Spirited Things, 9-10



Mimetic Corporeality ... and Indeterminacy in Spirit Possession

Raquel Romberg


pp. 229-30 whimsical spirits, public secret

p. 229

"If the spirits are whimsical and may choose to appear and deliver their messages in unprecedented ways, the ways in which they appear are also capricious (Romberg 2012a ...)."

p. 230

"Retrospectively, however, I see these critical remarks as constitutive elements of spirit possession rituals, ... and my own reluctance to ask more about them ... an intuitive form of compliance with the "public secret" of spirit possession (Taussig 1992:130-33). ... Michael Taussig's (1999:5) definition of the public secret as "that which is generally known, but cannot be articulated" is relevant here. Rather ... the idea of "public secret" suggests that there are no secrets, because everyone knows that others know that they know, but nobody speaks openly about what they know others know. In a similar vein, Foucault's exploration of the history of sexuality suggests, among other things, that during the Victorian era,

sexual repression produced just the opposite : relentless speech about sex. The power of the public secret therefore lies in that everyone ... keeps the public secret ... alive by negating its very existence." {By remaining unaware of the Kaula-and-Vajrayana religion, the general public did eventually very nearly negate that religion's existence, even in India -- and it (Vajrayana) hath since been forcibly repressed in Tibet.}

{This allegation by Foucault is (as usual) entirely missing the point : the reason for the English government's repression of sexual literature was to hindre success of the Kaula-and-Vajrayana religion (whose literature consisteth of the Tantra-s) in its attempt to convert the British Empire, and indeed the world, to faith in a system of sexual deities of a series of sexual heavens. The British Imperial Government was indeed successful in its objective of diverting the general public from conversion to the Kaula dharma, not only in other parts of the Empire, but even in India itself.}

Romberg 2012a = Raquel Romberg : "Sensing the Spirits : ... Brujeri`a Rituals". ANTHROPOLOGICA 54.2:211-25.

Taussig 1992 = Michael Taussig : The Nervous System. NY : Routledge.

Taussig 1999 = Michael Taussig : Defacement : Public Secrecy and the Labor of the Negative. Stanford Univ Pr.

{The Crown Government of the British Empire may have dreaded the prospective of a development of an alliance between Muslims (seeking entrance into a heaven populated by h.uri goddesses) and Hindu-s (especially Kaula-s, worshipping a pantheon prominently including ap-saras goddesses) to oppose political policies of the British Empire globally, on worldwide international scale, and attracting other European empires to oppose the British Empire. That geopolitical consideration was the rationale of Victorian-aira Empirewide repression of erotic literature (also imitated in U.S. of A. by toadies-and-sycophants who were undercover agents-and-hirelings of the British Empire).}

p. 231 emergent quality

"the reality of spirit possession depends on its emergent quality, on

the participants' ability to summon and establish communication with the spirits

{is dependent on emergence into the waking-state universe of deities normally residing in the trance-and-dream-state universe (other existence-planes)}

through drumming, dancing, ... and the readiness of some to offer their bodies as hosts for the spirits. ... Rather ... comments by participants about the possessed ... in fact re-create the assumed sacredness of spirit possession in roundabout ways -- via an array of dramas of revelation that constantly ... reveal :

the "secretly familiar" (Taussig 1999:51) nature of spirit presence."

{The "spirit presence", i.e., the sensed sharing of qualities of consciousness with other beings is indeed "familiar" (including epistemologically), but is as much "secretly" (sentimentally and aisthetically) so, as overtly a consideration of public ethics.}

"In his analysis of Kaluli spirit se'ances, Edward Schieffelin characterizes emergence as that which happens "by virtue of performance" (1996:64). "All conversation with the spirits, ... and thrill over the information they impart, ... builds upon ... the reality of spirit presence" (1996:64-5 ...). In effect, ... the convincing presence of spirits is dependent upon the unpredictable, unscripted, improvisional ways in which the spirits manifest themselves".

Schieffelin 1996 = Edward Schieffelin : "... Performance ... the Medium Out of the Se'ance". In :- Carol Laderman & Marina Roseman (edd.) : The Performance of Healing. NY : Routledge. pp. 59-89.

p. 233 indications of spirit-possession

"mediums ... show visible signs of entering a state of semiconsciousness before the spirit enters their bodies and, after the possession, ... disoriented as if awakening from a deep sleep, ... having suffered momentary amnesia ... : mediums who do not remember what transpired during spirit possession prove that ... indeed ... the spirit took hold of their body completely."

"Via ritual speech, music, and manipulation of {caerimonial} objects, these dramas {efficacious methods of entring trance} produce

apparently unscripted,

{not scripted by mere mortals, but by deities instead}

multilevel {of consciousness-states} sensorial experiences {trances} of what I have termed elsewhere "spiritual time" {time passed in the spirit-realms} (Romberg 2009)."

Romberg 2009 = Raquel Romberg : Healing Dramas : Divination and Magic in Modern Puerto Rico. Austin : Univ of TX Pr.

pp. 234-5 exit of the soul from, and return of the soul to, the body in spirit-mediumship

p. 234

"Spirit possession ... has been ... characterized by Termiar mediums in Marina Roseman's ethnography of Malay healing as ... "everyday knowledge and experience ... forgotten, displaced by remembering of the dream-time and connection with the spirit guide" ([1991:]152)."

"The exit of the soul ... has been described as marked by a sudden trembling and jerking movement of the limbs, torso, and head; convulsions; ... and an overall appearance of drowsiness. After the vital parts of the personality of those possessed exit their bodies ... in order to let the spirits inhabit them, they enter an uncanny ... state of being ... .

A sudden, eerie mode of awakening from this torpor ...

p. 235

follows as a preamble to ... indicate that the possessing spirit is now directing the body of the medium.

When the possessed finally recover their own vital force as if from a state of quasi death, the return of the medium's soul is dramatically enacted by confusion and diorientation ... and the inability to speak or remember ... (... Stoller 1989)."

Roseman 1991 = Marina Roseman : Healing Sounds from the Malaysian Rainforest. Berkeley : Univ of CA Pr.

Stoller 1989 = Paul Stoller : Fusion of the Worlds. Univ of Chicago Pr.

p. 235 quivering; weariness

"The surrender of mediums to the whims of spirits -- often after a visible but subtle quivering of the medium about to submit to the will of the spirit -- ... proves that what transpires during spirit possession is the result of the spirit's plan".

"Since the risks of spirit possession for the possessed are high, usually attending assistants encircle mediums to prevent the mediums' body from getting hurt during possession and to ensure that their soul can safely return at the end of possession. I have often heard Puerto Rican brujos (witch healers) ... complain about the weariness of their materia ({material} body), following the perils of spirit possession."

p. 236 functions of assistants during spirit-possession & its aftermath

"assistants also have the role of translating the messages of the spirits to participants of spirit possession rituals.

{At the oracle at Delphoi, the prophetes had the duty of restating (in poietic hexametre) the revelation vouchsafed by the deity to the pythoness-priestess.}

In Afro-Latin spiritual gatherings these messages are given in bozal (broken Spanish {pidgin-Spanish} of ... slaves) -- a ... language ... always in need of ritual translation.

... assistants also report to mediums what transpired while they were possessed as they recover from possession ..., not knowing what happened."

p. 240 spontaneity & willfulness of spirits

"Whereas folk theories predicate the legitimacy and authenticity of possession on the spontaneity ... of the world of spirits, ... cases attest to the contrary when mediums are coached to learn the proper demeanor of possession, ... paradoxically regulating ... that assumed spontaneity".

{There is hardly anything "paradoxical" about a spirit (or deity)'s being simultaneously spontaneous and yet expecting propre (polite, respectful) behaviour from mortal servitors; for such a "paradox" is likewise quite commonplace in polite society among humans.}

pp. 242-3 sharp difference of human-soul-absented African deity-possession from human-soul-praesent European varieties of spirit-mediumship

p. 242

"Scientific Spiritism" : "The instructor's request had clearly contradicted the practices I had observed among brujos, espiritistas, and santeros of placing hands a few inches away from the back of the possessed person for the purpose of protecting the "materia" from getting hurt. ...

{This so-called "Scientific" instruction utterly is futile and bodily harmful when attempted to be arbitarily imposed on African possessing-spirits, which arrive from a transcendental environs so very different from the material plane as to be incompatible with the material body unless inducing that body's soul to depart by fainting.}

... the instructor explained ... to the appalled class ... that "spiritual energies are like children, you have to educate them.""

{This "Scientific" blasphemy was evidently intended as a deliberate and scurrilous insult against the aeternal deities.}

"following the exegetes of Scientific Spiritism ..., the subtext of "to educate" is to avoid letting the spirits dominate".

{It would, of course, be quite futile to attempt to "educate" an ageless deity to be able to behave any differently than its its own nature in regard to souls of mortals dwelling in bodies in the material plane-of-existence.}

p. 243

"by Scientific Spiritism (e.g., automatic writing, telekinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance, psychometry, and so forth)".

{These abilities -- also practiced for many centuries among the Taoists whence French spiritists had acquired them -- are in accord with spirits from an environs not too different from the material plane.}

p. 243 helpfulness of rudeness and of obscenity : need by spirit-medium to abandon all shyness

"A particular way of speaking during spirit possession that is "direct" and occasionally could become rude and obscene is considered a sign that the spirits ... are the ones speaking. ... Failure to embody these signs might just prove that the medium is not yet ... mature enough to allow his or her body to articulate publicly and "clearly" the voices of the spirits without any censureship or limits (see Romberg 2009:157-59)."

pp. 243-4 other ritual officials may cajole a deity to entre a spirit-medium

p. 243

"Apart from coaching novices to let their bodies and minds open to the spirits, I have seen and heard brujos also cajole (and coach) the spirits to come through and possess their {spirit-media}. During veladas ..., when

p. 244

a person shows signs of becoming possessed, experienced brujos cajole the spirits -- speaking directly to them -- to come forth {manifest} ... and to speak clearly through {the spirit-medium}."

p. 244 relevance of spoken commentary subsequent to performance

"Days and weeks after a spirit possession ritual, participants might keep commenting ... about ... a past spirit possession ritual and on the messages conveyed by the spirits to the community of practitioners ... .

In this vein, Susan Ramussen (1993) shows ... that the Tuareg people, in effect, re-create spirit-possession in their commentaries about its music, singing, and dancing in terms of ... curing efficacy."

Ramussen 1993 = Susan J. Ramussen : "Creativity ... in Tuareg Spirit Possession". ANTHROPOLOGY & HUMANISM 18.1:21-30.

pp. 245, 299 female spirits may occupy the same medium's body in rapid succession in Candomble`; and may even compete for the same medium at the same time

p. 245

"Wafer (1991:34) notes that .. exuas ["female ... exus"] ... "... the three of them ["the three exuas"] used the same body ..." ... to suggest ... the effect of confusion created by the various spirits entering and exiting the ... body."

p. 299, n. 9:37

"In the case recounted by Wafer (1991:32), two female spirits -- Corquisa and Sete Saias -- competed over the head of [the spirit-medium]."

Wafer 1991 = James Wafer : The Taste of Blood : Spirit Possession in Brazilian Candomble`. Philadelphia : Univ of PA Pr.

p. 246 coded communication for extending invitations to the divine Otherworld

"In his study of Mayotte, Lambek refers to the scripted ways in which trance behavior is mediated by ... "the possession code" (1988b:712). Such possession codes ... define ... the proper mode and order in which

the spirits should be summoned in order to possess their {media} -- by means of specific drumming rhythms, dancing steps, and manipulation of ritual objects, or drawing of sacred symbols (veves, in Vodou)".

{If these specific rhythms, steps, and manipulations be not employed, the deities will not arrive in order to occupy the mortal deity-media. The specific rhythms, steps, and manipulations were originally (and continue to be) revealed to mortals in dreams, in order to serve as coded communications for inviting deities out from the dream-universe.}

Lambek 1988b = Michael Lambek : "Spirit Possession/Spirit Succession ... among Malagasy Speakers in Mayotte". AMER ETHNOLOGIST 15.4:710-31.

pp. 246-7 spirit-possession decorum

p. 246

"in the case of brujeri`a (witch healing {witchery which healeth}) and Umbanda, mediums are expected to learn to ... receive appropiately each type of spirit. ... Turner notes the proper etiquette and decorum of trance within Umbanda. ...

p. 247

Similarly, ... Turner (1985:130) notes ... "... about Umbanda trance, ... its first moments when the entranced one jerks and jackknifes galvanically ..."".

Turner 1985 = "Umbanda in Rio de Janeiro". In :- Victor W. Turner (ed. by Edith Turner) : On the End of the Bush : Anthropology as Experience. Tucson : Univ of AZ Pr. ''. pp. 119-50.

p. 248 consultations of clients with brujos

"From the perspective of the brujos, because the dynamics of consultations and rituals actually depend on their ability to summon and manifest the spirits, ... consultations are ultimately experienced by clients as ... surprising revelations. After manifesting past, present, and future causes of misfortune, the solutions and advice are also dictated by the spirits through words ... and via somatic clues ... in specific parts of the body or partial or full-blown trance."

p. 251 superhuman manifestations of spirit-mediumship

"physical feats performed under {deity-}possession ... . For example, stories circulated about

a heavy old woman who climbed a tree in a flash,

a man who inserted his hands into boiling oil without getting scorched, and

a man who ran wildly into the street, displaying ... superhuman strengths ... .

In his ethnography of spirit possession in Brazilian Candomble`, Wafer (1991:77) mentions the "samba de teste" or "test samba," which is performed to prove that a trance is authentic. When caboclo (Amerindian) spirits are in question, it may involve burning gunpowder on the palms of hands or dancing on live coals ... .

Me'traux observed similar testing performances in Vodou ceremonies. ... he wrote : "In the ceremonies I have attended, the possessed ones did brandish red hot iron rods ... . ... . ... the Haitian possessed ... grind up glass in their mouths ..." (1955:31)."

Me'traux 1955 = Alfred Me'traux (transl. by James H. Labadie) : "Dramatic Elements in Ritual Possession". DIOGENES 3:18-36.

p. 254 "exaggerated" spirit-possession; "conscious" spirit-possession as more advanced

"The santeros interviewed by Lydia Cabrera ([1954]) in the 1930s referred, for example, to "exaggerated" possession as "santicos" (literally, tiny saints)."

"However, some experienced mediums and religious leaders confidentially acknowledge that "conscious" possession is a more -- not less -- advanced form of mediumship".

{This assertion is usually highly qualified; for example, it may be said that in "grasping with the eyes" one can consciously see through the eyen, while the residue of one's body remaineth divinely controlled.}

Cabrera 1954 = Lydia Cabrera : El Monte.



Recognizing and Misrecognizing Spirit Possession

Michael Lambek


pp. 263-4 chronotopic conjuncture

p. 263

"In subjecting herself to the spirit's power, the medium becomes powerful. There ... {spirit-}possession can actually produce all of these conditions ... and perform all of

p. 264

these relations, and many others, in complex polyphony and chronotopic conjuncture (Lambek 2002). ...

Moreover, there are elaborate and playful twists : as persons,

spirits may be no less rational than their hosts

{This is, of course, true not only of transitory possessing-spirits, but also of long-term guardian-angels and spirit-guides.}

and indeed they are sometimes capable of greater objectivity, able to speak about their hosts in the third person with evenhanded appraisal ... (as well as ... love)."

Lambek 2002 = Michael Lambek : The Weight of the Past : Living with History in Mahajanga, Madagascar. NY : Palgrave Macmillan.


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