This article considers a ritual of blessing the spirits of locality in Tuva, Southern Siberia, and compares the ways in which shamans and lamas perform it. The rituals are treated as pragmatic ways of attaining human ends rather than 'signifying practices' based on shared meanings, wherein practices create a certain version of reality. Ritual specialists and lay people share this social universe but differ in their positioning relative to various types of its inhabitants. In these conditions, it is suggested, it makes more sense to speak of bodily and emotional attitudes and styles of interpretation of signs than shared 'beliefs' as cognitive stances.
Shamans, Lamas, and Spirits in a Siberian Ritual
The City as New Ritual Form in Buriatiia
Justine Buck Quijada
“Traditionally” Buriat shamanism is clan-based. Ritual practice embedded kinship relations within a sacred geography, linking the living and the dead through a relationship to the landscape, reaffirmed at yearly tailgan ceremonies. In Buriatiia, Soviet modernization transformed the Buriat relationship to the land, and with it, the conditions of shamanic practice. As a result, many urban Buriats either do not know their clan affiliation, or no longer hold clan ceremonies. In response, two urban shaman's organizations have begun to hold tailgans on behalf of the residents of the city. The new ritual form relieves anxiety at the loss of tradition and underscores that loss. However, by redefining the ritual community around the city instead of the clan, the ritual community becomes multiethnic.
The Mark of Ritual
Over time, anthropology has lost the notion of ritual within the framework of exchange and of the ‘total social fact.’ Sahlins as well as Mauss interpreted the Maoris’ hau as a paradigm of exchange in which any event comprising a circulation of objects is but an exchange. The notion of ritual thus vanished, leaving in its place a long chain of logically equivalent transitive exchanges. Drawing on Orokaiva (Papua New Guinea) material relative to the competitive attempt of several religious factions to establish a comparative view of customary and Christian ritual, the Maori hau is revisited. This reading shows a clear contrast between what we must call ritual, comprising a hierarchic and mediated form of exchange wherein gifts are equated by virtue of the ‘spirit of the gift,’ and exchange per se, constituted by a face-to-face transaction of goods wherein equivalence is posited between prestations.
A Study in Indian Political Ritual
This article considers the significance of the incorporation of blood donation as a widespread feature of commemorative political rituals in India. It places the rituals in the context of the current campaign in India to replace paid with non-remunerated donation, and explains how this campaign has led to the circulation of a store of ethical capital that the ritual organizers endeavor—through these blood-shedding commemorations—to capture for political ends. It is argued that there is nothing purely political about memorial blood donation—that its performance relies upon certain established religious themes in order to achieve political efficacy, and that this works both ways. The article highlights the role of blood donation in facilitating bodily transactions across and between different temporal locations, and finishes with a case study that demonstrates the risk involved in these rituals of remembrance.
On the Generosity of Ritual
The thought experiment ‘ritual in its own right’ implies a suspension of dominant interpretive paradigms in anthropological research. This essay begins by juxtaposing the foundational accounts of Weber and Geertz—both of whom associate ritual with the quest for meaning in suffering—with the phenomenological account of Emmanuel Levinas, who argues that suffering is inherently “useless” and therefore resistant to meaning’s claim. All three theorists are then juxtaposed with the Warsaw ghetto writings of a twentieth-century Jewish mystic, Kalonymos Shapira, whose work exemplifies the tension between meaningful and useless suffering in a real social setting. Shapira’s work bears comparison with Levinas’s, and lends support to the idea that our preoccupation with meaning may stem from a particular religious genealogy of social theory. Ritual can be analyzed as a ground of intersubjectivity or transcendence rather than meaning, which makes it more akin to medicine, in Levinas’s terms, than to theodicy.
The Kardecist-Spiritist Disobsession in Brazil
Sidney M. Greenfield
This essay examines a ritual called a 'disobsession' by Brazilian Kardecist-Spiritists, discussing how it might affect the biophysiology of the patient and provide more than symbolic assistance. In the ritual, mediums enter into trance, communicate with and/or receive spirits, and engage in exchanges with them, while the patient being treated merely observes. Since the sufferer is not knowledgeable about the Kardecist belief system, an analysis that assumes shared values, contexts, and systems of semiosis between healer and patient does not apply. I argue instead that the participants are in a trance-like, hypnotic state during which they respond as do patients treated elsewhere with hypnotically facilitated psychology or hypnotherapy. While not necessarily aware of it, during the ritual they internalize beliefs about the powers of spirits that may be transduced to produce proteins that activate the immune and other bodily systems, thereby contributing to their cure.
The Virtuality of Spirit Warfare and the Actuality of Peace
Tangki spirit-medium worship is practiced in the Hokkien communities of Southeast Asia and Taiwan. Tangkis are exorcists who perform war magic using the ritual theater of self-mortification. A tangki pierces his body with rods and swords in order to be supercharged with the spirit-power of the weapons for the battle with evil. Self-mortification can also enact a bodhisattva sacrifice of the body on behalf of devotees. The virtuality of the ritual theater convinces believers of the actuality of exorcism, which will ensure peace and safety in the reality of the everyday.
Glimpses of Alternatives—The Uma Lulik of East Timor
A ritual artifact found throughout East Timor in the Southeast Asian Archipelago is a sacred house, ritual house, or cult house, known locally as the uma lulik. This artifact illuminates certain of the different perspectives on the term 'belief' offered by a number of contributors to this issue. By identifying four categories of Timorese 'believer' and 'nonbeliever', the present article attempts to support recent findings in the field of material culture that suggest artifacts may not be passive recipients of values invested in them by their creators. Instead, they might be more usefully regarded as objects engaged in continuous, dialectic interconnections with the human beings whom they serve.
On the Social Productivity of Ritual Forms
Pentecostal Christianity has in the last several decades demonstrated an ability to globalize with great speed and to flourish in social contexts of poverty and disorganization in which other social institutions have been unable to sustain themselves. This article asks why Pentecostalism should be so successful at institution building in harsh environments. I argue that this question is more fundamental than those scholars more often ask about the kinds of compensations that Pentecostalism provides for its adherents. I then draw on Collins's theory of interaction ritual chains to suggest that it is Pentecostalism's promotion of ritual to the center of social life that grounds its unusual institution-building capacity.
On the Functional Significance of Shamans
This report reviews various legends, stories, and tales, as well as texts of shamanic rituals recorded by various scholars. The report focuses on the significance and role of a shaman in the Odul (Yukaghir) culture, and summarizes the functions a shaman carried out in the society as presented in these recorded texts.