Spirited Things







Spirits in Afro-Atlantic

Paul Christopher Johnson



Atlantic "Spirit-Possession"

" " "




Stephan Palmie'




Patrick A. Polk



Spiritual Agency in Cuba

Kristina Wirtz



Fetish and Stone

Brian Brazeal



Daimones and Money

Stephen Selka



Possessing the Land

Elizabeth McAlister



Ritual among Haitian Groups

Karen Richman



Indeterminacy in Possession

Raquel Romberg



Recognizing Spirit Possession

Michael Lambek


pp. 331-2 authors & authoresses







Brian Brazeal


CA State Univ, Chico

Visual Anthr.

Paul Christopher Johnson


Univ of MI

Secrets, Gossip

Michael Lambek


Univ of Toronto

Elizabeth McAlister


Wesleyan Univ (Middletown, CT)


Stephan Palmie'


Univ of Chicago

Wizards & Scientists

Patrick A. Polk


Univ CA, Los Angeles

Fowler Mus.


Karen Richman


Notre Dame

Kellogg & Eck Inst.

Raquel Romberg


Tel Aviv Univ

Healing Dramas

Stephen Selka


IN Univ

Kristina Wirtz


Western MI Univ

Capp. 0-1.



Spirits ... in the Making of the Afro-Atlantic World

Paul Christopher Johnson


pp. 6-7 delusion of autonomy of any mortal "self" : as contrasted with reality of autonomous immortal spirits

p. 6

"Toward the objective of discerning overlapping {spirit-}possession paradigms in the Americas ..., the chapters of this volume present comparable phenomena across a range of religions ... . Taken together, they suggest an Afro-Atlantic ontology of personhood that relativizes and provincializes the premise of the autonomous modern individual ... . They announce that the autonomous individual was and is a fiction ... . ...

p. 7

In the history of the Afro-Atlantic, ... spirit possessions must be related ... in the historical record -- even ... spirits as historical actors (De Certeau 1975:3-4; Chakrabarty 2000; Palmie`, forthcoming)."

De Certeau 1975 = Michel de Certeau : L'Ecriture de l'histoire. Paris : Gallimard.

Chakrabarty 2000 = Dipesh Chakrabarty : Provincializing Europe : Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton Univ Pr.

Palmie`, forthcoming = Stephan Palmie' : "Historicist ... Conditions of Impossibility". In :- Blanes & do Espi`rito Santo (edd.) : The Social Life of Spirits. Univ of Chicago Pr.

p. 7 temporeity of spirit-possession

"Spirits are never perennial or omnipresent, notwithstanding frequent claims to the contrary. There are always limits to their extension in space and to their duration in time,

{The sort of spirit which is praesent in spirit-possession is not at all times, nor at all places simultaneously, evidentially praesent; but some other deities, who may operate in some co-operation with them, may well be, either at all times or at all places, functionally praesent.}

even in religious practice itself. The rituals that broker spirit appearances do not endure forever ...;

spirits arrive and leave, are present and then gone (Lambek 2009), and both their arrival and their departure depend on specific technologies of emergence and retreat ... ."

{This is a crude and a rather uncompraehending description of the nature of possessing-deities : for, in order for them to notice whatsoever summons as may be caerimonially issued to them by mortals, they must already (at essentially all times) be surveiling the waking-world of mortals long before their ostensible "arrival"; and after their ostensible "departure", they likewise must continually be surveiling the world of mortals to watch for futher prospective summons. And because they are always watching us and our doings, they are actually at all times constructively praesent, even if not always fully audible and and solidly visible to ordinary worldly mortals.}

Lambek 2009 = Michael Lambek : "Traveling Spirits : Unconcealment and Undisplacement". In :- Gertrud Hu:welmeier & Kristine Krause (editrices) : Traveling Spirits. London : Routledge. pp. 17-35.

p. 8 sensibility of deities

"Transduction describes how spirits

{Both deities and mortals can be induced to transgress the boundaries of their universes : deities when they arrive in the waking world at the requaest of mortals; and mortals when they arrive in the dream-world at the requaest of deities.}

are rendered sensible

{Deities are always capable of sensing mortals; but mortals by be rendred (by certain deities) sensible of [other specific] deities in order to sense the deities (that is, to sense the specific deities whom the mortals have been rendred capable of sensing).}

through processes of materialization and dematerialization

{The terms "materialization" and "dematerialization" are very poor choices for a characterization of entry into and departure from a material body by a deity usually abiding on another plane-of-existence; for it is entailing an omission of mentioning the [essentially ethical & aisthetic] ro^le of the mortal's soul in catalyzing this process. Terms like /enpsychotheology/ and /enpneumatotheology/ would be more appropriate.}

and the power derived from shifts in semiotic modality (Keane 2012:2)."

{This would refer to power transferred by the deities [and not from impotent mortals to already-power-wielding deities] to mortals who humbly grasp a divine mode of signification (in regard, praeferentially, to applied public ethics and to applied public artistry).}

"Perhaps they can be captured in ... explecation ... (Willams (1976) 1985:130)."

Keane 2012 = Webb Keane : "On Spirit Writing ... and the Religious Work of Transduction". J OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE 14 supplement:S110-S127.

Willams (1976) 1985 = Raymond Willams : Keywords : a Vocabulary of Culture ... . Oxford Univ Pr. rev edn 1985.

p. 11 "reading" only superficialities?

"Authentic possession, after all, can only be determined by reading the surfaces of bodies as ciphers of what dwells within."

{Entirely erroneous! "I can see auras ... . The aura of a god is much bigger than that of a human being ... -- the aura of most gods ... has a brightness [such] that ... You have to keep averting your eyes. Of course, the first time that I was at a {deity-possession mediumship-caerimony} of the ancient Hunter, his aura was so big that it encompassed the entire [visual] field." (DDS, p. 124)}

DDS = Kenaz Filan & Raven Kaldera : Drawing Down the Spirits : the Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession. Rochester (VT) : Destiny Books, 2009. https://books.google.com/books?id=IT6BFEq7AnIC&pg=PA124&lpg=PA124&dq=



Towards an Atlantic Genealogy of "Spirit-Possession"

Paul Christopher Johnson


pp. 24-5 greed to exploit enslaved Africans was the motivation of accounts of them by particular English so-called "philosophers"

p. 24

"Hobbes's stakes in the Virginia Company from 1622 to 1624 or

Locke's role in writing of the constitution of the Carolinas, where absolute power

p. 25

over slaves is enshrined, and his stake in the Royal Africa Company ..., ...

all that is surely important."

p. 25 spirit-mediumship in Morocco was recognized in 16th-century Europe

"Leo Africanus's Description of Africa (1550, English translation 1600), described

the women of Fez "possessing" themselves with a variety of white, red, and black devils;

{In Moroccan spirit-possession caerimonies, "all those present are female." (BB&SP, p. 171) They are concerned with (Ibid., p. 172) "colors of the jinn possessing them."} {"Each color corresponds to a different ... repertoire of jnun, as there are several spirits in each color" (TSM, p. 86).}

they "faine the divell to speake within them" (2:458)."

Leo Africanus 1600 = Joannes Leo Africanus (transl. by John Pory) : A Geographical Historie of Africa. London : G. Bishop.

BB&SP = Margaret Rausch : Bodies, Boundaries and Spirit Possession. Transaction Publ, New Brunswick, Piscataway (NJ), 2000.

TSM = Deborah Kapchan : Traveling Spirit Masters : Moroccan Gnawa Trance. Wesleyan U Pr, Middletown (CT), 2007.

p. 30 Willem Bosman (1705) on West African religion

"Letter 10 ... is mostly about rituals of personal luck, ... and the establishment of binding contracts between persons by sealing them over a fetiche."

"letter 19 ... addresses ... the religion of the royal serpent cult at the seat of power in Ouidah, where a snake in a sacred hut is consulted by priests as an oracle of national destiny."

Bosman 1705 = Willem Bosman : A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea. London : J. Knapton.

p. 284, n. 1:17 Swedeborg's FreeMasonic liberal approval of the process of acquisition of private spiritual revelations typical of African traditional religion

"in Swedenborg's 1758 Treatise Concerning the Last Judgement, and the Destruction of Babylon, ... he identifies Africa's interior ... with persons of the greatest interiority, precisely because they

receive spiritual communications in unmediated form ... :

{unmediated by another mortal, nor by an institution consisting of mortals}

"The Africans are a more interior people than the rest" (64)."

{The term "interior", however, is a strictly material-plane designation (material world as sensed by one's bodily sense-organs); whereas spiritual communication is always otherworldly, reached by ecstasy ('outstanding', extension of one's spirit out-of-body).}

{Immanuel Swedenborg's advocacy of promotion of private revelations is the direct reverse of Immanuel Kant's reactionary disapproval of this (which he termed " particularist versions of illuminism").}

p. 34 religion without communication with any god?

"[Immanuel] Kant proposed that particularist versions of illuminism, or "fancied occult intercourse with God" ([1791] 1960a:189 ...) subverts the hope of a public {i.e., approved by the despotic monarchy of the sort favored by Kantianism} religion".

{The only way that a human could fail to communicate (have "occult intercourse") with the divine would be for that human falsely to accuse the deity of all manner of ethical defects. Kant's implied allegation that the deity is a tyrant (forcibly dominating all else, instead of congenially co-operating) is such a malicious accusation, based directly on his approval of despotic royalty in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.}

Kant [1791] 1960a = Immanuel Kant : Religion ... . NY : Harper & Row.

{To cover up the reason why he and all his co-conspirators (against freedom of religion, and against democracy, and against truthfulness generally) were unable to communication with the divine world, Immanuel Kant dishonestly fabricated the deceitful (and false) excuse that no one else could either, alleging that other religionists could only "fancy" communication with the divine. But every word of royalist-hireling Kant is a anti-democratic mendacity deliberately contrived so as to deceive.}

p. 36 what is the relation of sensory perception to self-awareness?

"spirits enter ... the transparently trustworthy ... individual. How are "persons of undoubted credit" to acquire such a reputation ...? As Hume described ..., that sort of monumental, enduring "self" is at best slippery and elusive".

"I can never catch myself at any time without a perception ... . When my perceptions are remov'd for any time, as sound-sleep; so long I am insensible of myself." (Hume 1739:I.iv.6)

{This in an astute observation, that there must be some determinate sense-perception in order to commence a process of thinking; and that therefore the reason why dreamless sleep is typically lacking in verbal thinking, is that it is lacking any particular sense-perception.}

Hume 1739 = David Hume : A Treatise of Human Nature. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/david/h92t/index.html (Click on "Table of Contents" for :) https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/david/h92t/contents.html

p. 36 fickleness of soul?!

"for Locke ... What makes a person is consciousness ... . More specifically, it is consciousness over time". {Consciousness over time is most shifty and unstable; however, a capacity (or potential) for thinking may be fairly stable, the capacity for consciousness being by far more stable than consciousness itself (viz., "nature of mind" more so than "mind" in Bodish epistemology).}

{The term /consciousness/ is rather indeterminate (i.e., employed with diverse and mutually incompatible connotations), but always referring to some process. If the the general process of thinking is intended, this is worse than useless; for, as one's thinking is changing from-moment-to-moment, one's identity would be required to be regarded as changing from-moment-to-moment -- which is why in Bauddha ontology there is considered to be no permanent atman ('self')!}

""Soul," to Locke [1689], was too fickle; one can't be sure she {or he} retains the same soul asleep".

{A person is able to retain the same sense of personal identity (soul) while in a dream, though ensconced in a different body in a different world. Locke's incertitude is really about what Hellenic term to apply to the dream-body : if identified with the Neo-Platonic lunar-sphaere-limited (thus, source of meaningful "lunacy") body, it would be the /psyche/.}

Locke 1689 = "Of Identity and Diversity", in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. reprinted NY : Dover Bks.

{The basis of deciding about one's identity in dreaming is identical with the basis of deciding one's identity while awake : continuation of memory through varying states of consciousness. If there be any doubt about one's identity during dreaming, then there are the very same grounds praesented to one's memory (and to one's reasoning, etc.) for doubting one's identity while awake. Continuity of one's own identity is apparently most secure knowledge which one may possess; so that any grounds (viz., disallowing our sense of continuity of existence) for doubting that, would likewise be grounds for doubting all other aspects of our experiential category of supposed knowledge (i.e., of particulars : though our convincement of universals, especially the axioms of logic, may remain unperturbed). [written Dec 14 2014]}

p. 37 personal identity in animals

"could a parrot be possessed of personal identity? Locke seems to say no, for personal identity hinges on ... the ability to consider itself as the same thinking being across different times and places".

{Actually, animals, because they are mostly less socially-minded than humans, tend to have a more self-centred outlook, and hence a more intense sense of isolable "personal identity" than have humans.}

{Personal identity is not related "ability to consider" one's self as anything in particular, for a sense of identity is dependent instead on continuity (especially continuing memory) of sense-perceptions. Moreover, "ability to consider" one's self (i.e., capacity to fantasy one's self) as anything would have no relationship to one's social (or other) identity, for such imagined considerings are commonly unrealistic and conjectural, based on fancy and on fantasy of shifty and unstable notions, variable as (or rather, more so than) changes in fashions currently in vogue.}

pp. 38-9 What is "civic virtue"? What of the oxymoron "mortall god"?

p. 38

"To return to Hobbes, when the religious idiom of command is overtaken by that of possession, civic virtue is dead ([1651] 1985:144)."

{That is to say, Hobbes favored brute-force compulsion by some tyrant posing as "religious" authority to be "civic virtue"; whereas he considered divine guidance by the living Godhead praesent within oneself to be a "dead" faith! Hobbes thus sheweth himself an arrant hypocrite, and a sycophant of despotic tyranny.}

p. 39

"Hobbes hoped that ... the Leviathan, the sovereign "mortall God" {postumus title, beginning with Octavius Augustus, of each Roman imperator} who is possessor {owner-of-slaves} of all his subjects {as degraded slaves} ..., would counter {oppose, persecute} the religious".

{Though such a title ("mortall God") might better apply to a pope or to a grand-mufti, nevertheless the crude-and-brutal king of England, feigning to reign "by the grace of God" (while actually persecuting the godly) was whom Hobbes toadyingly intended.}

Hobbes [1651] 1985 =Thomas Hobbes : Leviathan. London : Penguin.

{[To turn meanings inside-out :] Was Hobbes writing (whether knowingly or unwittingly) a satire? Liwyatan ("L&B--MT") is, according to the TNaK, destined to be slain and the corpse cooked and eaten by all humans : therefore, was Hobbes covertly intimating that the royalty of England deserved the same fate at the hands of commoners? If so, is then perhaps the New Testament, with its cannibalistic "Last Supper", an earlier satire of the same nature?}

"L&B--MT" = http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9841-leviathan-and-behemoth#anchor3

p. 39 whose containers of divine/sacred praesence?

"In Hegel's writing, ... was ... the African religion of fetishes, imagined to misrecognize random objects as containers and elevate them for veneration."

{Would it not be more pertinent to cite the legendary Holy Grail, and the current ritual implements (chalice, etc.) of the Luther Church (and/or of the Episcopal Church) -- or for that matter, the royal regalia of Germany (and or of Britain) -- as "random" foolish trinkets "misrecognized as" containers of sacred praesence?}

{A major difference between African and European fetishes, is that whereas Africans (and other "primitive" peoples) often have an elaborate traditional method (which may include instructions received from deities in dreams) for selecting the particular instances (e.g., particular individual trees) whence their sacred objects are praepared, Europeans typically lack such a method, so that the Europeans' selection is truly "random", and thus their results inhaerently unholy.}

p. 39 how is "primitive" religion received by individual devotee?

"Gustave Le Bon's ... 1895 Psychologie des foules ... seems to have been influenced by Tocqueville ... {denouncing} "negroes."

{By "psychology of crowds" is intended any popular inclination of pious workers to unite against oppression by impious capitalists.}

Le Bon names the process by which this primitive {collective} "soul of the masses" becomes immanent in the individual, religion (book 1, chap. 4).

{In "primitive" religions, the becoming "immanent in the individual" is through dreams wherein veritable deities provide individualized personal instruction.}

Socialism and traditional religion are ... the same phenomenon for le Bon."

{The religion of socialism is intended to protect against atheistic capitalism.}

p. 41 prostitution etc. are allegedly caused by African spirits

"For the early Ortiz, Cuba's turn-of-the-century ... gray zone of prostitution ... ([1906] ...:1),

were direct consequences of lingering African spirits." {Aequivalently, could European prostitution be as readily ascribed to "lingering European spirits"?}

{There may be more actual "prostitution" in Europe than in Africa, but Europeans are (hypocritically) reluctant to discuss their own behaviour.}

Ortiz 1906 = Fernando Ortiz : La hampa Afrocubana. Madrid : Libreri`a de Fernando Fe`. (reprinted 1916 Havana : Revista Bimestre Cubana)

p. 42 "illegal religion"

"Nina Rodrigues's terminology, ranging from "possession" to "espirita sona^mbulo" (sonambulant spirit) appears in ... reports of cases of illegal religion at the close of nineteenth century ... republican Brazil ... . ... .

... laws mobilized in 1890 Brazil ... declared it illegal to "captivate and subjugate the credulity of the public" (article 157, in Maggie 1992)".

{Actually it is Christianity (and such other atheistic unbeliefs) whose entire modus operandi is to "captivate and subjugate the credulity of the public" by deluding the general public with the absurdities of capitalistic materialism.}

Maggie 1992 = Yvonne Maggie : Medo do feitic,o : ... magia ... no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro : Arquivo Nacional.

p. 43 early autobiographical accounts of spirit-possession

"The first published account of the scholar {spirit-}possessed that I know came from ... Zora Neale Hurston in Mules and Men (1935), but if the move was initiated by Hurston,

it was most notoriously applied in Maya Deren's description of "white darkness" in her 1953 Divine Horsemen (see Richman in this volume).

Since then, ... anthropologists ... must ... construct their authorial position in relation to {spirit-}possession (Keller 2002:23)." [p. 287, n. 1:37 : "West (2008:109) "[Janice] Boddy has similarly compared ethnographic fieldwork ... to spirit possession, telling us that both are '... achieved through transcendence of the self in the other'.""]

Keller 2002 = Mary Keller : The Hammer and the Flute : Women, Power, and Spirit Possession. Baltimore : John Hopkins Univ Pr.

West 2008 = Harry G. West : Ethnographic Sorcery. Univ of Chicago Pr.

p. 287, n. 1:38 an authoress's expressions of admiration for spirit-possession

"Rosenthal ... on the Ewe {in Togo} of West Africa : "... Ewe and Gorovodu ... is a nexus of ... bodies and spirits both dead and alive ..." (1998:3);

thus, "this is a text issued from the vodu[-]s" ([1998:]7).

"... I wanted very much to merge into the trance state with the spirit hosts" ([1998:]7)".

Rosenthal 1998 = Judy Rosenthal : Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville : Univ Pr of VA.

p. 44 compelled by deities

"As an Umbanda priestess in Rio de Janeiro expressed it, "I don't have free choice ... . I don't have my own life ..." (Hayes 2011:12)."

{The same is often stated by shamans, and even more categorically and emphatically.}

Hayes 2011 = Kelly E. Hayes : Holy Harlots : Feminity, Sexuality, and Black Magic in Brazil. Berkeley : Univ of CA Pr.


Paul Christopher Johnson (ed.) : Spirited Things : the Work of "Possession" in Afro-Atlantic Religions. Univ of Chicago Pr, 2014.