Religion, Altered States of Consciousness, Capp. 0-1, 3, 7







Erika Bourguignon

Framework for comparative study



Lenora Greenbaum

Trance in Sub-Saharan Africa



Judith Gussler

Spirit-possession among the Nuni



Esther Pressel

Umbanda in Sa~o Paulo



0 (Introduction). (pp. 3-35 Erika Bourguignon : "A Framework for the Comparative Study of Altered States of Consciousness".

pp. 24-5 cultural evaluations by Nilotic tribesfolk (Douglas 1970)












sickness caused by sin





social constraints









Douglas 1970 = Mary Douglas : Natural Symbols. NY : Pantheon Bks.


1. (pp. 39-87) Lenora Greenbaum : "Trance in Sub-Saharan Africa".

p. 39 conventional spirit-possession in certain African tribes




"a spirit can inflict an illness ... as .. possession by the spirit and can be cured when the spirit speaks through the ill person and makes requests. Granting the spirit’s wishes is thought to effect a cure. A person so cured can, through a lengthy process, become a medium and participate in curing others so afflicted (Beattie 1963)."


"diviners (persons who assist others in the solution of personal problems) become possessed by ancestral spirits. ... Often the spirit will identify itself at this time (Kuper 1947)."


god Bonsam : "every ninth day ..., his priest dressed in a special way. Drums beat. ... The priest trembles. "The person of the entranced priest fades into the person of the god." The priest then speaks in the language of the gods and helps solve problems brought by ... people (Lystad 1958)."

Beattie 1963 = John Beattie : Bunyoro. NY : Henry Holt & Co.

Kuper 1947 = Hilda Kuper : An African Aristocracy. Oxford U Pr, for International African Institute.

Lystad 1958 = Robert A. Lystad : The Ashanti. New Brunswick (NJ) : Rutgers U Pr.


3. (pp. 88-126) Judith Gussler : "Spirit possession among the Nuni". [Nuni include Zulu, Swazi, and Xhosa]

pp. 98-100 sacred dreaming & ukutwasa; becoming a diviner

p. 98

"("He becomes a house of dreams" Callaway 1870:260). The dreams ... are generally stereotyped ... floods, and the dreamer may see himself carried away by such a current. {cf. Kemetic god I,TM floating on primaeval ocean} Dreams of wild animals and personal death {cf. Bodish gCod} occur as well ... .

... the man or woman ... returns, ... after wandering about the land searching for roots and herbs seen in dreams. He may also have a snake draped about his neck {cf. the snake draped about the neck of S`iva} ... . ... he is "incited by the spirits to leap over hedges and ditches {cf. Remus leaping over the ditch of Romulus}, or even at times to bellow like a bull" (Krige 1936:301). ... The coming of convulsions ... and recurring yawning ... indicate that a spirit has entered the victim’s body and wishes him to become a diviner. ... The diagnosis of possession by an Itongo (ancestor spirit) is reinforced by the constant compulsive composition of songs and dances by the afflicted, an activity ...

p. 99

that must be encouraged by their repeated handclapping in order to help the patient ... develop the ability to divine. At this time, the man or woman who is ... ukuthwasa, that is, ... must be cured by initiation and training as a diviner, may become a novice under the tutelage of an established isangoma (pl., izangoma). ... Although the patient ... may be forced into long periods of dancing, usually in the company of others who have through the initiation; ... the novice may simply be administered medicines until the possessing ancestor chooses to reveal its identity ... (Krige 1936:305). During this period of the ritual, the novice may go into a trance and the Intongo [Itongo on p. 98] "speaks" through his mouth. The spirit will most often be that of a deceased relative, who may have been a diviner himself in his lifetime (Callaway 1870:263, 270). ...

p. 100

After his revelation, ... he begins to learn and master the techniques of Nguni divination (Krige 1936:305). The culmination of this initiation is a feast and a test of the abilities of the new diviner. ... Just prior to the ceremony a number interested persons hide various objects about the kraal where the feast is being held, and the new diviner must find the hiding places without delay (Krige 1936:307; Cole 1967:154)."

Callaway 1870 = Henry Callaway : The Religious System of the Amazulu. FOLKLORE SOCIETY PUBLICATION 15. London : Trubner & Co.

Krige 1936 = E. J. Krige : The Social System of the Zulus. London : Longmans, Green & Co.

Cole 1967 = Ernest Cole : The House of Bondage. NY :Random House.

p. 103 amandawa & amandiki modes of spirit-possession

"amandawa and amandiki ... cults ... recognized by the Nguni ... came from the north or northeast. Those so possessed dance, bellow, belch, bark like dogs, and speak in tongues; the various cults are generally distinguished by the "language" spoken by the afflicted (Lee 1970:130). Actually, a person may have several spirits, or shades, in his body at once, each speaking its own language (Sundkler 1961:132). The possessing spirits in these newer cults are ... the shades of the Swazi or Thonga ..., or, more recently, the shades of East Indians. {cf. the various foreign languages spoken by spirit-possessed Shaking Quakers} Initiation into these cults is considered therapeutic, as ... initiation enables individuals to cure others so afflicted ... (Lee 1970:130)."

"Lee’s informants suggested that the possession behavior of izizwe differs from amandiki; in the case of the former, the individual moves and sways rhythmically, in the latter the individuals "sit like men" (1970:133)."

Lee 1970 = S. Gilmore Lee : "Spirit Possession among the Zulu". In :- J. Beattie & J. Middleton (ed.s) : African Mediumship and Society. NY : Africana Publ Corp.

Sundkler 1961 = Bengt G. M. Sundkler : Bantu Prophets in South Africa. Oxford U Pr.

pp. 107, 114 a type of spirit-marriage; Lovedu & Venda [p. 112 : "the material ... on the Lovedu is from Krige and Krige 1943; the information concerning the Venda is recorded by Stayt 1931."]

p. 107

"the Nguni do not argue with ancestors or attempt to deny their call when they possess their bodies. ... Vilakazi given an ... account of the marriage of an izangoma in which there are actually two weddings, one for the woman, one for the diviner in her. ... (Vilakazi 1965:72)."

p. 114

"In the northwest, among the Lovedu and Venda at least, ... the possessed ... afflicted are primarily dancers ... . These cult members are amateurs, who, for the most part, are participating in organized social affairs."

Vilakazi 1965 = Absolom Vilakazi : Zulu Transformations. Pietermaritzburg : University of Natal Pr.

Krige & Krige 1943 = E. J. Krige & J. D. Krige : The Realm of a Rain-Queen. Oxford U Pr.

Stayt 1931 = Hugh Stayt : The Bavenda. Oxford U Pr.


7. (pp. 264-318) Esther Pressel : "Umbanda in Sa~o Paulo".

pp. 279-81 spirit-possession cult

p. 279

"Those who have come to ask for spiritual assistance sit in the rear half on wooden benches arranged in two rows. ... Two or three drums that "call" the spirits to possess the mediums are at one side of the altar. ... the mediums who practice in the Umbanda center stand in the front half of the building. ...

About 8:30 P.M., the cult leader opens the gira (turn-around, that is, the session). As the drums are beaten, the mediums sway or dance to the rhythm. The audience joins in singing songs

p. 280

for various spirits. An assistant brings a censer in which perfuming herbs burn. ... In some Umbanda centers it is customary to sing a song for the benefit of any maleficient spirits that may be lurking around. This singing is supposed to indicate to these spirits that they are respected. ... Prayers are offered to the spirits for ... permission ... open the trabalho (work, that is, session of spirits who will "work" that night). ... .

... the drums are ... beaten ..., and as everyone sings, the mediums begin to call their spirits. As heads and chests of the mediums jerk back and forth, the spirits baixam (lower) themselves into their cavalos (horse, that is, mediums). ... The facial expressions and mannerisms of the mediums are changed to those of their possessing

p. 281

spirits. For the remaining two or three hours, the spirits are occupied with consultations with individual members of the audience ... . ...

Occasionally, a person who has come to the center for help unexpectedly goes into trance. The cult leader then tries to convince the individual that he should return as a cult member to develop his mediumistic abilities."

pp. 281-3 four types of possessing-spirits




category : "spirits of of dead __"

behaviour of spirits



"once each week"

caboclo : "Brazilian Indians"

"faces display protruded lips, furrowed brows and eyes that slowly open and close, staring into empty space."


(p. 281) 2nd

"at the second weekly session"

pre^to velho : "Afro-Brazilian slaves"

(p. 282) "they tremble from old age. ... speak with slow and quivering voices ... . ... Seated on low stools".



"once each month"

crianc,a : "child, usually between 3 and five years of age"

"skips, rolls, and tumbles ... approaching to ask ... for sweets".


(p. 282) 4th

"one night each month"

exu : foreigners

(p. 283) "cursing, off-color stories and songs ... . ... may specialize in ... breaking up marriages".


"The four spirit types described above can be either male or female. [p. 282 : for the exu, there is as "feminine counterpart, the pomba-gira."] Both male and female mediums may be possessed by a spirit of either sex."


"Three of these four spirit types – the caboclo, the pre^to velho, and the crianc,a – are said to be "with light." This means that they had ... passed on into the aruanda {cf. country-name /RWANDA/} (heaven).

The exus, on the other hand, ... failed to make it to heaven and are usually said to be "without light."

p. 285 distinctions between Candomble` & Umbanda

"the membership in Candomble` was primarily female (Landes 1947);

in Umbanda, both men and women may be possessed by an orixa`."

"in Candomble`, the orixa`s possessing the women were regarded as deities.

In Umbanda, ... the orixa`s ... send spiritual envoys to possess the Umbanda mediums."

Landes 1947 = Ruth Landes : The City of Women. Macmillan Co.

p. 286 lineages of orixa`-s, in Umbanda

"Umbandistas ... organize their spirits into a hierarchy of

linhas, falanges, and legio~es (lines, phalanxes {phalanges}, and legions}.

There are seven linhas, each commanded by an orixa`.

Each linha is divided into seven falanges

that, in turn, are subdivided into seven legio~es of spirits. ...

An arrangement of the linhas found to be common in Sa~o Paula by Camargo (1961:38) ... :" 1. Oxala`; 2. Iemanja`; 3. oriente; 4. Oxo`ce; 5. Xango^; 6. Ogum; 7. africana.

"The caboclo spirits ... are most frequently though of as belonging to the hunter, Oxo`ce."

Camargo 1961 = Candido Proco`pio Ferreira de Camargo : Kardecismo e umbanda. Sa~o Paulo : Livraria Pioneira.

pp. 288, 290 instances of taming a spirit

p. 288

"At exu sessions it is customary to explode small amounts of gun powder ... . When this occurred, his exu would attempt to possess him ... . His knees would bend, causing his body to be drawn downward until his back was only a few inches from the floor. His hands stiffened into the hook-like forms of an exu. ... Sometime later in the year possession did occur. The heretofore restricted exu announced that his cavalo did not like him. He was assured that this was not true."

p. 290

"One night he ... ran out, not returning for several days. When he did return, he could not recall where he had been. ... At the first two or three session that he attended, when possessed by his spirit he rolled on the floor ... . ... He thrashed about on the floor ... . ... After several sessions with his, the cult leader was able to educate the spirit in the modes of behavior of a caboclo."

pp. 299-300 instances of possession by a spirit, at a location other than the cult-house

p. 299

"her spirits said that she must develop her mediumship ... . After 15 years ..., she was a successful cult leader."


"a man ... had a female exu spirit ... . ... The female exu announced that she sexually wanted two men who were passing by."

p. 300

"possessed by his crianc,a spirit, he would stick out his tongue and make other childish faces".

p. 302 training to develop spirit-mediumship

"The techniques used are similar to those used in hypnosis, such as having a novice focus his attention on a lighted candle.

Another technique is to turn an individual around about five times in front of a cult leader, who then induces a trance state by passing his hand across the face of the novice and snapping his fingers.

Another way of inducing a trance involves a cult leader holding the two hands of a novice, relaxing him, and rocking him back and forth on his heels."

pp. 304-5 how a particular woman developed her spirit-mediumship

p. 304

"At the table of mediums, she was possessed by her mother’s spirit. ... The group of mediums then passed to another room, where they received Umbanda spirits. A caboclo possessed [her] whose name was Sete Forquilha (Seven Fork). At a later session, she was possessed by ... a pre^to velho. ... One night she dreamed that ...a ... caboclo caught up with them and attempted to seize her from her husband for the purpose of sexual relations. ... Several days later, she ... was possessed by four spirits. The following is her account ... :

As the cult leader started talking with me, I received a Japanese spirit. ...

p. 305

He bid {bade} the cult leader goodbye and left. And then I received the boiadero (cowboy). When he left I received an old boyfriend who had died in an accident. He said ... that he was going to open the road for me so I would have some luck ... . ... And after he left, my uncle’s spirit came."

pp. 309-10 some experiential effects of spirit-possession

p. 309

"while possessed rolled his eyes upward so that only the white of his eyes were displayed. This seemed to occur only while he was in deep trance. When possessed by a child spirit, he was in a lighter state of trance ..., and the extreme upward movement of his eyes did not occur. Conscious mediums ...

p. 310

felt their body growing larger and more powerful when possessed by a caboclo spirit. When possessed by a child spirit, they felt lighter and smaller, and a few mediums reported that the lightness in weight enabled them to spring upward like a child. One conscious medium reported that when she was possessed, people and objects in the room appeared to her to be small and far away."

pp. 310-1 spirit-possession : induction, and physiological indications of

p. 310

"the induction of trance usually in accompanied by polyrhythmic drumming and handclapping, singing, and ringing of a bell.

Mediums are often dancing and spinning up to the point of the head-jerk that signals possession by a spirit. ... Facial expressions, voice, and gestures are modified by all mediums, and glazed eyes appear in nearly all mediums."

"trance is terminated when the cult leader announces that it is time for the spirits to return to their heavenly dwelling places. ...

p. 311

The medium frequently drops back into the arms of someone who is waiting to break the fall. ... mediums report that they feel very relaxed after trance."


Erika Bourguignon (editrix) : Religion, Altered States of Consciousness, and Social Change. Ohio State U Pr, Columbus, 1973.