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Lecture 11

ANTHROP 2R03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 11: Kalahari Desert, Ayahuasca, Spirit Possession

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Ellen Badone

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Religion, Magic and Witchcraft
January 30, 2018
Altered States of Consciousness
Altered States of Consciousness (ASC)
Occur in majority of world’s cultures
Often associated with religious or spiritual beliefs
Include trance, possession, shamanism, ecstasy, visions, can be induced by drug use
Sometimes seen as desirable, other contexts undesirable -- i.e. in Christianity, demonic
possession vs. visions of Bernadette
ASC’s induced in culturally patterned ways – people from outside a culture may not
experience ASC as result of triggers
Use of drumming, chanting, dance sensory overload
Solitude, fasting sensory deprivation
ASC’s in some cases permits people to express ideas that would not otherwise be
i.e. Boddy zar cult, Sudan spirit possession empowers women by enabling them to do
things considered inappropriate for their gender speak loudly, engage in social critique,
drink alcohol
Hallucinogenic drugs used for religious purposes often domain of specialists (shamans)
Ayahuasca, peyote
Anthropological interest in ASCs grew out of popular culture of 1960s, 1970s
popularization of drug use, drugs and spirituality
Research indicates that cultural expectations affect way people will respond to specific
substances i.e. impact of ayahuasca will vary depending on whether it is taken in a
ritual context where specific interpretive framework brought to bear
ASC trance both physiological and cultural phenomenon
Can be attributed to mystical causes
One cause = spirit possession
Alternative cause = soul loss, flight
Some groups follow logic that soul loss/flight must take place before possession by
different spirit can occur
i.e. Soro shaman travels to underworld, spirits of dead occupy her body
Some societies person has more than one spirit/soul
Tungus Siberia people have two or three souls when first soul leaves, person
becomes unconscious; if second soul leaves for prolonged period death, then this soul
goes to world of dead; third soul stays with body until it decomposes and then lives on
with relatives of deceased
In some cultures, not seen as important for soul(s)/spirit(s) to be displaced in order for
possession of a person by another spirit you can have possession without soul loss
In others, soul/spirit, thought to temporarily leave body of ritual specialist
!Kung Bushmen of Kalahari desert in South Africa men enter trance states through
dancing rituals accompanied by singing, clapping hands; spirit boils up in body and goes
to head temporarily leaves body to fight powers that cause sickness and death; men in
trance touch sick person, rub sweat into body of sick person to heal
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