“Why spirits?” asks Emma Cohen (97)—why are concepts of intentional and agentive supernatural
beings such as spirits and gods so prevalent cross-culturally? What makes them
appealing, contagious, and lasting? And what kinds of assumptions about the world and its
workings do they entail and do they generate? In The Mind Possessed, Cohen offers us some
answers; to some degree by appealing to her ethnography of the Afro-Brazilian practice of
batuque in the Amazon-bordering town of Belém, but mostly by subordinating particularistic
concerns to what she considers more general ‘scientific’ ones. However, it may be the
questions, rather than the answers, that merit revising.