The Chicken and the Egg

Cracking the Ontology of Divination in Southwest China

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  • 1 King’s College London, UK katherine.swancutt@kcl.ac.uk

Which comes first, divine agency or the calculations of diviners? Both are integral to divination, other predictive methods, and the ‘hatching out’ of new creation stories among the Nuosu of Southwest China. In this article, I present ethnography on divination in which eggs evoke the person’s position in the world while the bodies or bones of chickens are indices of health or prosperity. When cracking open raw eggs, peeling open slaughtered chickens, or reading chicken bones, diviners creatively draw upon the assistance of spirits and their own calculatory reflections in ways that encourage internal variation within their craft. Through case studies on illnesses and a new family tradition, I show that Nuosu inhabit a hybrid world that features cosmological proliferation, to which the creativity of divination responds.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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