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Behavioral Manifestations 137

Possession and Trance

Erika Bourguignon

INTRODUCTION replaced, temporarily or permanently, by another entity.


More rarely, a second entity may also be thought to enter
The English term “possession” includes both the concept the body without displacing the first, even though the
of ownership and of control and domination. Belief in behavioral manifestations are those of this additional
possession by spirits, that is, the possibility that an presence. Such an explanation for possession by the spirit
individual’s actions and behavior may be controlled by of a dead sinner (dybbuk) is found in the Jewish tradition.
spirits or demons, is attested in English usage from the A belief in entities that may possess individuals is also
16th century. These beliefs have left their traces in every- required, be they hostile or benevolent, spirits of the dead,
day language. Belief in spirit possession is both ancient sometimes of animals or witchcraft beings. High gods are
and very widespread as seen in the historical and ethno- rare among the spirits that are believed to possess
graphic record. One of the remarkable features of this humans. It is apparent that beliefs in spirit possession are
system of beliefs and associated ritual practices is its very linked to complex cosmologies, although the details of
great flexibility and innovative potential. This is demon- such esoteric systems may be known only to ritual spe-
strated by its expansion and diffusion, where decline and cialists. For the ritual participants, such cosmologies may
indeed disappearance might have been expected. In a be more implicit than explicit. The behavior acted out is
large-scale, cross-cultural study, some form of such largely learned and structured by local expectations.
beliefs was found to be present in 77% of 488 sample Understanding the human being as consisting of
societies (Bourguignon, 1973). Given the terminological several potentially separable parts may be used to account
confusion at the time of this research and a great deal of not only for “spirit possession,” but also for dreams,
ad hoc generalization in the literature on the basis of hallucinations, seizures, and death.
single ethnographic cases, such systems of belief needed
to be studied in the larger context of their behavioral and
sociocultural correlates. Once the geographic distribu- BEHAVIORAL MANIFESTATIONS
tions and the cultural linkages had been identified, the
special features of specific ethnographic instances could The behavioral manifestations of such “possessions,” or
be studied in depth. A distinction between beliefs and displacement of a person’s soul or other key element by
behaviors revealed that certain types of behaviors reflect another entity, vary widely but fall into two main groups:
general human physiological and psychological features (1) negative changes in physical health or behavior or, on
and that these are not necessarily associated with posses- the other hand, enhanced powers, and (2) alterations in
sion beliefs. A broad sampling of human societies made state of consciousness and behavior. Bourguignon (1973)
it clear that what may be considered pathological in refers to the second type as Possession Trance and to the
Western bio-medicine is often conceptualized in radically former simply as Possession (or non-Trance Possession).
different ways in other cultures. These two types have different geographic distributions
and are linked to different sociocultural and economic
variables. Also, where they occur in the same society,
SOURCES AND TYPES OF BELIEFS they are likely to have different distributions within the
population. The second type, Possession Trance, is
Possession beliefs are rooted in conceptions of the human significantly linked to female participation.
being as consisting of several elements (such as body, Trance (or dissociation), not linked to possession
mind, personhood, self, name, identity, soul or souls, belief (non-Possession Trance), may be sought intention-
even part souls), where one or more of these may be ally, as in the vision quest of North American Indians.
138 Possession and Trance

As such it refers to communication with spirits, usually (or altered state of consciousness) and/or Possession
in visions. These may be auditory rather than visual in Trance in a sacred context. That is to say, Trance states
nature. Although at times women have sought visions, the interpreted as due to possession, or interpreted in some
typical seeker was a young man. Austerities (isolation, other way, are here grouped together. For the remaining
exposure, fasting, and so forth) were used to induce the 10%, evidence on the subject was unavailable or inade-
trance state. quate. There were significant differences among ethno-
Trance may also occur spontaneously. How it will be graphic regions in the utilization of trance states: they
interpreted and evaluated will depend on the particular ranged from a high of 97% of societies in Native
cultural context. A distinction between Possession Trance North America, to 94% each in the Insular Pacific and
and non-Possession Trance corresponds roughly to a East Eurasia, 84% in South America, 83% in Sub-Saharan
distinction between possession religions and shamanism Africa, and to a low of 80% in the Circum-Mediterranean
(e.g., de Heusch, 1981). Others (e.g., Lewis, 1989) region. A belief in spirit possession was found in 74% of
generalize the term more widely, applying it to all who the world sample. Again, there was wide variation
control spirits, regardless of their manner of interaction. between world regions, ranging from 88% of the societies
The terms “shaman” and “shamanism” are also used of the Insular Pacific and East Eurasia, to 81% of Sub-
differently in different ethnographic regions. Since these Saharan societies, 80% in the Circum-Mediterranean, to
terms are used quite inconsistently in the ethnographic 65% in South America, and finally North America with a
and historical literature, shamanism is currently a low of 52%. Here we are counting both societies that
contested category (Bourguignon, 1989a; Kehoe, 2000). either have a possession belief linked to trance states and
As noted, for physical or behavioral changes to be those where possession refers to some other change in the
interpreted as due to possession, a belief in possession host. With regard to possession beliefs, one might say that
must be available. Such beliefs, if not traditional in a the New World is indeed a world apart.
given community, may be adopted in contact situations. Possession Trance is significantly correlated with
It should be emphasized that “possession” is not directly Sub-Saharan Africa, where it appears in 45% of societies.
observable; it is an interpretation of behavior made by By contrast, non-Possession Trance is highly correlated
participants, and it is statements of participants that must with North America, where it is found in 72% of sample
be obtained by an outside observer or researcher to societies. In addition, both Possession Trance and Trance
discover it. There are situations in which it may appear are found in 20% of African societies. In North America,
that an entity speaks through an individual—that is, an both are found in 21% of societies. In other words,
example of “possession”—but where, upon investigation, while the most prominent form of sacred altered state of
the individual may claim to be repeating what he hears, consciousness in North America is Visionary Trance, in
and fully remembers the message after the event (for a Africa it is Possession Trance. Visionary Trance is more
description of this situation among the Hunza of Northern likely to be found among men, Possession Trance among
Pakistan, see Sidky, 1994). Amnesia, actual or normative, women.
full or partial, is frequently associated with Possession Belief in spirit possession is also widespread
Trance, but not with Trance where Possession is absent. (Bourguignon, 1976). It appears in 74% of sample soci-
In this case, what the trancer sees or hears must be eties. Because of the difference between the near univer-
remembered in order to be communicated to the group. sality of institutionalized trance and the much lower
Ritual trancing is not idiosyncratic behavior, but is incidence of possession beliefs, as well as other evidence,
carried out in a group context, often on behalf of the such as the widespread existence of nonsacred forms of
group. trance, it may be argued that trance has its roots in human
physiology, whereas possession beliefs, which are highly
variable, are cultural phenomena. The human capacity for
GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTIONS AND trancing (or dissociation) thus may be seen as raw mate-
SOCIOCULTURAL CORRELATES rial for cultural utilization.
It may be noted that Possession Trance involves the
In the study cited above, Bourguignon (1973) found that enactment of multiple roles by human actors. This is
90% of sample societies had institutionalized Trance more likely to be the case in complex societies, where
Possession Beliefs in Western Thought 139

there exists a varied repertory of roles for individuals. shows major differences in the predominant economy
It is then not surprising that correlations were found (hunting and gathering vs. agriculture), small versus large
between the presence of Possession Trance and four vari- population size, simple versus complex political struc-
ables showing degrees of societal complexity: estimated tures, etc. as well as the differential participation of men
population size over 100,000; present or recent presence and women in religious rituals. In an early cross-cultural
of slavery; permanent or semi-permanent settlements; statistical study, D’Andrade (1961) studied the use of
and a jurisdictional hierarchy above the local level. dreams (and visionary trances—the two are not clearly
Societies with Trance only were significantly less likely distinguished in the literature) to seek and control super-
to have these characteristics. Societies having both natural powers. He found that about 80% of hunting and
Trance and Possession Trance were found to be interme- fishing societies use dreams in this way and only 20% of
diary between the other two types or to be the most societies that depend on agriculture and animal hus-
complex of all. These correlations have been confirmed bandry do. But hunting and fishing was the predominant
by restudies by other scholars (Shaara & Strathern, type of economy in native North America and relatively
1992; Winkelman, 1992). rare in Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the seekers were
Where both Possession Trance and non-Possession primarily men. D’Andrade (1961, p. 326) speaks of
Trance are found in the same society, it is often the case “anxiety about being isolated and under pressure to be
that they involve different types of persons and different self-reliant” and suggests that this may create “an
contexts. The same applies to Possession and Possession involvement with a type of fantasy about magical
Trance. For example, among the Azande (Evans- helpers.” That the vision quest takes place at a time in the
Pritchard, 1937) there is a belief in possession: certain lives of young men when they needed to become inde-
people—mostly men—have a witchcraft creature resid- pendent and self-reliant in societies where self-reliance
ing in their bodies which they can activate to cause harm and independence were necessary for the male role, is
to others. There are also “witch doctors,” most of whom also noteworthy. On the other hand, in the agricultural,
also are men. They take “medicines which give them sedentary societies of Africa, Possession Trance, prac-
power to see the unseen and to resist great fatigue” ticed in groups, addressed the concerns of women with
(Evans-Pritchard, 1937, p.178). It is not known whether striking frequency. They often involve diagnoses of
these “medicines” are pharmacologically active. They are problems, by means of divination, concern for long-term
taken in conjunction with drumming, singing, and active relationship with spirits, as well as the opportunity to
dancing during which the witch doctors achieve a state of act out various roles. When women are possessed by
dissociation in which they prophecy, and identify powerful male spirits, these may be their spirit husbands.
witches. That is, there exists a ritual Trance state among
the Azande, which is not linked to a belief in possession.
However, Possession Trance did exist among the Azande, POSSESSION BELIEFS IN
for Evans-Pritchard (1962) tells us that they also had WESTERN THOUGHT
women ghost diviners who went into trance and were
possessed. A difficulty with the concept of “possession” arises from
In a study of a sample of African societies, its history in the Western tradition, since ideas of some
Greenbaum (1973) has found support for a hypothesis types of demonic and other possessions come to us from
suggesting a relationship between the presence of both Hebrew and Greek sources. For example, the New
Possession Trance and societal rigidity. Testament (Mark 5:1–17) describes Jesus exorcising a
Winkelman (1992), focusing his attention on various mad man, whose possessing spirits then went into a herd
types of “trance-based healers”—that is, healers employ- of swine who drowned themselves. This account has been
ing trance states—offers a four-fold classification: related to its political context: the Roman occupation of
Shaman; shaman/healer; healer; medium. These four Palestine (Crossan, 1994, p. 89). Luke (11:14–15) tells of
types are found linked to levels of societal complexity. a mute man who was able to speak once the spirit that
The difference between Sub-Saharan Africa and possessed him was driven out. Numerous exorcists were
Native North America suggests some explanatory active in Galilee at the time, where there was probably a
hypotheses: the ethnographic record of these two regions mass of manuals and other literature available to them.
140 Possession and Trance

The popular view of the day, as expressed in the New A variety of explanations have been offered, both by the
Testament, was that evil spirits caused illness, physical people themselves and by outside observers.
and mental, by possessing people (Guinebert, 1959). The Lewis (1989) sees possession trance religions
sophisticated view of the time, expressed by Jewish as consisting of two types. He distinguishes between
writers such as Flavius Josephus and Philo Judaeus, was central morality cults and amoral peripheral cults. The
rather that it was the souls of evildoers who possessed central cults are dominated by men and support the offi-
individuals, a view that was elaborated later in Jewish cial morality of the society; the peripheral ones are
history, where a tradition of negative spontaneous amoral and the possessed are mostly women and other
possession and exorcism continued. deprived persons. He argues that “for all their concern
As for the Greek tradition, where evidence is also with disease and its treatment, such women’s possession
limited, sources available to scholars have been cults … are thinly disguised protest movements directed
interpreted as dealing with Possession Trance, rather than against the dominant sex” (Lewis, 1989, p. 31). Kendall
possession as evidenced in mental or physical illness. The (1985) has challenged Lewis’s thesis, arguing that in
examples given by Dodds (1957) refer to the Phythia, that Korea the healing and Possession Trance activities pri-
is, the Delphic oracle of Apollo, whose prophecies were marily controlled by women are complementary to the
believed to be coming from the god (see also Maurizio, male-dominated ancestor cult, and do not represent a
1995). Dodds also considers the cult of Dionysius, peripheral cult, nor are they amoral or protest movements
particularly as reflected in Euripides’ play, the Bacchae. directed against men. Consequently, the Korean religious
The French classicist, Jeanmaire (1951), compares the and ritual system involves both sets of activities. Lewis
fragmentary evidence on Greek Dyonesian religions with also claims that Possession Trance of the socially
the zar cult of modern Ethiopia. In both cases there deprived constitutes a means of manipulating the power-
appears to be a curative function, and women are put into ful through supernatural sanctions. He speaks of this as
Possession Trance with the use of drum rhythms. Here, an expression of the war between the sexes. He gives
rather than exorcism, we find rituals of initiation and Haiti as an example where, he claims, vodou is an amoral
attempts at meeting the demands of the possessing spirit, peripheral cult. This is an inappropriate example.
thus turning a negative presence into an ally. In addition, Manipulation through supernatural sanctions can work
Johnston (2001) describes a form of Greek divination only if the powerful share the belief system of those who
using child mediums. would so manipulate them.
In the Christian tradition, demonic possession and Brazilians explain the greater disposition of women
exorcism have, at times, played a significant role, some- to become mediums by their view that the process of
times involving important political issues. The case of developing their mediumistic capacities requires suffer-
the possessed nuns of London in 17th-century France ing, and women have a greater capacity for suffering
represents a dramatic example (de Certeau, 2000). than men.
As a result of this background, Western observers at Nutritional explanations have also been proposed,
times have been tempted to read evidence of “posses- particularly with regard to calcium metabolism. The most
sion,” where, in fact, such an understanding may not have elegant model has been proposed by Raybeck et al.
corresponded to the particular local tradition. (1989). These authors relate the problems encountered by
individual women at the sociocultural level on the one
hand to existing beliefs in possession by spirits, and to
POSSESSION RELIGIONS, WOMEN, AND stress and anxiety at the psychological level on the other.
MORALITY This leads to physiological changes, notably a depressed
level of calcium in the blood, independent of dietary
It has been observed consistently that in most instances calcium intake. It is known from substantial physiologi-
of possession illness and Possession Trance, the majority cal research that women’s calcium metabolism differs
of spirit hosts are women. This was true of 19th-century from that of men. The resulting symptoms, such as dizzi-
European spirit mediums as well as contemporary leaders ness, tremors, convulsions, and dissociation are then
of Spiritualist churches in the United States, of Balinese interpreted as spirit possession at the cultural level.
and Zulu healers and diviners, of possession trancers in This interesting model, however, remains to be tested in
Haitian vodou, and Brazilian Afro-Catholic religions. field studies.
Possession and Healing 141

POSSESSION AND HEALING Possession Trance is part of the ritual activity, and
initially harmful spirits are transformed into allies and
In recent years there has been a great and continuous helping spirits through the ritual process. This is true of
increase in the literature dealing with possession, both the zar cult in Sudan (e.g., Boddy, 1989), Egypt (e.g.,
descriptively and analytically. This corresponds also to Salima, 1902), and the Gnawa of Morocco (Chlyeh,
the worldwide distribution of the phenomena in question, 1999; Welte, 1990). This last is one of many groups
as well as to greater interest in various aspects of this whose history reveals it to be a cult of the Sub-Saharan
complex subject by researchers. Beginning in the 1960s, Diaspora. Traditionally, men have been primarily drum-
with the development of transcultural psychiatry, mers and women mediums and healers. However, Welte
Possession Trance religions and shamanism have been (1999) argues that, as a result of the worldwide pauper-
considered with regard to their functions as healing ization of peoples, men are now expressing depression in
systems (e.g., Kiev, 1964; Prince, 1964). More recent psychosomatic symptoms interpreted, and treated, as
studies have focused on a broad range of other issues, possession and requiring exorcism.
such as communication, discourse analysis, women’s As noted earlier, there is a frequent linkage between
position, political resistance, reflections of history, and possession beliefs and altered states of consciousness
social change. Not only do new Possession Trance reli- (trance). However, its precise nature varies substantially.
gions spring up, but even among established religions, If we consider possession belief, trance state, and a third
such as Haitian vodou, new spirits make themselves variable, illness, then the following examples show this
known. The focus of analysis varies with the individual variation very clearly. Thus, in the zar cult of Eastern
researcher and the specific local situation. Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia), as mentioned
The rather rough grouping into two types of posses- earlier, various types of illness or strange behavior may
sion (see above) includes a variety of subtypes—for be diagnosed as spirit possession. These include fugue
example, the concerns with healing are much more states, stomach aches, infertility, apathy, seizures, and
prominent in East Africa then in West Africa. The African many other symptoms. On the basis of divination, the
Diaspora, as in Brazil, has produced an emphasis on possessing spirit is identified and will then be invited; that
mediumistic capacities, in which suffering—though not is, possession trance is ritually induced. Over time,
necessarily illness—is seen as leading to spiritual devel- through cult initiation, the spirit is placated and turned
opment. The Jewish, Christian, and Moslem traditions into an ally. The result is a life-long cult membership.
see possession almost entirely as negative, due to In Possession Trance, the women enact complex person-
demonic or other hostile forces, and as requiring exor- alities of individual zar spirits.
cism—that is, the driving out of the invading spirit that By contrast, Corin (1998) describes the Zebola cult
produces manifestations that are interpreted as hostile to of the Congo, and particularly of Kinshasa. Here illness
religion. There are, however, some exceptions. For exam- is explained as due to the malevolence of others. It is
ple, the Protestant tradition understands glossolalia redefined as spirit possession by means of divination.
(speaking in tongues) as a sign of possession by the Holy During divination, the spirit manifests itself, speaks
Ghost. The Anastenaria ritual of Northern Greece (Greek through the woman in Possession Trance, identifies itself,
Macedonia and formerly also Thrace) involves a healing and reveals the causes of the illness. A lengthy process of
tradition in which participants are possessed by Saints initiation follows; it seeks to control the spirit by inhibit-
Constantine and Helen while they dance on burning ing manifestations of trance. This is accomplished,
embers. This practice is sanctioned within the Greek among other things, through medications, as well as the
Orthodox Church (Danforth, 1989). teaching of complex dance performances. The woman
In mystical Judaism, some scholars (Goldish, then maintains a relationship with the spirit which is now
personal communication, 2003) read the voice of a super- her protector.
natural entity (maggid), that speaks to or through mystics Haitian vodou presents quite a different picture.
and prophets as possessions, while others do not Here illness and bad dreams are seen as harassment by
(e.g., Bilu, 1996). vodou spirits (lwa) to encourage the victim to seek initi-
Islam, on the whole, has been tolerant of local spirit ation. Possession Trance may also occur spontaneously,
beliefs. Thus, in various parts of North Africa as well as and then require divination for the identification of the
in Sub-Saharan Africa, spirit cults are active in which spirit. Initiation and ritual participation are seen as
142 Possession and Trance

religious and familial obligations. Possession Trance, in searches for alternatives) and partly due to crises in iden-
which the complex characters of spirits are acted out, are tity. Examples include the presence of Caribbean reli-
part of long-term relationships between humans and their gions in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
spirits who need to be fed, as well as entertained, in order These were syncretic religions developed in the areas
to give humans the support they need in their difficult lives. from which the migrants have come. In Trinidad, for
example, we find both South Indian Kali religion and
Afro-Protestant groups, both of which are at this time rep-
THE RETURN OF EXORCISM resented in Britain. In a different vein, the development of
and interest in Channeling in the United States speaks to
While exorcism had virtually disappeared as a practice in a concern with identity and self help (M. Brown, 1997).
Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism through most This pattern of mediumistic behavior is distinct from ear-
of the 20th century, it has made a significant come back lier Spiritualism of the 19th and early 20th century, where
in the last 30 years. It received great popular attention the spirits called up through mediums were those of the
with the publication of the book and the film The Exorcist recently dead. The spirits called on by channelers address
in the 1970s. In the same period, the exorcism of a more distant, impersonal spirit guides. There is also a
German girl attracted worldwide attention. When she belief in reincarnation and previous lives. Most channel-
died, the priests/exorcists and the girl’s parents were con- ers are women; most spirits male.
victed of unintended manslaughter. While the exorcisms Although Spiritualism was first developed in the
had continued over an extended period of time, she was United States, it rapidly spread to Europe. A French
also diagnosed and treated for epilepsy by a physician variety, as developed by Alain Kardec (pseudonym of
(Goodman, 1981). The Archbishop of New York permit- H. L. D. Rivail), has been most influential in Latin
ted an exorcism of a teenage girl to be broadcast on the America. Spiritistic religions and Protestant Evangelical
ABC program 20/20. In this case the girl had been religions which encourage ecstatic experiences are the
diagnosed and was under treatment for schizophrenia. most rapidly spreading forms of religion worldwide.
What is interpreted as possession requiring exorcism
in a given situation varies widely but seems to involve
some common features. One of these is uncharacteristic POSSESSION RELIGIONS AS WORSHIP
behavior. Hensely (1993) tells the story of a man, in the AND TRADITION
Ohio–Kentucky border area, who is believed by an exor-
cizing minister to be possessed. Carl, a humble and meek To see Possession Trance only in medical terms would be
man, has outbursts of violence. This is said to be due to a mistake. Behavior that might be seen as pathological in
people who died violent deaths in a club location Carl the Western or bio-medical system, may be seen in terms
frequented, and whose spirits have not moved on. of a mythico-religious system in a traditional society.
As of 2001, there are frequent reports of exorcisms Hollan (2000, pp. 546–547) notes that “possession behav-
in national newspapers and magazines; a Seattle radio ior that is culturally normative, no matter how bizarre or
station reportedly conducts exorcisms over the air. (See irrational it appears from a Western point of view, should
also Cuneo’s, 2001, review of the current state of never be considered pathological or psychotic …. [It] is
exorcism in America.) culturally constituted symbolic behavior ….”
As Suryani and Jensen (1993, p. 46) write: “In Bali,
ritual possession is common, controlled, desirable, socially
POSSESSION RELIGIONS ARE useful, highly valued, socially reinforced by society and
INCREASING IN NUMBERS individually satisfying.” Balinese Possession Trance
occurs in numerous contexts: the work of traditional heal-
The great increase in the reporting of the phenomena in ers (balian), masked ritual dramas, kris dancers, hobby
question is likely to be due to both a growth of interest and horse dancers, little girl trance dancers, and so forth.
awareness by researchers, but also to an actual increase in Among forms of Possession Trance considered aberrant
incidence. This in turn seems to be partly due to displace- and sometimes requiring biomedical intervention are
ment/diffusion of populations, and spread to others, partly incidents of collective dissociation among school girls and
due to health crises (including both traditional healing and attacks of amok among men.
Summary and Some Conclusions 143

Traditional people may be caught in a conflict members of the educated middle class among these
between two different explanatory systems (Kleinman, groups are now identifying themselves with religious
1980). Possession Trance linked to long-term relation- practices that were primarily linked to the poor in their
ships with one or more spirits involves the development of homelands. These were negatively sanctioned and often
what appear to be secondary or alternative personalities. denied by the earlier generations of their families (see
This may be seen by psychiatrists as D(issociative) I(den- K. Brown, 1991; Palmié, 1991).
ity) D(isorder), often referred to as Multiple Personality Pentecostal and Charismatic churches have a long
(Bourguignon, 1989b; Suryani & Jensen, 1993). Bizarre and variable history in this country. Here the faithful
behavior and speech may be diagnosed as psychotic by experience possession by the Holy Spirit, speak in
psychiatrists. It might be noted that Suryani herself is both tongues (glossolalia), and manifest other “Gifts of the
a Western-trained physician and psychiatrist and a balian, Spirit.” They are associated with healing only to a limited
a Balinese trance healer. extent. They have widespread appeal as well in Latin
In recent years, for example, zar beliefs and America and Africa, where they may be in competition
practices have been brought to Israel by Jewish immi- with established Possession Trance religions.
grants from Ethiopia. As reported by Witzum, Grizaru, Any consideration of rituals of Possession Trance
and Budowski (1996), some women who had brought zar and, often also of Trance, must not neglect the esthetic
illness behavior from Ethiopia were inappropriately aspects of what are more or less complex performances.
referred to mental health clinics, hospitalized, and treated The most famous are to be found in Bali, but also in India
with anti-psychotic medications. By contrast, having on the one hand and in the Afro-American traditions of
their behavior labeled as zar possession provided them Brazil. Possession Trance rituals only rarely involve the
and their families means of coping with distress and use of masks, as in the trance dramas of Bali. More fre-
avoided the stigma of mental illness. The zar ritual serves quently the possessed individuals act out the personalities
as a curing ceremonial. and activities of the possessing spirits in interactions
Kahn and Kelly (2001) conducted a study of Xhosa- with the audience, in dance, and costumes, all of it
speaking psychiatric nurses in South Africa and note accompanied by music, frequently drumming, the whole
“their dual allegiance to apparently competing and largely constituting a dramatic performance.
incommensurate mental health paradigms” (pp. 34–35). Moore (1982) discusses music and dance as expres-
Here it is health care workers, as well as patients, who are sions of religious worship, with specific reference to
involved in the conflict between competing explanatory Cumina and Revival, two religious groups in Jamaica. He
systems. A major category of Xhosa traditional healers are notes that to participants these art forms are vehicles “for
diviners, who are “called” to their profession by an initia- self expression and release of inner tensions…[a]psychic
tory illness, involving possession by ancestor spirits and outpouring [that] restores vitality and refreshes the whole
who in their divination practices go into Possession person” (p. 299).
Trance.
Possession Trance rituals, however, do not necessar-
ily deal with illness and curing. They may serve to alle- SUMMARY AND SOME CONCLUSIONS
viate many different kinds of stress, such as marital or
financial problems or concern over school examinations. Beliefs in the possibility of possession by spirits or other
They may also be experienced as forms of devotion and entities has been found to be very widespread among the
fulfillment of obligations to the spirits inherited in family societies of the world. However, there are regional varia-
lines or revealed to specific individuals. As such they tions in the percentage of societies that have such beliefs
reflect participants’ sense of self and of belonging. and the manner in which these beliefs are formulated.
For Caribbean people in the United States, for exam- Such variations are not random or arbitrary but are related
ple Haitians, Cubans, and Jamaicans, their Afro-Christian to other sociocultural features predominant in a given
religions, in which rituals center around various forms of region or characteristic of particular societies. As the
Possession Trance, have become significant elements societies change under impact of modernization and
in their reaffirmation of their ethnic identities. This is globalization some of the beliefs and ritual practices
illustrated by the fact that, in the United States, some change also.
144 Possession and Trance

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Shamanism

Michael Winkelman

INTRODUCTION contentious. Some consider shamanism specific to Siberia


(e.g., Siikala, 1978), while others considered shamans to
The term shaman entered English from other cultures be any practitioners who voluntarily enter altered states of
(Flaherty, 1992) and has been attributed to practices consciousness (Peters & Price-Williams, 1981).
around the world (Vitebsky, 2001). Shamanism received Cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research indicates
widespread academic attention following Eliade’s (1964) shamanism is an etic phenomenon involving psychobio-
Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy, which consid- logical adaptations to the adaptive capacities of altered
ered shamanism a worldwide healing practice involving states of consciousness (ASC) or the integrative mode of
ecstatic communication with the spirit world on behalf of consciousness (Winkelman, 2000). Shamanism was a
the community (cf. Halifax, 1979; Hultkrantz, 1973). central cultural institution at the dawn of modern humans
Whether shamanism is cross-cultural or regionally some 40,000 years ago (Clottes & Lewis-Williams, 1998;
specific, and consequently an etic or emic phenomenon, is Ryan, 1999). Shamanism is a fundamental aspect of