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Treating the Sick with a Morality Play

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.

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André Droogers, Sidney M. Greenfield, Don Handelman, Michael Houseman, Robert E. Innis, André Iteanu, Bruce Kapferer, Galina Lindquist, Piroska Nagy and Don Seeman

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