Anthropology of the Supernatural

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

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  • The cargo cult is interesting, thanks.

    http://www.ultrafeel.tv/bradford-keeney-sex-god-ecstasy-shaman/
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Anthropology of the Supernatural

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

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