Spirited Things, 8.4-8.6


Interdependence and Possession


pp. 215-6 bilineal tracing of genetic descent

p. 215

"Researchers in fact overlooked evidence of the central foundation

p. 216

of rural social structure because they wered searching for restricted, unilineal descent groups. {Any putative "restricted, unilineal descent groups" would supposedly recognize inheritance only in a strictly female, or only in a strictly male, line -- but, in actual practice such strictness cannot thoroughly be achieved, anyway.}

{This sort of error, as such, however, is unlikely among trained anthropologists. Much more likely would be that anthropologists had long been following orders from European colonial governments in Africa (and elsewhere) not to publish, nor even to collect, information on indigenous societal and socio-religious structures so that it would (falsely) appear that Africans (and other colonialized peoples) were so lacking in social amenities as to need (supposedly) to be oppressed by European governments "for the good of the oppressed".}

Two ethnographic studies in the 1980s, one in Haiti and the other in Jamaica, independently compelled the longoverdue recognition of descent groups in the Caribbean. Ira Lowenthal (1987) and Jean Besson (1984, 2002) each found evidence of land-based cognatic descent groups ... maintaining their identity and claims through rules about inalienable family land ... and ... involving invisible members of the group, the ancestors and the spirits."

Besson 1984 = Jean Besson : "Family Land and Caribbean Society". In :- Elizabeth M. Hope-Thorpe (editrix) : Perspectives on Caribbean Regional Identity. UNIV OF LIVERPOOL CENTRE FOR LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES MONOGR SER 11:57-83.

Besson 2002 = Jean Besson : Martha Brae's Two Histories. Chapel Hill : Univ of NC Pr.

pp. 216-7 spirit-healing of the ailing in genealogical-descent associations of persons

p. 216

"This heroic ancestor is addressed by the title ... (First Owner of the Estate) ... . Veneration of the First Owner of the Estate ... directly links the descent group to Ginen, the ancestral African homeland where the ancestors' souls must return and the habitat of the lwa. Not only do members ... inherit ..., but ... they they also come to the lwa served by the first owner ... .

These spirits are "specific" and "exclusive" ... regardless of their commonly used names.

{Such "commonly used names" are, therefore, names merely of categories of deities (and not of individual deities which would be "specific" and "exclusive" to a certain lineage of mortals).}

When members ... assemble, it is for the purpose of collectively propitiating their ... lwa. They gather on a sacred, reserved part of the land, ... a shrine housing the vessels containing the spirits of the founder and the ancestors, and various other landmarks personifying ... identity -- the ruins ..., or a cemetery. At the beginning of each ritual on the family land, the descent group meticulously recites the entire genealogy of the spirits and ancestors ... whose souls are believed to have returned to Ginen. ... Careful reckoning of this genealogy is critical to any diagnosis and cure of a lwa-caused illness. When a mem-

p. 217

ber falls sick, the medium, interceding on behalf of the family, typically summons discrete ancestors to find out the identity of of the lwa who is now holding holding hostage the contemporary host.

{Praecisely likewise, in Siberia, and among some AmerIndians, sickness is said to be due to some offense against (or, more usually negligence of duties to) a deity to whom service is ancestrally required; and praeternatural spirit-helpers are sent forth by the family-shaman so as to seek out the praecise identity of the deity thus offended.}

Especially if the lwa has not been present to the members in recent memory, the ancestor will be asked to advise the appellants further[,] on how to serve the spirit.

{In the Siberian shamanic practice, however, once the spirit-helpers have located the netherworld deity holding captive the "health" of the sick patient, it is the duty of theshaman to determine, by quaestioning that gaoler-like deity, as to what ritual propitiation may be required.}

The rhetorical framing of the finding about the etiology of the affliction is significant; it is said that the offender {read "punisher"} is a spirit {read "deity"} inherited along a particular line of descent, for example, "a lwa Ogoun on the side of my mother's father is holding her."

{This mode of citation of a responsible deity would appear to be unknown to Siberian, and to AmerIndian, ailment-curing shamans; likely resultant in a lesser ability of Siberian, and of AmerIndian, shamanry to achieve cures.}

Ira Lowenthal (1987) clarified the role of ancestors ... . Ancestors bequeath ... spirits {i.e., deities} to their heirs. Their main role in the complex of affliction and healing is to mediate comunication between the living and the lwa (whom the same ancestors served). For members ... to stay on the right side of their lwa, they have to keep the names of their ancestors alive. They do so by reciting the names of ancestors at the rituals, carrying out regular ritual acts of remembrance and performing the more substantial annual rituals for the dead ... . Ancestors {dead ones} may not want {due to their being too mild-mannered} ... to discipline heirs, but ... that they alone hold the keys to knowledge about avenging spirits {i.e., deities who punish mortals for neglecting to perform necessary worship-services} serves to keep their memories alive. ...

When lwa feel neglected or ignored by the heirs, as they often do in their remote home in Ginen, they retaliate by sending affliction, "seizing" heirs with somatic illness, misfortune ... . Worship by the kin group is a collective effort to ward off illness by enticing the avenging spirits to "release" their victims ... . Such worship typically begins with ... drumming, singing ...; dancing; visual art; parading; ... and arrival of the spirit protagonists(s) "speaking" or "dancing in the head" of an heir (or heirs)".

Lowenthal 1987 = Ira Lowenthal : ... The Cultural Construction of Conjugality and the Family in Rural Haiti. PhD diss, John Hopkins Univ.

{The attention in African-derived practice to relate to defunct ancestors' dealings with the offended deities, would rendre the African practice more intimate with, and therefore more amenable to, the deities involved; that typical AmerIndian shamanic practice. Any interposing of ancestors (who while alive praesumably diligently worshipped those deities) as mediators would be more conducive of success than relying on uncertain spirit-helpers summoned (at convenience, but perhaps not particularly pertinently) by one's divine spirit-guide (who will be less interested in assisting if ancestral lineages be not invoked by the mortal families involved). There is little wondre why persons of African descent remained resistant to foreign ailments, whereas AmerIndians succumbed.} [written Jan 1st 2015]}

pp. 217-8 feast served to possessing-deities

p. 217

"Significantly, the very term for worship is

"to serve" (se`vi), as in to serve food.

{In Samskr.ta, the term for 'service' (including a religious service) is likewise /SEVA/.}

The personalities of lwa are differentiated by their particular tastes in food and drink. ... A successful "feeding" occurs when the spirit, having been enticed to journey all the way from Ginen, arrives personally to "party" with the family and to accept the lavish and copious offerings.

The spirit's {i.e., deity's} enjoyment of the

{while occupying the body of the possessed spirit-medium, and sensing (hearing, feeling, tasting) through that body}

p. 218

music, dance, and food is an implicit signal that she or he has "let go" of the victim and/or agrees not to "take hold" of others, at least not in the immediate future."

pp. 218-9 electronic recording of rite for emigrants' pious delectation; advantage, however, in participation in rites personally; deity-possession as conduit for communion of the living with the dead; unique love by a deity for a living mortal

p. 218

"Migrating members of descent groups do not escape ... the mobile lwa served by their founding ancestors. Indeed they are prime "choices" {targets} of avenging spirits and primary sponsors of rites taking place back home. ... (Richman 2005) ... Thus when migrants cannot personally attend the services, they participate in a delayed fashion by listening to cassette tapes of the rituals. On these tapes the migrants hear not only ... the performance itself -- drumming, singing, prayers ... -- but also the voices of narrators describing ... the climactic arrival of the spirit protagonist to "party" with the hosts both immediate {proximate} and at a distance."

p. 296, n. 8:3

"Unlike ... the Haitian immigrant community in Brooklyn ..., ... in South Florida ... those in Palm Beach County practice long-distance worship, anchored in the sacred landscape ... back home {in Haiti}. ... Yet ... people who serve their spirits in New York are nonetheless occasionally enjoined through spiritual affliction to return home {to Haiti} to worship."

p. 218

"A lwa who comes in "person" to "his" or "her" family party can be expected to indicate the speedy healing (or release) of the afflicted heir (whose physical presence is not required for efficacy), to heal tense relationships by ... humorous words and pantomime, and to offer blessings to the assembled. ...

The spirit's {deity's} present manifestation simultaneously recollects the deceased person(s) whom the spirit "claimed" before. ...

[quoted from Lambek 2003, p. 41 :] Among Malagasy speakers, to gain (most kinds of) spirits is also to become increasingly connected with others {viz., with other mortal humans}. ... relative to their {living mortal human} hosts spirits ... are also

social persons, and as such they carry with them the prior histories of their relations with humans. ...

{Deities remembre mortals (dead or living) who have in the past honored them with rites and with familial party-celebrations.}

A woman who becomes possessed by a spirit who previously possessed and spoke through her mother or grandmother ... also interjecting another aspect of their persons."

p. 219

Haitians' understanding of this ... performance of interdependence between living members of a descent group, deceased members, and their spirits {personal deities and spirit-guides} is informed by ... transmission of a spirit's unique "love" for one, and only one, member at a time ... (though each unit does have enough lwa to furnish everyone with plenty of "love"). Until the chosen heir dies, the lwa cannot"love" another. And after the heir dies, a generation or more may pass before the lwa communicates her or his "love" for another heir through media of dreams ... or possession, often in the context of affliction.

Until the lwa claims a new heir, the entire kin group loss contact with this source of support, connection with the past, and ... means of entertainment."

[p. 296, n. 8:4 : "Migration of a spirit's "chosen" similarly prevents the spirit ... . Nor can the lwa claim another member as long as the immigrant is alive. See Richman and Rey (2009)".]

Richman 2005 = Karen E. Richman : Migration and Vodou. Gainesville : Univ Pr of FL.

Lambek 2003 = Michael Lambek : "... Agency ... as Refracted through the Art of Living with Spirits". SOCIAL ANALYSIS 47.2:40-61.

Richman & Rey 2009 = Karen E. Richman & Terry Rey : "Congregating the Cassette". INTERNAT J OF CULTURAL STUDIES 12.1:53-70.


Spirits, Ancestors, and Transnational Affliction


pp. 219-21 instance of such a spirit-healing caerimony

p. 219

"Not only did the ancestor help ... identify which lwa was "holding" their kinsman ...; the lwa, in performance at the appointed time in the ritual, helped the members recollect the migrant's departed mother ... . ... When the family [in Haiti] got news of his accident [in FL], they went to the shrine on their mother's paternal estate ..., the resident gangan ason ... summoned the lwa. Speaking through [the gangan ason] from behind the door of the altar room, a lwa, Gede Nibo, or Guardian of the Yard ... claimed that he had protected ... from more serious injury. ... .

p. 220

... had also stolen the lwa out of [a kinswoman]'s head during the possession and had kept it away ... . ... So ... the spirit suddenly mounted [her] ... .

p. 221

Seeing the lwa proclaim his "love" ... in possession performance dramatized the continuity of substance from one generation to the next, even as it evoked memories of ... performances in [two kinswomen], heirs who were no longer living. I was the first to notice the onset of [her] possession, and I grabbed her ... . The lwa swung [her] around and we supported "them" until "he" gained enough composure to stand by himself. His eyes finally focused straight forward after having been rolled hideously up and backward into his [medium]'s head.

The Guardian ... lovingly greeted and blessed each member one by one, drawing the person close, taking their hands in his and then

extending their arms straight out to the side

{the Cathar blessing-attitude}

as he pressed his forehead solidly to theirs. ...

The lwa was mute; he signed messages by pointing his fingers, patting his fists, and thrusting his whole body in one direction or another."

p. 222 universal, and particular/familial, deities

"Modern narratives of Vodou have reproduced the erroneous concepts of of Haitian ... lwa, as universalistic nature gods. ...

Attention to the ... metaphors that shape Haitians' perceptions of spirit and worship reveals that spirits are known only in and through family lines ... . ... The deceased are needed to mediate communication with lwa, who can willfully "hold" or "protect" members, no matter where they reside."

{In rural settings, where at a particular local caerimony all attendees are likely to be close relatives (and/or collateral in-laws), any possessing-deities which put in an appearance in the body of the deity-medium are likely to be concerned mainly with local family-matters; whereas in a city, with far more diverse population, attendees at a caerimony are likely to be mostly unrelated, and therefore any arriving possessing deities more nearly universalist in advice and in concerns. This would include not only cities in Caribbean islands, but also (and even more so) in Africa itself (especially in West Africa, with its praevalent traditional city-states resembling the antient Hellenic and Sumerian pattern for such).}

{For the first few years of avocation, a Siberian shaman is expect to confine any healing-procedures (involving trance on part of the shaman, brought about by arrival in the waking-world of divinities from the dream-world already familiar to the shaman) to the healing of close kin. Only after some years of such practice is a Siberian shaman allowed to perform such healing-caerimony for non-kin. While healing kin, a wand is employed (similarly to an orchestra-conductor's baton) to gesture to the divinities; but when non-kin are accomodated, the shaman must use the wand as a drumstick, beating a drum while semi-possessed (in mild trance) by a divinity. The Haitian urban deity-possession performance for non-kin, which must involve drumming, is similar to the Siberian performance, considered more advanced (and socially guaranteed by initial granting, in public caerimony, of title of "great shaman" to the practitioner by an officially-constituted association of other "great shamans") and involving drumming, for non-kin. Thus the Haitian (and praesumably, the general West African) system is closely parallel with the Siberian system. For greater completeness of parallelism in description, a derivation (for Caribbean and for West African practitioners) of all spirit-possession procedures from empowerment by a deity in dream-experience, ought to be detailed -- just as such descriptions of dream-derivations are already published (and have been for many decades) in ethnographies for various Siberian, and for various Ameridian tribal practitioners of shamanry. Praesumably, inhibition from investigating of African dream-experiences hath been systematically imposed by the European governments (of Britain, France, and Belgium) controlling their respective ethnographers through secretly-enforced secret instructions to their respective state-controlled universities. European governments (which are more rigid that the United States of America government) are more suppressive of investigations, and of prospective publications, than is the U. S. of A. government, thus accounting for differences in procedures of ethnographers and ethnographies. Admission of the central importance of dreaming to religions would be tantamount to rejection of social and political dominance by materialistic capitalism, and rejection of ideological and philosophical dominance by capitalistic materialism. In the U. S. of A. alone, with its uniquely multinational-derived governmental structure (promoted ever since the country was established by FreeMasons, who had derived from Rosicrucians, who had derived in the Renaissance from Hermetics of diadokhoi-Hellenistic internationalism of antiquity), do national rivalries actually trump the rivalries of social-class conflict; hence the toleration of ethnography, in U. S. of A. universities, of dream-based description of shamanry (employing the non-materialist basis of the dreaming-universe), versus the non-dream-based (and thus acquiescent to the materialism-based waking-universe) description of shamanry as yet in European-controlled ethnographies. [written Dec 23rd 2014]}


Rhetorical Biases of Researchers


p. 222 the meaning and nature of universality, versus the meaninglessness, and actual metaphysical absence, of so-called "individualism"

"Possession by one of these archetypal spirits has been viewed as a transformative experience for the individual, the consummation of a quest ... at one with the cosmos.

{Such consummation must require an appropriate metaphysics, with much attention not only to universalist ethics (embracing all planes of existence), but also to epistemology and to ontology, to reasoning and to logic.}

The focus on auto communication was reinforced by ... the term "possession" itself, meaning private ownership and unilateral control.

{Though the spirit-medium may be temporarily occupied by a transient deity, this is so brief that it more like a rent-by-the-minute situation than like any sort of ownership.}

This self-centered view of possession continues to inform the work of enthusiastic promoters of invented Vodou traditions

{It is self-centred only in the sense of abdicating one's own selfhood to the personality of the possessing-deity.}

but would be immoral in the ordinary ritual communications of Haitian descent groups."

{It would not, however, be immoral in traditional African urban community.}

pp. 222-3 the 4 interacting groups in deity-possession caerimony

p. 222

"in ritual practices of Haitian descent groups the implicit structure is often quadrangular. Four selves {parties of the parts} collaborate in this production of meaningful {deity-}possession : the spirit {read "deity"}, his or her special person (host) {trance-medium}, the assembled members of the kin group, and the departed ones

p. 223

through whom the same spirit once spoke and danced."


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