It has been generally agreed that rituals of healing work through transforming the embodied self; thus, they are especially fit to be analyzed as rituals in their own right. This chapter focuses on the ritual of soul retrieval as it is practiced by Western urban neo-shamans. It argues that apart from giving the patient new memories and new narratives of the self, this version of soul retrieval works by staging a formalized context for forgiveness, here conceptualized as reconciliation between the self and the mundane and divine others. It is argued, however, that the mechanism of this healing ritual is better understood in the light of New Age ontologies of the self, consciousness, and the divine, making ‘ritual in its own right‚’ a good first step towards re-engaging with the social.
Soul Retrieval in Neo-shamanism
Anthropological Knowledge Making, the Reflexive Feedback Loop, and Conceptualizations of the Soul
Katherine Swancutt and Mireille Mazard
In this introduction, we propose a new approach to anthropological knowledge making that would observe the ‘hyper-reflexive’ quality of ethnographic exchanges. We show that anthropological ideas infiltrate themselves into the discourse of native thinkers, even as native ideas regenerate anthropological theory. Our starting point is ‘animism’, a key concept of anthropological theory. We suggest that anthropologists and their interlocutors jointly reinvent animistic ideas through a process we describe as the ‘reflexive feedback loop’, in which abstract ideas about practice and belief are appropriated and recirculated by research participants. By way of conclusion, we reflect on how anthropologists and their collaborators ‘animate’ soul concepts through diverse forms of agency such as metamorphosis, doubling, autobiographical narrative, hidden jokes, and even technological animism.
This article centers on the somatic modes through which ghosts, spirits, and other unseen beings are apprehended as felt experiences by the Bidayuh, an indigenous group of Malaysian Borneo. Such experiences reveal a local epistemology of supernatural encounters that associates vision with normality and its suspension with both sensory and social liminality. The second half of the article explores how this model has been extended to contemporary Bidayuh Christianity, thus rendering God, Jesus, and other personages viscerally real in people's lives. Drawing on the ethnography and recent developments in the anthropology of religion, I argue that these 'soul encounters' hold important theoretical and methodological lessons for anthropologists, pushing us to reshape our conceptions of belief, as well as our approaches to the study of ostensibly intangible religious phenomena.
The concept of nafs is frequently mentioned in the Qur'an and in post-Qur'anic literature, where it is identified with the idea of the soul and individual moral behaviour. Accordingly, this concept appears in a number of Islamised societies, although it is usually associated with a wide range of different, localised socio-cultural meanings and understandings. In the Alawi-Nusairy society of south-eastern Turkey, the notion of nafs is a polysemic focal concept that encompasses ideas and practices simultaneously relating to the person, the society and the cosmos as a whole. To understand these notions and values, this article analyses the way in which the Alawites/Nusairies conceptualise the emergence of the nafs within the overall process of procreation and examines local beliefs in rebirth, 'metempsychosis' and 'gendered' souls.
Silvia M. Bell
Circularity, a salient theme in the film Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1999), is explored as a symbol that points to a consideration of issues central to psychic life. The movie sets up an expectation—two lives will be brought together to recreate a former blissful union, and complete a circle that defies finality, separation, and loss. It succeeds in creating a dialectic between two tensions, the experience of separateness where each person is a circle unto oneself, and the longing to be encircled with an "other" in a union that promises safety and permanence. The wish for fusion versus merger with the loved one is discussed in the context of traumatic loss and soul blindness. These early experiences interfere with healthy mourning and determine the reliance on magic and regressive compromise that contributes to a tragic outcome.
The central thesis of this article is that psychoanalysis is an organic offshoot of that evolutionary process called religion. As such it has more in common with the world's religions than it would care to admit. Nor would the world's religions feel particularly excited about admitting psychoanalysis in their midst, for its inclusion forces a rethinking of their place in human development. Using Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale," the author looks at the pain of human existence and how it has resulted in the concepts of soul, God, and immortality. The nature of sentience—being aware of one's awareness—is examined. The article asserts that psychoanalysis is the process by which the soul examines itself, thought examines thinking, and life examines its meaning. The author describes religion, soul theory, and psychoanalysis as having evolved naturally and necessarily from human existence and experience, and views them as necessary dimensions of existence.
Starting with the surprising role the soul assumed in the West German music essay from the early 1980s, this article interrogates a peculiar, misunderstood middle passage in dominant historiographies of German pop literature—the new wave music essay—that transformed itself at the dawn of the 1990s—shortly before the literary phenomenon labeled Popliteratur emerged— by embracing then emergent Anglo-American Cultural Studies. The importance of new wave music for the essay’s regard for soul were lost on both pop literature and its attendant literary histories. The “studies model” has, at least in this one instance, smoothed over historical ruptures with unfortunate repercussions for our understanding of the precarious writerly mediation of life and music shortly before the value of poetics for life vanished altogether.
Ontological Multiplicity and the Transformation of Animism in Southwest China
In Nusu animism, the number and nature of a person’s ‘soul attributes’ change during his or her lifetime and after death. Drawing on Michael Scott’s study of Arosi poly-ontology, this article situates animistic personhood in a plural socio-cosmic order. Living and dead, human and non-human, Nusu and non-Nusu occupy separate, communicating domains. Meaningful exchanges across boundaries require the metamorphosis of persons and ideas. Nusu animism, continuously engaged in an ‘algebra of souls’, understands the self in terms of its multiplicity, its latent and emerging aspects. Through the ethnography of two death rituals—one ‘real’ and one staged for visiting researchers—this article shows that animism is being hyper-reflexively reinvented by Nusu animists themselves.
This is a personal essay on Rabbi Lionel Blue and his idiosyncratic relationship to God. Although he had a first-class mind, Lionel Blue thought the mind was limited in relation to religious experience, and that Jews couldn't and shouldn't trust in material things, but had to learn to trust the intangibility of the spirit. Everyday life was a vehicle for holiness: food, cooking, religious items of the home were all valued, as was humour as a way of conveying religious truths. He was a religious pragmatist, finding out what works religiously and using that, rather than relying on tradition. His focus was on the everyday realities of people's lives rather than abstract theology.
Movement, Kinetic Distribution, and Personhood among Siberian Eveny
This article discusses the concept of djuluchen (a spirit that travels ahead) among Siberian Eveny, which can illuminate the human potential to foreshadow one’s own future. Looking closely at case studies of Eveny adolescents reveals that the act of planning, narrating, or envisioning a future event, heavily charged and empowered by djuluchen, moves the event to its fulfillment. Drawing from the Deleuzian notion of ‘becoming’, the article shows the connection between prediction and fulfillment involved in the Eveny conceptualization of personhood and destiny. The discussion of ‘kinetic distribution’ and illocutionary acts uncovers the principle of detachability and the partibility of personhood in nomadic ontology.