Characters dance throughout Blood Meridian
: the black Jackson
dances along with the family of magicians
in Janos, the scalp hunters dance debauchedly at a feast Governor Trias
holds in their honor, and even the idiot
dances “with great gravity” while drunk on the shore of the Colorado River. However, it is the Judge
who most loves the dance and most excels at it; and it is also the Judge for whom the dance symbolizes warfare as a ritual. (It is worth pointing out here that the connection between dancing and warfare is ancient—for example, Mars, the Greek god of war, is often characterized as a light-footed and nimble dancer.) Specifically, the Judge tells the kid
in Fort Griffin that the dance is a ritual in the sense that it is a strictly ordered activity where each participant has a specific role to play, a role through which a given participant can transcend merely personal emptiness and despair. He also claims that any ritual which does not involve bloodletting is in fact a false ritual. It might seem counterintuitive that a dance must involve bloodletting, but indeed most dancing in the novel takes place against the backdrop of carnage, like the taking of scalps and the shooting of the dancing bear in the novel’s final chapter, and most dancing also tends to degenerate into drunken debauchery and violence. Of course, warfare as the Judge understands it, also constitutes a ritual, in which combatants advance through the stations of fate and transcend their own wills by submitting them to the judgment of fate. That the idiot and even a bear can dance suggests that the need to participate in ritual is a primordial and essential animal need, which perhaps explains why human beings have always engaged in warfare and, the novel prophesies, always will. At the end of the novel, the Judge makes another prophecy: that people will more and more dishonor warfare, turn to lesser trades, and be forgotten, while he alone dances the dance, an immortal god of war.