From 1400 through 1700, the number of reports of demonic possessions among European women was extraordinarily high. During the same period, a new type of mysticism—popular with women—emerged that greatly affected the risk of possession and, as a result, the practice of exorcism. Many feared that in moments of rapture, women, who had surrendered their souls to divine love, were not experiencing the work of angels, but rather the ravages of demons in disguise. So how then, asks Moshe Sluhovsky, were practitioners of exorcism to distinguish demonic from divine possessions?
Drawing on unexplored accounts of mystical schools and spiritual techniques, testimonies of the possessed, and exorcism manuals, Believe Not Every Spirit examines how early modern Europeans dealt with this dilemma. The personal experiences of practitioners, Sluhovsky shows, trumped theological knowledge. Worried that this could lead to a rejection of Catholic rituals, the church reshaped the meaning and practices of exorcism, transforming this healing rite into a means of spiritual interrogation. In its efforts to distinguish between good and evil, the church developed important new explanatory frameworks for the relations between body and soul, interiority and exteriority, and the natural and supernatural.
"This ethnography is more like a film than a book, so well does Stoller evoke the color, sight, sounds, and movements of Songhay possession ceremonies."—Choice
"Stoller brilliantly recreates the reality of spirit presence; hosts are what they mediate, and spirits become flesh and blood in the 'fusion' with human existence. . . . An excellent demonstration of the benefits of a new genre of ethnographic writing. It expands our understanding of the harsh world of Songhay mediums and sorcerers."—Bruce Kapferer, American Ethnologist
"A vivid story that will appeal to a wide audience. . . . The voices of individual Songhay are evident and forceful throughout the story. . . . Like a painter, [Stoller] is concerned with the rich surface of things, with depicting images, evoking sensations, and enriching perceptions. . . . He has succeeded admirably." —Michael Lambek, American Anthropologist
"Events (ceremonies and life histories) are evoked in cinematic style. . . . [This book is] approachable and absorbing—it is well written, uncluttered by jargon and elegantly structured."—Richard Fardon, Times Higher Education Supplement
"Compelling, insightful, rich in ethnographic detail, and worthy of becoming a classic in the scholarship on Africa."—Aidan Southall, African Studies Review
Remains of Ritual, Steven M. Friedson’s second book on musical experience in African ritual, focuses on the Brekete/Gorovodu religion of the Ewe people. Friedson presents a multifaceted understanding of religious practice through a historical and ethnographic study of one of the dominant ritual sites on the southern coast of Ghana: a medicine shrine whose origins lie in the northern region of the country. Each chapter of this fascinating book considers a different aspect of ritual life, demonstrating throughout that none of them can be conceived of separately from their musicality—in the Brekete world, music functions as ritual and ritual as music. Dance and possession, chanted calls to prayer, animal sacrifice, the sounds and movements of wake keeping, the play of the drums all come under Friedson’s careful scrutiny, as does his own position and experience within this ritual-dominated society.
In 2005, Tony Perman attended a ceremony alongside the living and the dead. His visit to a Zimbabwe farm brought him into contact with the madhlozi, outsider spirits that Ndau people rely upon for guidance, protection, and their collective prosperity.
Perman's encounters with the spirits, the mediums who bring them back, and the accompanying rituals form the heart of his ethnographic account of how the Ndau experience ceremonial musicking. As Perman witnessed other ceremonies, he discovered that music and dancing shape the emotional lives of Ndau individuals by inviting them to experience life's milestones or cope with its misfortunes as a group. Signs of the Spirit explores the historical, spiritual, and social roots of ceremonial action and details how that action influences the Ndau's collective approach to their future. The result is a vivid ethnomusicological journey that delves into the immediacy of musical experience and the forces that transform ceremonial performance into emotions and community.
Songs for the Spirits examines the Vietnamese practice of communing with spirits through music and performance. During rituals dedicated to a pantheon of indigenous spirits, musicians perform an elaborate sequence of songs--a "songscape"--for possessed mediums who carry out ritual actions, distribute blessed gifts to disciples, and dance to the music's infectious rhythms. Condemned by French authorities in the colonial period and prohibited by the Vietnamese Communist Party in the late 1950s, mediumship practices have undergone a strong resurgence since the early 1990s, and they are now being drawn upon to promote national identity and cultural heritage through folklorized performances of rituals on the national and international stage.
By tracing the historical trajectory of traditional music and religion since the early twentieth century, this groundbreaking study offers an intriguing account of the political transformation and modernization of cultural practices over a period of dramatic and often turbulent transition. An accompanying DVD contains numerous video and music extracts that illustrate the fascinating ways in which music evokes the embodied presence of spirits and their gender and ethnic identities.
The word “possession” is anything but transparent, especially as it developed in the context of the African Americas. There it referred variously to spirits, material goods, and people. It served as a watershed term marking both transactions in which people were made into things—via slavery—and ritual events by which the thingification of people was revised. In Spirited Things, Paul Christopher Johnson gathers together essays by leading anthropologists in the Americas that reopen the concept of possession on these two fronts in order to examine the relationship between African religions in the Atlantic and the economies that have historically shaped—and continue to shape—the cultures that practice them. Exploring the way spirit possessions were framed both by material things—including plantations, the Catholic church, the sea, and the phonograph—as well as by the legacy of slavery, they offer a powerful new way of understanding the Atlantic world.
In Stambeli, Richard C. Jankowsky presents a vivid ethnographic account of the healing trance music created by the descendants of sub-Saharan slaves brought to Tunisia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Stambeli music calls upon an elaborate pantheon of sub-Saharan spirits and North African Muslim saints to heal humans through ritualized trance. Based on nearly two years of participation in the musical, ritual, and social worlds of stambeli musicians, Jankowsky’s study explores the way the music evokes the cross-cultural, migratory past of its originators and their encounters with the Arab-Islamic world in which they found themselves. Stambeli, Jankowsky avers, is thoroughly marked by a sense of otherness—the healing spirits, the founding musicians, and the instruments mostly come from outside Tunisia—which creates a unique space for profoundly meaningful interactions between sub-Saharan and North African people, beliefs, histories, and aesthetics.
Part ethnography, part history of the complex relationship between Tunisia’s Arab and sub-Saharan populations, Stambeli will be welcomed by scholars and students of ethnomusicology, anthropology, African studies, and religion.
Based on nearly two years of ethnographic fieldwork in a Muslim village in northern Sudan, Wombs and Alien Spirits explores the zâr cult, the most widely practiced traditional healing cult in Africa. Adherents of the cult are usually women with marital or fertility problems, who are possessed by spirits very different from their own proscribed roles as mothers. Through the woman, the spirit makes demands upon her husband and family and makes provocative comments on village issues, such as the increasing influence of formal Islam or encroaching Western economic domination. In accommodating the spirits, the women are able metaphorically to reformulate everyday discourse to portray consciousness of their own subordination.
Janice Boddy examines the moral universe of the village, discussing female circumcision, personhood, kinship, and bodily integrity, then describes the workings of the cult and the effect of possession on the lives of men as well as women. She suggests that spirit possession is a feminist discourse, though a veiled and allegorical one, on women's objectification and subordination. Additionally, the spirit world acts as a foil for village life in the context of rapid historical change and as such provides a focus for cultural resistance that is particularly, though not exclusively, relevant to women.