The skeleton of Joan Wytte, or the Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin, was displayed in the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall in the UK for several decades until her eventual burial in nearby woodland in the autumn of 1999. Her story has been deployed as a critical historical source and a demonstrable link between Cornwall and magical histories. It is well established that the past is recorded and represented through narratives, artefacts and events in multiple and diverse ways, and museums are often idealised sites for historical knowledge. Historicity is contingent on current needs and agendas, and often contested. Through retelling over time certain elements are highlighted or downplayed. Since the burial, the life and death of Joan Wytte has become vividly invested with new meanings as her story becomes incorporated into the landscapes of folklore, Cornish histories and magical practices.
Storytelling around the Museum of Witchcraft
Reconfiguring Culpability in Melanesia and Africa
This article examines the significance of witchcraft accusations during the South African AIDS epidemic. In search of broader intercontextual understanding, I compare experiences of AIDS in Bushbuck ridge, where I have done fieldwork, with anthropological studies of kuru, a transmissible degenerative disease, in Papua New Guinea. Whereas scientists blamed the spread of kuru on the practice of cannibalism, those who were affected attributed it to sorcery. These dynamics resonate with the encounters between health workers and host populations during the AIDS epidemic in Bushbuckridge. Health propaganda attributed the rapid transmission of HIV to sexual promiscuity. In response, sufferers and their kin invoked witchcraft, shifting blame onto outsiders and reinforcing the relations that medical labeling threatened to disrupt. The comparison enables us to see witchcraft accusations as a means of reconfiguring culpability, cutting certain networks, and strengthening other existing configurations.
Emotion, Law, and Witchcraft Accusations in a Botswana Village Customary Court
Pnina Werbner and Richard Werbner
Legal anthropologists have been latecomers in the debate surrounding law and emotion, a movement responding to the notion that the law is ‘imbued with emotion’. As in the US and Europe, in Botswana cases of public insults are emotionally charged, and this is particularly so in witchcraft insult hearings. Akin to hate crimes, these insults threaten public peace, kinship amity, and decency. Members of a customary court mobilize an elaborate moral lexicon from everyday life in order not simply to ascertain the forensic facts, but to persuade offenders to regain their rational good sense, reach a self-conscious emotional balance, and recover spiritual calmness. The procedure culminates in a dialogue intended to restore public peace and to elicit an apology or show of regret from defendants and forgiveness from insulted plaintiffs.
Diana Espírito Santo
In this article I use my ethnographic data on an Afro-Cuban religion called Palo Monte to argue that ontologically discrepant ‘bits’ of the cosmos can become stuck together for particular purposes, at times producing ‘synchronicities’. I argue that the practitioners of this religion, Paleros, can be trained into producing synchronicities in the form of witchcraft. This coheres with a concept of self that can be seen as an assemblage rather than an essence. This article contributes to a person-centered theory of plasticity in relation to discussions on lenience. In Palo, discipline does not lie in molding one’s subjectivity or in searching for a deep self. Lenience is imperative as the principle with which the self articulates with its environment and itself.
The twenty-first century has witnessed the rise to power of images in every aspect of human endeavour. Speculative financial derivatives have achieved a predominant place in the economy, spin and perception rule the political sphere, and technological media ensure that we spend our lives surrounded by images of all kinds. Reading the works of Shakespeare reveals the roots of this process in the early modern period, when the iconoclasm of the Reformation, popular protests against usury, and the campaign against ritual magic combined to provide an ethically based popular resistance to the power of signs.
Interview with Fay Weldon
Joanna Zylinska and Fay Weldon
JZ: I realise that quoting excerpts from other people's essays on your work may seem ironic, as it creates a danger of 'monumentalising' the author and letting others speak 'in your name'. Nevertheless, I would like to take the risk of beginning with the words of Lorna Sage. In her preface to The Life and Loves of a She-Develop Lorna Sage writes: 'Fay's lack of respect for "nature" . . . is one of her greatest strengths: she knows it's fetish and attacks it with its own weapons'. I wonder, could you comment a little on your relation to nature?
Retreat into the Enchantment of the Past
C. Bawa Yamba
The article deals with two competing explanations advanced by local people in a Zambian village to make sense of the presence of man-eating crocodiles in the area. One faction explains the events in rational terms, while the other sees them as the work of witches, as a result of which they demand the return of a witchfinder, whose activities a decade ago had left 16 people dead. The article shows how the competing explanations are reflections of political rivalry between the local chieftainess and her detractors, who perceive her attempts to modernize the area as a way to line her own pocket. The rationalized versus enchanted definitions of events form the point of departure for examining some of the underlying premises of the extended-case method, namely, those of perceiving social phenomena as constituting an interrelated whole, and for determining when to close the flow of events for analysis.
Cross-Cultural Articulations of War Magic and Warrior Religion
D. S. Farrer
Previous anthropology emphasized symbolic incantations at the expense of the embodied practice of magic. Foregrounding embodiment and performance in war magic and warrior religion collapses the mind-body dualism of magic versus rationality, instead highlighting social action, innovation, and the revitalization of tradition, as tempered historically by colonial and post-colonial trajectories in societies undergoing rapid social transformation. Religion and magic are re-evaluated from the perspective of the practitioner's and the victim's embodiment in their experiential life-worlds via articles discussing Chinese exorcists, Javanese spirit siblings, Sumatran black magic, Tamil Tiger suicide bombers, Chamorro spiritual re-enchantment, tantric Buddhist war magic, and Yanomami dark shamans. Central themes include violence and healing, accomplished through ritual and performance, to unleash and/or control the power of gods, demons, ghosts and the dead.
Court trials and subsequent executions in 1692 of nineteen accused witches in Salem are important events in America’s history that are often studied. Today, ‘Witch City’ draws over sixty thousand visitors at Hallowe’en. While members of the Pagan/Wiccan community honour the accused, well known writers – Arthur Miller and Elie Weisel – publicly acknowledge the Salem witch trials as a lesson. ‘Agents of memory’ imagine they have individual and collective affinities with Salem, the place, its people, and the historical event. These agents develop different explanations for why these events occurred and see in them disparate meanings, thereby directing, shaping and influencing the ways in which the Salem witch trials are remembered.
Stories as Spirit Traces among the Khmu of Northern Laos
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.