The remaining people pick up their satchels and depart.
This was an exercise from my sociology text book (Seeing Ourselves: Classic, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural Readings in Sociology V. , second Canadian Edition, by John J. Macionis, NijoleBenokraitis, and Bruce Ravelli). Did you figure out what the ritual was? The goal of the exercise was to try and remove yourself from a familiar setting and view it as an observer without the pre-knowledge of the activity.