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Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
Anthropology of the Supernatural
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Anthropology of the Supernatural


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Religion. Magic. Shamans. Sorcery. Witchcraft. Animism. Islam. Hinduism.

Religion. Magic. Shamans. Sorcery. Witchcraft. Animism. Islam. Hinduism.

Published in: Spiritual, Technology
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  • 1. Anthropology of the Supernatural Cross-Cultural Studies of Magic and Religion
  • 2. Introduction to the Supernatural
    • Beliefs in the unseen world are universal
    • That includes “science-based societies”
    • In U.S. fundamentalism is up and now influences politics at all levels
    • Is belief only human? “Rain dance” among chimpanzees
    • Demand for explanations of the unseen: Azandes’ view of causation in their poison oracle
    • Shamans’ trickery sometimes “works”: the case of Quasalid
  • 3. Overview
    • Concepts of the Supernatural
    • Religion vs. Magic and validity of distinction
    • Types of supernatural beings
    • Types of practitioners
    • Some case studies
    • Some theories about supernatural beliefs
  • 4. Concepts of the Supernatural: Religion vs. Magic
    • Sir James Frazier’s distinction
    • Magic: manipulation of supernatural beings and/or forces
    • The focus is on immediate problems/issues
    • Sympathetic vs. contagious magic
    • Religion: Recognition of unseen world
    • Focus: explanation based on myth
    • Supplication emphasized
    • Considerable overlap in distinction
    • St. Jude; faith healing.
  • 5. Concepts of the Supernatural: Forces Versus Beings
    • Supernatural Forces: mana
    • No personality or other such attributes
    • Forces somewhat akin to electricity
    • Tabus: caution against touching object too dangerous for commoners
    • Supernatural Beings
    • Supernatural persons or forces with attributes of personality or personage
    • Human image of gods or spirits apply here
  • 6. Supernatural Beings: A Typology
    • Gods: generically of nonhuman origin
    • Monotheism: single, often all-powerful god
    • Polytheism: numerous, specialized gods
    • Demons: negative beings
    • Spirits or Ghosts: of human origin
    • Ancestral spirits: departed souls of the dead to whom living pay homage
    • Ghosts: Spirits who often bring harm to living, often as revenge for some neglect
  • 7. Practitioners: Shamans, Witches
    • Shamans: persons with supernatural power acquired by individual initiative
    • Many are diagnosticians or healers
    • Quasalid: Kwakiutl shaman
    • Diviners : those who forecast the future
    • Sorcerers: Practitioners who bring ham
    • Through supernatural power/often with ritual
    • Witchcraft : Innate psychic power capable of harm
    • Case study: Azande poison oracle
  • 8. Practitioners: Priests/Priestesses
    • Functions:
    • Explanation of myths underlying belief
    • Humankind’s place in the cosmos
    • Addressing the afterlife
    • Leading ritual, prayer, or supplication
    • A go-between for god(s) and human group
    • Not a function (theoretically):
    • manipulation of the spiritual beings or forces
    • Some do manipulate: faith healers
  • 9. Case Studies: Hindu Beliefs
    • Caste system
    • Samsara: Life, death, rebirth
    • Karma: force based on consequence of behavior
    • World of illusion
    • Cosmology:
    • Balance of creative/destructive forces
    • Nirvana: Escape illusion of samsara
  • 10. Case Studies: Islam
    • Part of Judaic-Christian tradition
    • Opposition of God and Satan
    • Ultimate conquest of good over evil
    • People of the Book
    • Tradition of Islam
    • Muhammad recited Koran from Angel Gabriel
    • Conquered Arab idolaters
    • Forced to flee from Mecca to Medina: Hegira
  • 11. Spread and Obligations of Islam
    • Range: Africa to south, eastward to Indonesia, fast growth in U.S.
    • Obligations
    • Daily declaration of faith
    • Prayer 5 times daily toward Mecca
    • Fasting during Ramadan on rotating lunar calendar
    • Alms to poor—an obligation
    • Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca
    • A tradition of tolerance toward “People of the Book
  • 12. Explanations/Functions of Supernatural Beliefs
    • Ethnoscientific explanations (Just So stories)
    • Explanation of soul through dreams
    • Animism: beings within all forms living or not
    • Animatism: forces within all forms
    • Azande: interpreting misfortunes
    • Psychological: Quest for security
    • Trobriand Islanders: magic on sea canoes
    • Military adage: no atheists in foxholes
  • 13. Explanations/Functions: Societal
    • Power Relations:
    • Marx: Religion as opiate of people
    • Case study: Caste system of India
    • Durkheim: Function of Social Solidarity
    • Profane: Everyday objects
    • Sacred: Objects that inspire awe/reverence
    • Swanson: the sovereign group as deity
  • 14. Explanations/Functions: Revitalization
    • Definition:
    • Reaction by a minority to coercion or disruption
    • Often under leadership of a messiah
    • To reclaim lost status, identity, well-being
    • Case studies:
    • Ghost dance, Lakota under Wovoka
    • Cargo cults, Melanesia
    • Heaven’s Gate/Branch Davidians
  • 15. A.F.C. Wallace: Revitalization Movements
    • This Melanesian cargo cult is one example of a revitalization movement
    • Initial steady state:
    • Individual stress
    • Foreign Domination or Economic Depression
    • Societal disillusion and disorganization
    • Revitalization
    • New Steady State
  • 16. Conclusion
    • Several unanswerable questions haunts us all:
    • Where did we come from? This is where origin myths come
    • What are we here for? This is a question of philosophy and religion
    • Where do we go when we die? What happens to us? That question invokes fear and curiosity.
    • All these are issues of religion and the supernatural. So far, there is no answer that satisfies all.