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"Spirits Follow the Words”

Stories as Spirit Traces among the Khmu of Northern Laos

Rosalie Stolz

A general conundrum for the Khmu of northern Laos is the persistent unknowability of spirits. The locals gauge the potency of spirits by keeping track of spirit stories. Spirit narratives can be conceived of as transient traces of intangible spirit phenomena, as will be exemplified by the story of a young man’s spirit affliction. Sharing and silencing spirit stories are a means of determining the strength of spirits, as well as an efficacious way to evoke them. Using works that embark from the fragmentary and experiential character of animist cosmologies, it will be shown that approaching spirit stories as traces of spirits will be a suitable way to address the perspectives of those who navigate a world that is not inhabited by humans alone.

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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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Recursivity and the Self-Reflexive Cosmos

Tricksters in Cuban and Brazilian Spirit Mediumship Practices

Diana Espírito Santo

In this article, I explore how the cosmologies of two popular spirit possession cults—Espiritismo in Cuba and Umbanda in Brazil—exhibit forms of recursivity and self-reflexivity. Taking my cue from Don Handelman’s notion that the cosmos often contains its own logic of self-becoming, I argue that in these ethnographic cases, recursivity results from the interplay between, on the one hand, the spirits’ expression of their autonomy from living beings and, on the other, the spirits’ contingency for their effectiveness on human belief, representation, perception, and action. In Espiritismo and Umbanda, spirits intervene in human affairs unpredictably, throwing new light on anthropological and native conceptualizations of reflexivity.

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George Ross

Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s Le Nouvel Esprit du capitalisme is 843 pages long. Its considerable heft, however, has not prevented it from being widely read and commented upon. Herein lies a mystery. Why has such a dense and difficult book struck such a chord?

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Seals and mountain spirits

Making tri-lingual folktale books

Kira Van Deusen

For political and economic reasons, oral storytelling has lagged behind other art forms in the Siberian cultural revival. The deep spiritual philosophy found in ancient tales can clarify and unite viable approaches to today's political, artistic and ecological concerns. Since most Siberian indigenous languages are considered to be threatened, if not almost extinct, and since languages are basic to stories, perhaps revival of storytelling can facilitate initiatives to preserve language. This article looks briefly at storytelling and language during the Soviet period and the first decade after, and describes two tri-lingual folktale book projects undertaken in collaboration with Udeghe and Khakassian folklorists and cultural activists.

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'Hitler's Familiar Spirits'

Negative Dialectics in Sylvia Plath's 'Daddy' and Ted Hughes's 'Hawk Roosting'

Paul Bentley

Within the critical debate surrounding Sylvia Plath's poetry, the chief bone of contention seems to be whether or not Plath's use of Holocaust imagery is in any sense justifiable. Seamus Heaney's summary remarks on 'Daddy' are typical of the line usually taken against Plath – Heaney writes: 'A poem like 'Daddy', however brilliant a tour de force it can be acknowledged to be, and however its violence and vindictiveness can be understood or excused in light of the poet's parental and marital relations, remains, nevertheless, so entangled in biographical circumstances and rampages so permissively in the history of other people's sorrows that it simply overdraws its rights to our sympathy.'

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'Why Do They Talk about Spirits?'

Anthropological Interventions in Classroom Settings with Latin@ Immigrant Students

Alicia Re Cruz

This article describes the author's experiences as a professor in a Bilingual Education Programme at a local university; students are public school teachers in North Texas, teaching in classrooms ranging from 80 to 95 per cent Latin@ students. The author uses multi-sited ethnography and history in order to set the scenario for the political, ideological and economic factors embedded in the understanding of the Latin@ immigrant community presence in the area. The article documents anthropological 'intervention' strategies through papers and research projects. Students (public school teachers) are required to exercise participatory approaches to engage their own Latin@ students in their research papers. Through analysis of the transformative research projects presented by the students, the author documents the power of anthropological intervention and the effects in education policy.

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Medical Ethnography over Time

Penetrating “the fog of health” in a Nigerian community, 1970–2017

Murray Last

Too often, research into the health of a particular community is brief and superficial, focusing only on what is public and leaving the private health of women and children ‘foggy’. By contrast, long-term anthropology can offer access to processes taking place within a local culture of illness. Here, an account of a community’s experience of health over the past 50 years not only outlines the key changes as seen anthropologically but also shows how even close ethnography can initially miss important data. Furthermore, the impact of a researcher – both as a guest and as a source of interference – underlines how complex fieldwork can be in reality, especially if seen through the eyes of the researcher’s hosts.

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When Good Luck Is Bad Fortune

Between Too Little and Too Much Hunting Success in Siberia

Ludek Broz and Rane Willerslev

Two indigenous Siberian groups-the Yukaghirs and the Telengits-share rather similar ideas about success in hunting as an elusive and highly precarious tension between too little and too much luck. In the catalogue of semiotics, it corresponds to the homonym whereby one sound/spelling is the manifestation of two words with different meanings. The result, as we shall show, is that any lucky hunter always inhabits the alternative possibility of his own failure. In this sense, good luck in hunting might at any point be exposed as bad fortune.

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Ghost Mothers

Kinship Relationships in Thai Spirit Cults

Andrew Alan Johnson

This article examines the process of building kinship relations between Thai spirit devotees and violent spirits. I examine three spirit shrines on the outskirts of Bangkok: a shrine to the ghost of a woman killed in childbirth, a shrine to a cobra spirit that causes accidents along a busy highway, and a household shrine to an aborted fetus. The devotees to whom I spoke actively sought out such places known for death in order to ‘adopt’ or ‘become adopted by’ the spirits in those locations—an action that, I argue, allowed for a renegotiation of the devotees’ position vis-à-vis accident and trauma. I suggest that becoming a spirit’s ‘child’ forms a mutually dependent relationship that allows for the domestication of forces outside of oneself.