You are on page 1of 300

The Hammer and the Flute

The Hammer
and the Flute
Women, Power, and
Spirit Possession
Mary Keller
The Johns Hopkins University Press
Baltimore & London
:oo: The Johns Hopkins University Press
All rights reserved. Published :oo:
Printed in the United states of America on acid-free paper
8 ; o : r
The Johns Hopkins University Press
:;r North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland :r:r8-o
www.press.jhu.edu
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Keller, Mary, ro
The hammer and the ute : women, power, and spirit possession /
Mary Keller.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isn o-8or8-o;8;-8 (alk. paper)
r. Spirit possession. :. WomenReligious life. I. Title.
nt8:.k :oor
:r.:dc:r
:ooroo:or
A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library
Contents
Preface vii
Introduction r
Part r. Reorienting Possession in Theory :r
Chapter r. Signifying Possession :
Chapter :. Reorienting Possession
Chapter . Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women ;
Part :. The Work, War, and Play of Possession ro
Chapter . Work ro
Chapter . War r:
Chapter o. Play(s) ro:
Conclusion ::
Notes :r
Bibliography :;r
Index :8r
Preface
This book is a methodological argument about how contemporary scholar-
ship approaches bodies that are possessed by ancestors, deities, or spirits. It
began as a question of feminist historiography when I was rst introduced
to Greek maenads during a seminar with Professor Patricia Cox Miller on
gender in Greek antiquity: How might one evaluate the agency of a womans
body in fth-century Athens that is possessed; a body that is running freely
and not conned to a traditional womens space but free only because it
is a body that is overcome by a divine agency? What began as a problem for
feminist historiography then entered into an interdisciplinary conversation
with contemporary anthropology, psychology, and sociology as I became
aware of the extensive literature on spirit possession. Most contemporary
examples of possession are found where indigenous traditions are still
strong, either in rural areas or among immigrant communities in urban
areas. Possessed bodies are extremely dierent from the contemporary
Western model of proper subjectivity. They are volatile bodies that attract
the eye of observers, and often their volatility is related to erotic or outra-
geous activity. Possessed bodies are not individual bodies. They are not often
held personally responsible for their actions by their communities. Within
their communities, possessed bodies are rigorously scrutinized in order to
determine that in fact an ancestor, deity, or spirit had overcome them; how-
ever, that is an interpretation that would be dicult if not impossible for
most scholars to represent as the truth of the matter. By and large, schol-
arly approaches to possessed bodies have reinterpreted them as repressed
psychological bodies, oppressed sociological bodies, or oppressed womens
viii Preface
bodies. What I have tried to do is to deliver a religious studies approach to
these bodies that can incorporate indigenous interpretations into a mean-
ingful, critical interpretation of the power relationships these bodies nego-
tiate.
As I look back to the history that produced my engagement with pos-
sessed bodies, I want to thank the incredible collection of teachers that
brought me to this niche, which lies at the intersection of feminist philoso-
phy and critical methodology in the study of religion. From my introduction
to feminist theory with Wendy Brown and Rosemary Tong to the introduc-
tory units in religious studies run by Mark C. Taylor and H. Ganse Little,
Jr., from Jewish feminism with Judith Wegner to gender studies in Judaism
with Charlotte Fonrobert via Daniel Boyarin, from history of religions
methodology with Charles Long and Jorunn Buckley to postmodern theol-
ogy with Mark Taylor and Charlie Winquist, from nothingness with David
Miller to emptiness with Dick Pilgrim, I have had an incredible opportunity
to study with people whose intellectual concerns inspired me.
More specically, the research in this book was rst pursued as a disser-
tation that began when I was taking courses in Greek antiquity with Patricia
Miller simultaneously with an anthropology and postcolonial theory unit
taught by Ann G. Goldboth of which included stories about possessed
women. Professor Miller supported the development of my argumenta
task that required her to give extensive feedback, which she did so rigor-
ously and graciously. Ann Gold read and commented upon several papers
and drafts of chapters, always oering support and providing a critical read-
ing of the theory I was using based on her exhaustive study and experience
of the practice of anthropology. Professor Phillip Arnolds lecture to the
department on place was important as I thought about the place-taking
of the Malaysian spirits discussed in Chapter , Work, and also the impor-
tance of land and the Shona ancestors discussed in Chapter , War. Pro-
fessor Micere Mugo took time to listen to my ideas and then fatefully told
me of the Nehanda mhondoro in Zimbabwe, opening up a new area of study
that was far too compelling to leave behind. In pursuit of research into Afri-
can traditional religions I received information from Christina Le Doux,
subject librarian for gender studies at the University of South Africa. Claire
Jones of the University of Washington and Douglas Dziva from the Univer-
sity of Natal both read earlier drafts of Chapter and generously provided
ix Preface
me with technical as well as methodological critiques. Douglas kindly
shared sections of his dissertation manuscript, and both scholars provided
me much-needed support as I stepped into their areas of expertise. Chapter
, Play(s), was inuenced by Professor David Millers play on lectures and
lectures on play. Professor Ken Frieden read an earlier draft of the section
on The Dybbuk, which was also a new area of research for me. His careful
critique and advice regarding technical as well as methodological issues in
the study of Yiddish arts were very helpful. I take his concern seriously
about the problems raised when nonspecialists draw from resources that
require nuanced and developed study.
The risk I have taken in this book is to raise a very specic question about
how scholars represent and evaluate the agency of possessed bodies, and I
have applied the question to areas of study in which I am not an expert. I
would like to think that I have asked my question well enough that it will
be of interest to those people who are experts and who can engage with my
argument, bringing it to greater precision and depth. What is exciting for
me is that the unique linguistic, geographical, historical, and cultural ele-
ments of each place in which I have studied possessed women broaden the
horizons by which one can conceive of subjectivity; this is an area that fur-
ther scholarly research and argument can bring to greater accuracy. I have
beneted from the expertise of others as I pursued my research; any short-
comings are my own.
There have been many important friends and colleagues whose support
was vital for health and sanity and also for their questions and critiques.
These include Judith Poxon, Robert Glass, Yianna Liatsos, Corinne Demp-
sey Corigliano, Craig Burgdo, Heath Atchley, Mehnaz Afridi, Judy Clark,
Kathryn Lanier, Sebrena McBean, Dean David Potter, Nancy Vedder, Di-
onne Smith, and the gang in the academic advising oce where I worked
for two years. I began my rst teaching position at the University of Stirling
in Scotland as I nished this manuscript and want to thank the Religious
Studies Department for their support. While the larger university system
in Britain is driven to distraction by RAE deadlines, which for the sake of
measuring research output push scholars to publish before they feel their
manuscripts are ready, Keith Whitelam and Richard King as my heads of
department continued to express their condence in this project and en-
couraged me to focus my energies on completion of the manuscript. Richard
x Preface
King and Jeremy Carrette read chapters and inspired me with their intellec-
tual debates, while Yvonne McClymont and Julie Dawson helped me to
keep all the res going. The department encouraged us to teach our areas
of research, and I want to thank the students at the University of Stirling
who participated in my rst attempts to teach these ideas back in . As
a class they taught me how to present the progression of my argument. Fi-
nally, the team at the Johns Hopkins University Press has been very helpful
and I want to thank Carol Ehrlich, who copyedited the manuscript with the
greatest care and attention to detail.
To my parents and grandparents, who have supported me throughout
my many years of education with humor, perspective, and scal hugs, I ex-
tend the deepest gratitude. I am often writing to you as I work. Tom Kee-
gan, new husband and new father, acted as the most important editorial
force any student of critical theory could have by repeatedly asking me what
I was trying to say. If readers nd the argument to be clear and the text to
be useful for classrooms, it has been the product of many revisions guided
by colleagues and my husband.
Vivian Benton provided me with housing throughout seven years of post-
graduate study, and it is to her that I dedicate this book. She provided impa-
tiens in the summer (for the owerbed) and two oors of her house for my
dog to roam. Educator, devoted member of her congregation, devoted wife,
she also provided me a room of ones own, as Virginia Woolf described the
material support necessary to feed body and soul in the pursuit of academic
studies. It is hard times for students who want to pursue degrees in the
humanities and it is thanks to Vivian that I did so.
I want to thank the National Archives of Zimbabwe for their permission to
publish pictures from their archives (gs. . and .). James Currey Pub-
lishers granted kind permission to publish David Lans picture (g. .).
The Staatliche Antikensammlungen in Munich granted permission to pub-
lish gure .. The Museum of the City of New York granted permission
to publish gure ..
Introduction
In the s, hundreds of incidents were recorded in the free-trade zones of
Malaysia in which women who worked in the technologically sophisticated
manufacturing plants were possessed by hantu, spirits, often harmful to
human beings, associated with a place, animal, or deceased person.
1
Fifteen
women, possessed by a datuk, an ancestral male spirit associated with a sa-
cred place, closed down an American-owned microelectronics factory in
.
2
The possessed women were so volatile that ten male supervisors
could not control one woman. In a woman at a Japanese-owned factory
saw a weretiger, screamed, and was possessed. She ailed at the machine on
which she worked and fought violently as the foreman and technician pulled
her away. Her supervisor recounted that the workplace used to be a burial
ground, implying that the shop oor was likely to be haunted by angry spir-
its and that women who had weak constitutions needed to be spiritually
vigilant so they would not be possessed.
3
The juxtaposition of technology
and spirits suggests that a complex and profound interaction of worlds was
occurring, centered in the volatile bodies of possessed women.
Some patterns were prevalent in these incidents: The onset was sudden
and the women could later recall only that they had been pounced upon or
attacked abruptly and could not remember anything that had happened
once they were possessed. Those who witnessed the possessions spoke about
the erratic and violent actions of those possessed. The womens voices would
change and they would sob, laugh, and shriek. They were transformed as
they raged and endowed with incredible strength. It often took several men
to subdue the possessed women, removing them from the shop oors before

The Hammer and the Flute


they inicted too much damage on the delicate machinery with which they
worked and also removing them so that they would not aect or infect their
colleagues. In most instances, spiritual vigilance was understood to be the
eective way to avoid becoming possessed, and factories responded by pro-
viding prayer rooms and exorcisms on the shop oors by local bomoh, men
who practiced as specialists in dealing with spirits.
As illustrated in the Malay possessions, the representation of possessed
bodies is compelling, and the philosophical and methodological issues raised
by critically evaluating these representations are legion. As a historian of
religions who is informed by feminist and postcolonial theory, I was rst
attracted to the study of womens possessed bodies because they are every-
where and they constitute a signicant and commanding element of the ma-
terial available to the scholar of women in religion, providing information
about womens religious lives, which otherwise is scarce. Encountering hun-
dreds of accounts of possession raised the following questions: Was there
anything signicant to say about possession in a comparative context or
should each account be studied for its uniqueness? How to evaluate the
agency of a human body that has been overcome by a religious force? What
is the role of a gender analysis in assessing the preponderance of women in
possession traditions? What do we learn from those traditions where men
predominate? How might one evaluate the power of this radical receptivity?
The Malay possessions are one of four examples I focus on in this book
to argue for an approach to the representation and critical evaluation of the
power of possessed bodies, that is, human bodies that are overcome by an-
cestors, deities, or spirits. The underlying methodological problem is how
to represent a body that has attracted one by its forcefulness when there is
no academically acceptable way to verify the very thingsancestors, deities,
and spiritsthat make possessed bodies forceful. In my review of the litera-
ture on possession I identify the relationship between scholars and the bod-
ies that have attracted their intellectual interests. In many instances, that
relationship is very awkward owing to the complexity of representing and
evaluating the power of this dynamic religious body.
Religious traditions in which people are possessed have existed through-
out recorded history and continue to exist on all continents of the globe.
Women predominate in these accounts, and their predominance is noted
by many scholars who attribute it to womens inferior gendered status in
Introduction
patriarchal culture. These analyses suggest that possessions are symptoms
of the womens social and psychological deprivation that happen to nd ex-
pression in culturally specic religious traditions. Traditionally in scholarly
texts, the possessed woman is valenced negatively as psychologically fragile,
permeable, less than a Western, rational agent. The power of her pos-
sessed body is reduced to hysteria at worst and creative therapy at best.
The key to the problem is not that possession studies are sexist or racist but
that a social scientic method is unable to take seriously what the witnesses
to the possession say is the casethat the power that overcomes them
comes from an ancestor, deity, or spirit.
I assume that for most readers from modern, Western backgrounds, the
term spirit possession conjures up images of bizarre and exotic rituals that are
used by unsophisticated people to make sense of their worlds, a kind of
primitive psychotherapy. Terms from the days of colonial conquest, such as
primitive and superstitious, may come to mind. That possession occurs pre-
dominantly among women is likely to t comfortably with the image of a
dark-skinned body, producing yet another fascinating image of the third-
world woman; or, in the context of a possessed Caucasian body, the fact of
womens predominance in possession accounts is likely to t comfortably
with notions of womens propensity for hysterical or psychosomatic symp-
toms. Approaching spirit possession from a postcolonial, feminist per-
spective will break apart these problematic associations and, by doing so,
demonstrate why it is that understanding possession is important for under-
standing dierence in a globalized world, especially the dierences pre-
sented by human bodies that are seen to be religious. In order to get to
this new understanding of possession, one must rethink the relationship of
such bodies to power. As long as possessions are evaluated as beliefs that
lack constitutive force, the possessed body will be evaluated as lacking real
or eective power. This book proposes a framework for understanding pos-
session in the context of reevaluating the relationship of religious bodies to
power so that the paradoxes of the possessed body are understood for their
complexity, not reduced to beliefs that have no real power in the world.
Possession is a problematic term that will be given much greater detail
throughout the book. For heuristic purposes I use a denition that Ann
Grodzins Gold developed in her study of possession in rural Rajasthan. Pos-
session is any complete but temporary domination of a persons body, and
The Hammer and the Flute
the blotting of that persons consciousness, by a distinct alien power of
known or unknown origin.
4
This denition focuses on the specic problem
that is raised by a religious body whose consciousness is blotted by its
experience. The broader category of religious ecstasy as found in the schol-
arly study of religion entails a spectrum of experiences containing phenom-
ena such as mysticism and trance. Spirit possessions reside at the far end of
the spectrum of religious experience in that consciousness is blotted to a
greater extent than with mysticism and therefore the experience is more
dicult to study. What might a scholar claim to know about an experience
that the possessed body does not consciously know or remember? This phil-
osophical problem relates immediately to the evaluations scholars make
about the agency of the possessed bodies. The blotted consciousness and
lack of memory is viewed suspiciously as a traumatic and negative event,
especially from a psychologically informed perspective. Consciousness itself
is viewed as the source of an individuals agency, so that possessions repre-
sent a troubling event. When self-consciousness and raising consciousness
are viewed as tools of empowerment by which an individual can overcome
oppressive social and psychological forces, the possessed body appears to
lack its most eective tool for overcoming oppression, its consciousness. As
with the Malay example, the coincidence of possessed bodies with struggles
against oppression therefore raises a conundrum for scholars who hope
their scholarship might contribute to the alleviation of oppression.
Possession is an important area of study for the historian of religion who
wants to understand the relationship of religious bodies to the triple axes of
power: race, class, and gender. Possession is more often ascribed to women,
the poor, and the religious other (the primitive, the tribal, the third-
world woman, the black, the immigrant). Therefore, representations of pos-
session can give us information about marginalized persons and their
struggles within and against the forces that have an impact upon their lives,
information that is otherwise scarce in historical records. The recent revival
of possession studies is a direct result of the general interest by scholars in
studying the lives of marginalized people. Yet many of these possession
studies have not raised formal questions regarding the representation of reli-
gious others. For instance, How does one evaluate the power of a religious
body? What is the epistemological parameter of a possession study? and
What normative model of subjectivity is undergirding the scholars inter-
Introduction
pretation of the possession? are questions that few scholars have asked as
they analyzed race, class, and gender. If the religious body itself is thought
to represent a kind of oppressed subjectivity, then the possessed body will be
approached from the very start as a body in need of consciousness raising.
Religion: The Anachronistic Space
From a modern, Western perspective, possession phenomena belong to pre-
Enlightenment society. If a possession were to occur in a classroom or a
boardroom in a contemporary Western city, it would likely seem to be out
of place, a bizarre throwback to an earlier time. Anne McClintock has iden-
tied a trope or motif at work in the modern imagination that helps to ex-
plain that out-of-place space.
5
In order to make sense of our encounter with
people from around the globe, the West constructs its idea of itself by con-
trasting its modernity, rationality, and progress to the premodernity, irratio-
nality, and backwardness of other people. McClintock locates one manifes-
tation of this process in Victorian practices of building museums to house
the bric-a-brac of otherness:
In the mapping of progress, images of archaic timethat is, non-European time
were systematically evoked to identify what was historically new about industrial mo-
dernity. . . . Yet in the compulsion to collect and reproduce history whole, time
just when it appears most historicalstops in its tracks. In images of panoptical time,
history appears static, xed, covered in dust. . . . At this point, another trope makes
its appearance. It can be called the invention of anachronistic space, and it reached
full authority as an administrative and regulatory technology in the late Victorian era.
Within this trope, the agency of women, the colonized and the industrial working
class are disavowed and projected onto anachronistic space: prehistoric, atavistic and
irrational, inherently out of place in the historical time of modernity.
6
Her analysis applies equally well to the development of the study of religion,
which in many ways created encyclopedic museums of other peoples reli-
gions that helped to establish the sense that we are more advanced, either
through Christianity or science, than the people whose religions we studied.
Possession is a paradigmatic example of the kind of behavior the Western
scholar is likely to view as inhabiting an anachronistic space to which he
or she can bring progressive models of interpretation (sociological, psycho-
The Hammer and the Flute
logical, medical, performative, or materialist) in order to make this other-
wise extreme behavior meaningful. As Elizabeth Anne Mayes has docu-
mented, the once-prevalent appearance of possession in the Western world
has been successfully marginalized, medicalized, and socialized out of exis-
tence, in part because capitalism and imperialism together came to value
the self-possessed man, thus making ones body one of the ultimate zones
of ownership.
7
While contemporary Western communities have largely done
away with possession, what we have produced instead are psychosis, schizo-
phrenia, multiple personality disorder, and fragmentation, all of which have
gendered tendencies. Multiple personality disorder and other phenomena
of dissociation are more widely diagnosed in women. We do not have pos-
session because it is contradictory to our model of subjectivity as individuals
and self-possessed agents who desire autonomy. Possession requires an ex-
ternal force that overcomes and inhabits the body (threatening the auton-
omy of the individual), whereas madness is located in the mind of an indi-
vidual (threatening ones mental health but not threatening the underlying
model of subjectivity).
Religiousness and religious bodies have not fared well in the modern
imagination of the self-possessed individual. The power of the scientic
method to make sense of the world has ultimately encircled and contained
the parameters within which religiousness is taken seriously. Through the
battles of the Reformation and Counter Reformation against the backdrop
of the burgeoning Enlightenment, a proper ground for religiousness was
carved, one that was determined to reside within the limits of reason
alone, to petition John Lockes work. A self-possessed philosopher could
maintain an acceptable space for his religious life by containing his claims
to knowledge of God within the acceptable rubrics of the reasoning mind.
One can read the development of philosophy in the West, from Locke to
Kant, as the corralling of religiousness within its proper sphere. This has
translated in the modern world to the association of the word religion with
the word belief.
If I say that I am not religious but that my sister is, one is likely to get a
sense that my sister has a bubble in her brain where she cultivates her belief,
her faith. Religiousness is construed as a mental activity. As long as my sister
remains within this proper sphere of religious practice she will be tolerated
as appropriately religious. If her bubble leaks out into the world of work or
Introduction
politics, let alone public demonstrations of rapture or the like, her actions are
likely to be interpreted according to the diagnosis that she is a fanatic, an
ideologue, or sexually repressed. Those whose religiousness is expressed in
their work, in their wars (such as Christian Identity groups), or in public dis-
plays have slid into the anachronistic space of backwardness. They are sus-
pected of being mentally needy because they cannot contain their bubble of
belief properly. This strong association, that religiousness is a matter of be-
lief that transpires in the psychic space of an individual, is extremely limiting
if one is trying to make sense of religiousness in the contemporary world.
Most scholarship on possession employs the assumption that possession
is a matter of belief. Many scholars who study possession will preface their
work by acknowledging that while the people they are studying believe in
possession, the scholar does not. By thinking of religiousness as belief, the
scholar sets up a study of something she or he does not literally believe in.
The power of the possession, an element of which is that the possession has
attracted the scholars attention, is elided in this caveat, giving us a safe
distance from which we maintain our fascination, similar to the experience
of walking through a museum. As long as the power of the possession is
located in the bubble of other peoples beliefs, the scholar constructs him or
herself as safely neutral and objective, reasonable and unaected. Decon-
structing the assumption that possessions are best understood as gments
of belief produces a new approach to religious bodies whereby the possessed
body can be interpreted for its negotiations with power, including its rela-
tionship to the scholar.
Given the anachronistic space that possession conjures and occupies,
then, it is likely that, whether one is looking at possession in Greek antiquity
or in contemporary Malaysia, one will interpret both examples as anachro-
nistic models of religious subjectivity that the contemporary Western sub-
ject has surpassed. What will also become clear as we look more closely at
examples of possession is that while it may seem exotic or anachronistic to
a contemporary Western reader, much of the global population is likely to
have experienced or seen a possession within their immediate community.
In addition, throughout Western history examples of possession are found,
suggesting that possession was a constitutive part of community existence
for a much longer period of time in the Western world than it has been
marginalized as atavistic behavior. It is high time to reorient our approach
The Hammer and the Flute
to possession as a signicant and uniquely powerful phenomenon. We are
already very busy studying possession; the problem is how we have ap-
proached and evaluated the power of the possessed bodies.
Approaching Possession
If religious bodies seem to be anachronistic in these days of science, the
possessed body is the paradigmatic example in that it challenges all of the
norms of contemporary Western evaluations of proper subjectivity. With
autonomy and democracy as two of the ideals that undergird contemporary
evaluations of international human rights, the religious body, which is over-
come by an external agency, which does not speak for itself but is spoken
through, and whose will is the will of the agency that wields it, is anomalous.
We are therefore confronted with an elegant problem for scholarship: how
to approach possession. How might a scholar approach and evaluate the
agency of a body whose consciousness is muted and whose volatility attracts
attention? This problem exists in relation to the checkered history of reli-
gious studies, which has participated in the production of scholarship that
has employed and perpetuated racist and sexist paradigms.
The evaluation and revaluation of possessed womens agency in a com-
parative context raises dicult challenges. The interpretation of agency and
the development of methodology are intimately intertwined at the level of
how one imagines and constructs the relationship between the subjectivity
of possessed women and the practice of religious studies. For example, by
interpreting the possessed woman as an anachronistic type of religious sub-
jectivity, one is constructing oneself as somehow more advanced than she is.
Borrowing from Lawrence Sullivans argument that methodologies impact
the analysis of the others agency, the various examples of possessed women
in this book are approached as complex examples of subjectivity that inform
and expand contemporary theories of agency. Sullivan writes: The funda-
mental question is this: what role will other cultures be allowed to play in
answering these questions about the nature of dierent modes of knowing
and the relations among them? Since the Age of Discovery, myriad cultures
have appeared on the margins of Enlightenment awareness. Normally, they
have been taken as objects of study, subject to the explanatory paradigms of
the natural and human sciences, and thrust into typological schemes which
Introduction
were not of their own making. . . . They have all been taken, in the main, as
data to be explained rather than as theoretical resources for the sciences that
study them.
8
Rather than impose contemporary paradigms of agency as the means by
which to interpret possessed women, I examine selected accounts of pos-
sessed women as theoretical resources for the interpretation of agency and
the development of a feminist methodology for evaluating womens power
in religious traditions. To interpret the agency of possessed women requires
the revaluation of receptivity and permeability beyond the usual, negative
associations of such openness with passivity and weakness. Given the associ-
ation between invagination, receptivity, and femaleness, it is the revaluation
of receptivity that should be of most interest to feminist theorists. When
approached in this way, possessed women are no longer anachronistic but
rather are challenging counterexamples to the theorizations of philosophers
such as Judith Butler and Elizabeth Grosz.
As Sullivan suggests in relation to his study of South American religions,
by recognizing the agency of others, methodology becomes more reexive.
By acknowledging, in our own experience, the agency of South American
peoples in fashioning the world in which we live, we become subject to their
meanings and capable of responding with deliberate interpretations of our
own.
9
What is most interesting about the study of possessions is the possi-
bility of being subjected to the meanings of women who are wielded by their
ancestors, deities, or spirits. Perhaps what we desire in the study of the pos-
sessed woman is that she will actually blow the dust o of our limited, muse-
umied understanding of human subjectivity.
Two issues required new theoretical footing. First, receptivity needed to
be revalued outside of dualistic notions such as active-passive or agent-
victim because it is receptivity that makes the possessed body powerful. Sec-
ond, in contrast to the phenomenologists strategy of bracketing belief, I
propose the creation of a discursive space in which the agency of the pos-
sessing ancestors, deities, or spirits is preserved. To accomplish both goals
I propose the concept of instrumental agency to describe the agency of pos-
sessed bodies. Instrumentality here refers to the power of receptivity, com-
parable metaphorically to a hammer, ute, or horse that is wielded, played,
or mounted. Instrumentality also implies the practical work, war, and play
accomplished by possessed bodies. I use the term agency rather than agent
The Hammer and the Flute
to move beyond the Western idea that agents are the paradigmatic model
of human empowerment. Agency implies action as well as a place where ex-
changes occur. By referring to possessed bodies as instrumental agencies for
the ancestors, deities, or spirits that possess them, I move beyond dualistic
notions of power and explore the complexity of instrumentality. In this way,
possessed bodies are not viewed as passive victims or manipulating agents.
Also, because hammers do not wield themselves and utes do not play
themselves, I carve out the discursive space in which indigenous bodies of
knowledge can be recorded as they are described. Though I cannot weigh
the possessing ancestor, for example, I need not elide its agency since that
was the force that attracted attention in the rst place. If the Malay women
discussed at the beginning of this introduction are approached as instru-
mental agencies for the hantu, the hantu preserves its pounce. In Chapter
I develop this concept in detail and relate it to arguments regarding nonvol-
untaristic accounts of agency in the work of Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz,
and Pheng Cheah.
The contemporary record of possession is largely represented by ex-
amples of third-world bodies, which continue to function as signiers amid
the triple axes of race, class, and gender. An important dimension of meth-
odology, therefore, is to approach these representations informed by postco-
lonial and feminist theories of the roles that women of color have played in
the imagination of modern subjectivity. In her important theorizations of
woman, native, other, Trinh T. Min-ha suggests that representations of
third-world women ll a deep-seated need in the imagination of self and
other: Third World, therefore, belongs to a category apart, a special one
that is meant to be both complimentary and complementary, for First and
Second went out of fashion, leaving a serious Lack behind to be lled.
10
If
possessed women are studied as members of the anachronistic space, our
fascination with them serves to ll the lack without acknowledging this dy-
namic. Many possession studies are premised upon the necessity of under-
standing possession, thereby masking the desire to be proximate to the pos-
sessed body. By shifting our approach, we acknowledge the desire and look
to these representations as resources for expanding the horizons for theoriz-
ing subjectivity.
Possessed women have been subjected to the scrutiny of the natural and
human sciences, with psychological, sociological, even biochemical inter-
Introduction
pretations being oered to explain possession in the historical past as well
as contemporary possession traditions. In revisiting these representations
the problem with which I am concerned is how the agency of possessed
women has been constructed in those representations. Possessed women
have been interpreted by scholars who were unable to locate, photograph,
weigh, or otherwise authenticate with empirical data the possessing ances-
tors, deities, or spirits. Consequently, these forces have been translated
according to prevalent academic models of religious subjectivity, which at-
tribute the force and vivacity of the possession to the beliefs of the people
being studied, beliefs that the scholar does not share. Or, more problemati-
cally, the ancestors, deities, or spirits are interpreted as psychosis, the physi-
ological eects of drum rhythms, or subconsciously employed guises used
by powerless people to acquire power that the scholar identies as real
power in contrast to religious power, such as economic gain or gains in social
status. Charles Long has described the historical trajectory that has pro-
duced the desire to translate other peoples religions according to Western
paradigms and has identied this problem as signifying: There is a com-
plex relationship between the meaning and nature of religion as a subject of
academic study and the reality of the peoples and cultures who were con-
quered and colonized during this same period. . . . [The reformist structure
of the Enlightenment] paved the ground for historical evolutionary think-
ing, racial theories, and forms of color symbolism that made the economic
and military conquest of various cultures and peoples justiable and defen-
sible. In this movement both religion and cultures and peoples throughout
the world were created anew through academic disciplinary orientations
they were signied.
11
Signifying, according to this denition, is a description of the relation-
ship between an academic study on the one hand and the reality of the
people being studied on the other. To claim that the study of religion is
replete with signications is not an ontological critique of academics as rac-
ist or sexist. Instead, the term signication identies a representational issue
that poses a methodological challenge: How does one engage in the study
of religion, given that a scandalous relationship underlies our pursuit? The
dynamic Long identies is the very dynamic that underlies the representa-
tion of possessed bodies, which are treated as novel phenomena that the
scholar can create anew in a way that makes sense from the scholars per-
The Hammer and the Flute
spective. Translated representations of religious others carry within them
an element of power that aects, at the level of representation, both the
academic and the religious bodies the academic is studying. Inhering in the
mask of objective neutrality is the scholars power to make worlds. As the
scholar presents the real meaning of the possession, as the scholar translates
what the people say is happening, a devaluation is occurring. The self-
identifying notae of a possession tradition, for instance, are not considered
to be adequate or powerful descriptors. As Long states, There is of course
the element of power in this process of naming and objectication. . . . It
[power] is manifest in the intellectual operations that exhibit the ability of
the human mind to come to terms with that which is novel, and it is mani-
fest in the manner of passivity that is expressed in the process wherein the
active existential and self-identifying notae through which a people know
themselves is almost completely bypassed for the sake of the conceptual and
categorical forms of classication.
12
The dynamic that Long designates as signication has an eect on the
construction of agency for both parties. The scholar is constructed as an
active agent and the agency of the people being studied is violently erased,
their indigenous knowledge overridden by the imposition of interpretive
frameworks. To reiterate, this is a critique registered at the level of represen-
tation, not of ontology. To criticize representational dynamics is not to
suggest that scholars are ontologically empowering or disempowering the
people they studythis seems to be a major confusion in recent years.
13
Noting the dynamic of signication does not point the way to purer repre-
sentations, nor does it pave the road for empowering the people one studies.
Rather, Longs argument impels me to revisit the record of possession stud-
ies and to identify the representational issues at work in a way that subjects
modern categorizations to the meaning of intellectual desire in its contact
with the possessed body.
Real Possessions?
The issue of signication, as Long has identied it, is a formal issue regard-
ing the representation of religious others. The complexity of representing a
possession is, owing to several factors, unique. By limiting this study to ex-
amples of possession in which consciousness is overcome, the representa-
Introduction
tions of these women are always the product of a witness to the possession,
which means that representations of possessed bodies are the products of
many layers of interpretation. One is not able to return to an origin where
one might nd out what she really said or experienced; instead, she requires
the interpretations of her community in order to recount the event. To study
possession, therefore, is always to study representations of possession. T. K.
Oesterreich spoke to this problem in his study of possession:
The facilities for an analysis of possession are much inferior to those enjoyed by the
student of states of ecstasy. For these latter we possess a mass of sources, autobio-
graphical in the widest sense of the word. Autodescriptions of possession are, on the
contrary, extremely rare. . . . This poverty of autodescriptive narratives has a pro-
found psychological reason which springs from the very nature of possession. We are
to some extent dealing with states involving a more or less complete posterior amne-
sia, so that the majority of victims of possession are not in a condition to describe it.
It is therefore necessary a priori to avoid conning ourselves to autodescriptive
sources, and to regard this matter as one in which concessions must be made.
14
While we should be wary of the signiers at work in Oesterreichs text, the
point he makes remains relevantwe are dependent upon the representa-
tions of witnesses to possessions, and the nature of possession prevents us
from listening only to the words of the possessed. Michel de Certeau de-
scribes this quandary about representations of possessed women in respect
to the nuns of Loudun in seventeenth-century France:
Quite often the available sources (archives, manuscripts, etc.) oer, as the possessed
womans discourse, what is always spoken by someone other than the possessed.
In most cases these documents are notaries minutes, medical reports, theologians
opinions or consultations, witnesses depositions, or judges verdicts. From the de-
moniac woman there only appears the image that the author of such texts has of her,
in the mirror where he repeats his knowledge and where he takes her own position
through inverting and contradicting it. That the possessed womans speech is nothing
more than the words of her other, or that she can only have the discourse of her
judge, her doctor, the exorcist, or witnesses is hardly by chance. . . . But from the out-
set this situation excludes the possibility of tearing the possessed womans true voice
away from its alteration. On the surface of these texts her speech is doubly lost.
15
This problem becomes fruitful material for the analysis of signifying prac-
tices. All of the accounts from which I have drawn represent a speech that
The Hammer and the Flute
is doubly lost. The possessed womans voice is overcome by an ancestor,
deity, or spirit that speaks through her. As a problem of representation, the
discourse of possession contains all of the potential for alterity, elision, cen-
sorship, sponsorship, suspicion, and transgression that has excited critical
theory. There is no such thing as an unaltered account of her possession.
How one reads that alteration, then, is the key hermeneutic for interpreting
her agency.
For this reason, I have chosen to stretch the boundaries of resources from
which examples of possessed women are drawn in Part . Chapter exam-
ines the possessions in Malaysia referred to at the beginning of this intro-
duction. Chapter examines possessions in Zimbabwe, and Chapter ex-
amines two plays in which a possessed woman is a central gure: Euripides
Bacchae and S. Y. Anskys The Dybbuk. It might seem awkward to move from
proposing an alternative interpretation of an ethnographic account of pos-
session to proposing an alternative interpretation of a play. The argument
for doing so is threefold. First of all, as stated above, there is no representa-
tion of a possession that is not an interpretation. In the case of the plays I
have chosen, they are accurate in their description of the religious lives of
women in ancient Greece and in Hasidic eastern Europe and in fact are
drawn from by other scholars as providing evidence about womens religious
lives because resources for such study are scarce. That is to say that these
interpretations of possession are considered to be historically accurate rep-
resentations. When studying womens religious lives, scholars are always
challenged to draw from and interpret judiciously information drawn from
nontraditional resources. The classicist Marilyn Skinner describes the nec-
essary strategy for extrapolating information about womens lives as con-
trolled inference.
16
Data used for piecing together womens religious lives
is almost always data received from male discourses and must be approached
with this power dierential in mind. For instance, historians of womens
lives draw from tombstones, legal and medical records, and the arts, all of
which exist according to the privileges of a dominant, patriarchal discourse.
Cultural representations of women (such as plays, artwork, and pottery)
must be approached carefully, since they record the artists aesthetic record,
and legal and medical records must also be approached carefully, as they
might have little relationship to the practices in which women engaged.
From this perspective, plays can be seen to carry vital information, which,
Introduction
if approached with controlled inference, provides valuable interpretations
about possession in these cultures.
The second reason to study these plays is that womens power is a central
theme in each of them, suggesting that the playwrights were purposefully
reecting on womens religious lives in relation to the systems of power in
which the women lived. Thus the playwrights provide us with critical in-
sights into womens lives, making their ctional accounts more signicant
than the dismissals of womens lives that mark the absences in traditional
historical accounts of these periods.
The third reason is that the performative power of possessions is itself a
major area of analysis, and the plays can be read as metaemployments of
the performative power of the possessed woman. These plays have raised
controversy, received signicant critical attention, and been hailed as mas-
terpieces. My argument is that these playwrights capitalized upon the per-
formative power of possession, albeit rehearsed and captured on a stage, to
great eect. To study a masterpiece with a possessed woman in it is to study
a powerful interpretation of a possessed woman; The Bacchae and The Dyb-
buk both provide excellent examples whereby the representation of a posses-
sion has been orchestrated in order to tap into the power of the possessed
woman. Analyzing these plays allows one to engage critically with two
dierent elds of scholarship. The rst consists of artistic interpreters of
the plays who, I argue, have been unable to appreciate the role of the pos-
sessed woman in the play because they associate her with a kind of hysterical
neediness rather than recognizing her role as a driving force in the play. The
second consists of ethnographers who have employed performance theory
to interpret the dynamic of possessions. I argue that most applications of
performance theory presuppose that an actor is performing, just as the
actors in the play are performing. This theoretical approach to possessions
assumes that an actor is acting rather than that a woman is being played by
an ancestor, deity, or spirit to an audience, and again we have returned to
the problem that undergirds most scholarship on possession: Scholars are
unable to think about agency outside of the bounds of a conscious agent. In
contrast, these playwrights have not created characters who act out acting
Euripides and Ansky are clear in their use of the possessed woman as a
character that the power of the possessed woman is her alterity rather than
her individual strength as a performer.
The Hammer and the Flute
Many kinds of representations are drawn from in the book, from colonial
photographs to historical documents to ethnographies to dramatic texts.
What these representations share is that they indicate a politics of rela-
tionality between the author of the account and the woman or women de-
scribed. What I am proposing, then, is an analysis that is concerned with
the politics of relationality in reading and evaluating representations of pos-
sessed women. I adapt this phrase from De Certeaus argument that texts
written by mystics are not logical statements nor are they factual accounts:
These stories depict relations. They do not treat statements (as would a logic) or facts
(as in a historiography). They narrate relational formalities. They are accounts of
transfers, or of transformational operations, within enunciative contracts. Thus, for
example, there is a missing and seductive otherness of the idiot woman or idiot man
only in relation to the wise man. The story, a theoretic ction, sketches enunciative
models (challenge, summons, duel, seduction, change of position, etc.) and not con-
tent (true statements, meanings, data, etc.). What is essential to it, therefore, is that
which, in the form of coups, transforms the relationships between subjects within
the system of meanings or of factsas if, in speech, one were to consider only the
changes of place among the speakers and not the semantic or economic orders from
which these illocutionary exchanges nevertheless receive a eld and a vocabulary for
their operations.
17
Following this line of interpretation I look at ethnography, historiogra-
phy, and dramatic texts as accounts of possession that explain a transfer or
transformational operation within the enunciative contracts of the dis-
courses in which they are recorded. As accounts of possession they indicate
and tally the relations of bodies. They record challenges, seductions, and
duels rather than true statements. Whether it is an ethnographer or a play-
wright who is representing the possessed woman, my analysis is of the rela-
tional formalities by which the representations are narrated. What becomes
fascinating if accounts of possession from various genres are understood to
narrate relational formalities is the central role possessed women play as
sites of exchange between race, class, and gender distinctions. Feminist the-
ory has long pondered the role of women within male economiesthe zero
sum upon which patriarchal economies turn. The possessed woman func-
tions as an altered marker in highly charged exchanges. Accounts of posses-
sion often occur at moments of cultural crises, where worlds of meaning are
being exchanged for new paradigms, or at moments of change and exchange
Introduction
in a womans life, especially marriage. Such a highly overdetermined reli-
gious body merits rigorous analysis.
Given the doubly lost nature of a possessed womans speech, any account
of a possession depicts relationships between the authors and the possessed
women they describe more so than it depicts the real possession. Euripi-
des deployment of maenads in his play is as much a resource with which a
scholar can employ a method of controlled inference in learning about the
religious lives of women in Greek antiquity as is Anskys deployment of a
young possessed Jewish woman (whose character was drawn from the ex-
tensive ethnographic expeditions Ansky led through the Pale of Settlement
as described in Chapter ), as is Ongs materialist analysis of the contempo-
rary Malaysian possessions. Although ethnographers and playwrights are
working within entirely dierent parameters for including or excluding in-
formation, neither can claim to be writing a factual account of a posses-
sionthey are writing accounts that depict the relationship between a
woman, an unknowable agency, and the community that responds to the
woman. What would a factual account of a possession be? How would
one know?
Outline of the Text
The book proceeds in two parts. Part traces the history of possession stud-
ies, elucidates contemporary arguments about agency, and proposes the
concept of instrumental agency. Chapter , Signifying Possession, pres-
ents the general shape and history of possession studies and identies the
awkward formal relationship that has been constructed as scholars have es-
tablished their academic approaches to possessed bodies in the past century.
Chapter , Reorienting Possession, outlines the important work of Talal
Asad and Catherine Bell, who have reinvigorated religious studies in their
respective analyses of the relationship of religious bodies to power. When
such bodies are related to power rather than depicted as bodies molded by
belief, the representation of agency is put on new ground. Chapter is a
constructive chapter that introduces the concept of instrumental agency,
a concept that provides a discursive space for the agency of the possessing
ancestors, deities, or spirits to be taken seriously as a constitutive element
in the subjectivity of the possessed body and therefore a constitutive ele-
The Hammer and the Flute
ment of its agency. Functioning within the discourse of philosophical theol-
ogy, the concept of instrumental agency does not claim knowledge of the
possessing ancestors, deities, or spirits. It does, however, allow one to take
seriously the self-identifying notae of possession traditions, which identify
womens status as utelike and hammerlike instruments for ancestors, dei-
ties, or spirits.
In Part : I revisit four episodes of possession following the themes of
work, war, and play(s). These thematic backdrops emphasize the relation-
ship of womens religious lives to their negotiations with power. The previ-
ous analyses of these possessions interpret the symbolic meaning of the pos-
sessions so that possessed women who are found in places of work, war, and
play have been described as agents who are wielding symbolism as a guise
for getting work done, ghting battles, or attracting attention to themselves.
While previous analyses of these case studies have maintained the anachro-
nistic space of the possessed woman, I demonstrate how dierently we g-
ure in relationship to the possessed woman when we investigate her instru-
mental agency.
Chapter , Work, examines the possessions that happened on the shop
oors of technologically sophisticated, multinational manufacturing plants
in Malaysia. The crux of the problem in evaluating the possessions is that
they occur at a site of oppressive labor conditions. Religious bodies are often
perceived from the contemporary perspective to be oppressed by religious
belief so that the evaluation of the possession occurring at a worksite entails
a complex dynamic. The oppressive working conditions are viewed as real
oppression, while the possession is viewed as a symbolic reaction to the real
oppression, and the ancestors are . . . psychic metaphors of real struggle?
After critically studying representations of these possessions, I propose that
the Malay women were acting as instrumental agencies for the resacraliza-
tion and reterritorialization of spaces that are recognizably sacred to the
Malay.
Chapter , War, revisits representations of the role that the Nehanda
mhondoro (Shona spirit mediums) played during the rst chimurenga and sec-
ond chimurenga (revolutionary war) in Zimbabwe. During these wars, indig-
enous Africans fought against the colonial governments of Cecil Rhodes
(r8os, rst chimurenga) and Ian Smith (roor;os, second chimurenga).
Unlike the Malay women, who have been depicted predominantly as victims
Introduction
of oppression, the Nehanda mhondoro have been depicted as heroines and
have risen to the status of national symbols. Reading them as instrumental
agencies for their ancestors, the guardians of the land, produces an alterna-
tive evaluation of their power.
Chapter examines the representations of possessed women in two plays:
Euripides Bacchae and S. Y. Anskys Dybbuk. I focus specically on how the
playwrights represent the possessed womans agency and discuss how the
playwrights have employed the instrumental agency of the possessed woman
to great eect and great critical notice. Both plays have moved and troubled
their audiences, in part owing to the ambivalent power that a possessed
woman exercises on stage as a dramatic force that crosses traditional gender
lines. Both plays have proved problematic for critics, in part because of the
dramatic eects created by the volatile body of a woman who is wielded
by forces that lead to tragic conclusions. I conclude the chapter by briey
examining the relationship between performance theories of possessions
and performances of possession, arguing that what most performance theo-
ries of possession do is to suggest that conscious actors are performing, that
is to say, manipulating their audiences. An alternative to this model of per-
formance theory is found in the work of Ann G. Gold; the underlying
dierence between Golds theory and others is which models of subjectivity
and agency they assume. Using instrumental agency as the model of subjec-
tivity, one can allow for the play of possession, a play that works, rather
than locating the performative power of possession as belonging to an actor
who is manipulating an audience.
I approach the topic of possession as a feminist philosopher and historian
of religions informed by postcolonial perspectives to argue against previous
interpretations and for an analysis of the agency of a woman who is not
where she is speaking. As with Chilla Bulbecks Re-Orienting Western Femi-
nisms and Richard Kings Religion and Orientalism, my argument is aimed at
usthose who are trained in the Western academic tradition and who
are constrained by assumptions and models of subjectivity of which we are
unaware and which can hinder our ability to recognize our relationship to
the religious others who attract our intellectual desires.
18
We have ap-
proached possession as though it existed in a museum and did not have any
real power to subject us to its meanings, masking our desire to watch and
record while constructing ourselves as impervious to the belief structures
The Hammer and the Flute
that make possession possible for our others. Building on new developments
in the study of possession and of religious bodies we can now understand
ourselves as the historical and global minority, hindered by structures of
which we are unaware as we are drawn to encounter the otherness of other
peoples religions and other womens forms of power. From each cultural
and historical setting, these ambivalently powerful possessed women have
attracted the attention of authors, and it is toward providing a more ade-
quate framework for interpreting their agency that I now turn.
Part 1 Reorienting Possession in Theory
In religious studies questions have been raised about how
scholarly representations of religious others have served to
build a hierarchical sense of an us, enlightened, reasonable
individuals, in contrast to a them, backward and primitive
communities. Bodies that are possessed by ancestors, spirits,
or deities have often been approached as backward or primi-
tive bodies at worst, or as novel cultural or ethnic bodies. The
underlying problem with most approaches to possession is
that the scholar sees the body as religiously motivated, as a
body that has beliefs, which are not really real. If we are to
take Charles Longs argument seriously and examine how the
study of possession has signied its others, we are faced with
a very interesting intellectual problem. If we concern our-
selves with the self-identifying notae of possession traditions,
that is, if the scholar attempts to engage with rather than
elide the claims being made regarding the power of ancestors,
deities, and spirits to possess bodies, how might one approach
the interpretation and evaluation of possessed bodies?
The problem hinges on a question of agency, which runs
on two interrelated levels concurrently: () How do our rep-
resentations of possession construct our agency in relation to
the people being studied? In other words, are we active agents
of knowledge, while they are unreective participants who do
not really know what is going on? and () How does a scholar

Reorienting Possession in Theory


assess the agency of a possessed body, given that it is epistemologically im-
possible to verify a possession? Unless these methodological issues are ad-
dressed, the analyses of possession bypass the very dynamic that instigated
the studythe possession of a body. Reorienting possessions in theory
allows one to address both of these interrelated levels and to highlight the
power the possessed body has exerted in attracting scholarly attention.
Part describes and responds to this problem in three chapters. Chapter
focuses on the problem of signication when social scientic paradigms
are used to analyze possession and closely examines the major theories of
possession. Chapter describes the contemporary context in which the re-
lationship of religious bodies to systems of power is theorized in signi-
cantly new ways. Examining the arguments of Susan Starr Sered, Talal
Asad, Janaki Nair, and Catherine Bell regarding agency and religious bod-
ies, the conjunction of their respective concerns sets the stage for a theoreti-
cal and methodological shift in paradigms for the study of possession. In
Chapter the epistemological problem is identied: If I am not going to
dismiss claims that ancestors, deities, and spirits possess bodies, I also can-
not claim to know these agencies. New footing is required, located in a
discursive space that allows for indigenous claims to stand (the claims are
not dismissed or elided) while allowing for critical interrogation. I propose
the concept of instrumental agency as a corrective framework for interpret-
ing the agency of possessed bodies, which are not conscious agents but in-
stead are functioning as instrumental agencies for the ancestors, deities, or
spirits that possess them. Through this process of identifying the problem,
rethinking the relationship of religious bodies to power, and nally ap-
proaching the possessions without erasing the agency of the ancestors, dei-
ties, or spirits, we can accept the challenge put forward by Lawrence Sulli-
van. Rather than interpreting possessed bodies, and especially the bodies of
possessed women, as exotic anachronisms, we nd ourselves subjected to
the meanings and agencies of the people who have attracted our intellec-
tual desires.
Chapter 1 Signifying Possession
In the past century the study of spirit possession has been pursued by psy-
chologists, sociologists, historians, historians of religions, missionaries, and
most signicantly by anthropologists who have recorded their encounters
with possession on every continent of the globe. Studying the study of pos-
session allows us to see how possession was constructed as a religious behav-
ior and how the study of other peoples religiousness has changed during
the century. This survey of possession studies is a chronological record of
the way scholars have constructed themselves in relation to the possessed
bodies that attracted their attention. As I examine the transformations I
highlight how the scholarly categories situate the scholar in relation to the
possessed body. That is, I highlight the extent to which the scholarship sig-
nies the possessions as dened by Long: By signication I am pointing
to one of the ways in which names are given to realities and peoples during
this period of conquest [colonialism]; this naming is at the same time an
objectication through categories and concepts of those realities which ap-
pear as novel and other to the cultures of conquest.
1
That possessed bodies were recognized or identied as religious bodies
in and of itself tells us a great deal about how scholarly categories created
postures or positions for scholarly bodies and for possessed bodies. Pos-
sessed bodies were not described as soldierly bodies, or as athletic bodies,
or as artistic bodies. How did scholars know that possessed bodies were reli-
gious bodies? The rigid bodies, wild gesticulations, altered voices, contorted
or frothing mouths, and erotic gyrations were faithfully recorded and then
made comprehensible as driven by religious belief. The scholar dissected

Reorienting Possession in Theory


the volatility as an eect of religious beliefs in combination with social dep-
rivation, calcium deciency, and the like, taming the exotic display. Pos-
sessed bodies were identied as religious bodies because that allowed the
scholar to corral the power of the possessed body. Scholars were confronted
with data that could not be veried, and so it was called belief. For example,
an ethnographer could tape or lm a possession but could not weigh the
body to demonstrate the presence of a possessing ancestor. Therefore, its
power must not be real power but must be religious symbolism. The rela-
tionship between scholars and possessed bodies is changing. The problem
that continues to challenge scholars is how to evaluate the power of a pos-
sessed body.
Three Fields of Possession Studies
To discuss the positions that scholars assume in their studies of possession
I divide the eld into three dynamic elds that have had an impact on each
other and that have been aected by intellectual developments appropriate
to their time: social scientic studies of possession, second-wave social
science, and studies of possession performed by religionists (as dened be-
low). Extensive bibliographies of possession studies have been produced, so
that I need not replicate voluminous listings here but rather will describe a
general morphology and chronology of the research as it pertains to the
question of signication.
2
While there is overlap between these elds, this
heuristic division is made to note the dierent relationship of the authors
to the people they are representing in order to demarcate how elds of
power and models of subjectivity are being constructed along the lines of
disciplines and methodology. I focus on the discursive relationship that is
created between the scholar and the possessed bodies that have attracted the
scholars attention.
The rst eld, social scientic approaches to possession, is the largest
producer of possession studies, containing disciplinary-specic studies of
possession (medical anthropology, anthropology, sociology, and psychology)
and in more recent work combinations such as social psychology or medical
ethnography. The shared line of approach is to provide social scientic in-
terpretations of possession phenomena. Following Robert Segals recent de-
scription of this approach, religiousness is described reductively.
3
Reduc-
Signifying Possession
tively, in this case, is meant not as a critical description of reducing the
meaning of religiousness but rather as a description of the process whereby
one eld is called on to explain another eld such as chemistry being used
to describe biology.
I distinguish as second wave those approaches to possession that fore-
front agency and issues of representation. Many second-wave scholars have
been inuenced by feminist and postcolonial theories. The dening charac-
teristic of this eld is its concern with power dynamics in terms of the triple
axes of race, class, and gender and also in terms of the impact of colonialism
and capitalism. The second wave employs the methodologies of the rst
eld but attempts to improve upon social and psychological interpretations
of possession by including the analysis of multiple axes of power in the con-
text of colonialism. Also, these scholars reect on the power relationships
and desires that undergird the content of their work. The second eld is
very interesting to study because the scholars position themselves as scribes
whose job it is to represent the underside of history, revaluing the roles
played by marginalized persons. In many cases, however, the social psychol-
ogists, medical anthropologists, or feminist ethnographers performing these
studies consider religiousness to be a matter of belief or ideology so that
while they are identifying womens power within possession traditions they
also explain that power reductively (as psychology or the result of material
deprivation). Thus they cannot consider the power of the ancestors, deities,
or spirits to be a real power, but rather interpret the power of the possessing
agencies as a symbolic power. The distinction between real power (such as
capitalism and patriarchy) and symbolic power is given further analysis in
Chapter .
Religionists establish their position in contrast to reductive explanations
and often align their approach with the arguments made by Mircea Eliade
and the phenomenological study of religion. Their shared line of approach
regards religiosity as a historically universal human experience of power
and meaning that deserves to be studied as such. To describe this power,
religionists have borrowed concepts such as the sacred or kratophany
from the traditions they study. Religionists maintain a discursive space for
this power as something that has an impact on human lives. This attribution
of power is problematic for many reductionists who criticize the vagaries of
terms such as the sacred. The reason for dierentiating between the ap-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
proach of religionists and social scientic studies of possession (rst and
second wave) is that each approach has dierent formal problems in inter-
preting the power of possessed bodies. It would be simplistic to suggest that
the lines between these approaches are rmreductionists use metaphysi-
cal concepts and historians of religions draw from social scientic para-
digms. The best work from both elds recognizes their shared origins in the
modern, Western intellectual tradition and values the productive interplay
of paradigms.
Social Scientic Approaches to Possession
The rst eld of possession studies is the largest and exerts the greatest
inuence in terms of how possession is studied. Nils Holm contributes a
useful overview of the scholarship of the rst eld, suggesting that it can
be divided into two categories. The rst are case studies or ethnographies
characterized above all by the analysis and meticulous description of some
phenomenon or occurrence somewhere in the world, often without any
greater aspirations towards a general explanation of the phenomenon in
question.
4
The second group aims at broader theoretical explanations,
which he argues can be divided into two groups: ) research which at-
tempts to compare ecstasy with ideas taken from psychiatry or which tries
to t ecstasy into some classication of mental states and ) research which
applies an anthropological or social-psychological point of view. There are
of course marginal approaches between the two groups.
5
Four foundational comparative studies that aim to provide a metatheore-
tical explanation of possession are T. K. Oesterreichs Possession: Demoniacal
and Other, Erika Bourguignons Possession and World Distribution and Pat-
terns of Possession States, and I. M. Lewiss Ecstatic Religion. Each was
written from a social scientic perspective: psychology, anthropology, and
sociology, respectively. Oesterreich constructed a survey of the history of
possession from the most ancient times down to the present day and in all
countries of the inhabited globe, together with an analysis of its nature and
relationship to other phenomena, such as hysteria and the manifestations of
spiritualism.
6
Oesterreich described himself as a historian of religions in
his text, but his argument was solidly reductionist. His text stands
as a classic period piece, constructed on the basic dichotomy of empire
Signifying Possession
civilized-primitiveand the basic dichotomy of scholarship produced as a
result of empire: scholarly knowledge-primitive belief. As I look at his argu-
ment I am not concerned with critiquing its imperialist foundation (which
speaks for itself) but rather with examining Oesterreichs text because it
gives us one of the most forthright displays of the awkward relationship that
is constructed between the scholar and the people he or she is studying.
For Oesterreich, possession is a symptom of psychic projection. The psy-
che projects its unconscious desires out onto fabricated phantoms. In order
for such projection to occur, the person has to be vulnerable to the sugges-
tion that such phantoms exist. Here we have the possessed body as the
anachronistic body. Women, the lower classes, and primitives are all signi-
ed as susceptible to possession because of their respective psychological
weaknesses. Presenting this graphic example of a possessed woman recorded
by an eighteenth-century physician, Oesterreich establishes a position of
proximity to her possessed body but quickly proposes an analysis of the
woman as a hysteric so that his position is established as scientic. This
description illustrates the compelling nature of possession accounts and also
the problems that arise in evaluating the agency of possessed women.
In this state the eyes were tightly shut, the face grimacing, often excessively and
horribly changed, the voice repugnant, full of shrill cries, deep groans, coarse words;
the speech expressing the joy of inicting hurt or cursing God and the universe,
addressing terrible threats now to the doctor, now to the patient herself. . . . The most
dreadful thing was the way in which she raged when she had to submit to be touched
or rubbed down during the ts; she defended herself with her hands, threatening all
those who approached, insulting and abusing them in the vilest terms; her body bent
backward like a bow was ung out of the chair and writhed upon the ground, then lay
there stretched out full length, still and cold, assuming the very experience of death.
7
The representation of the volatile body of a possessed woman produces an
ambivalent power that attracts the readers fascination. The power of pos-
session accounts is similar to that of ghost stories and raises a question that
is epistemologically impossible to verify: Is there a deity wielding her bodys
rage? In response to such an anxiety-provoking story, the swift return of a
modernist paradigm arrives in the reassurance that this woman was hysteri-
cal or mad, not possessed.
In the Western tradition, Oesterreich associates women and the unedu-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
cated lower classes as being susceptible to autosuggestion: But as regards
sex, the predominance in women is extraordinarily marked. . . . The epi-
demics of possession have almost always smitten convents of nuns or similar
establishments, men being only occasionally aected. For the rest, the pos-
sessed almost all belong to the uneducated lower classes. Having noted the
preponderance of women, he nevertheless writes the text in reference to
males as subjects. For example, he writes: So far as age is concerned, the
rst appearance of possession is not connected with any given time of life.
He then addresses the second sex, stating that for women the climactic
periods [puberty, birthing, and menopause] are solely involved.
8
That is,
for men age is not a factor.
His signifying rhetoric extends beyond smitten nuns. Of primitives he
states, The accounts of ethnologists show beyond a doubt that the psyche
of primitive peoples is much less rmly seated than that of civilized ones.
After citing a Catholic priests account of the autosuggestibility of primitive
peoples, Oesterreich concludes: This narrative shows how unstable is
primitive personality, how easily it succumbs to autosuggestion, which
never exercises the same kind of inuence on civilized man. Never ac-
knowledging the colonial power structures that undergird his scholarship
or the power the possessions have had in attracting the attention of the
Catholic priest and himself, Oesterreichs science is also engaged in the con-
struction of Western masculinity (hard, impermeable) in contrast to perme-
ability and the weakness of the succumbing women, primitives, and lower
classes. Underlying the association is a latent dichotomy in which women,
primitives, and the uneducated lower classes are grouped together as po-
rous, permeable, and bodily beings who succumb to the fantasy of pos-
sessing agencies in contrast to the scholar, a subject who is a rmly seated,
impermeable, and active agent of knowledge. Oesterreich predicts that pos-
sessions will eventually become extinct for reasons similar to those given by
Freud in The Future of an Illusion. Possession begins to disappear amongst
civilized races as soon as belief in spirits loses its power. From the moment
they cease to entertain seriously the possibility of being possessed, the nec-
essary autosuggestion is lacking.
9
Though his text is replete with examples
of exotic, powerful, volatile bodies, which have attracted his intellectual de-
sire, possession is not real. Possession is neutralized and pathologized as the
data are assimilated into the framework of psychology.
Signifying Possession
Oesterreich acknowledges that the agency of possession is complex
people who are initially overcome by deities often develop a skill by which
to negotiate with the demands of their deities. He explains this complexity
according to the dichotomies of voluntary or involuntary possessions. Ac-
cording to this model, people who are vulnerable to autosuggestibility rst
experience an involuntary possession. Then they begin voluntarily to induce
the possession after experiencing the ecacy of possession for attracting
attention or gaining authority. Oesterreichs voluntary-involuntary analysis
elides the power of the possessing deitythis is not alterity but rather psy-
chology. As an involuntary possession it is a psychosis, and as a voluntary
practice it is a choice. Ultimately his analysis provides Oesterreich with the
power to know (actively mastering the world of) the possessed, who them-
selves are people who succumb to possession (victims of autosuggestibility
who then manipulate others). Civilized masculinity has been produced
through the study of the religious other.
The later studies of Bourguignon and Lewis articulate a desire not to
impose Western norms in the analysis of possession phenomena, and they
avoid the primitive-civilized dichotomy. Their strategies for objectively
studying the possessions, however, place them in an odd relationship with
the people they study. On the one hand, the possession is described as a real
belief, but on the other hand it is not the belief of the scholar, who then
presents an alternative interpretation of the real processes at hand. Again,
the association of religiousness with belief functions to distance scholars
from the anachronistic space of the people who have attracted their intellec-
tual curiosity. Agency is a central dilemma for these scholars. They each
make a distinction between power that we can know (real power whose pres-
ence can be detected) and power in which one must believe (which is real
only for the people being studied). This is a more subtle form of signica-
tion that relegates indigenous explanations to a place in the mind of the
possessed person (belief), eliding the indigenous claim that a power that
transcends the human is the agentive force behind the possession (ancestral
intervention, for example). This form of signication is a strategic practice
of containment, containing the possession within the minds of the folk
and removing it from our reality.
10
Writing from an anthropological perspective, Bourguignon pursued her
research as a broadly conceived cross-cultural study of dissociational states
Reorienting Possession in Theory
and of the explanatory system to which they are linked in the societies in
which they occur. Her underlying binary system is dissociational states-
indigenous explanatory systems. The result is that she constructs a univer-
sal, psychological model of subjectivity against which she compares cultur-
ally specic explanatory systems or beliefs. Bourguignon introduces the
concept of behavior as the bridge between her knowledge of dissociational
states and indigenous explanatory systems; by watching their behavior she
will be able to identify their dissociational states. Behavior is something that
Bourguignon can know, similar to Oesterreichs ability to know autosugges-
tibility. She writes, however, that their behavior is so dierent from ours that
their behavior might appear to be incomprehensible without knowledge of
beliefs. For Bourguignon, beliefs are the agentive force behind the posses-
sions. They are the constructs of human minds, located in human minds.
The anthropologists task is not to learn about spirits, possession, reincar-
nation and such matters as ends in themselves. He [sic] is interested in spirit
beliefs only as they can inform us about people. . . . Knowledge of the beliefs
helps us to understand behavior, for without such knowledge, behavior is
incomprehensible. Such an investigation does not require us to share a belief
in spirits or in spirit possession. In studying the beliefs of others and in
respecting them, we need not make them our own. . . . As to the existence
of spirits, it behooves us to maintain an attitude of healthy skepticism.
11
We
should maintain a healthy skepticism toward the existence of spirits. The
us-them divide is constructed on this very point. Spirits have been trans-
formed and contained into spirit beliefs, which are real only in the minds
of those she studies.
12
To clarify, religiousness is associated with fantasy, with unreal beliefs. As
Richard King argues, scholars who study culture do not feel the need to
prescribe that their audience should maintain a healthy skepticism toward
the existence of culture.
13
Something about the way that religion has been
constructed in the academy produces its unique status as something from
which a scholar needs to distance herself. Nowhere is this more evident than
in studies of possession, where repeatedly the caveat is delivered that the
scholar does not believe in possession. The scholar establishes her distance
from the very event she has gone to great pains to encounter. It is a masked
encounter. She is not subjected to the agency of the possessed body when
she maintains her healthy skepticism.
Signifying Possession
This is not to say that possession traditions do not maintain their own
systems of healthy skepticism. Most traditions have elaborate systems of
interrogation for determining authentic possessions from unauthentic pos-
sessions.
14
Much eort is spent determining whether specic events of pos-
session are authentic. The question raised within the possession traditions,
however, is not whether possessing deities are real: Possessions are tested to
see if they are powerful and to see what kinds of knowledge they can pro-
duce. The question from within possession traditions is whether the person
is an authentic vessel for a possession; that is, emptied, mounted, or over-
come. Bourguignons skepticism, in contrast, is directed toward the possible
agency of an ancestor, deity, or spirit.
Bourguignon takes an awkward stance as she respects but maintains a
healthy skepticism. Her stance is masked. Enjoying the proximity of wit-
nessing the religious other, her skepticism protects her and makes her im-
pervious to the power of the possessing agencies. The scholar (healthy,
rmly seated) can maintain herself within a space of vicarious fascination
with the power of the possessions while representing herself as unaected
in her rational experience. The indigenous beliefs have been rendered sus-
pect (we maintain a healthy attitude of skepticism toward transcendentals
like spirits or deities), while social science is constructed as capable of know-
ing behaviora knowledge that will allow us to understand this novel
otherness, bringing it under our control. To the extent that Bourguignon
identies a central issue for anthropologists, that they can study beliefs that
they do not share, she is simultaneously identifying the way that many an-
thropologists have constructed the religious life as a matter of beliefs. If
religion is belief, then possession is belief and possessions are therefore lo-
cated in the psyche of the people being studied. From this perspective, we
can remain skeptical and do not have to describe possession as though we
believed in the ancestors. There are many important anthropological analy-
ses of possession that were contemporaneous with Bourguignons work, as
well as important analyses regarding phenomena such as cargo cults, which
posed a similar problem for the anthropologist.
15
By identifying this dy-
namic in Bourguignons inuential study, I am identifying the tension that
confronts the anthropologist as a social scientist when encountering posses-
sion. On the one hand, Bourguignon elevated the status of possession by
arguing that it was not a product of mental insanity. She established the
Reorienting Possession in Theory
global presence of possession as an element of culture. On the other hand,
Bourguignons text exemplies the problem of signication. By interpreting
novel phenomena according to the social scientic paradigm, the self-
identifying notae of the people being studied are bypassed as beliefs, and
beliefs do not have real power for the anthropologist (or at least the anthro-
pologist is constrained by his or her discipline to remain objective, that is,
skeptical). The agency of the possessing ancestors, deities, or spirits is
elided when it is described as belief, and the power the possession has exer-
cised in attracting the anthropologists attention is masked as the intellectual
desire of the scholar to make sense of this otherwise incomprehensible be-
havior.
Bourguignons research is included in two edited volumes that reect the
variety of researchers interested in evaluating the power of possession in the
latter third of the twentieth century. The rst is a collection of papers
delivered at a conference on trance and possession states.
16
While Bourguig-
non was mapping the global locations of possession and clarifying the
dierence between possession and trance, other scholars were using the
tools of modern medical technology, including the use of electroencephalo-
grams (EEGs). The cumulative eort produced a grid of analytical schema
for categorizing this novel phenomenon in all its variety. The collection il-
lustrates the international, interdisciplinary eort that was being made to
dissect the truth behind the power of possessed bodies. In his concluding
remarks to the nal panel of the conference, Raymond Prince identied pre-
cisely the underlying problem of possession studies: The problem is
this. . . . [W]e have assumed that native explanations of spirit-possession
generally involve elements of fantasy, that there are, in fact, no such things
as disembodied agencies which mount their devotees and cause them to be-
have in the manner we have heard described. We have tacitly explained away
the spirits by regarding them as primitive interpretations of social, psycho-
logical, or physiological forces. I believe this attitude reects the general
view of our contemporary, middle class populace.
17
From our position look-
ing at the maps or reading out the EEG tape, we remain skeptical that the
possessions relate to something in the real world that believers inhabit.
18
What Prince did not acknowledge was the position of mastery that this
scholarship was assuming in relation to the novel people they were studying.
More recently Bourguignons work has been picked up in the academic
Signifying Possession
discussion of religion and mental health as epitomized by an edited collec-
tion in which Bourguignon contributed a chapter entitled Religion as a
Mediating Factor in Culture Change,
19
which is discussed further in Chap-
ter . She argues that religion is a mediating factor that facilitates womens
transitions in the face of cultural change. From this perspective, possession
is a compensatory psychic and social response to the real forces of change
that are aecting womens lives. To the extent that anthropologists and med-
ical scholars approach religiousness as a psychic or mental phenomenon,
their analyses signify possessions in that the scholars cannot take seriously
the claims being made that ancestors, deities, or spirits are employing the
bodies of the possessed to address the community.
Bourguignons research student Felicitas Goodman carried on Bourguig-
nons project by developing what she saw to be a holistic approach to posses-
sion. She combined comparative linguistic analysis of the speech of pos-
sessed persons with social theory developed by physical anthropologists,
producing a complex schema for analyzing what kind of anxieties were likely
to aect hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, agriculturalists, nomadic pasto-
ralists, and city dwellers.
20
She also pursued the biomedical analysis of brain
waves in volunteers for whom she had developed a method for achieving a
state of trance.
21
Like Bourguignon, Goodman is very concerned to position
herself as someone who does not consider possession to be insanity. She
values possession as one example of the biologically determined human
need and propensity to experience alternate reality. In contrast to Oester-
reich, she argues that humans will always be driven to experience alternate
reality, and she predicts that phenomena such as possession will continue to
erupt, even in modern, urban environments.
Nevertheless, in a telling section of her earliest research into Christian
glossalalia (speaking in tongues when the Holy Spirit has entered ones
body), she nds herself in a dicult position because she needs to maintain
her subjects trust to gather her data, though she does not want to lie when
asked her opinion about the real cause of this speech. She writes: Only
once was I asked, and then by a man, what kind of language I thought the
tongues were. Since I had expected this question, I was prepared with an
answer that would be considerate of the religious sensitivities of the inquirer
while not violating my own professional convictions. I quoted Paul (RSV
Cor. :), One who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God;
Reorienting Possession in Theory
for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. He was
satised.
22
What I nd interesting is that Goodman is letting us know
that eldwork taught her how to lie eectively. Aware of the doubleness of
her position, she was prepared with a strategic way of hiding her position.
As justication she dierentiates between religious sensitivities (which
sound eeminate) and scholarly convictions (which sound rmly seated).
Her expanded, holistic paradigm never shifts the position established by
Bourguignon.
In her later work Goodman claries that, in contrast to the hard scien-
tists, social scientists can state without any doubt that alternate reality is a
social fact. Her position in Ecstasy, Ritual, and Alternate Reality is twofold.
She sometimes reports as social fact what she has been told. [T]he alter-
nate reality is not merely a neutral dimension, a landscape one perceives or
passes into. Rather, it has an eect on humans by virtue of the fact that it is
a realm where power hovers. Again, reporting on the social facts about
possession among agriculturalists, she reports that a being of the alternate
reality takes up its abode in the body of the worshiper itself. However, the
spirit so conjured, summoned, brought in, is of overpowering might and
will take control of such a borrowed body. The mediums . . . turn into the
spirits tabernacle, its canoe, or its horse. It will shake them, make them
dance; it might take over their tongues and speak through their mouths. In
her analytical arguments, however, she reestablishes her healthy skepticism.
The power of the alternate reality is illusion. Using the tools of physical
anthropology to connect social relationships with habitat, Goodman asserts
that all agriculturalists share in the illusion of power, of being able to exert
control over habitat.
23
She juxtaposes this illusion of power with the guilty
anxiety of the horticulturalists who compensate for their plowing of the
earth (raping the mother), she speculates, with an eschatological myth. Ag-
riculturalists, she asserts, deal instead with paranoia about bad plants. From
this, her second position, she establishes her distance as a Freudian analyst.
The ecstatic bodies she studies are psychological bodies that deal with
dierent projections, depending upon their habitat and social structure.
The dual approach allows for the representation of indigenous explanations
but also manages to situate the scholar safely in the academic realm.
Lewiss Ecstatic Religion leads us into contemporary scholarship about
possession with his concerns about marginalized persons, power asymmet-
ries connected with gender and class, and the problems of ethnocentric bias
Signifying Possession
in the interpretations of possession. Published rst in and then revised
and reissued in , Lewiss book is likely the most widely read analysis of
possession to date. An anthropologist trained in the sociological tradition of
Durkheim and Radclie-Brown, Lewis wrote Ecstatic Religion to provide a
comparative sociological analysis of that most decisive and profound of
all religious dramas, the seizure of man [sic] by divinity. The sociological
interpretation was needed, according to Lewis, because anthropology had
not proposed a comparative framework; anthropologists were enthralled
one might sayby the more bizarre and exotic shamanistic exercises.
Lewis also argued that psychologists had too often pathologized possession
as mental illness owing to their ethnocentric perspectives. This meant that
psychological interpretation could not account for the good and the strength
that possessions are attributed with producing. Lewiss goal therefore was
to answer the comparative sociological questions: The crucial bread-and-
butter questions still remain to be asked. How does the incidence of ecstasy
relate to the social order? Is possession an entirely arbitrary and idiosyn-
cratic aair; or are particular social categories of person more or less likely
to be possessed? If so, and possession can be shown to run in particular
social grooves, what follows from this? Why do people in certain social posi-
tions succumb to possession more readily than others? What does ecstasy
oer them?
24
Lewis is proposing to study the relationship of possession to the systems
of power in which people live their lives. He and I share this interest. Never-
theless, Lewis perpetuates the signication of possession traditions because
he attributes real power to sociological forces, whereas the power of the pos-
sessing agencies is understood to be belief. Again, the religious element of
the possessed bodies is contained to a psychic componentbelief. It might
be real belief, but it is not real power. That is, Lewis documents the real
forces of power, the real grooves, that are aecting peoples lives. These
grooves coincide with local beliefs, producing possession. By separating out
the religious life as a matter of beliefs, he is left with that same problem
of the awkward relationship between his knowledge and their beliefs. For
example, in the paragraph above Lewis employs a passive term in the word
succumb, subtly dierentiating between a more passive subject and him-
self, a scholar who does not succumb. In this way he situates possession as
a problem that aects others.
Enrique Dussell has demonstrated that it can be interesting to turn such
Reorienting Possession in Theory
questions around, asking them from the underside of modernity.
25
Oester-
reichs and Bourguignons studies established that the great majority of cul-
tures expect and experience possession states to some degree. Lewis himself
acknowledged that possession was found in most religious traditions for at
least part of their histories. From the underside of modernity the key ques-
tions might be stated otherwise as, Which social groups go in search of an-
cestors when the ancestors and deities have left modern societies? Why do
an increasing number of scholars succumb to the study of possession? What
do possession studies oer those who succumb to them? Why do women,
people of the two-thirds world, and the under classes exercise a more inti-
mate and persistent relationship with ancestors, deities, and spirits? Why will
scholars travel the globe to study something they claim they do not believe
in? and What do modern societies lose when they lose their ancestors?
It would be an injustice to Lewiss careful exploration of ecstatic religion
if I did not note his consistent eort to acknowledge the reality and validity
of possession phenomena. I agree with his argument that [s]pirit posses-
sion . . . is a cultural evaluation of a persons condition, and means precisely
what it says: an invasion of the individual by a spirit. It is not thus for us to
judge who is and who is not really possessed. If someone is, in his own
cultural milieu, generally considered to be in a state of spirit possession,
then he (or she) is possessed. This is the simple denition which we shall
follow in this book.
26
Lewis, however, maintains a distinction between their
real belief and his sociological knowledge, which he can use, like an overlay,
to interpret the real forces at work in possession traditions. What Lewiss
sociology cannot consider is the possibility that the deities are asserting
themselves and that therefore his framework necessitates signication. He
arrives at the following interpretations of what is really happening: ritual-
ized rebellion; a franchise to protest menial conditions; an oblique
strategy of attack; a devious manoeuvre; a means by which the under-
dog bids for attention; an escape; masquerading as a cure; and ag-
gressive self-assertion.
27
In this catalogue of sociological interpretations,
the possessed persons are described according to a Western model of subjec-
tivity, as conscious subjects who maneuver other people or as oppressed
subjects who react with subconscious behavior. At its most problematic,
they are asserting a self. By contrast, the tests by which spirit possessions
are scrutinized within possession traditions are designed specically to dis-
Signifying Possession
miss those possessions in which a self is acting. Lewis equates the pos-
sessed body with being an agent, and because agents are empowered by their
consciousness, he cannot imagine an agentive body in which a self is not
acting consciously or unconsciously.
Like Oesterreich, Lewis divides the world of possession according to a
scheme that attempts to determine the level of agency of the possessed per-
son. Whereas Oesterreich had a taxonomy of voluntary and involuntary pos-
sessions, Lewis arrives at a taxonomy of central and peripheral cults. Estab-
lished shamans belong to central cults. Peripheral cults consist of women,
marginal men, and the poor, who use possession to vent their anxieties.
Lewiss analysis of the predominance of women in peripheral cults is that
their possessions function as thinly disguised protest movements directed
against the dominant sex. They thus play a signicant part in the sex-war
in traditional societies and cultures where women lack more obvious and
direct means for forwarding their aims.
28
Whether he is studying a central
or a peripheral cult, Lewis adopts the position of knowing the sociology of
power (that is, real power), thereby reducing the power of the deity to the
status of a belief.
Like Bourguignon, Lewis is in an inconsistent relationship to the pos-
sessed persons, in that he attributes reality to their belief but then presents
an analysis of the real power dynamic at hand. Lewiss conclusion, if pos-
session is essentially a philosophy of power, it is tinged with a kind of
Nietzschian [sic] desperation,
29
is symptomatic of his bias. Categorized as
a philosophy of power, possession resides safely in the psychic reections of
an individuala philosophy is even safer or more believable, more valuable,
than a belief. But the healing rituals that Lewis has described with great
care and detail are hardly to be equated with philosophies of power. Nietz-
sche wrote philosophies of power. Tlingit Eskimos have healing rituals that
are very much concerned with power. And though Nietzsche might repre-
sent a Western philosophy that celebrates a subjectivity that is spoken
through by muses, music, and cosmic forces, it would be odd to question
the Siberian Evenks or the Netsilik Eskimos whether in fact there was a
certain Nietzschean desperation at work in their shamanism.
Lewis is interpreting aspects of power and resistance in religion, but he
does not question the model of subjectivity upon which he assesses agency.
Lewis has come to play a prominent role in the analyses of many scholars,
Reorienting Possession in Theory
as will be noted in the case studies presented in subsequent chapters. His
work is important in the comparative notice he gives to the complicated and
widespread phenomenon of possessed women, but his analysis results in an
elision of alterity.
30
To conclude the chronological study of comparative social scientic
studies of possession, I turn now to the spirit possession entry in the Ency-
clopedia of Religion. I have tracked the discursive transformations that, over
time, have provided a largely social psychological approach to the interpre-
tation of possession; this helps to explain why Vincent Crapanzano was se-
lected as the appropriate author for this entry. Crapanzano begins his dis-
cussion with the graphic description of the possessed woman found in
Oesterreichs text, a repugnant, grimacing, dreadful body. Crapanzano ar-
gues that possessions reect an altered state of consciousness (a.s.c.), and
that trance is the state most frequently associated with spirit possession.
31
There is a signicant point to be made here regarding the construction of
subjectivity in Crapanzanos analysis. As an altered state of consciousness,
possession is being described as an event of consciousness located in the
mind and beliefs of the persons being studied, as though the bubble where
beliefs reside has taken on an altered status that one might even be able to
detect on an a.s.c. ometer. We are left with a psychological subject in a trance
rather than a religious subject who is possessed. Crapanzanos analysis sug-
gests that a comparative study of possession can be performed according to
a universal model of conscious subjectivity against which the moments of
altered consciousness can be contrasted and compared.
After locating possession in an altered state of consciousness, Crapan-
zano proposes that spirit possession is best understood as a cultural idiom,
akin to the Western idiom of psychology, both of which have their strengths
and their weaknesses for interpreting and healing human suering. If id-
iom is dened as the form of speech peculiar or proper to a people or
country, then Crapanzanos metaphor of idiom might appear to function
innocuously as a exible category that allows for culturally specic notae to
be recognized. What Crapanzanos metaphor does not articulate is whether
there is any power at work in the idiom that resides outside of human willing
or human creativity. If psychology is an idiom, it is an idiom that was cre-
ated by humans. Are ancestors, deities, and spirits idioms? What is at stake
in this denition? I would suggest that a subtle practice of signication is
once again at work.
Signifying Possession
Crapanzanos book, Case Studies in Spirit Possession, is described as
follows by Holm: He and the other authors represented in the book com-
bine a modied depth-psychology interpretation of possession with a social
anthropological approach. This means that the authors regard the phenom-
enon of possession as part of a cultural unity at the same time as they
emphasize the individual mental and above all dynamic development in the
people they study.
32
What is signicantly missing in this description is mention of the pos-
sessing ancestors, deities, or spirits. Instead, the radical alterity of people
whose bodies are overcome, whose voices are altered, whose strength and
volatility increases tenfold, has been translated into cultural unity and indi-
vidual mental developments. While Crapanzano has built a sophisticated
framework for analyzing possession as a dynamic phenomenon in multiple
cultures, his approach remains within the constructs of contemporary,
Western models of religious subjectivity, transposing their idioms to the
discourse of psychology and social anthropology. We are not challenged
to think about our desires to study possession or to relate our desires to the
evaluation of the agency of the possessed body.
The Second Wave of Possession Studies
In the past fteen years, possession studies have gured as one of the central
terrains upon which methodologies in anthropology/ethnography and com-
parative psychology are being recongured. Reexive strategies are being
explored in order to negotiate the relationship of the authors experience
of witnessing possessions to the politics of representing possessions. The
production of texts and the theoretical questions that are being raised in
those texts are momentous, hence the designation as the second wave. Con-
tributions to the second wave come from literary studies, womens histories,
and comparative medical studies such as ethnopsychology and medical an-
thropology, each of which I describe briey below. This area of scholarship
will increase in the near future as attested to by sixty-ve easily identied
dissertations on possession registered in the past few years in the disserta-
tion abstracts from universities in the United States. Inuenced by post-
modern, feminist, and postcolonial concerns with representation and ethi-
cal scholarship, second-wave possession studies enter into diverse and
complex interpretations of possession. Most second-wave scholarship does
Reorienting Possession in Theory
take seriously the agency of possessing ancestors, deities, and spirits. The
engagement I hope to initiate with second-wave scholars is to bring the re-
cent advances made in theories of agency to bear upon the representation
of religious bodies.
Possessed women gure predominantly in literature from Central and
South America, the Caribbean, and Africa; this presence is being examined
by scholars such as Carolyn Cooper and Mae Gwendolyn Henderson, who
argue that the body that is spoken through is a profound symbol of the
experience and agency of women of color. These literary studies suggest
that the possessed woman is a prevalent trope that reects womens experi-
ence of subjectivity.
33
Also, possessed women are found in historical litera-
ture such as the medieval Japanese masterpiece, The Tale of Genji.
34
Studying
possession and possessed women as an important element of the text, Doris
Bargen opens the ground for new critical insight into the text, though she
does not discuss the possibility that a dierent model of subjectivity and
agency is to be found in these characters. Where Cooper and Henderson
stress that the power of the possessed woman comes from her receptivity,
not from her autonomy, Bargen uses Lewis to discuss the possessions as
womens disguised gender protests, which suggests that these women are
agents wearing a disguise. Womens histories include a recent study of the
relationship of spiritualism to the womens surage movement.
35
As a histo-
rian, Ann Braude interprets the interventions by spirits as a symptom of the
uncertainty of the times, which meant that people wanted assurances about
their departed loved ones and the existence of an afterlife.
Medical approaches to possession indicate that doctors are reestablishing
their stance in relation to possession traditions, in part as a response to the
cultural dierences encountered in major urban areas with large immigrant
populations. For example, in his medical anthropology of spirit possession
in African and African American culture Thomas J. Csordas writes:
The relation between medical and religious denitions of human experience is of
long-standing concern for the cross-cultural study of illness and healing. The impor-
tance of this relation stems from the following empirical circumstances: () many
forms of religion are essentially concerned with health and healing; () many religious
phenomena, and at times religion as a generic entity, have been interpreted as patho-
logical; () many forms of healing can simultaneously be interpreted as forms of reli-
gion. These circumstances raise a methodological dilemma: while it is possible to
Signifying Possession
generate accounts of certain phenomena from either the point of view of comparative
religion or medical anthropology, the two accounts may not be of great relevance to
one another, and may not even be mutually intelligible.
36
The problem of intelligibility for the medical profession rests upon identi-
fying what works in the possession tradition that can safely be brought into
the treatments recognized by medical doctors. Recent articles in the New
York Times illustrate the new relationships that doctors are willing to estab-
lish in light of the failures of Western medicine to diagnose and eectively
cure religious bodies.
37
Nevertheless, many medical studies continue to ap-
proach possessed bodies as anachronisms exhibiting pathologies. Colleen
Ward proposes a transcultural perspective on women and madness, noting
that, in statistical terms, the fact cannot be disputed that women constitute
the largest proportion of mental health patients. She draws on feminist per-
spectives on psychopathology as adjustive disorders, arguing, Expanding
this feminist paradigm cross-culturally, nevertheless, may demonstrate sub-
stantial relevance to personality and adjustment processes of women in folk
cultures, transitional societies and developing countries. Ward believes that
women in modern societies as well as in traditional societies develop ad-
justive disorders because they experience such high levels of stress in their
gender roles, and she argues that possession is hysterical neurosis, colored
by cultural beliefs and superstitions.
38
Constructing herself as an enlight-
ened body, Ward never considers whether possession traditions might pro-
vide eective paradigms for reevaluating womens mental health or whether
the similarities she nds might indicate that Western bodies might also be
religious bodies. Rather, this hegemonic delivery of a feminist approach
diminishes the religious body, and she proposes a global psychiatric body.
Anthropologists have pursued several strategies for reorienting the
scholar-subject relationship. Katherine P. Ewing deconstructs the assump-
tion that any culture expects a person to be a singular self, arguing that in
all cultures people can be observed to project multiple, inconsistent self-
representations that are context-dependent and may shift rapidly.
39
Lars
Kjrholm attempts to shift the ground of possession studies by exploring
philosophical concepts related to personhood found in Hinduism. While he
critiques Lewis and Bourguignon because their studies of possession do not
account for the dierences found in the philosophies of dierent cultures,
Reorienting Possession in Theory
he (unwittingly) reveals that his position in relation to possessed bodies is
not any dierent from theirs when he writes, We do not really believe that
a person can be possessed by spirits or the devil or what have you.
40
Where
he began his argument by claiming that a neutral ground for study could be
established by using philosophical concepts, he nevertheless employs West-
ern concepts in his analysis of religious bodies. The strategy of drawing
from indigenous conceptual frameworks is useful because it produces the
possibility for approaching the dierences that are found in each tradition
where possession occurs, but he does not apply the strategy to his philo-
sophical assumptions about subjectivity. In his study of possession in Tamil-
nadu, Stephen Inglis studies a male possession tradition and develops a pic-
ture of the unique model of subjectivity found in the area, reporting on the
social facts rather than questioning them. He argues that his approach adds
an important dimension that reductionist approaches miss. He relates the
local craft of pottery to his informants understanding of humans as divine
vessels. Local potters have a special role in the community as masters of
impermanence. Their own skills of creativity allow them to deal directly
with the deities who control creativity in a way which few other humans
could. They know how to prepare not only a vessel that can be lled but
also one that can be emptied. He reports that those deities who direct
daily matters, the bloody and painful business of birth, the necessity of
growth and the danger of evil, demand a vessel whose fragile nature reminds
all of the immediacy of their problems and responsibilities. This vessel must
be a living, breathing body which can convey the message in the streets.
41
Where Inglis does not tackle the question of whether or not the divinities
are real, but rather implies that he is approaching them on the terms of the
culture he is studying, Elisabeth Schoembucher focuses on the strengths
and weaknesses of four approaches to possession in South Asiapsycho-
logical, sociological, cosmological, and performativeand argues that the
latter two have been developed most successfully. She critiques structuralist
paradigms that divide possessions according to whether they are spontane-
ous or ritual in nature. She argues that a practice-oriented approach that
allows for variation and spontaneity produces a more accurate depiction of
possession. Performance theories allow for innovative elements while recog-
nizing the social constraints within which a performance must remain in
order to be recognizable. Noting that most anthropologists obviously do
Signifying Possession
not believe in such ecstatic experiences, she states that performance theory
allows the scholar to accommodate the religious experience of the possessed
body as a performance that is inuenced by regional cosmological narra-
tives.
42
Schoembucher does, however, suggest that the appearance of posses-
sion throughout India can be understood as culturally specic events of al-
tered states of consciousness. Again, the possessed body is constructed as
an individual, psychological body.
A representative example of feminist anthropology is Kathryn Erndl,
who positions herself in relation to the possessed women she studies by not-
ing, I am interested not only in womens welfare but in treating women as
active subjects rather than as passive objects.
43
It is, therefore, the evalua-
tion of womens agency that is of central concern and, in the case of the
possessed woman, is a very complex situation to evaluate. In her study
of a Hindu housewife in the Kangra District of India, Erndl argues that
possession is an empowering experience that transforms the lives of individ-
uals and inuences the health of the community. Her case study documents
the transformation of Tara Devi, a Rajput married woman with four chil-
dren. Orphaned as a child and raised by relatives, Tara Devi was married at
age thirteen. She lived through years of undiagnosed illness, and it was not
until her family brought her to the local temple of the goddess Shakti that
she began to recover. The goddess possessed her, or more accurately, to use
the Northern Indian term, the goddess played. When the goddess plays, she
overcomes the possessed person who, if recognized by her community as
being possessed by the goddess, will herself be worshiped and approached
by people asking for divine intercessions. After her rst experiences, Tara
Devi begged the Mother to leave her, but ultimately Tara Devis life became
devoted to service of the Mother. A progression of buildings has been
erected to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims. Tara Devi had to
negotiate with the goddess to have limited playing hours, a request to which
the goddess agreed by demanding that three days be set aside for people to
come and ask questions. Erndl writes, As a vehicle for dispensing the God-
desss grace and healing power, Tara Devi has a never-ending stream of pil-
grims.
44
This case study raises several important issues related to the power of
possessed women. Firstly, Tara Devi makes no claim to autonomy or author-
ity. Tara Devi would want me to say at the outset that she claims no author-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
ity for herself; that she is a simple householder with little education, and
that everything she knows, she has learned from the Goddess. . . . She views
all the events of her life as imbued with a special meaning in relation to the
Goddess, saying that she has not chosen the Goddesss, but rather the God-
dess has chosen her. . . . However, as we shall see, there is room for some ne-
gotiation.
45
As a vehicle for the goddess, Tara Devi also negotiates with her. This is
the dynamic I am pointing to with the term instrumental agency. Tara Devi
is not a passive object, but the kind of power she wields is also very dierent
from the power of an autonomous agent. Secondly, Erndl notes that in Hin-
duism, there is no clear dividing line between divine and human; Gods can
become humans and humans can become Gods, and it is often unclear
which is which. This cosmological dierence makes for a dierent model
of human subjectivity. Specic to Hinduism is the power attributed to the
feminine divine, which Erndl calls Shakta theology. Unlike the Western tra-
dition, in Hinduism the divine is immanent and its feminine aspects are
constitutive of ultimate reality. As a mythic model for women, the Goddess
provides not just a transcendent ideal for women to look up to but also an
immanent presence in whose divinity they can participate.
46
The third
point Erndl makes is that the power Tara Devi enjoys is not a private aair,
but rather that possessed women give strength and empowerment to other
women. The evaluation of her power cannot be restricted to her individual
gains.
Erndl maintains two positions in the article. She reports the perspectives
of the community she is studying without questioning the reality of their
experiences. She also positions herself as an interpreter of this power, saying
that the women are using a religious idiom as an expression of means of
resistance to the various conicts and sorrows in their lives. Following Cra-
panzano, the possession is here reduced to a culturally specic idiom that
women can use. The agency of the goddess is signicantly altered, I would
argue, when it is described as an idiom. Analyzing Tara Devis agency, she
concludes, I have attempted to show that Tara Devi has tapped into a tradi-
tional source of religious empowerment for women. From a Hindu point of
view, there is nothing radical in what Tara Devi has done. . . . Tara Devi
has gained an immense personal power through her transformation from an
invalid to a Goddess-possessed woman. But her power does not end with a
Signifying Possession
sense of personal self-worth. It is also acknowledged in the community. She
has the reputation of being an eective and compassionate healer, of being
a worthy carrier of the Goddesss shakti.
47
Where Tara Devi has reported
that she did not want to be played, Erndl interprets that Tara Devi has
tapped into a source of empowerment. Again, I think the dynamic is being
altered in this evaluation. Where Erndl notes that Tara Devis power does
not end with a sense of personal self-worth, I would argue that her power
does not even start with a sense of personal self-worth. The ideals of West-
ern feminism, which value such things as a personal sense of self-worth,
have crept into Erndls analysis. What would the personal self-worth of a
vehicle be? Tara Devi makes no claims to personal authority. It is on this
point that I expand in the following chapters.
The second wave of possession studies places possession and possessed
women in a global and historicized context, from ethnographic studies of
possession in Japanese new religious movements to India, Korea, Taiwan,
Indonesia, Jamaica, the Caribbean, Africa, Central and South America, and
urban America.
48
The problem remains the samehow does the scholar
describe the power of the possessing agencies? Contemporary scholars use
many carefully worded frameworks to engage with this problem, adopting
terms such as Jean Comaros ideology as lived experience
49
in order to
describe the power that engages with the religious bodies the scholars are
drawn to study. There is an irony when possessing spirits are called ideolo-
gies. Attracted to study religious possession because it is so compelling,
Western scholars translate that desire using frameworks built on the notion
that a conscious subject is an agent. How do they evaluate the compelling
body whose consciousness is overcome? Possession and the encounter with
possessed subjectivity has pushed these authors to stretch the interpretive
frameworks of their disciplines. This text contributes an important link for
the second-wave scholars by focusing on models of subjectivity and the
analysis of agency, as well as by asking, Why is possession such an important
subject of study now?
There are three areas in which many of the second-wave texts fall short.
Firstly, many of them still describe the power of possession as the power of
belief. Since beliefs are not real for the scholar, they identify hunger, famine,
disease, military corruption, and marriage in patriarchal culture as the real
forces behind the possession. Those scholars interested in psychology iden-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
tify repression and dissociation, metaphorically transformed into culturally
specic beliefs, as the real reason for the possession. Secondly, many schol-
ars propose that the possessed are not victims but rather are agents. As I
argue in the next chapter, however, to remain within the parameters of the
victim-agent dichotomy is to equate agency with an individual subject,
which misses or dismisses the radical agency of a person who has been over-
come by an external agency. Thirdly, when the alternative constructions of
personhood to be found in possession traditions are identied, the compari-
son made does not challenge or alter our model of religious subjectivity
and agency. In general, within the second wave the possessions are de-
scribed as real for the scholars as forms of theater, or forms of embodied
social critique, or forms of social therapy. The scholars represent the agency
of the possessing spirits in terms of human forms of agency such as human
creativity, human appropriation of power through symbolic embodiment,
and human reinterpretation of material oppression in symbolic metaphors
such as parody or idiom.
Religionist Approaches
Historians of religion have addressed possession sporadically. If we look to
William Jamess Varieties of Religious Experience () and Mircea Eliades
Shamanism () as two key texts of the rst half of the century, possession
is given little attention by either author. Nevertheless, I examine Shamanism
as a gendered precursor to this study in that Eliade analyzed the receptivity
and power of the male-dominated role of shaman, while I focus on the re-
ceptivity and power of female-dominant possessed bodies. Two other related
texts are Robert Torrances Spiritual Quest and Susan Starr Sereds Priestess,
Mother, Sacred Sister, both published in .
50
Though Sereds work shares
the concerns of the second-wave scholars (reexively interrogating gender
in the representation of others), she aligns herself with the history of reli-
gions, while most second-wave scholars align themselves with disciplinary
approaches from the social sciences.
The parallels and dierences between Eliades study of shamanism and
this text are signicant. His text is a comparative study of bodies that are
engaged with the interventions of ancestors, deities, and spirits. The subjec-
Signifying Possession
tivity of the shaman was central to his analysis, and he argued that the histo-
rian of religions could make a unique contribution to the studies of sha-
manism that were proliferating at the time by emphasizing the religious
element of that subjectivity, rather than by describing it reductively as a
psychological or sociological subjectivity. Consequently, he was advocating
the propriety of religious studies in relation to harder scientic and social
scientic interpretations. He could not have written a comparative study of
possession; the possessed woman was too radical to consider. There was too
much at stake in establishing the validity of his endeavor. The androcentric
bias of his day would not have brought womens religious lives to the fore.
The shamans conscious communication with his spirits was just close
enough to the Western model of subjectivity to merit Eliades studies, while
the overcome consciousness of a possessed woman would have been viewed
as pathological.
Eliade noted that a broad range of scholarship was engaged in the study
of shamans, and he contrasted the eld of the history of religions to ethnog-
raphies, psychologies, and medical theories about ecstatic phenomena. Eli-
ade described the historian of religions as the person capable of drawing
together the psychological, sociological, ethnological, and philosophical
studies of ecstatic phenomena by locating the concreteness of one example
in the context of comparison with other geographically and historically spe-
cic examples and producing a comprehensive analysis of the universal, re-
ligious element of phenomena such as shamanism. He argued against a
singular reductive approach (psychological or sociological) and for the irre-
ducibility of religiosity, the irreducibility of the sacred, as an experience of
the human.
Thus the historian of religions, while taking historico-religious facts into account,
does his [sic] utmost to organize his documents in the historical perspectivethe
only perspective that ensures their concreteness. But he must not forget that, when
all is said and done, the phenomena with which he is concerned reveal boundary-line
situations of mankind, and that these situations demand to be understood and made
understandable. This work of deciphering the deep meaning of religious phenomena
rightfully falls to the historian of religions. Certainly, the psychologist, the sociolo-
gist, the ethnologist, and even the philosopher or the theologian will have their com-
ment to make, each from the viewpoint and in the perspective that are properly his.
Reorienting Possession in Theory
But it is the historian of religions who will make the greatest number of valid state-
ments on a religious phenomenon as a religious phenomenonand not as a psychologi-
cal, social, ethnic, philosophical or even theological phenomenon.
51
For Eliade, a universal human experience was found in boundary-line situa-
tions, and this experience, in its many variations, was the encounter with a
hierophany, or imposing manifestation, of the sacred. I will not engage the
debates about whether Eliade was making a tautological argument, nor ex-
amine the sacred in his text,
52
but rather make note that he was construct-
ing a religious subjectivity whose identifying characteristic was the encoun-
ter with or receptivity to a powerful force, a hierophany of the sacred.
53
The agency of the shaman was critical for Eliade, and he contrasted sha-
manism with possession to emphasize the shamans greater degree of
agency: It will easily be seen wherein a shaman diers from a possessed
person, for example; the shaman controls his spirits, in the sense that he,
a human being, is able to communicate with the dead, demons, and nature
spirits, without thereby becoming their instrument.
54
In this way, Eliade
constructed a continuum of agency in relation to the hierophany of the sa-
cred based on the level of consciousness the shaman maintained. The pos-
sessed person in contrast became an instrument for the will of the pos-
sessing agency. I will return later to expand on the notion that the possessed
person is the instrument of the possessing agencies.
Eliades construction of the shaman as a religious subject was radically
dierent from that found in the prodigious studies of shamanism in his
time. Shamanism was interpreted as an event of mental illness that became
institutionalized as a social role.
55
Eliade granted the similarity of mental
disorder and shamanism but argued that the shamans ability to control such
occurrences marked him as essentially dierent (that is, religious) from the
psychotic. But the primitive magician, the medicine man, or the shaman is
not only a sick man; he is, above all, a sick man who has been cured, who
has succeeded in curing himself. He expanded further on the psychological
health of the shaman in ways that also helped to construct an appropriate
type of masculine receptivity to the sacred. This astonishing capacity to
control even ecstatic movements testies to an excellent nervous constitu-
tion, he says of the Kazak Kirgiz baqca. Quoting the research of others
to support his point, he notes that the Taulipang shamans [of Venezuela]
Signifying Possession
are generally intelligent individuals, sometimes wily but always of great
strength of character, for in their training and the practice of their functions
they are obliged to display energy and self-control; and of the Amazonian
shamans, No physical or physiological anomaly or peculiarity seems to
have been selected as the symptom of a special predisposition for the prac-
tice of shamanism.
56
In contrast to possession, where the person (and pre-
dominantly the woman) becomes an instrument for the will of the pos-
sessing agencies, the shaman maintains sucient agency to be a proper,
archaic ecstatic.
In one of three indexed references to women found in Shamanism, the
following distinction is made, which helps to underscore my point that gen-
der has been a central but unanalyzed element in the construction of ecstatic
bodies: The sorcerers and sorceresses of Dobu y through the air, and at
night the ery trails they leave behind them can be seen. But it is especially
the women who y; for in Dobu magical techniques are divided between
the sexes as follows: the women are the true magicians, they operate directly
through their souls, while their bodies are sunk in sleep, and attack their
victims soul (which they can extract from his body and then destroy); male
sorcerers operate only through magical charms. The dierence in structure
between magician-ritualists and ecstatics here assumes the aspect of a divi-
sion based on sex.
57
The distinction as described by Eliade is that the men
employ tools while womens souls are the tools, employed while the women
are sunk in sleep, thus indicating a signicant gendered dierence in their
agencies.
Like William James before him, Eliade focused on the individual experi-
ence of males in order to demarcate the ground of proper study of reli-
giousness.
58
Like James, he described the mental health benets of the reli-
gious experience and noted the participants ability to successfully negotiate
with the hierophany as his foundation for arguing that this phenomenon is
understood best as religious, not merely psychological. My analysis of
agency does not focus on the individual conscious control of the ecstatic
body but instead draws on postcolonial and feminist theories of womens
agency as an agency that is located in community networks. Eliade noted
the shamans ability to cure himself. Possessed bodies have not cured them-
selves and require the evaluation and interpretations of the community in
which they happen, which is dangerous terrain for any body and especially
Reorienting Possession in Theory
so for women within androcentric cultures and women of color within racist
cultures. In Chapter we see that a Shona mhondoro (a spirit medium) was
hanged by British colonialists because she was spoken through by ancestors
who demanded a return of the land from the British.
Robert Torrance echoes William Jamess Varieties of Religious Experience
in a chapter called The Varieties of Spirit Possession; there is an impor-
tant link between the two works, which demonstrates the limitations of Tor-
rances study. Torrance proposes a theory of religiousness as a universal hu-
man experience rooted in an individuals experience, as did James. His
denition of the quest sounds hauntingly familiar to what Talal Asad de-
scribes as the underlying philosophy of subjectivity and agency found in
Western, academic constructions of religiousnessa preoccupation with
the individual set in a teleological framework (Asads argument is discussed
at length in Chapter ). Torrance writes: The quest, as I conceive it, is the
culminating expression of a universal activity by which humanity is in large
part dened as human: a formative activity, as opposed to a static category
(like religion, marriage, or property . . . ), which nds expression, how-
ever varied, in philosophical or scientic investigation no less than in the
Native American pursuit of a guardian spirit or the Siberian shamans peril-
ous journey to worlds beyond yet embracing his own.
59
Torrance con-
structs an interesting theory of the quest, drawing from biology, psychology,
linguistics, and philosophy. He argues that it is inevitably human (biologi-
cally, psychologically, and linguistically) to be driven by our questing nature.
Scholars interested in an overview of contemporary work in biology, psy-
chology, and linguistics as they relate to a philosophy of the subject will nd
a useful overview of these elds.
Torrance also provides a global overview of current possession studies,
which is very useful for identifying regional studies. He has surveyed much
of the literature of the preceding hundred years and addresses the issue of
agency as he looks to the various types of theories that have been put for-
ward regarding the performativity of possession and the interplay between
the conservative and transformative dimensions of possession, producing a
fairly nuanced analysis of the possessed mediums receptivity to a transcen-
dent will. Nevertheless, because he has the questing individual as his under-
lying model of subjectivity, his description of agency is conned to Western
Signifying Possession
models. He argues that the possessed person should not be understood to
be passive, but rather this trained passivity should be understood as an act of
voluntary surrender. In Torrances theory we have the historian of religions
acknowledgment of a hierophany of the sacred, the external power that over-
comes the human, but he still associates agency with a voluntaristic model.
(Contemporary feminist eorts to theorize nonvoluntaristic models of
agency are discussed in Chapter .) Voluntary surrender suggests that an
agent is choosing or volunteering to be overcome. While he is trying to move
beyond the notion that the possessed body is passive, his alternative analysis
of agency retains human consciousness as its locus. Charles Long discusses
this as one of the primary shortcomings of methodology in the history of
religions, and the analysis of possession demonstrates why this focus on hu-
man consciousness fails to describe accurately the power dynamics of pos-
sessed bodies.
60
There is a circular logic to Torrances theory. He starts with the quest
and then nds it wherever he looks. In the introduction he states, We shall
not look far in search of the quest; it will meet us at every turn of the way.
And so it does, producing a universal model of religious subjectivity (human
questing nature), a model whose Enlightenment origins make it highly
problematic, even though he argues that it accommodates diversity. Tor-
rance also exemplies the signifying dynamic described by Long in that he
begins with Western models of biology, psychology, and linguistics, and
then he looks to tribal religions where he can apply his theory. This ap-
proach echoes Goodmans approach. The book shifts from its theorization
of the quest according to Western intellectual paradigms (from Heidegger
to Chomsky) to a globe-traveling survey of tribal and primitive reli-
gions, with no apparent awareness that such a reenactment of movement
and mastery reects the Western imperialistic tradition. Like travel writers
on pilgrimage to Tibet, Torrance retreats to the anachronistic space of the
tribal to study them, archaic precursors to the modern quester.
Though he notes the preponderance of women in his discussion of pos-
session, Torrance continues to use the male pronoun in his discussion and
virtually slides possession under the androcentric umbrella of a questing
individual.
61
His text reads more like a continuation of the scholarly tradi-
tion of James and Eliade than a reection of contemporary intellectual con-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
cerns with discourse, power, or the construction of religious subjectivity.
His references to tribalism and primitive belief indicate that he has not
been inuenced by postcolonial concerns with the signication of others.
Sereds study is a striking contrast to Torrances, both of which were
published in the same year. Sered is very aware of gender analyses and the
way that religious women have been signied as deprived women. She puts
forward an analysis of the gendered predominance of women in possession
traditions that draws from contemporary theories of ego formation as a gen-
dered element of psychological development. Womens bodies engage in
nonautonomous experiences such as childbirth and the receptive role dur-
ing heterosexual intercourse, which produce thinner boundaries between
self and other. Nevertheless, she does not rely solely on a Western analysis
but goes on to propose:
If we take stock of the explanations of women and spirit possession that we have seen
in this chapter, an interesting pattern becomes evident. All the theories I summarized
in the beginning of the chapter (social deprivation, sexual deprivation, calcium depri-
vation, and overdetermination of gender) start from the assumption that possession
trance is an abnormal phenomenon. Therefore, the explanation for womens involve-
ment with spirit possession necessarily lies in some form of divergence from normal,
healthy human experience. I would like to raise a dierent possibility. Is it possible
that possession trance is one of a range of normal human abilities or talents, in much
the way that musical ability or athletic ability is? Could it be that in many cultures
male socialization prevents most men from developing the ability to embrace the en-
riching, exciting, normal experience of spirit possession. . . . As Janice Boddy writes,
It is imperative to ask why so many Western scholars . . . are committed to viewing
possession as a consequence of womens deprivation rather than their privilege, or
perhaps their inclination (, ). The answer to her question, it seems to me,
lies in the double-barreled intellectual weaknesses of ethnocentrism and andro-
centrism.
62
Viewed as an ability rather than a pathology, we can approach an evaluation
of possessions with an eye toward how the various culturally and historically
distinct traditions expand our notions of subjectivity and agency.
Nevertheless, the underlying model of a religious subject, which under-
girds Sereds analysis, is dangerously close to Eliades shaman and Tor-
rances questing human. While the comparison to musical and athletic abil-
ity brings us closer to thinking of possession as an embodied practice that
Signifying Possession
develops receptivity to a force that plays through their bodies (which is
how many athletes and musicians describe their peak performances), this
comparison does not provide a critical ground for acknowledging the over-
come consciousness and the relationship between religion and oppression.
As we will read in the second part of this book, women who have been pos-
sessed describe the experience as one that they do not pursue, but rather
the possessing agencies choose who will act as their instrument. In an ac-
count from Malaysia we will read about women who describe their experi-
ence as being pounced upon, and in an account from Zimbabwe we will
read about the possessed as the empty bag for the ancestor. In the next
chapter I pick up Sereds argument and relate it to recent developments
in theory that enable a broadening of the underlying model of subjectivity,
bringing us closer to the ability to analyze the agency of possessed women
in a comparative framework.
Chapter 2 Reorienting Possession
As a historian of religions who is revisiting the study of possession, in many
ways my task is to bring recent developments in theories about agency to
the problem of evaluating the agency of a body that is overwhelmed and
spoken through. Toward this end I have selected several lines of argument
from feminist, postcolonial, and critical theorists that converge on the issue
of evaluating the agency of marginalized bodies. Once the larger context is
established, and we have seen how agency is being regured from several
perspectives, we will have a clearer picture of the unique challenges raised
in a comparative study of possession.
There are now several important publications that have brought a femi-
nist hermeneutic of suspicion to the negative evaluation of womens involve-
ment in religious traditions; Susan Starr Sered provides an excellent repre-
sentation of this argument.
1
In her study of twelve examples where women
dominate religious traditions, Sered notes that nine of the traditions have
possession as a pivotal component, demonstrating once again the associa-
tion of women with possession. She begins with a concise rebuttal of the
tendency of scholarship to attribute womens religiosity to their frustrations,
a tendency she calls deprivation theory, and notes that possession has
largely been interpreted according to deprivation theories:
2
It [deprivation theory] assumes that people (and, it seems, especially women) behave
religiously because of social and psychological reasons rather than for religious rea-
sons. Leading deprivation theory proponents Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge
(, ) claim that American women more than men join novel religious move-

Reorienting Possession
ments, and in particular deviant religious movements, because of the womens relative
deprivation in career and other public opportunities, and because of their solitary
connement in the nuclear family which turns women into social isolates. . . . My
own eldwork among elderly Kurdish Jewish women in Israel suggests that this for-
mula glosses over the actuality that many women do have nonreligious options that
would also give them a chance to get out of the house. . . . Put dierently, religiously
active women should be understood as having chosen to be religiously active.
3
Deprivation theories have served to support the general academic analysis
of religious bodies as anachronisticas deprived bodies, they have re-
gressed to the arms of religious ideology for (false?) solace. Implied in depri-
vation theories are negative evaluations of womens agency as religious sub-
jects, which feminist theorists have criticized.
Though I am in agreement with Sereds point that womens religiosity,
and especially possession, has been misrepresented as a symptom of disem-
powerment, Sereds argument does not aid in the process of interpreting the
agency of possessed women in that Sered continues to employ a language
reective of the modern individual who chooses to be religious. Only in
rare cases does a possessed person express a desire to be possessed. The
shift needed for the analysis of the agency of possessed women requires that
we move beyond models of subjectivity that are based upon the choices of
individual, conscious subjects. A closer examination of her argument as seen
from a postcolonial perspective suggests that it is based on Enlightenment
notions of religion and subjectivity, which locate religious practice within
the domain of individual choices. Sereds work is very important, and it is
only as an argument regarding models of subjectivity that I wish to engage
in a critique.
Postcolonial Critiques of the Agent
Postcolonial scholarship sheds an important light on the philosophical as-
sumptions underlying the category of choice and suggests that important
alternative constructions of agency can be found in both historical Euro-
pean religious history and a comparative study of religions. One of these
postcolonial theorists, Talal Asad, argues that the contemporary study of
religion is based on a model of subjectivity that reects only contemporary
Western congurations of religion. He argues that it is only in modern times
Reorienting Possession in Theory
and through the inuence of recent understandings of Christianity that reli-
gion has been understood as an individuals beliefs. Ones religiousness is
compartmentalized as a distinct symbolic entity for personal reection, sep-
arate from other practical forms of everyday life. Scholars have assumed
incorrectly that this understanding of religion can be applied across history
and cultures, according to Asad, and therefore they have not understood the
relationship of religion to struggles for power. If religion is about symbolic
beliefs, why should religious lives mix religion with politics? Because this
universalizing tendency has misled anthropologists, Asad provides a rehis-
toricized approach to religious bodies, which can account for the relation-
ship of religious bodies to power.
Asad tracks the transformation of the words religion and ritual in Western
European history and argues that models of subjectivity have been trans-
muted and homologized over time to reect the contemporary Western in-
dividual. He returns to the example of Augustine to argue that, prior to the
Enlightenment, even Christianity considered human subjectivity to be at
the disposal of Gods will. Augustine was quite clear that power, the eect
of an entire network of motivated practices, assumes a religious form be-
cause of the end to which it is directed, for human events are the instru-
ments of God. It was not the mind that moved spontaneously to religious
truth, but power [disciplina] that created the conditions for experiencing
that truth.
4
Unlike Sereds argument that women should be understood as having
chosen to be religiously active, this Augustinian interpretation of the rela-
tionship between human agency and Gods will describes a world-view in
which humans are instruments that, through a process of disciplina, could
be tempered to experience religious truth. Asad states: This was why Au-
gustine eventually came around to the view that insincere conversion was
not a problem (Chadwick , ).
5
To paraphrase Asad, it was not
that the mind could choose to move toward religious truth but rather that
power, directed to the end of producing religious truth, could create the
conditions for experiencing religious knowledge. Conversion would follow
if the body underwent the proper discipline.
It was only later in Western history that religion became a thing sepa-
rated from power; religion came to be thought of as a symbolic essence that
could be entered into through belief. Beginning with the Reformation doc-
Reorienting Possession
trine that correct belief must be more highly valued than correct practice,
a distinction was being forged that separated religious practice from reli-
gious belief in favor of belief as the true or real ground of religiousness.
Protestant criticisms of ritual practice coincided with the reections of En-
lightenment philosophers and theologians who began to distinguish the
epistemological foundations by which they dierentiated knowledge from
belief, belief being the realm of religiosity. This emphasis on belief meant
that henceforth religion could be conceived as a set of propositions to which
believers gave assent.
6
Religiosity was allocated a proper epistemological
sphere as a matter of individual choice, not a matter of power, which wielded
humans as instruments of God. In the world of the Enlightenment philoso-
phers, one needed to believe in the Reasonableness of Christianity, to petition
John Lockes paradigmatic work, in order to be authentically religious.
Asad argues that the contemporary study of religion is based on the
modern, privatized Christian conception of religion to the extent that it
emphasizes the priority of belief as a state of mind rather than a constituting
activity in the world. He describes the shift from the Augustinian model to
the modern model as a mutation of the conceptualization of religion that
was part of a larger shift. In this movement we have . . . the mutation of a
concept and a range of social practices which is itself part of a wider change
in the modern landscape of power and knowledge. That change included a
new kind of state, a new kind of science, a new kind of legal and moral
subject. The new subject was a self-constituting subject, able to assent to
religion as a matter of belief, or, subsequently, able to choose not to believe.
Belief was relegated to the land of symbolism and reection, and, as psy-
chology developed, religiousness slid anachronistically toward idlike and
primitive associations. The ongoing ramication of this categorization, as
Said and Asad have both noted, is that a tradition such as Islam is looked at
suspiciously because it seems to combine both religion and politics. Asad
comments that religious discourse in the political arena is seen as a disguise
for political power.
7
With the bifurcation of religion and power came a philosophy of subjec-
tivity and agency. Asad argues that through the Enlightenment
[a] new philosophy of agency was also developed [with a philosophy of progress],
allowing individual actions to be related to collective tendencies. From the Enlighten-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
ment philosophes, through political development in the latter half of the twentieth
century, one assumption has been constant: to make history, the agent must create
the future, remake herself, and help others to do so, where the criteria of successful
remaking are seen to be universal. Old universes must be subverted and a new uni-
verse created. To that extent, history can be made only on the back of a universal
teleology. Actions seeking to maintain the local status quo, or to follow local models
of social life, do not qualify as history making. From the Cargo Cults of Melanesia to
the Islamic Revolution in Iran, they merely attempt (hopelessly) to resist the future
or to turn back the clock of history.
8
The critique of teleology as it underpins the construction of agency as de-
scribed by Asad becomes terribly important for the evaluation of possession.
Teleology is intricately tied to the evaluation of agency. When confronted
with the subjectivity of a possessed woman who is likely to be spoken
through in ways which follow local models of social life, many analyses of
possession tend to evaluate possession as a regressive symptom of inequality,
and self-identied feminist scholars are likely to be concerned with any so-
cial practices that do not further the agenda of increasing womens auton-
omysomething possessions do not do.
The following chapters present several examples where possessed
women function paradoxically to transgress traditional gender hierarchies
and to conserve traditional order. The result of this paradox for the scholars
interpreting the possession is that the women do not qualify as history-
making agents and thus are described with terms that pathologize their pos-
sessions as regressive. The assessment of their agency, to date, has been built
upon the model of a universal progress toward which their possessions are
not taking them. The feminist desire for the increase of womens power is
evident in some possession accounts that nd possessed women lacking be-
cause their volatile power is understood merely to reinforce their oppres-
sion: they are not progressing. Their possession is interpreted as a symbol of
their deprivation.
Returning to Asads argument, the bifurcation of real power versus sym-
bolic religiosity allowed many early anthropologists to argue that the univer-
sal experience of religion is an experience of belief. Asad notes: The sug-
gestion that religion has a universal function in belief is one indication of
how marginal religion has become in modern industrial society as the site
for producing disciplined knowledge and personal discipline. As such it
Reorienting Possession
comes to resemble the conception Marx had of religion as ideologythat
is, as a mode of consciousness which is other than consciousness of reality,
external to the relations of production, producing no knowledge, but ex-
pressing at once the anguish of the oppressed and a spurious consolation.
9
This insight helps to explain the awkward relationship that most possession
studies construct between scholars and the persons they are studying. If the
religious life is understood to be beliefs that are not perceived to reect
consciousness of reality, then the scholars job is to provide a real interpreta-
tion of the event, to explain how the real power of the possessions (as op-
posed to the belief in possession) is located in relations of production and
exchange that create a traumatized psychic space. Sociological and eco-
nomic forces are presented as an objective and real description of the forces
that possess the person.
Through his genealogy of religion, Asad arrives at an insight that is ex-
tremely important for the interpretation of the agency of possessed women:
when issues of religiosity and power coexist, the Enlightenment perspective
is likely to devalue possessions because () religious activity is perceived to
be symbolic instead of an expression of meaningful power; () the posses-
sions do not further a progressive agenda; and () perceived as an anachro-
nism, the possessed person is treated as a signier of regressive or repres-
sive conditions.
Paralleling Asads concern with the evaluation of agency in postcolonial
situations, scholars such as Janaki Nair who identify themselves under the
rubrics of feminist and postcolonial theory have recognized that the evalua-
tion of the agency of third-world women requires a rethinking of the cate-
gories of agency and subjectivity. Because she and other postcolonial femi-
nists do not want to devalue womens agency as has happened in the past,
they have had to reexamine womens agency in conditions of colonial and
patriarchal oppression. As epitomized in Nairs article On the Question of
Agency in Indian Feminist Historiography, feminist and postcolonial dis-
courses not only are attempting to enter the world of knowledge produc-
tion but also aim for a reinvention of the historical archive
10
in their
eort to write histories that accord honor and respect to the struggles of
people that traditional histories forgot and to reconceptualize the agency of
people who have been discounted as lesser agents, specically, third-
world people and especially women.
Reorienting Possession in Theory
Nair documents the development of theories of agency that have pre-
ceded her own work. In the early phases, an eort was made to add the
stories of silenced persons to the record. But as Nair points out,
The project of redressing the biases of bad history by discovering women in history,
however, soon runs aground on the categories of history-as-usual that are clearly
insucient to analyze gender. These categories are inextricably linked with the hier-
archies and privileges of patriarchy; no amount of methodological rigor can redress a
problem which calls for a reconceptualization of the categories of the historical enter-
prise itself. It is in this sense that feminist historiography cannot be just additive,
for if such historiography is already hampered by the nature of the archive, which
disproportionately reects the interests and concerns of the dominant classes, the
search for fresh evidence could obscure the need for a critique of the techniques,
and even disciplines, by which patriarchies remain resilient.
11
As they have grown more nuanced in their critiques, feminist and postcolo-
nial theorists are striving not only to discover fresh evidence but also to see
the evidence for its radical alterity. Once recovered, how do the histories of
silenced and marginalized peoples broaden our understanding of the human
and reshape the categories of academic discourses?
Nair describes how an early assessment of women-as-victims has taken
several new turns, the rst prompted by more sophisticated analyses of
power and the second by the postcolonial suspicion of the liberal and indi-
vidualistic bias that undergirded early feminist eorts.
The woman-as-victim paradigm has been an empowering one for feminist historians,
but, as Linda Gordon has pointed out, it is false and impossible to see the history
of female experience as powerless. Being less powerful, after all, is not to be power-
less, or even to lose all the time. Still, the point is not to put a canny subaltern in
place of the victim, for the paradigm of rebellious heroine could become just a
compensation for reductive conceptions of female agency. Developing a complex and
dynamic conception of female agency which does not pose these paradigms as contra-
dictory or exclusive is essential for feminist historical knowledge, especially as it con-
fronts the gure of woman as always already victim.
12
The second turn has been facilitated by the perspective of scholars who
have argued that the concept of agency is largely constructed according to
a liberal model that privileges autonomous agents. As Nair describes this
problem, [T]he rethinking of female agency that has been prompted by
Reorienting Possession
post-structuralism cannot easily be transposed to the Indian context, since
the emphasis on the subjectivity of victims of oppression could, and does,
pave the way for liberal assertions of the freedom of the individual to act
against or despite oppressive conditions.
13
Both Nair and Asad, therefore, arrive at the question of agency with the
aim of deconstructing the model of subjectivity that undergirds much of
Western scholarship (which is based on the conscious choices of a rational
agent) in order to represent more accurately the agency of those whose
power is aected by patriarchal and colonial systems. What these scholars
are pointing to is not only pertinent for theorizing agency in colonial and
postcolonial situations but also for theorizing agency more adequately in
general. A related approach is developed by the anthropologist Susan Carol
Rogers, who argues that until anthropologists can see other forms of power,
they will miss the very real ways in which women exercise power in their
communities.
14
If anthropologists cannot see other kinds of power, they are
likely to perpetuate what Rogers calls the myth of male dominance and will
describe women as victims of masculine domination.
What is not useful is to remain within the victim-agent dichotomy. Asad
documents and critiques the current trend in postcolonial studies, which is
driven by a reaction against the idea that persons in the third world are
victims. This trend develops motifs of subversion, transgression, and ap-
propriation by which the supposed victims of colonialism are celebrated for
their creative agency in the face of oppression. Many of the second-wave
studies of possession have been inuenced by this trend and interpret pos-
sessions as evidence of creative resistance on the part of performative actors
who are reinventing their worlds. Asad states his concern with the existing
chorus of scholars who are celebrating the agency of the oppressed. Ex-
amining the work of Marshall Sahlins, James Cliord, and Eric Wolf, he
notes that the reevaluation of indigenous agency was central to their eorts
to reimagine the historical archive. According to Asad, though it is not use-
ful to write of others as passive objects, the alternative should not be to
assume that, within systematic oppression, the other is an author.
Thus, when Sahlins protests that local peoples are not passive objects of their own
history, it should be evident that this is not equivalent to claiming that they are its
authors. The sense of author is ambiguous as between the person who produces a
Reorienting Possession in Theory
narrative and the person who authorizes particular power, including the right to pro-
duce certain kinds of narrative. The two are clearly connected, but there is an obvious
sense in which the author of a biography is dierent from the author of the life that
is its objecteven if it is true that as an individual (as an active subject), that
person is not entirely the author of his own life. Indeed, since everyone is in some
degree or other an object for other people, as well as an object of others narratives,
no one is ever entirely the author of her life. People are never only active agents and
subjects in their own history. The interesting question in each case is: In what degree,
and in what way, are they agents or patients?
15
Asad indicates that a spectrum of agency is required for an improved anal-
ysis of the agency of the oppressed. He gives an example of his problem
with Sahlinss notion of cultural logic. To take an extreme example: even
the inmates of a concentration camp are able, in this sense, to live by their
own cultural logic. But one may be forgiven for doubting that they are there-
fore making their own history.
16
He also takes issue with James Cliord,
who proposes a cosmopolitan picture of the world in which all human be-
ings share the same cultural predicament, that one no longer leaves home
condent of nding something radically new, another time or space. Dif-
ference is encountered in the adjoining neighborhood, the familiar turns
up at the ends of the earth.
17
In this world, according to Asads analysis,
Everyone is dislocated; no one is rooted. Because there is no such thing as
authenticity, borrowing and copying do not signify a lack. On the contrary,
they indicate libidinal energies and creative human agency. For everyone,
Cliord insists, cultural identity is mixed, relational, inventive. Asad states
his concern with this position: What is striking, however, is the cheer-
fulness with which this predicament of culture is proered. Indeed, in spite
of frequent references to unequal power (which is explored only in the con-
text of eldwork and ethnography), we are invited to celebrate the widening
scope of human agency that geographical and psychological mobility now
aord.
18
Such cheerfulness, according to Asad, serves to gloss over the sys-
tems of terror that have been served by the geographical mobility of imperi-
alism and global capitalism. Feminists have raised a similar line of argument
against the celebration of the decentered subject. It is not only highly incon-
venient that, as they are beginning to gain a voice, the authorizing discourse
mounts a critique against authority, but they are suspicious that the celebra-
Reorienting Possession
tion of the decentered self is a new patriarchal strategy for silencing womens
voices once again.
19
Asad argues that the underlying problem with the celebration of agency
in conditions of oppression is that such a celebration imitates the very
construction of subjectivity upon which the oppression rested: the self-
constituting or autonomous agent. He notes that some radical critics within
anthropology, such as Rosalind OHanlon, have begun to attack the Enlight-
enment idea of autonomy, but because they fail to question the idea that
agent equals subject they repeat the problem they are trying to correct.
20
He argues that a fundamentally dierent concept of subjectivity is needed
in order to reimagine history. The theory of an autonomous or self-
constituting agent must be deconstructed:
The essence of the principle of self-constitution is consciousness. That is, a meta-
physical concept of consciousness is essential for explaining how the many fragments
come to be construed as parts of a single self-identifying subject. Yet if we set aside
the Hegelian concept of consciousness (the teleological principle starting from sense-
certainty and culminating in Reason) and the Kantian concept of the transcendental
subject, which Hegel rewrote as consciousness, it will have to be admitted that con-
sciousness in the everyday psychological sense (awareness, intent, and the giving of
meaning to experiences) is inadequate to account for agency. One does not have to sub-
scribe to a full-blown Freudianism to see that instinctive reaction, the docile body,
and the unconscious work in their dierent ways, more pervasively and continuously
than consciousness does. This is part of the reason why an agents act is more (and
less) than her consciousness of it.
21
Asad is not only suggesting that the concept of consciousness is inadequate
to account for agency, but also that because Western models have consis-
tently assumed this equation, they have exaggerated and constructed a
world whereby conscious agents author their histories. Determining how
and when an act belongs exclusively to its initiator is an obvious and prob-
lematic reduction of agency and also leads to a bifurcating analysis of power
as being a matter of either consent or repression.
22
In contrast to this chorus of postcolonial scholarship, Asad argues that
agent does not equal subject. My argument, in brief, is that contrary to the
discourse of many radical historians and anthropologists, agent and subject
Reorienting Possession in Theory
(where the former is the principle of eectivity and the latter of conscious-
ness) do not belong to the same theoretical universe and should not, there-
fore, be coupled.
23
Through this decoupling, Asad makes room for alterna-
tive notions of agency in which power is not located in the individual
consciousness of an agent but rather in systems that authorize discourses
and in disciplinary practices such as are found in religious traditions. The
body that navigates these systems is understood to be instrumental rather than self-
constituting; it is tempered by social and biological forces.
His argument has further ramications as well, which are important for
the analysis of the agency of possessed women. As he analyzes the way that
ritual has functioned for scholars, he poses the rhetorical question, Ev-
ery ethnographer will probably recognize a ritual when he or she sees one,
because ritual is (is it not?) symbolic activity as opposed to the instrumental
behavior of everyday life. He constructs a genealogy of the academic use of
the category of ritual to argue that the contemporary employment of the
category has functioned to separate real activity from symbolic activity. He
argues that changes in institutional structure and in organizations of the
self make possible, for better or for worse, the concept of ritual as a universal
category.
24
The organization of the self to which he refers is an organization
based on an internal conscious self and its external displays, which can be
read to reveal and conceal the internal self. Inherent in this concept of a self
is the sense that humans represent and invent images of themselves as a
social display, which both reveals and reveils the individuals real self. The
real self is the locus of real or instrumental activity, while external displays
such as ritual are symbolic manifestations that are to be interpreted as sym-
bols or symptoms of an internal reality.
With this problematic understanding of the self in place, one can look
across religious traditions and see rituals as symbolic behavior; rituals are
outward representations, which might be either guises for or symptoms of
human needs. But, Asad argues, this model of subjectivity is a Western,
individualized model that again locates religiosity in the mind (an individu-
als beliefs) rather than understanding rituals as practices that are part of a
lifelong endeavor of moral development and constituting activity in the
world. Symbols, as I said, call for interpretation, and even as interpretative
criteria are extended, so interpretations can be multiplied. Disciplinary
practices, on the other hand, cannot be varied so easily, because learning to
Reorienting Possession
develop moral capabilities is not the same thing as learning to invent repre-
sentations.
25
Consistently when scholars propose interpretations of posses-
sion they have done so as if possession were symbolic of an individuals
psychosocial situation. In reorienting the study of possession, we recognize
the embodied discipline and practices that develop moral capabilities. This
means understanding ritual as instrumental activity, constitutive of identity.
Asads critique opens the door to a reinvestigation of the subjectivity of
possessed women, women whose blotted consciousness would otherwise al-
ways be constructed as less than that of the agent who analyzed them. To
date, possessions have by and large been interpreted as symbols rather than
as disciplinary practices that produce knowledge and develop moral capabil-
ities. This shift toward an analysis of the power and knowledge produced
through disciplinary practices does not, however, eliminate our ability to
interrogate how these practices have an impact on individual bodies. In-
stead, the shift makes a distinction between individual bodies that function
within systems of power and individualsthe autonomous agents who con-
stitute the progressive march of Western history.
Ritualization
To further the analysis of individual bodies that are not individuals to-
ward the goal of being able to analyze the agency of possessed women, I
turn to Catherine Bells notion of the social body. Her work provides an
alternative model for analyzing the dynamic relationship of bodies to sys-
tems of power, specically the interactions of bodies in religious practices.
26
Her methodological argument shifts the question of agency away from a
focus on the agent and toward the way that religious practices constitute
subjectivities in relation to powers thought to transcend human actors. Her
notion of the ritualized agent takes us one step closer to the analysis of
the agency of possessed women, though I will argue for a further step.
Like Asad, Bell nds the category of ritual to be problematic, depen-
dent upon the reinforcement of dichotomies that elevate the status of the
scholar as thinking subject and devalue the status of the ritual participants
as less agentive (molded, controlled, doing-without-reecting). She cri-
tiques the work of Durkheim, Turner, Geertz, performance theorists, and
contemporary ritual studies scholarship by arguing that they share a prob-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
lematic circular logic: their theories are based on a mind-body dichotomy
and a thought-action dichotomy that divide thinking scholars from acting
religious subjects. [T]here is a logic of sorts to most theoretical discourse
on ritual and this discourse is fundamentally organized by an underlying
opposition between thought and action. Although initially employed to
aord a heuristic focus on ritual as a type of activity, this fundamental di-
chotomy helps to generate a series of homologized oppositions that come to
include the relationship between the theorist and the actors.
27
The circular
logic allows the scholars (the minds) to study the rituals of the other (the
bodies) with a predetermined conclusion: we can interpret the meaning
of the rituals, but the participants cannot.
28
Her critique helps to explain
why the muted consciousness of the possessed woman has rarely been un-
derstood as a type of developed capacity for religious knowledge but has
instead been understood to be a psychological symptom of trauma or re-
pression. Because scholars arrived on the scene of analysis with a mind-
body dichotomy at work in their logic, the possessed woman fell into the
category of body whose symbolic representations required interpretations,
which she was incapable of providing.
In contrast, Bell develops an alternative logic that is not based on a mind-
body dichotomy. Her goal is to reorient the study of religion based on con-
temporary theories of subjectivity, which propose interconnections between
embodied knowledge and social practice. She draws from the work of femi-
nist theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, the cognitive scien-
tic work of George Lako, and the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu to develop
a notion of a sociobiological body, which she calls the social body.
29
Through
the use of these authors she brings critical theory, cognitive science, and
practice-oriented sociology to the study of religious bodies:
Lako . . . nds that the body is not a tabula rasa upon which society can inscribe
anything it wishes. Without attempting to distinguish between the social and biologi-
cal experiences of the body, he describes a preconceptual structuring of experience,
which in turn structures the conceptual categories with which human beings think.
In contrast therefore to Hertz, Mauss, Durkheim, and Douglas, for whom basic logi-
cal categories are social in nature and acquired in practice, Lako argues that they
are fully rooted in the sociobiological body. The import of this approach suggests
the primacy of the body over the abstraction society and the irreducibility of the
social body.
30
Reorienting Possession
Lakos argument grants a type of agency to the body. The primacy of the
body indicates that the body is agentive in the way its preconceptual experi-
ence undergirds the ordering of perception and knowledge. Because Lako
situates the birth of conceptual categories after the preconceptual struc-
turing of experience, the primacy of the body is a matter neither of biology
nor of culture (the nature-culture debate), but rather, the body determines
the conditions for the possibility of experience, which pregures the struc-
tures of knowledge. The body is not clay to be molded, but instead is
eecting the molding.
Bell expands her notion of the social body with the work of Pierre Bour-
dieu in order to include the agency of daily practices that coordinate con-
ceptual and physical knowledges. The body is the site where bodily, social,
and cosmological experience are mediated.
31
Bourdieu acknowledges the
agency of the body as the locus for mediations that are not dichotomous,
and Bell brings this concentration on the practice of bodies to her analysis.
She argues for a shift away from the category of ritual to an analysis of the
practice of bodies when their activities are making distinctions that are priv-
ileged as more powerful or more special than mundane practices.
Rather than impose categories of what is or is not ritual it may be more useful to
look at how human activities establish and manipulate their own dierentiation and
purposesin the very doing of the act within the context of other ways of acting.
With this approach in mind, I will use the term ritualization to draw attention to the
way in which certain social actions strategically distinguish themselves in relation to
other actions. In a very preliminary sense, ritualization is a way of acting that is de-
signed and orchestrated to distinguish and privilege what is being done in compari-
son to other, usually more quotidian, activities. As such, ritualization is a matter of
various culturally specic strategies for setting some activities o from others, for
creating and privileging a qualitative distinction between the sacred and profane,
and for ascribing such distinction to realities thought to transcend the powers of
human actors.
32
Several inversions are produced with this shift. Rather than looking for ritu-
als that symbolize the sacred, one analyzes social activities that produce dis-
tinctions between what is and what is not sacred. Rather than analyzing
repetition as a symptom of the obsessively neurotic nature of rituals, one
assesses that repetition is one strategy that has often been employed to stra-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
tegically re-create the conditions for experiencing power thought to tran-
scend human actors.
33
In terms of possession studies, this shift in analysis oers several impor-
tant improvements. Firstly, events that might otherwise never qualify as rit-
uals can be understood to be events of ritualization. This is important for
the study of possessed women because they are often found on the margins
of traditional religious discourse. By examining the activity of the posses-
sion rather than whether or not the possession is a ritual possession, one
can then examine the ways that the community negotiates with the posses-
sion. That is, if we approach possessions as ritualizations rather than ritual,
we can note the power or lack of power each example exerts to create dis-
tinctions that the community regards as authentic or powerful.
Secondly, this shift deates the idea that there is a pattern to ritual and
that a correct or successful ritual will follow this pattern. There has been a
structuralist tendency in possession studies whereby scholars describe the
ritual elements that structure the action. For instance, in a very interesting
article on possession that occurs predominantly among men in the North
Indian village where she was doing eldwork, Susan S. Wadley nevertheless
perpetuates the problems that arise when possessions are discussed as ritu-
als. She begins by distinguishing two broad patterns of possession which
are dened by the nature of the spiritual beings causing possession. In this
instance, does the possession require an exorcist because it is malevolent or
does it require an oracle because the spirit is benevolent? Malevolent beings
ride their hosts, and benevolent beings come to their hosts. After out-
lining the structures for the tradition, she then describes in careful detail a
specic example of a possession that does not follow the rules. She gures
out what the anomaly is (the possessing snake spirit is both evil and good)
and can then say that, though the ritual was anomalous, the ambivalent attri-
butes of snakes makes this peculiarity sensible.
34
This is the circular logic
against which Bell has argued. By thinking of the possession as ritualization,
one no longer needs it to follow rules as though the event were a controlled
event with a predetermined outcome, which the participants must follow.
Each event is understood to have a life of its own, and the specicities of
the event are not anomalous. Rather, the specicities and dierences of each
event are understood to be the very making of distinctions, which gives ritu-
alization its ecacy.
Reorienting Possession
There have been endless structural debates hovering around the study of
possession, shamanism, and witchcraft in which scholars attempt to dene
what is magic, what is a sorcerer, what is a shaman, and so forth. By shifting
the theoretical ground as Bell does, these arguments begin to look hollow.
The concern is not to nd a universal pattern by which to catalogue the
phenomena but rather to note the dynamics by which each event makes
distinctions, which are themselves the work of ritualization.
In contrast to theories of ritual that describe the participants as con-
trolled or molded, Bell argues that the notion of ritualization allows her
to see the embodied logic of the participants. She describes ritualization as
an arena for the embodiment of power:
[T]t is my general thesis here that ritualization, as a strategic mode of action eective
within certain social orders, does not, in any useful understanding of the words, con-
trol individuals or society. Yet ritualization is very much concerned with power.
Closely involved with the objectication and legitimation of an ordering of power as
an assumption of the way things really are, ritualization is a strategic arena for the
embodiment of power relations. Hence, the relationship of ritualization and social
control may be better approached in terms of how ritual activities constitute a specic
embodiment and exercise of power.
35
Bell develops the relationship of ritualization to power drawing from the
work of Bourdieu, Jameson, and Foucault. The active-passive dichotomy
does not suce from this perspective. In sum, it is a major reversal of
traditional theory to hypothesize that ritual activity is not the instrument
of more basic purposes, such as power, politics, or social control, which are
usually seen as existing before or outside the activities of the rite. It puts
interpretive analysis on a new footing to suggest that ritual practices are
themselves the very production and negotiation of power relations. . . .
[R]itualization as a strategic mode of practice produces nuanced relation-
ships of power, relationships characterized by acceptance and resistance, ne-
gotiated appropriation, and redemptive reinterpretation of the hegemonic
order.
36
Bells argument ushers ritual studies into conversation with critical the-
ory and cultural studies, bringing a dynamic theory of power to the study
of religious bodies and their practices. Her argument has important conse-
quences for the eld of women and religion in general and for evaluating
Reorienting Possession in Theory
the agency of women in religious traditions. For example, whereas prior to
Bells argument it was common for a feminist theorist to look suspiciously
at womens participation in male-dominated religions (e.g., Jewish women
behind the mekhitse or Muslim women behind the veil), after Bells argu-
ment is incorporated womens participation in religious traditions is under-
stood to be the very production and negotiation of power relations.
Examining possessions as events of ritualization means that power is un-
derstood dynamically, and the possessed persons are understood to be nego-
tiators with power, not agents or victims. Possessions are negotiations with
power at the interstices where bodily, social, and cosmological experience
interrelate. The primary axes of power that aect the possessed womans life
might include race, class, gender, forces of economy, desire, and politics
all of which are understood to be intimately related to ones religious life
rather than the real power behind the possession. The possession is un-
derstood to constitute relationships of power that privilege the sacred and
incorporate the power of the sacred instrumentally into the world. The
agency of the possessed body is not evaluated as a self-constituting agent,
but rather the possessed body is an instrumental agency for ritualization.
To paraphrase Bell, possessions do not reect reality more or less eectively,
they create it more or less eectively. Possessions are understood to be con-
stituting activity, occurring in social bodies as they negotiate systems of
domination and subordination.
What is unique about the body of the religiously possessed is that the
negotiations that constitute subjectivity also block consciousness. Possessed
persons do not appropriate the world, but rather their bodies appropriate
the world, serving as instruments for the ancestors, deitys, or spirits will.
Bells notion of the redemptive hegemony of practice almost describes this
situation.
Bell develops the notion of redemptive hegemony as a characteristic of
the practice of ritualization that has to do with the motivational dynamics
of agency, the will to act, which is also integral to the context of action.
She adopts Gramscis notion of hegemony: Gramscis term recognizes the
dominance and subordination that exist within peoples practical and un-
self-conscious awareness of the world. . . . This awareness is a lived system
of meanings, a more or less unied moral order, which is conrmed and
nuanced in experience to construct a persons sense of reality and iden-
Reorienting Possession
tity. . . . A lived ordering of power means that hegemony is neither singular
nor monolithic; to be at all it must be reproduced, renewed and even resisted
in an enormous variety of practices. She then combines the notion of hege-
mony with Kenelm Burridges notion of the redemptive process, a term
she states can be interpreted as a more dynamic rendering of the notion of
cosmology used in history of religions. She argues that the redemptive pro-
cess brings into focus the actual working of this notion of hegemonic
power because the redemptive aspect of ones practices, as construed
within a moral order, is the motivating dimension. Like a Freudian drive or
Lacanian desire, redemption is understood to be a force with the real poten-
tial to exert aective and eective force. This produces a notion of religious
subjectivity in which [p]eople reproduce relationships of power and domi-
nation, but not in a direct, automatic or mechanistic way; rather they repro-
duce them through their particular construal of those relations, a construal
that aords the actor the sense of a sphere of action, however minimal.
37
It could be useful to analyze the agency of possessed women in terms of
the redemptive hegemony of possession practices and to argue that the
women are not victims of psychological trauma or sociological oppression
but rather that the practices of possession aord the actor a sphere of action
that is unique in that it includes the blotting of consciousness, altering the
status of subjectivity from actor to acted. But is there a residual actor
and a residual agent in Bells argument? Is there a tension between Bells
notion of the ritual agent and Asads argument that subject does not equal
agent and the two belong to dierent registers? If will is the element of
agency she is looking for that drives the redemptive hegemony of practice,
are we not back to an individual that looks suspiciously Enlightened? How
would the will of the ancestor, deity, or spirit gure in Bells analysis?
At this point I propose a modication of Bells conceptual framework
because her work is ultimately modeled on the residual agent, literally
and philosophically. She argues that the ultimate purpose of ritualization
(which is misrecognized by its participants) is nothing other than the pro-
duction of ritualized agents, persons who have an instinctive knowledge of
these schemes embedded in their bodies, in their sense of reality, and in
their understanding of how to act in ways that both maintain and qualify
the complex microrelations of power.
38
Though this description constructs
a sophisticated analysis of an agent who maintains and qualies complex
Reorienting Possession in Theory
microrelations of power with instinctive knowledge embedded in its body,
it is dicult to divorce the category of agent from its metaphysical baggage
as the recognizable subject of Western teleology.
Underlying her choice of the term ritualized agent there remains a meta-
physical shifting of agency away from the ancestors, spirits, or deities and
toward the thoughts of the community and the body of an individual agent.
Using Bells analysis, the only way for the ancestors, spirits, or deities to be
invested with agency, which is what the people being studied say is the case,
is as the power thought to transcend human actors. As subtle and impor-
tant as her work is in its development of the agency of social bodies that
practice ritualization, Bells designation of the locus of power in human
thought and her argument that ritualization produces ritualized agents mark
the limit of the usefulness of her work for the interpretation of the agency
of possessed women from the perspective of postcolonial concerns with sig-
nication. While I do propose we study possessions as ritualization, I do not
suggest evaluating the agency of the possessed bodies as ritualized agents,
for the term suggests that the subject is the agent. In Chapter I put forth
a dierent approach. Having reframed our perception of the relationship of
religious bodies to multiple axes of power, I now focus on the problem of
representing the power of possessing agencies and evaluating the agency
of the possessed body.
Chapter 3 Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
In the last chapter I introduced two lines of argument to improve method-
ological approaches to possessed bodies. The rst, represented by Asad and
Nair, is the argument for evaluations of agency as nonvoluntaristic and non-
individualistic. Asad and Nair do not dene agency as an individuals capac-
ity to act of her or his own will or choice (as so often happens in Western
notions of agency), but rather they argue that agent should not be equated
with subject. Agency does not reside in individual subjectivities; it resides in
the interrelationships of bodies with systems of power such as economic
systems and religious systems with their regimes of disciplina. Understand-
ing their arguments is imperative in order to account for the agency of a
body whose consciousness is overcome. It is an especially important line of
argument in relation to bodies that must negotiate multiple axes of oppres-
sion. The second line of argument, represented by Bell, is to adopt a prac-
tice-oriented approach to religious bodies, informed by a Foucaultian anal-
ysis of power and recent theorizations of bodies and practice. Rather than
thinking of religious bodies as molded or controlled bodies, Bell argues that
they are developable bodies negotiating with multiple axes of power and
relating themselves to the politics of making dierences regarding what is
sacred and what is mundane. We can now approach the possessed body as
a paradoxically powerful body rather than as an agent or a victim.
We are still left with an elegant problem as we approach possessions.
How does one evaluate the agency of a body that is being wielded by pos-
sessing agencies when those agencies cannot be weighed, registered, or oth-
erwise veried according to modern standards of real force? When a woman

Reorienting Possession in Theory


on the shop oor in an electronics plant in Malaysia is pounced upon by a
hantu, how does the scholar evaluate her agency? Members of her commu-
nity indicated a complex model of agency. She was pounced upon and she
needed to develop greater vigilance. The hantu was responsible for the pos-
session and she could have done more to maintain her vigilance. The terms
used by possession traditions to describe the dynamic of the possessed body
include mounted, played, pounced, wielded, emptied, and entered. Re-
ecting on these terms, the most fundamental analysis of the agency of the
possessed body is that it is instrumental in the possession. Consciousness is
overcome, and the body is used like a hammer or played like a ute or
mounted like a horse so that the possessed body is an instrumental agency in
the possession. I want to take this fundamental analysis seriously and pro-
pose instrumental agency as an evaluation of the agency of possessed
women.
For my purposes the term instrumental agency carves out a discursive
space in which the agency of the possessing ancestor, deity, or spirit is not
elided: a hammer does not raise itself; a ute does not play itself; a horse
does not mount itself. Historically, scholars interpreted the possessing agen-
cies by translating them into forces that were more palatable to Western
sensibilities, exemplied in Crapanzanos argument that possessions are an
idiom. Idioms do not pounce, however, and by calling the possession an
idiom one is eliding or sterilizing the agency of the pouncing hantu. Evaluat-
ing the possessed body as an instrumental agency in the possession creates
a discursive space that preserves the claims being made within possession
traditionsthat a possessing agency is wielding the body of the possessed
person who acts as the instrumental agency for the will and desires of the
possessing agency. The term instrumental agency highlights the altered
subjectivity of possessed bodies without erasing or eliding the self-
identifying notae of their traditions. I am not claiming knowledge of the
possessing agencythat is epistemologically impossible. I am also not say-
ing that one cannot interrogate the power relationships with which the pos-
sessed body is negotiating. As I demonstrated in Chapter , if we examine
possession as ritualization, we can identify the distinctions being made, the
dierentiations that matter, and the community responses to the possession,
which tell us about the interacting forces (such as race, class, and gender)
that are acting on the social body that is possessed. By highlighting the
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
doubleness of the possessed body, that is, by highlighting that the body is
doing work instrumentally, the term instrumental agency designates a dis-
cursive space in which the power of the possessing agencies is not explained
away as belief, idiom, guise, or psychosis. Like a ute, hammer, or horse the
possessed body is crafted, tempered, and trained such that it can be played,
wielded, or ridden to do work for the possessing agency.
The term instrumental has a checkered past within religious studies. The
arguments put forward by Asad and Bell identify a common problem that
stems from the dichotomy instrumental-symbolic: many studies distinguish
instrumental practices (which exercise real power) from ritual practices
(which exercise symbolic power). In agreement with their critique, I am
using the word instrumental in order to forefront the work that is accom-
plished as the possessed body is mounted, played, or wielded.
1
Whereas the
possessed body has often been interpreted as symbolic within the instru-
mental-symbolic dichotomy, instrumental agency as an analytical concept is
meant to confound this dichotomy by relating the disciplina of the possessed
body to the struggles of everyday life and to the will of the possessing agency
that wields it. Instrumental agency functions as a marker for the discursive
space in which the agency of the possessing ancestor, deity, or spirit is pre-
served because the term highlights the dynamic of possessionthe individ-
ual is overcome and the individuals body has become an instrument for the
work of the ancestor, deity, or spirit. It is intended to shift the ground of
scholarship so that scholars are able to approach the notae found among
possession traditions, such as pounced upon, played, wielded, or mounted,
as theoretical resources that expand our sense of human subjectivity. That
is, instrumental agency comes from the reasoned side of the fence and is
a concept that facilitates translation across the fence in the encounter that
draws the scholar to represent possessed bodies.
If we look to the denitions of instrumental and agency found in the Ox-
ford English Dictionary, there are several important meanings of these
words that expand upon the dynamics the term is meant to suggest. For my
purposes, instrumental has at least three signicant denitions. The rst,
serving as an instrument or means, describes the hammerlike agency of
the bodies that are wielded by a possessing agency to do work. Sometimes
the possessed body acts as a volatile hammer engaging in physical violence.
Other times the possessed body is not itself wielded in a violent manner, but
Reorienting Possession in Theory
it might make demands relating to the work the body has to perform when
it is not possessed, much like a labor negotiation. The work of the possessed
body, be it violent action (hammering at its environment) or making de-
mands regarding the worklife of the possessed individual (hammering out a
labor negotiation of sorts), has often led to the analysis that possessions are
a guise and that the real forces at work are mundane, material needs. But to
suggest that religiousness is supposed to be separate from daily constituting
activities is to impose a modern bifurcation. The material demands made
during possessions should not appear as disguised political activity but
rather as demands that relate to the moral development of the possessed
body as it negotiates with ambivalent forces. Hammers serve as the instru-
ment or means for production or protest in service of the ancestors, deities,
or spirits who employ them.
The second denition of instrumental, that which is performed by in-
struments, implicates the utelike character of the possessed body that is
played or played upon. The musical reference also acknowledges the associ-
ation of musical instruments, which are often employed to facilitate posses-
sion. Rather than describing the use of musical instruments to manipulate
human consciousness toward an altered state of consciousness, as Crapan-
zano does, this dimension of instrumentality suggests a shifting of the pa-
rameters of subjectivity away from consciousness and toward the idea of a
social body that has been developed to receive the power of the innite real-
ity through the exercises of receiving rhythm and music; the possessed body
is a tempered body.
2
While most second-wave scholars note how cultural,
class, and gender dierences forge and temper a subjects receptivity to pos-
session, there are many indigenous axes of power relating to the tenor of
bodies that can augment the axes with which we are familiar. For instance,
dryness is a major axis of the power ones social body exerts in the Shona
tradition (to be discussed in Chapter ). Dryness relates to ones social sta-
tus and is an indicator of ones receptivity to the ancestor. A dry instrument
is a good instrument, able to receive the dry breath of the ancestors. One
can then bring a gender analysis to the axis of dryness, noting that the evalu-
ation of womens bodies as wet bodies signicantly impacts on the power
womens bodies exert in the Shona tradition. The unique congurations of
tempered bodies found within possession traditions expand our theoriza-
tions of human subjectivity.
The third signicant denition uses instrumental as a linguistic case.
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
Several language systems such as Hindi mark dierences between subjects
to indicate a spectrum of possible degrees of agency. Agent, instrument, and
patient are linguistic cases that indicate decreasing degrees of agency. As a
linguistic case the instrumental designation indicates that the subject exer-
cises a unique type of agency that is neither autonomous nor passive. In-
strumental subjects share the semantic property of reduced control with the
dative subjects, but they do not share the property of undergoing an experi-
ence [as do subjects marked as patients], rather they have some characteris-
tics of direct agency still attached to them.
3
Semiotically, the possessed
woman undergoes the experience neither as a subject (she does not remem-
ber) nor as a patient (she is gone, not unconscious). As with the Malaysian
example, the woman was held responsible by her community to maintain
her vigilance but nevertheless was recognized to have been overcome. The
degree of agency attributed to her was as neither agent nor patient, but
rather was instrumental.
This denition of instrumental answers to a tension found in recent ar-
guments about agency made by Ronald Inden and Talal Asad.
4
Inden argues
for a reimagining of India in which the Indians, who were constructed by
colonial discourse in the patient case, were now written as agents. He calls
this proposal from patients to agents. Asad is not eager to embrace the
idea that Indians were agents when the systems that constructed their possi-
bilities for action were so largely overdetermined by colonial power. Asad
argues, Indeed, since everyone is in some degree or other an object for
other people, as well as an object of others narratives, no one is ever entirely
the author of her life. People are never only active agents and subjects in
their own history. The interesting question in each case is: In what degree,
and in what way, are they agents or patients?
5
If it is useful to use the
metaphor of case (agent, instrumental, patient) to relate language construc-
tions to social realities (a post-Whoran analogy, so to speak), then the in-
troduction of the instrumental case helps to destabilize the potential dichot-
omy of agent and patient. And it does so by building room for both external
forces and individual practices. Because the dichotomy agent-patient itself
reects a simplistic notion of power (selves are either active or passive, op-
pressors or oppressed), it is useful to look to the instrumental case as an
alternative that acknowledges the ambiguity of individual responsibility in
relation to larger systems of power.
Following Asad, I am using the word agency rather than agent in order to
Reorienting Possession in Theory
maintain a distinction between subjects and their agency. Two of agencys
denitions interject important conceptual contrasts to the idea of an agent.
The rst denition is active working or operation; action, activity. The
possessed body, as an instrumental agency, is not an agent but rather is a
process of constituting activity, active working, action. Possession is not a
symbol for action; it is action or disciplina that produces knowledge in the
bodies of the possessed. The possessed body is an instrumental agencya
body marked by its activity.
The second meaning of agency that adds an important conceptual di-
mension to the dynamic I am suggesting is an establishment for the pur-
pose of doing business for another, usually at a distance. The possessed
body becomes a place for doing business for another, the ancestor, deity, or
spirit, who is usually at a distance. We preserve a discursive space for the
activity of the possessing agency by considering the possessed woman to be
the agency through which the possessor does business. This denition of
agency echoes back to colonial history. Agencies were points of contact in
many situations of imperialism. In U.S. history, it was the agency that func-
tioned as the go-between for Native Americans and the federal government.
It was the agency at colonial ports in China that distributed heroin during
the opium wars. Agencies were strategic places in contact situations where
negotiations of power occurred through the exchange of goods. Many con-
temporary events of possession are happening at the interstices between in-
digenous people and global capitalism; the possessed body is functioning as
the place of exchange between worlds.
As a place of constituting activity, the instrumental agency of possessed
women has often served to embody traditional memories. This facet of
agency can be understood to be both transgressive and conservative. In the
very act of breaking prohibitions against womens religious speech, the
speech of possessed women often functions to support patriarchal tradi-
tions. By shifting our analysis away from the idea that women should be
celebrated as agents of change and toward the idea that possessed women
serve as instrumental agencies, the agency of this spoken-through body is
recognized to be remembering tradition. As a body that has become a place
for remembering tradition, it is likely to be evaluated negatively from per-
spectives that associate traditionalism with backwardness. Asad has noted
that Western observers have frequently made this simplistic reduction: Ac-
tions seeking to maintain the local status quo, or to follow local models of
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
social life, do not qualify as history making. From the Cargo Cults of Mel-
anesia to the Islamic Revolution in Iran, they merely attempt (hopelessly)
to resist the future or to turn back the clock of history.
6
Possessions are not history making in the teleological sense. As we will
see repeatedly in Part , possessions are largely interpreted in scholarly rep-
resentations to lack the capacity to make history eectively. Perhaps the pos-
session appears to empower one woman, but it does not alter the oppressive
living conditions that confront women. This has led to much confusion in
the analysis of possessions, because the possessed woman may have gained
considerable authority in relation to womens traditional roles while at the
same time she is not changing traditional constructions of womens power.
7
I am not celebrating instrumental agency as a positive revaluation that dem-
onstrates how possessions are actually good for the possessed. What is
being revalued is the assumption that agency is a measure of autonomous,
teleological progress. If we do not employ a teleological model as normative,
we see a dierent kind of agency at work in possession.
The possessed womans body is a place which does not often move for-
ward but rather embodies a past, thereby producing an altered knowledge
of the present. With the womans body as the instrumental agency for a
reterritorialization of time, the ancestors, deities, or spirits re-create perpet-
ual beginnings. Possessions can be understood to alter the categorization of
history such that the past reinstantiates itself as constitutive of the present.
The gendered propensity of women to be available places for possessing
spirits is common to many traditions, and it is through this status as a place
that she gains religious authority that is denied to her as a subject.
8
If I
call this element of her subjectivity her placeness, we can recognize that
placeness is not an important element of most Western feminist conceptions
of agency. Rather, placeness is examined suspiciously as one of the attributes
or metaphors by which patriarchal discourses have signied women because
it suggests passive receptivity. The vagina is a place. The womb is a place.
Hysteria is the womb out of place. Womens subjectivity has often been g-
ured negatively as a place. Womens bodies are places for male pleasure. The
placeness of the possessed body as an instrumental agency helps to reorient
Western feminist evaluations by expanding the horizons by which womens
power is theorized because placeness relates to womens ambivalent power
to receive.
Placeness also relates to the politics of representing possessed women.
Reorienting Possession in Theory
Most examples of possession are found in other places (historically or geo-
graphically) where a struggle of some sort has attracted attention. The
scholar travels to the place of possessions (India, Africa, Malaysia) but then
evaluates whether or not the possessed woman succeeded in winning a battle
or promoting change. That is, the other place has attracted the scholars
attention, but then the possessed bodies are assessed according to a modern
Western notion of agents. By revaluing placeness we might see other models
of subjectivity at work in other places, which will expand gender theory
rather than conrm it.
For example, in the edited collection Innovation in Religious Traditions,
Helen Hardacre looks to the role of women in new religions in Japan since
the s. Hardacre focuses on the case of Deguchi Nao (), one
of the great geniuses of Japanese religious history. Hardacres study high-
lights one of the most interesting examples of the ambivalent radicalism and
traditionalism that is often encountered in accounts of possessed women. In
contrast to women in traditional Buddhist or Shinto temples, whose roles
are largely restricted to serving male clerics or assisting male lay leaders
through the performance of domestic services (cooking, laundering, clean-
ing), services which are not linked to salvation, lay women have been play-
ing active and powerful roles in virtually all lay societies founded since
. Nao had wanted to become a Buddhist nun, but her parents forced
her into an arranged marriage. She had eight children and an alcoholic hus-
band who could not provide for the family, leaving Nao to support the fam-
ily with menial work. Three years after her husband died, she fell into a
state of intense spirit possession on the lunar New Year of , when she
was fty-six.
9
After being detained as mentally ill, Nao joined forces with
Deguchi, a man who wrote down and organized the utterances from her
trances. In trance, she challenged the Buddhist concept of henjonanshi, the
idea that in order to attain salvation, women must rst change into males.
The cosmology they produced included Nao as the transformed male and
Deguchi as the transformed female, and together they ushered in a new
phase of salvation for all genders. The story is remarkable.
Ultimately, Hardacre argues that Nao failed to change the foundations of
gender asymmetry. She argues that Nao and Deguchi maintained traditional
patriarchy. Like many studies of possessed women, Hardacres presents a
fascinating piece of research into womens lives as found in a dierent place,
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
but the paradoxes of instrumental agency are evaluated as a kind of de-
ciency of agency. It is problematic to speculate that Nao could have insti-
tuted more radical change, as though she was really in charge of what she
said, but if we evaluate Nao as an instrumental agency rather than holding
her to the criteria of Western agents, then we can remark upon the unique
conguration of subjectivity she embodied as the transformed male with
her counterpart transformed female. Our scholarly travels to exotic places
will produce less of the same if we are subjected to the meanings and agen-
cies of the possessed bodies we study.
Gender analyses must be pursued carefully, for it would be easy to miss
the dierences in gender constructions that the receptivity of the possessed
body predetermines. In some possession traditions, possessions occur in
both men and women, but they are gured dierently according to gendered
constructs in the traditions. For instance, in the Hasidic tradition described
in Chapter , women are more likely than men to be possessed, but when a
prominent rebbe (a Hasidic title indicating religious authority) is possessed
it is called ibur, which means pregnant. Womens possessions are considered
to be more ambivalent and are not called ibur. To perform a gender analysis
of this complex situation requires a two-step process. In the rst step, one
can analyze the way that gender functions as a primary eld of power based
on perceived dierences in sexuality.
10
Consistent in the Hasidic tradition
as with many other traditions is the predominance of women as the ones
who get possessed but whose possessions are evaluated as more ambivalent
than the males. That is, womens possessions reside within a primary eld
of power that makes distinctions (what is a good possession and what is a
bad possession) based on perceived dierences in sexuality. The possessed
woman is unlikely to attract attention as receiving a powerful ibur. The sec-
ond step of a gender analysis, however, is signicant. In contrast to mascu-
line ideals of hardness and rationality, we see a radical alternative model of
male subjectivity in the Hasidic tradition, one that evaluates receptivity for
men positively. While it is important to note that the metaphor of pregnancy
has been appropriated to describe the male body that houses a divine spirit,
we risk losing sight of the underlying dierence in the Hasidic model of
subjectivity in which bodies are understood to be receptive to the interven-
tions of spirit, albeit androcentrically evaluated. Culturally specic con-
structs of possession can show us congurations of gender other than those
Reorienting Possession in Theory
with which we are familiar. By evaluating how power is being articulated
according to gendered constructions of possession in each tradition, insight
can be gleaned regarding womens and mens gendered power within their
traditions.
The concept of instrumental agency serves to highlight the way that re-
ceptivity has often been evaluated as an extremely powerful capacity among
possession traditions. Rather than coding receptivity negatively as a type of
passivity, instrumental agency accounts for this revaluation; ones receptiv-
ity marks a developable sacred space. As argued by Rita Gross, by looking
for the parallel sacred spaces allocated according to gendered distinctions
(parallel does not mean equal), one can examine the dierent religious prac-
tices of men and women, noting that they are interdependent (not necessar-
ily symmetrically) in their inclusions and exclusions.
11
Rather than merely
critiquing patriarchal appropriations of womens power, we instead examine
what has been called a patriarchal tradition and can see that within it there
are feminine as well as masculine constructions of religious powermost
notably, receptivity.
By describing the agency of possessed bodies as instrumental, I am not
saying that all possessions are the same. I could not demonstrate the same-
ness of possession, and as the case studies will highlight, possessions are
very dierent. What I will claim, however, is that possessed bodies share the
same paradoxical agency in that the body is not speaking, it is spoken
through; the body is not hammering, it is being used to hammer; the body
is not mounting, it is being mounted. Because it is not an individuals body
(in the sense of a self-constituting individual), its power increases or de-
creases (which in fact has great ramications for the individual body). Be-
cause the possessed body is being used, outside observers are drawn to write
about it and communities gather to respond to it. When faced with the
cross-cultural and transhistorical appearances of possession, and recogniz-
ing the preponderance of women and other marginalized groups in posses-
sion traditions, the observer can be subjected to the meanings of the people
she or he has been attracted to study by evaluating the culturally specic
conguration of instrumental agency exercised by the possessed body.
There are, of course, no such things as new discursive spaces. Instrumen-
tal agency does not exist in a philosophical vacuum. The strategy of describ-
ing instrumental agency as a concept that carves out a discursive space for
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
comparative studies of possession is merely that, a strategy. Again, strategi-
cally, I argue that the discursive space carved out by the dynamic I have
described as instrumental agency is a theological space. Like the term reli-
gion, the term theology has undergone such radical changes in the last twenty
years that a brief digression is needed to explain what I mean and why it
is strategically important to describe instrumental agency as an analytical
category of philosophical theology.
The Discursive Space of Theology in a Postcolonial Context
I am assuming that for most readers the word theology evokes the same
association with anachronism as do religious bodies, and that for most read-
ers theology might be described as the ideological element of religiousness.
For many people, theology is dismissed as the dogma written in monotheis-
tic traditions by a powerful few, and theology is perceived to be a confes-
sional eld rather than a eld of critical inquiry regarding human relation-
ships to power. I expect great resistance from ethnographers, feminist
theorists, and cultural critics to the idea that theology might have an impor-
tant role in theorizing subjectivity in a postcolonial context.
In David Fords Theology: A Very Short Introduction, he denes theology
broadly as thinking about questions raised by and about the religions.
Theology is important as a eld of inquiry in the contemporary university,
he states, because most elds, from bioethics to sociology to law, encounter
questions raised by or about religions, especially now that suspicions and
challenges have surfaced regarding the condence in reason and rationality,
which marked much of the development of the academy in the modern
period.
12
While much of the contemporary Western university might consider re-
ligion to be anachronistic and irrelevant to the study of science, social sci-
ence, or the humanities, it is important to recognize from a postcolonial
perspective that this dismissal of the religious as backward fails to address
the ongoing power that religiousness plays in the contemporary world and
fails to understand that power in nonracist and nonsexist ways.
In Richard Griggs Theology As a Way of Thinking, Grigg identies theol-
ogy as a specic way of thinking, a discursive structure. Grigg proposes
a methodological framework for identifying theological thinking in the
Reorienting Possession in Theory
worlds religious traditions, including nontheistic traditions. In common us-
age the theos of theology is understood to refer to a monotheistic divinity,
and theology is therefore associated only with Christianity, Islam, and Juda-
ism. Grigg, however, redenes theos as the innite dimension of reality that
can deliver human beings from certain fundamental threats that result from
the fact that human being is nite being.
13
For example, he maintains that
nirvana is theos in the Buddhist tradition and that the practices of Buddhism
develop the nite human body in order to remove it from cycles of suering.
Again, it is likely to surprise readers that a Buddhist might be considered a
theologian, but Buddhist scholars such as Robert Glass have turned to the
discourses of postmodern theologians such as Mark C. Taylor and Charles
Winquist to make comparative arguments regarding emptiness and desire.
14
Griggs denition of theology reects a contemporary line of argument
among philosophers of religion as well as Continental philosophy, which
deconstructs the longstanding philosophy-theology dichotomy. Possessions,
I am arguing, can be understood to be events of theology. Ancestors, deities,
and spirits are appealed to for help in the face of fundamental threats to
human nitude. The ancestors intervene in peoples lives with the power to
deliver nite human beings from the shortcomings of human knowledge and
the shortcomings of nite human bodies. Based on this denition of theol-
ogy, the discursive space carved out by the term instrumental agency can
be identied as a product of a philosophical theologyit is reasons ap-
proach to theology. I do not claim knowledge of the ancestors, deities, and
spirits, but in describing the instrumental agency of the possessed body the
force of the possessing ancestors is recognized as a theological intervention.
I think most readers, concerned that I am reexporting theology in a re-
play of colonialism, would be more comfortable if I proposed a philosophical
discursive space. In a postcolonial context, however, the element that re-
peatedly marks some bodies as religious is whether or not the body negoti-
ates with forces that have the power to intervene in daily life. While I am
not wedded to the term theology, I am tactically suggesting it here in order
to acknowledge the dimension of power, the agentive element of the ances-
tors, spirits, and deities. To employ the term theology in this context will, I
hope, subject theology as a discursive eld to the meanings and agencies of
other peoples religions. If it is shocking or disruptive to think that a posses-
sion might be an event of theology, I would suggest that such disruption
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
is good for identifying the resilient, hierarchical evaluations of us and
them that continue to haunt the study of religion. I believe that there is
an ethical imperative in a postcolonial world to preserve the discursive space
in which matters related to the gods, ancestors, deities, and spirits are con-
sidered comparatively and reexively.
A recent example of philosophical theology with which I would align my
argument is Paula Cooeys Religious Imagination. Cooey argues that within
Kants philosophical theology he understood reason far more generously
and imaginatively than the contemporary notion that reason resides in a
positivistic, scientic context as technical ratiocination. She argues that
reason is not the enemy, but rather the key for feminist interventions:
Healthy suspicion and skepticism [toward Enlightenment ideals] notwith-
standing, if one is honest, these very qualities themselves depend upon the
ability to analyze critically and to articulate publicly to another, in short the
ability to reason.
15
Carving out a discursive space for the interventions of agencies I cannot
know is one way of employing reason to delimit the parameters of argument.
Though I would be willing to identify my approach to the possessions as
philosophical theology as Cooey describes the term, I would distinguish my
project from hers to the extent that she locates agency in the capacity to
reason: Reason, historicized and understood more generously, is not only
potentially available to almost everyone; it is indispensable to historical
agency, however socially constructed, just as it is necessary to change for
the betterboth individual and social betterment. Though Kants own as-
sumptions are now as subject to questioning as those he challenged, his
point was, among other objectives, to legitimate questioning as a supreme
value in its own right and as an empowering activity.
16
I share with Cooey
the valuation of interrogation as a supreme value, but as the examples con-
tained in the following chapters demonstrate, the analysis of change for the
better is problematic because it is often built upon the teleological model of
agency critiqued by Asad. In other words, Cooey still seems to employ a
notion that historical agency is equated with a reasoning agent, which I
am arguing against. In a postcolonial context, the question is whether, by
approaching possessions as events of theology, we can propose a more accu-
rate analysis of the power of possessed bodies.
The current volume of scholarship on possession raises the question,
Reorienting Possession in Theory
Why so many studies of possession now? The desire to study the possessed
body suggests to me that we desire to be in proximity to theological inter-
ventions. Charles Winquist states that because in the current historical mo-
ment we are disappointed with the surfaces of our world, we desire theol-
ogy.
17
While Winquist addressed his book to the so-called secular culture,
whose gods have left their temples never to return, I think his argument is
important in a postcolonial context where we not only encounter other
religious bodies but also seek these bodies out and build entire elds of
knowledge in relation to them. The discursive space carved out by the con-
cept of instrumental agency provides an approach to those bodies as events
of theology, reorienting our relationship to the others we study and to our
own theological traditions.
Shifting away from the museumication of religious bodies in anachro-
nistic space, possessed women are approached as social bodies negotiating
their relationships of subordination and domination to the axes of power
familiar to the humanities and social sciences (race, class, and gender; colo-
nialism; globalism) and those forces unfamiliar to contemporary, Western
analyses of power (ancestors, deities, and spirits). The question of belief is gone,
and the question of whether or not the possessing agencies are real is gone. Instru-
mental agency carves out a discursive space in which the self-identifying
notae of a people are taken seriously and we can engage the comparative task
of theorizing the subjectivity of women who are spoken through.
By approaching possessions from the ground of philosophical theology,
the analysis of possession is reoriented in two ways: The epistemological
limitations of the scholars knowledge are acknowledgedit is epistemolog-
ically impossible to know possession, and the agentive elements described
within the possession traditions (ancestors, deities, spirits) are accorded the
status of theological interventions with the power to overcome dilemmas
associated with human nitude, thus preserving a discursive space in which
their agency is not erased or elided. These two fundamental reorientations
alter the relationship between the scholar and the possessed, providing new
resources for theorizing subjectivity.
Thus far, I have forefronted postcolonial theories of agency represented
by Nair and Asad. They argue that a nonvoluntaristic account of agency is
necessary to represent more adequately the power bodies exercise in relation
to forces as great as colonialism and patriarchal tradition. Neighboring the-
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
orizations of agency that inform instrumental agency and against which in-
strumental agency nds its distinctness are found in feminist and queer phi-
losophy (Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz) and in postcolonial neo-Marxism
(Pheng Cheah). Though these discourses might appear to be strange bedfel-
lows for an argument regarding methodology in the study of possession,
their concerns with representation and agency were the original inuences
that led me to consider how unique was the possessed womans agency. The
convergence of their concerns is rife with undercurrents, tensions, and im-
portant distinctions that nevertheless provide fertile soil for theorizing sub-
jectivity. By bringing their arguments into this discussion I can elucidate
the particular dierences that religious bodies bring to contemporary phi-
losophies of agency. We live in a historical moment where there is an ethical
imperative to think about the place of such bodies in relation to interna-
tional legal documents and philosophies of subjectivity. The possessed
woman is a striking example of how dicult the challenges are for making
evaluations and arguments regarding religious bodies, their rights and their
practices. Toward this end I turn to these important philosophers.
Matter, Volatility, and Globalism
Judith Butlers Bodies That Matter, Elizabeth Groszs Volatile Bodies, and
Pheng Cheahs engagement with Butler and Grosz are three major contem-
porary theories of agency that address concerns that relate to the evaluation
of possessed bodies.
18
All three scholars propose nonvoluntaristic accounts
of agency and critique the possibility of an autonomous or self-constituting
agent of rational willpower. A brief analysis of their theories demonstrates
how closely their arguments relate to the concept of instrumental agency
but also shows that even for these radical theorists, religious bodies are g-
ured in terms of Enlightenment binarisms. While their respective texts ac-
count for forces exerted upon human bodies such as economies, social sym-
bolics, desire and sexuality, racialization, and the unconscious, their desire
to think human agency does not consider or allow for interventions of ances-
tors, deities, or spirits that might matter. I begin with a discussion of Butler
and Grosz and then discuss Cheahs critique that their work remains within
the anthropologistic horizon.
In the eort to recongure the relationship of sexed bodies to the social
Reorienting Possession in Theory
symbolic and to reevaluate womens agency within historical representa-
tions, Judith Butlers Bodies That Matter and Elizabeth Groszs Volatile Bodies
are outstanding representatives of the contribution that feminist and queer
theorizations of subjectivity make for the scholar of religion concerned with
a reevaluation of religiously possessed bodies. My earliest questions regard-
ing possessed bodies were whether they were unique and important ex-
amples of bodies that matter or volatile bodies. Might the critical interroga-
tion of possessed bodies contribute to the respective concerns of Butler and
Grosz? I think so, and yet there is an important dierence represented by
possessed bodies that goes beyond the evaluations of agency found in Butler
and Grosz.
The investigation of the body is risky ground for feminist philosophy
because womens bodies were often discussed in traditional philosophical
discourse as the devalued term of binary oppositions such as mind-body,
form-matter, and reason-emotion. These binaries support deprivation theo-
ries regarding womens involvement in religious traditions as identied by
Sered and discussed in Chapter because women are perceived to be needy
bodies rather than rm minds. Butler and Grosz engage this risk and philos-
ophize the agency of gendered bodies. Doing so allows them to move be-
yond the argument that womens bodies are molded by socialization as they
propose nonvoluntaristic accounts of agentive bodies that negotiate with so-
cialization.
Butler returns to the concept of matter as found in Aristotle and Plato
and pursues a critical rereading of these authors because matter appears
in these cases to be invested with a certain capacity to originate and to com-
pose that for which it supplies the principle of intelligibility . . . [and is thus]
dened by a certain power of creation and rationality that is for the most
part divested from the more modern empirical deployments. Dynamism or
agency is therefore a product of bodies that matter: What I would pro-
pose in place of these conceptions of construction is a return to the notion
of matter, not as site or surface, but as a process of materialization that stabi-
lizes over time to produce the eect of boundary, xity, and surface we call
matter. That matter is always materialized has, I think, to be thought in
relation to the productive and, indeed, materializing eects of power in the
Foucaultian sense.
19
In his rigorous analysis of agency in Butlers text, Cheah argues: For
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
Butler, this radical understanding of constructionism does not foreclose the
agency of the subject but indicates the need for a nonvoluntaristic account
of agency. The interminable process of construction involves a set of con-
straints that constitute the human agent through time. These constitutive
constraints circumscribe the realm of cultural intelligibility at any given mo-
ment, thereby limiting the meaningful political claims available to the hu-
man will in general which is constituted within this eld of forces. Hence,
the alternative account of agency Butler proposes involves an examination
of the matrix through which all willing rst becomes possible, its enabling
cultural condition.
20
The trouble with Butlers concept of agency when
applied to the agency of a possessed woman is that she limits her analysis to
human willing. She proposes a nonvoluntaristic account of agency for the
secular body whose gods have left their temples never to return.
For Butler, the source of power that drives bodies to matter is found in
Lacans theory of the mirror stage. Based on the research of child psycholo-
gists, a stage in infant development has been identied in which infants de-
velop a sense of identication (Thats me!) with their image in a mirror.
This identication creates anxiety because the child requires an other (mir-
ror, mother, [m]other) in order to establish a sense of selfhe or she is
forever located in an alienating destination rather than existing in an infan-
tile sense of wholeness and plenitude. The rst experience of identication
is burned into ones psyche owing to the accompanying trauma of recogniz-
ing ones separateness from plenitude. The imagistic identication, as trau-
matic residue, functions as a phantasm for the rest of the subjects life, a
phantasm of ones ideal self (the real me, a whole and perfect me). Feminists
have picked up this model because it poignantly pertains to womens alien-
ated relationship to mirrors and ideal body images. Theorists of race have
also adopted this model, relating it to the particular disjunctions that occur
when one lives with a black body in a world where white bodies function as
the dominant ideal.
21
By adopting this Lacanian model in order to think
about the agency of bodies and how they matter, Butlers theory locates
agency in an organic insuciency of the human body. The phantasm drives
the body in search of identication (union) with its ideal. Ideals are those
things, like perfect breasts, that become cultural signierspowerful sym-
bols in the social symbolic to which the body is attracted. Butler argues that
the drive toward the ideal is performative. Humans perform, they mimic
Reorienting Possession in Theory
powerful signiers. In wanting to acquire perfect breasts, for example
through surgery, one is both repeating and innovating on the ideal. One is
performing gender because bodies matter. As Butler states: Agency
would then be the double movement of being constituted in and by a signi-
er, where to be constituted means to be compelled to cite or repeat or
mime the signier itself. Enabled by the very signier that depends for its
continuation on the future of that citational chain, agency is the hiatus in
iterability, the compulsion to install an identity through repetition, which
requires the very contingency, the undetermined interval, that identity in-
sistently seeks to foreclose.
22
The phantasm needs no otherit is perfect
fullness. At the same time, bodies chase the very thing that represents sati-
ety. This creates a doubleness and dynamism, which, in the case of anorexia,
can be fatal.
If we relate this model of agency to the possessed woman, Butlers lan-
guage comes enticingly close to a description of possession phenomena. If
one were to propose a Lacanian analysis of the agency of possessed women,
Butlers description is entertaining: The agency of possessed women is a
double movement of being constituted in and by a signier that is often the
name of a masculine ancestor, deity, or spirit, which the possessed woman
is compelled to cite or repeat or mime. Enabled by the ancestors who de-
pend on the citational chain (the string of mediums, so to speak), the
possessed woman is the site of the hiatus in iterability. Her possessed speech
erupts from the undetermined interval of dierence that the ancestor needs
and overcomes. The possessed woman is the compulsion to install an iden-
tity through repetition. Every repetition holds the potential for transforma-
tion of that identity.
Though it might be useful to relate Butlers analysis to possession, what
is missing in the Lacanian analysis is the matter of the possessionsthe
agentive ancestors. There is a universalizing or hegemonic potential in the
Lacanian analysis; all ancestors, deities, and spirits become elements of
the symbolic. At best, possessions might be interpreted as episodes of un-
canny potentiality that erupt from the Lacanian Real, a term that functions
similarly to the Freudian term the unconscious. The Real designates experi-
ence that we cannot know but can propose, given the slips of consciousness
that suggest something other underlies our consciousness. Two very inter-
esting arguments made by Judy Rosenthal and Willy Apollon relate Lacan-
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
ian theory to possession, in part because Lacanian theory presupposes re-
exive questions about ones desires and also because Lacanian theory fo-
cuses on drives that drive bodies rather than agents that control drives.
23
To
do so, however, creates two potential problems. Firstly, Lacanian analyses of
possession suggest a world in which the Real thing is found everywhere
rather than a world in which very dierent possessions exist in very dier-
ent places. Though Rosenthal is very careful to argue that she is comparing
interpretive frameworks, in the larger context of how religious bodies are
understood in a postcolonial context, the Lacanian Real is likely to carry
greater value and currency for readers, producing possessed bodies that are
familiarly psychological bodies. Signifying chains become the real power
behind the possessions. Secondly, performing a Lacanian analysis of the
agency of the possessed woman reduces the agency of the ancestor to an
organic lack. The Lacanian lack is an intra-organic insuciency. What is
interesting about the possessed body is that it is negotiating with an extraor-
ganic insuciencyancestors lack the body that speaks.
In contrast to Butler, Grosz does not propose an overall theory of the
agency of bodies. Rather, she pursues several trajectories of argument that
forefront the agency of the body. Her objective is to displace the centrality
of mind, the psyche, interior, or consciousness (and even the unconscious)
in conceptions of the subject through a reconguration of the body. In or-
der to do this she must deconstruct dualist binaries (form-matter, mind-
body). Central to her argument is the metaphor of the Mobius strip, a meta-
phor that frustrates dualistic ontologies. Bodies and minds are not two
distinct substances or two kinds of attributes of a single substance but
somewhere in between these two alternatives. The Mobius strip has the
advantage of showing the inection of mind into body and body into mind,
the ways in which, through a kind of twisting or inversion, one side becomes
another. The model also provides a way of problematizing and rethinking
the relations between the inside and the outside of the subject, its psychical
interior and its corporeal exterior, by showing not their fundamental iden-
tity or reducibility but the torsion of the one into the other, the passage,
vector, or uncontrollable drift of the inside into the outside and the outside
into the inside. The Mobius strip deconstructs mind-body dualism and
solves the problems raised by metaphors that depict the body as a container.
But, as Grosz notes, as a model it also links our understanding of subjectiv-
Reorienting Possession in Theory
ity to a kind of monism, autonomy, or self-presence that precludes under-
standing the body, bodies, as the terrain and eect of dierence.
24
The great
dierence between the metaphors of instrumental agency (ute and ham-
mer) and the Mobius strip is that instrumental agency requires a force
outside of the instrument, where the Mobius strip has a self-contained
economy.
Where Butlers argument is based on an economy of lack, which drives
the body, Grosz complements the philosophy of lack with a philosophy of
excess. Grosz explores the interplay between inside and outside, lack and
excess. She claries that the ontological status of the biology of the body is
not static or xed though there are limits and boundaries, which the body
imposes. In her discussion of the ontological status of biology she raises two
examples to demonstrate how the facts of biology have been amenable to
wide historical vicissitudes and transformations. Both relate to the study
of possessed bodies. The rst example of a body that marks itself outside of
the facts of biology is the phenomenon called stigmata, in which Christs
wounds appear on the body as wounds to the hand and side. The person
who develops the stigmata is understood to be sharing in Christs pain. For
Grosz, however, stigmata do not demonstrate the unique volatility of reli-
gious bodies, which are engaged in a relationship with something that has
the power to manifest itself in the body. She is still working with the West-
ern association that religion is belief, and she writes that stigmata indicate
that biological and physiological processes can be induced in subjects
through the inculcation into certain beliefs about the body and its place in
social and religious life.
25
The religious body is marked in Groszs text in
the anachronistic space of a belief-ridden body, not as a body that contri-
butes to theorizations of agency. Beliefs are contained within the psyche of
the religious body, and the receptivity of the body to divine interventions is
not taken seriously.
Her second example, multiple personality disorder, provides a converse
example whereby what is presumed to be the bedrock of biological facticity
(that each body is unique) is undermined in a body with multiple personal-
ity disorder (MPD). One personality may require glasses to correct faults
in the optical apparatus while another personality has perfect vision; one
personality is left-handed, the other right, one personality has certain aller-
gies or disorders missing in the other.
26
Where the stigmata can be attrib-
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
uted to inculcation in certain beliefs, the body with MPD is a really dierent
body because its dierence is scientically veried. The shapes of eyeballs
have been measured and documented to be dierent depending upon the
personality present. Multiple personality disorder is arguably the Western
model of subjectivity closest to the possessed body. The descriptions of the
volatility, voices, and dierences of possessed bodies relate closely to the
dierent personalities of the person with multiple personality disorder. For
Grosz, the dierent personalities are real events that exceed the biological
facticity of one body. The stigmata, however, are symptoms of beliefs.
The dierence between her two examples illustrates how religious bodies
are interpreted to be bodies that are molded by beliefs rather than studied
as bodies that might subject us to alternative meanings and alternative con-
structions of agency. This is in part because Grosz is interested in a nonvol-
untaristic analysis of agency that nevertheless promotes autonomy. If bod-
ies are inscribed in particular ways, if these inscriptions have thus far served
to constitute womens bodies as a lack relative to mens fullness, a mode of
incapacity in terms of mens skills and abilities, a mode of womens natural-
ness and immanence compared with mens transcendence, then these kinds
of inscription are capable of reinscription, of transformation, are capable of
being lived and represented in quite dierent terms, terms that may grant
women the capacity for independence and autonomy, which thus far have
been attributed only to men.
27
Thus her theory of volatile bodies values
independence and autonomy for the body. Religiousness, however, serves as
the other of autonomy within this and many feminist theories. The pos-
sessed woman is likely to generate a sense of unease in feminists compelled
by the idea that autonomy, even nonvoluntaristic autonomy, is an ideal to be
imagined. In her conclusion Grosz proposes that sexual dierence can be
interpreted as a radical, incommensurable dierence that drives the agency
of volatile bodies. I am arguing that in a postcolonial world that is still full
of religious bodies an imperative exists to allow room for a radical, incom-
mensurable dierence that is not born of human bodies or the dierences
between them.
Pheng Cheah argues that Butler and Grosz are limited in their ability to
theorize the agency of bodies because they conne their theorizations to the
dynamics of human bodies and therefore do not build in a political dimen-
sion to their arguments, which would account for the power and forces of
Reorienting Possession in Theory
social inequality such as the distribution of food according to the ows of
global capital. He argues that their respective arguments remain within the
anthropologistic horizon, meaning that their models of agency are devel-
oped in an apolitical bubble of sorts, the psychological bubble of the bour-
geoisie, in which consciousness and the unconscious function as the horizon
for thought. Though the term recalls the word anthropology, it is not meant
to suggest a critique of anthropology. It is a critique of theories of agency
that acknowledge only those forces produced in and by human bodies. He
is compelled by their deconstruction of form-matter dichotomies but argues
that oppression will never be understood if the theory of agency does not
also account for the agency of money, to put it simply.
Cheah locates Butlers notion of bodies that matter within the anthropol-
ogistic horizon owing to the priority she gives to identication as the driving
force of performativity. Although much of Butlers book is written as a gen-
eral critique of the role played by matter or nature as a concept in the an-
thropocentric metaphysics of the subject, her investigations are also con-
ned to the materiality of human bodies.
28
He argues that Butlers notion of
bodies that matter (through their struggles for and with identication) re-
mains restricted within a world of ideas. Ideas are, in his terms, ideational
forms; therefore she has not undone the form-matter dichotomy because
she nds the instigating dynamism of bodies in the formal process of identi-
cation. As Cheah argues, hunger is not produced by ones identication
with an ideal.
I want to make two related but dierent points. First, the implausibility of identica-
tion as a paradigm of oppression is especially salient in scenarios of oppression where
material marks are constituted through physical and not ideational ingestion, not nec-
essarily of the order of the visible such as the tracings of the digestive tract by inequal-
ities in food production and consumption or the weaving of the body through super-
exploitation, where hegemony does not function at the level of the outline of morphe
or form and is not necessarily even knowable. Second, the apparent plausibility of the
identication paradigm is, in part, based on the tacit presupposition of an established
culture of democratic contestation within the constitutional nation-state form.
29
For these two reasons, Butlers model seems not to work so well in the
situation of global neocolonialism, where oppression occurs at a physical
level.
30
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
In comparing Groszs argument to Butlers, Cheah argues that Grosz
provides a more accurate interpretation of Foucault and that she is explicit
in her ontological claims regarding the interplay between idea and form as
bidirectional. Her closer reading of Freud, beginning with his early work,
the Project for a Scientic Psychology, produces a clear ontological claim
that Butler does not address: I will deny that there is the real, material
body on one hand and its various cultural and historical representations on
the other. It is my claim . . . that these representations and cultural inscrip-
tions quite literally constitute bodies and help to produce them as such.
The bodies in which I am interested are culturally, sexually, racially specic
bodies, the mobile and changeable terms of cultural production.
31
Because
Grosz counterbalances the Lacanian thesis of the organic incompleteness of
human bodies with the economy of excess and the agency of surfaces theo-
rized by Deleuze and Guattari, it is more dicult to argue that her theory
lies within the anthropologistic horizon. Cheah notes that Grosz is arguing
for a bi-directional causal relationship between sociocultural forms and
materiality, which is not limited to the delineation of intelligible bodily
boundaries but extends to the stu of matter.
32
Based on her argument,
Cheah makes the following assessment and proposal:
Grosz suggests that if we want to investigate the paradoxical interplay between nature
and culture of which the human body is a case, then we have to consider what it is
in both terms which allows this interplay to happen. Here, an inquiry into the dier-
ential constitution of nature and culture in their interdependence discloses a
philosophically prior space or movement that Grosz calls materiality as destination.
This is a nonsubstantialist reinscription of the concept of matter outside the form/
matter distinction as the dynamism of subindividual dierences of forces. I will call
this dynamism mattering. The shift here is from a model of independent subjectivity
to an attempt to track the constitutive miredness of autonomous subjectivity in the
always-already occurring momentum of a cross-hatching of hetero-determinations.
33
Cheah is concerned with the momentum of global neocolonialism, and so
he begins with Groszs reinscription of matter, mattering, and applies her
argument to the interrelationship between bodies and global neocolonial-
ism, a situation that obviously requires a nonvoluntaristic account of agency.
Oppression, he argues, has been constructed according to a dichotomy of
form and matter. The overcoming of oppression is understood according
Reorienting Possession in Theory
to mind-body and form-matter dichotomies, which ultimately lead to the
equation of oppression with brute, irrational power. It is on this point that
he critiques Butler and Grosz, arguing that they both look to a formal con-
cept, identication, as the potential site of liberation from oppression,
though he thinks Grosz makes an argument that he can apply to oppression
in a nondualistic way. When oppression is viewed using the form-matter
dichotomy, formal power is proposed as being capable of lifting bodies from
brute oppression. When seen from the perspective of dualistic ontologies,
[o]ppression is the subordination of bodies to a system with irrational
form. Correspondingly, political change is conceived precisely as trans-
form-ation, the alteration of the irrational form of this systemic hold on
bodies to a more rational form. The primacy of formative agency over mat-
ter and bodies [rational form-brute matter] and the exteriority of political
reason to power [again a dichotomy of rational form-brute matter] consti-
tute the capacity to drag bodies out of the obfuscation of power relations.
Simply put, this is a fundamental ontological presupposition of political
theories as dierent as consciousness-raising, Marxist notions of ideology
and praxis, Habermasian discourse-ethics, and social constructionist femi-
nism.
34
Because possessions often occur in situations of struggle against
oppression, Cheahs argument is extremely pertinent: scholars often equate
the religiousness of the possessed body with a kind of vulnerable, brute
intelligence, in contrast to the scholars critical, formal consciousness. By
bringing their critical consciousness to the events, scholars can drag those
bodies out of the obfuscation of their possessions, making sense of them
for us.
Where Butler and Grosz propose the possibility of transformation, that
is, the bodys capacity to ght oppression, in the dynamics of identication,
Cheah uses Groszs argument to propose what is for him a more political
and more accurate depiction of the agency of bodies in relation to the op-
pressive forces of global neocolonialism. It is here that Cheah utilizes terms
that are, from my perspective, similar in their discursive function to theol-
ogy. In order to describe the incalculable forces that are writ on bodies, he
identies the incalculable tendentiousness of neocolonialism, that is, a
force beyond all measure that demonstrates tendencies with which we are
forced to negotiate in our human nitude. Ontologically, neocolonialism is
manifest as an immanence that escapes rational decision and calculation.
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
Global neocolonialism is beginning to sound quite a bit like the God of
monotheistic traditions. It is a force that intervenes in human livesas do
ancestors, deities, and spirits. By contrast, the dynamism that inheres in
the linkages and interconnectedness eected by processes of globalization
might be described as an incalculable tendentiousness where form and mat-
ter, culture and nature, are woven together in an immanence that escapes
rational decision and calculation. Philosophically speaking, this is why we
need an account of the political agency of bodies that no longer respects the
form/matter or nature/culture distinctions.
35
For Cheah, then, we need an account of the political agency of bodies
that no longer respects the form/matter or nature/culture distinctions be-
cause global neocolonialism transcends the anthropologistic horizon: it is an
incalculable tendentiousness and an immanence that escapes rational decision
and calculation. Food, social change, housing, transformation, clothing,
and the conditions for the possibility of thought itself are now understood
to be animated by forces outside of the anthropologistic horizon, in the
realm of the motility of the material linkages (labor and scal ows, inter-
national relations) in which the respective actors are constitutively mired.
36
Mattering is not predicated upon a model whereby human consciousness is
the source for agencyhumans cannot will themselves to know the irratio-
nal forces of form and matter that create the conditions for the possibility
of agency. Again the similarities to theological discourse are signicant. In
traditional theological discourse, humans cannot know Gods will; they are
subjected to it and must negotiate with it. In the case of the possessed
women in Zimbabwe whom we will study in Chapter , humans cannot
know what the ancestors know but are subjected to the ancestors interven-
tions in daily life, including territorial warfare. From my perspective, the
worlds religious traditions become important resources for thinking about
agency because they have been engaged in developing ethical arguments
about and community responses to nonvoluntaristic accounts of human
agency for a very long time.
While the concept of instrumental agency is closely related to the con-
cept of mattering in that both concepts are arguments for a sideways move
outside of the anthropologistic horizon, the concepts dier in an important
way. While Cheah acknowledges the nonhuman agency of irrational and
epistemologically unknowable material reality (mattering) such as global
Reorienting Possession in Theory
capital, I am following the lead of Charles Long and Toni Morrison, who
propose a move backwards and a crawling back to revisit the discred-
ited knowledge of colonized people.
37
In their use of these directional
phrases, backwards and crawling back are meant to challenge the teleologi-
cal drive of traditional depictions of history. Long and Morrison are both
interested in identifying the power of the ghosts that haunt contemporary
subjectivity as we confront the respective residues of colonial terror that
impact upon raced bodies dierently.
Cheah, in contrast, concludes his argument perplexed by religious
women. He invokes Derridas notion of spectrality (which itself might be
read as the Derridean analysis of the agency of spirit as it haunts the materi-
alist eort to demystify and dethrone the Hegelian spirit), but Cheahs no-
tion of mattering ultimately remains within a traditional materialist analysis
of religiousness as ideology. The intensication of neocolonial globaliza-
tion has led, in the past two decades, to culturalist reassertions in the South
in which women are a crucial site for the rearticulation of postcolonial na-
tional identity. For present purposes, the curious question for the outside
observer is this: given the patently negative consequences this cultural rear-
ticulation of national identity will have for the social position and everyday
lives of women, why do some women actively participate in these cultural
reassertions at the same time that they are also gender activists?
38
He notes
as examples Islamic women in Sudan, Algeria, and Pakistan as enigmatic
activists. That is, what he is calling cultural reassertions are women who
participate in religious traditions. The religious body erupts in his text, un-
identied as such, transformed into a cultural body. Part of the importance
of my overall argument at this moment in history is that important scholars
such as Cheah will identify religious bodies using any term but religion.
They will be described as ethnic or cultural bodies. Maybe traditional bod-
ies. Anything but religious. In a postcolonial world, we need to be able to
approach religious bodies as religious bodies and be able to evaluate their
practices and power without eliding that element of their negotiations.
Citing the work of Khawar Mumtaz in Pakistan, Cheah constructs a pic-
ture of these cultural bodies as being engaged in an odd identity struggle
that has a surprisingly strong hold on women who, Mumtaz says, condemn
women agitating for rights as westernized and un-Islamic while they si-
multaneously might be practicing professionals who demand a ban on po-
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
lygamy, reject divorce by repudiation, condemn exploitation of women by
menall concerns with which womens rights activists are also occupied.
39
That Cheahs eye has been drawn to the examples of Islamic women is un-
derstood as the problem that Asad has articulated so well. The nondichot-
omous world of Islam in which power is not divided between the religious
and the political creates a disjuncture for Cheah, who thinks of religiousness
as belief. These religious women are enigmatic for Cheah because their pro-
gressive move into gender activism has not dispelled or demythologized
their religiousness. Cheah can take seriously the impact of global capitalism
on their bodies as mattering, but he cannot take seriously the impact of the
disciplina of Islam, a disciplina that develops their bodies in relation to the
will of Allah. What he does not acknowledge is that in his examples of
the enigmatic role of postcolonial women their religiosity seems to have
a surprising strength. He calls on the work of Helie-Lukas to explain this
as a matter of identity politics. She states: Womens organizations range
from participating in the fundamentalist movement, to working for reform
within the framework of Islam, and to ghting for a secular state and secular
laws. In spite of this wide range of tendencies and strategies, all of them
have internalized some of the concepts developed by fundamentalists. In
particular, they have internalized the notion of an external monolithic en-
emy, and the fear of betraying their identitydened as group identity,
rather than gender identity in the group.
40
Cheah is critical of this explanation because it reduces culture to ideol-
ogy. He turns instead to Derridas notion of spectrality to argue, I can see
the precarious feminisms in neocolonial patriarchal postcoloniality as cases
of deconstructive responsibility to the spectrality of nationness,
41
and sug-
gests the following reasons why that spectrality would be ingested:
What is interesting about these examples of internalized/naturalized constraints on
feminist interests is the strength of this popular-nationalist conviction in the face of
the sacrices it entails. It is crucial to remember that in neocolonial globalization,
national identication is not a primary moment but a second nature induced by the
shifting eld of material forces. Like a compound formed in a chemical reaction that
is not reducible to the dierent reactants, nation-ness is the unstable produce of a
gathering together of economic, cultural, and political factors. As such, this second
nature can neither be rejected by an act of individual or collective will (humanist
anthropologisms); outstripped by the sheer force of matters energy (Grosz); nor yet
Reorienting Possession in Theory
resignied solely by democratic contestation (Butler). In this scenario, nationness
might be described as spectral rather than ideological, which does not mean that
it cannot become an ideology serving the interest of state-elites.
42
In his exploration of the spectrality of nationness he never addresses reli-
gious bodies. He is evaluating the agency of Islamic women but does so with
reference only to cultural reassertions that are puzzlingly strong.
The unpredictable eects of the complex intertwining of culture and material
forcesgreater economic independence for some sectors which ameliorates tradi-
tional forms of patriarchal domination; intensication of religious nationalism as a
result of the mortgaging of the postcolonial nation-state to global capital and the
ensuing uses of fundamentalist nationalism to articulate gender interestsare not
adequately captured by anthropologistic accounts of ethical transformation. I can see
the precarious feminisms in neocolonial patriarchal postcoloniality as cases of decon-
structive responsibility to the spectrality of nationness. To theorize the possibility of
political transformation in this space is to unlearn the distinctions between form and
matter, history and nature, the active and the passive that come to us by reex.
43
In all of this, agency is not attributed to religion and the realm of deities.
The intensication of religious nationalism is described as a result of the
mortgaging of the postcolonial nation-state to global capital. This analysis
could be used to describe the situation of the Malay women, whose country
is mortgaging itself to multinational free-trade zones and is very concerned
about the potential promiscuity of its young women. And it could be used to
describe how it is that a postmenopausal and possessed woman has become a
symbol for indigenous land claims in Zimbabwe. But Derridas spectrality,
as interpreted by Cheah, does not allow a discursive space for the will of
Allah or the agency of ancestors, deities, and spirits animating the bodies
because religious bodies are so anachronistic he does not even describe them
as religious.
Although Cheah has constructed his entire rigorous reading of Butler,
Grosz, and Derrida in order to argue for a notion of transformative agency
that accounts for nonhuman force, Cheah never considers the peculiar
strength of these Islamic women as being imbued with a nonhuman reli-
gious force, the will of Allah. And what neither Cheah nor Mumatz ac-
knowledges is that unlike a human rights activist, a woman whose body is
engaged by the nonhuman forces of religious traditions is not concerned
Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
rst and foremost with human rights (which reside within the anthropolo-
gistic horizon). She does not align herself with the transformative political
agency of a human rights activist because she is negotiating to various de-
grees with a will that is not human.
In the following chapters I focus on four dierent situations in which
possessed women have captured attention because their bodies are overcome
by an agency that is not human. In undertaking a comparative project I am
not claiming that possessed women share a universal religiosity but that
their altered subjectivities practice a similar paradoxical agency. They are
not repetitions of the same, but they share the same instrumental agency to
the extent that they are spoken through by the will of an ancestor, deity, or
spirit at work, war, or play. Where Cheah was surprised by the peculiar
strength of womens religious bodies, I approach their instrumental agency
as an event with theological force, an element that explains why the contem-
porary eye is drawn to them.
Part 2 The Work, War, and Play of Possession
References to spirit possessions are found from Greek antiq-
uity to the present day in part because possessions are power-
ful events that attract attention. How the power of possession
is evaluated is my concern. In Part I argued for a new ap-
proach to possessed bodies so that the power of the posses-
sion might be identied more clearly. In contrast to Enlight-
enment-informed analyses of religion as a social practice
based upon an individuals beliefs, I drew from recent postco-
lonial theories of religion (Talal Asad) and poststructuralist
theories of ritual (Catherine Bell) that associate religious
bodies with the disciplined development of moral capabilities
(rather than individual fabrications of identity) and with
practices that establish distinctions regarding what is and
what is not redemptively empowering (rather than needy in-
dividuals who are molded by ritual). Whereas possessed bod-
ies were likely to be approached as anachronistic bodies in-
uenced by beliefs that the scholar did not hold, I have
argued for an approach that both acknowledges that the pos-
sessed body is powerful and that scholarly studies of posses-
sion are produced by a desire to be in proximity to alterity,
which is often masked as an intellectual desire to explain the
possession; and maintains a discursive space wherein the self-
identifying notae of a people are preserved. This means creat-
ing a discursive space for the agency of the ancestors, deities,

The Work, War, and Play of Possession


and spirits that I cannot know but whose force has attracted my attention.
I proposed the term instrumental agency as an analytical category that creates
such a space because it foregrounds the dynamic of possession, which is
that the religious body is instrumentalit is wielded or played. Instrumen-
tal agency highlights the working relationship between the possessed body
and its possessor.
In Part I further analyze the working relationship by focusing on three
situations in which womens possessed bodies have been examined by schol-
ars: at work, at war, and at play(s). While I am interested in proposing a
formal argument about the agency of possessed bodies in these situations, I
have selected two case studies (work and war) and two plays in order to
ground my argument in historically specic examples of the representation
of possessed women. I oer new interpretations of these situations that are
signicant because they allow us to become subjected to the meanings
and agencies of the people who have attracted high levels of scholarly atten-
tion. I relate what is found in the specic examples to the formal method-
ological argument about how scholars evaluate the power of possessed bod-
ies at work, war, and play. My formal argument is that possession will be
dierent in every place that it happens but that the agency of the possessed
bodies is similar in that they exercise instrumental agency. What is most
interesting in examining four dierent possession scenarios is nding what
is distinctive about the religious bodies in each time and place and how each
unique version of instrumental agency can broaden our appreciation of the
dierences of religious bodies.
Chapter 4 Work
One of the recurring problems facing analysts of possession phenomena is
that possessions do work for the persons who are possessed. A direct link
often exists between the demands made by a deity, for instance, and the
daily, material needs of the possessed person. When faced with the account
of a woman whose possession earns her material rewards, the analyst is likely
to describe her as exercising the agency of the feminine underdog; manipu-
lating her audience by appearing vulnerable and using the idiom of posses-
sion in order to get what she cannot ask for as a subject. Alternatively, pos-
sessions are analyzed as doing the work of social therapy, a primitive form
of psychology that functions to vent social frustration and bring the com-
munity back into balance.
In the case of the Malay possessions, hundreds of possessions happened
at worksites, in the manufacturing plants of technologically sophisticated
multinational companies. As we examine how scholars have interpreted the
possessions we see that the real work of the factory is contrasted to the sym-
bolic work of the possessions, indicating that scholars are approaching these
religious bodies with an instrumental-symbolic dichotomy undergirding
their evaluations. Aihwa Ong contributes a feminist, materialist analysis of
the possessions, and Erika Bourguignon contributes an anthropological as-
sessment that is largely a comparative psychological approach to the posses-
sions. As they analyze how the possessions are symbolically working, neither
scholar acknowledges the unique place Malaysian people hold in terms of
Orientalist discourses.
1
Malaysians have been signied in the colonial regis-
ter as mentally unstable people, notoriously dierent from other Oriental

The Work, War, and Play of Possession


people for their aect-laden psychologies. When Ong and Bourguignon di-
agnose the possessions as ineective symbolic protestations, their argu-
ments unwittingly add to the Orientalist tradition of representing the Malay
as a psychologically unstable people. I bring a new twist to their important
work by approaching the religious bodies of the Malay dierently. No longer
approaching them as anachronistic bodies whose religiousness is based in a
psychic space of belief, I interpret the work of the possessions as a reterrito-
rializing of space that brings ritualization as a force to bear upon the im-
posed secular work space represented by the factories. If we approach the
women as instrumental agencies for the possessing spirits, we not only pre-
serve the self-identifying notae of the tradition but also contribute to the
revaluation of Malay subjectivity.
Possessed Women and Free-Trade Zones
In the s and s Malay women who worked in technologically sophis-
ticated manufacturing plants on the eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula
attracted much attention in the news media because their spirit possessions
were volatile and were disrupting production at the plants.
2
Ong docu-
mented the recent historical context of the possessions, and the following
account is drawn largely from Spirits of Resistance.
3
During the s and
s the Malaysian government established free-trade zones just outside
of major cities. A drastic shift was occurring for the rural Malay population
as the kampung, or tribal community, was losing its traditional role as the
locus of rural life and was being replaced by the emerging capitalist systems
of production and transportation. As is the case in most multinational in-
dustries, women were hired not only because they were a cheap source of
labor but also because they were considered to be an obedient work force
and their small hands and ngers were very ecient for working with the
precise and intricate machinery of technologically sophisticated manufac-
turing.
4
In their newfound mobility, traveling to and from manufacturing
plants, possibly renting apartments near the factories rather than living in
their traditional villages, these young women were not only neophyte fac-
tory workers but were also a new facet of Malay society. Ong documents
how such women have come to hold a new and ambivalent position in their
families and for the governments who use them as a lure for multinational
Work
business. The women provide an income for their families and a work force
for multinationals, but simultaneously they are found at the center of a
moral discourse that is very concerned with their potential promiscuity.
5
Soon after the manufacturing regime had moved in and broadly estab-
lished a new economy based on a work force of women, possessions began
occurring on the factory oors. As Ong recounts, The late s produced
a urry of newspaper reports on mass hysteria in free trade zones. In ,
forty Malay operators were seized by spirits in a large American electronics
plant. . . . A second large-scale incident in involved some opera-
tors in the microscope sections. The factory had to be shut down for three
days and a spirit-healer (bomoh) was hired to slaughter a goat on the prem-
ises. The American director wondered how he was to explain to corporate
headquarters that , hours of production were lost because someone
saw a ghost. Ong reports that the bomoh (the male traditional religious
gure who intercedes for the possessed) has become a xture of transna-
tional production operations in Malaysia; however, his slaughter of chickens
or goats on factory premises has been insucient to placate the unleashed,
avenging spirits of a world torn asunder.
6
Some of the plants implemented
a management strategy whereby they red the women who experienced
three or more possessions for security reasons. Such a strategy relates the
womens religious lives to their work lives intimately so that their religious
bodies must negotiate with the forces of capitalist employment as well as
with spirits.
In her eldwork Ong interviewed people who witnessed the possessions;
we will look closely at several accounts of possession to highlight the way
that Ong interprets the agency of the possessed women in contrast to the
way their agency is represented in witness accounts. Voice is a central motif
in feminist thought, which Ong emphasizes in the nal section of her eth-
nography, entitled In Their Own Voices. Ong includes the witnesses ac-
counts of possessions but never explains why she could not interview a
possessed woman. Using a Western feminist thematic, which suggests that
individual women own their voices, she fails to recognize the altered voice
of a woman who is spoken through by spirits. Possessed women do not have
their own voices, so their voices are not recounted in the chapteronly
the witness accounts of the possession are recorded. The women are instru-
mental agencies whose loud, vociferous cries and body language are not
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
their own voice. Michel de Certeau sheds an important light on this prob-
lem in his analysis of the voice of possessed women when he writes: That
the possessed womans speech is nothing more than the words of her other,
or that she can only have the discourse of her judge, her doctor, the exorcist,
or witnesses is hardly by chance . . . but from the outset this situation ex-
cludes the possibility of tearing the possessed womans true voice away from
its alteration. On the surface of these texts her speech is doubly lost.
7
Though Ong never provides an analysis of the doubly lost speech, she
does include the following witness account, which describes how and why
possessed women do not speak in their own voice either during or after
their possession. The hantu are spirits, often harmful to human beings,
associated with a place, animal, or deceased person. This account conrms
de Certeaus thesis. [After their recovery, the victims] never talk about
[their aiction] because they dont remember . . . like insane people, they
dont remember their experiences. Maybe the hantu is still working on their
madness, maybe because their experiences have not been stilled, or maybe
yet their souls are now disturbed (jiwa terganggu).
8
In this statement the
witness can describe why the possessed woman does not speak for herself
because the witness acknowledges the agency of the hantu, which might still
be disturbing the womans soul. The women do not remember their posses-
sions because they were not conscious subjects. They were radically altered
and were functioning as instruments for the voice and will of the spirits that
possessed them. Though she has tried to allow the Malay women to speak
in their own voices, Ong elides the specic complexity of listening to a
voice that is altered.
Let me clarify my argument with Ong. First we read a witness account
followed by Ongs analysis. Sometimes, they see an old man, in black
shrouds, they say, in their microscopes, they say . . . I myself dont know
how. They see hantu in dierent places. . . . Some time ago an emergency
incident like this occurred in a boarding school. The victim fainted. Then
she became very strong like a strongman or a strong girl. It required ten or
twenty persons to handle her. In her analysis Ong writes: If indeed spirit
possession episodes provided female workers the guise to launch attacks on
male sta members, they certainly never came close to challenging male
authority on the factory oor or elsewhere. In eect, the enactment of ritu-
alized rebellion (Gluckman ) by Malay women in modern factories did
Work
not directly confront the real cause of their distress, and instead, by oper-
ating as a safety valve, tended to reinforce existing unequal relations which
are further legitimized by scientic notions of female maladjustment.
9
Ong makes three very serious statements in her analysis. First, borrowing
specically from I. M. Lewiss theory, she speculates that the possessions
are a guise. Second, she argues that the possessions are not aecting male
authority. Third and most contentiously, Ong knows the real cause of the
womens distress, indicating that they do not. Instead of valuing the indige-
nous interpretation equally with hers and comparing the dierent interpre-
tations, which both shed light on the event, she arrives at knowledge of the
real problem. Though Ong is very concise in her delineation of the new
subjectivity imposed by capitalism, she is not willing to engage seriously the
subjectivity imposed by indigenous spirits.
The following account of a possession was given by a worker who witnessed the pos-
session. It was the afternoon shift, at about nine o-clock. All was quiet. Suddenly,
[the victim] started sobbing, laughed and then shrieked. She ailed at the machine
. . . she was violent, she fought as the foreman and technician pulled her away. Alto-
gether, three operators were aicted. . . . The supervisor and foremen took them to
the clinic and told the driver to send them home. . . . She did not know what hap-
pened . . . she saw a hantu, a were-tiger. Only she saw it, and she started scream-
ing. . . . The foremen would not let us talk with her for fear of recurrence. She was
possessed, maybe because she was spiritually weak. She was not spiritually vigilant
so that when she saw the hantu she was instantly afraid and screamed. Usually, the
hantu likes people who are spiritually weak, yes. People say that the workplace is
haunted by the hantu who dwells below . . . well, this used to be all jungle, it was a
burial ground before the factory was built. The devil disturbs those who have weak
constitution . . . [therefore] one should guard against being easily startled or afraid.
10
Three key issues are raised in this account: the possessed woman is remark-
ably volatile; the witness suggests that the possessed woman was spiritually
weak and thus attributes some level of agency to the woman, much like the
instrumental linguistic case; and the witness attributes agency to the hantu
and suggests that it is demanding propitiation and respect for the graveyard
that once existed. Contrasting these points with Ongs overarching analysis
of the possessions, we see that a Western model of subjectivity is the stan-
dard from which Ong makes her evaluations: The voices of neophyte fac-
tory women, in counterpoint to corporate images and in protest against
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
public abuse, articulate an intersubjective mode of apprehending the world.
In their everyday vocabulary of moral piety, as well as in the possession in-
dictments of male power, women workers seek to express new identities, to
empower their relations with men and the wider society and nally to di-
minish control by dominant power structures.
11
By suggesting that these are women who seek to express new identities,
Ong is employing a language that demonstrates Asads argument in his ge-
nealogy of ritual. Western models of subjectivity have developed as though
there is an internal agent who develops and performs identities; however, as
conveyed in the following account given by a woman who was describing
her aunts experience in a prayer room constructed on the factory site, hantu
seek and possess the women: She was in the middle of praying when she
fainted because she said . . . her head suddenly spun and something
pounced on her from behind.
12
Possessions are reported as experiences that
forcefully overtake a woman, yet Ongs statement that women seek to ex-
press new identities does not indicate an agency on the part of the pounc-
ing weretiger. This is a problem of representing and evaluating the claims
made by the women that an ancestor or spirit has overcome them. Ong pro-
vides a self-described humanist analysis, and her vocabulary elides the
spirits agency (pouncing). According to the Malay tradition, weretigers
pounce, and according to the witness testimonies, these women claim to be
pounced upon, not to be seeking new identities.
Ongs analysis perpetuates a distinction between instrumental and sym-
bolic practice. She evaluates the eectiveness of the possessions according
to a materialist dialectic and nds that they are merely symbolic, lacking in
ecacy. Unlike the real work they do in the factory and the real exploitation
they face, their possessions do not address their real problem from Ongs
perspective. Let me reiterate that Ongs work is a valuable resource that
provides a detailed specicity to the project of writing womens worlds. I
am dependent on her data but am approaching them in a way that I am
arguing is a corrective for the postcolonial study of religion.
13
Bourguignon has evaluated the Malay possessions from the perspective
of their psychological therapeutic value and found them wanting in ecacy.
In her analysis, religion is a mediating factor in cultural change and can
therefore be evaluated according to its pragmatic ability to nurture adapta-
Work
tion to such change. Bourguignons subject is the modern subject, and in
this case, the medical subject as seen in her assessment that Malaysian
hantu possessions are pathological, both as seen from the local perspective
and from a biomedical point of view.
14
My question is, Which local per-
spective? If it is fair to say that possession is considered to be a hardship
and a traumatic experience to be avoided through spiritual vigilance, is it
therefore fair to say that possession is seen to be pathological? What if they
are understood to be events of ritualization that work to produce a dieren-
tiation which establishes a privileged contrast, dierentiating itself as more
important or powerful than the workshop environment?
15
By approaching
the possessions as ritualizations, we perceive the religious bodies of the Ma-
lay women to be negotiating with multiple forces rather than perceiving
them to be women with a pathological psychological condition.
Bourguignon contrasts the Malaysian possessions to the possessions
among Balanta women in in the south of Guinea-Bissau according to
the therapeutic value the respective possessions exert and their ability to
mediate change successfully for the women involved. Because Bourguignon
is working with a denition of religion as a symbolic force capable of mediat-
ing cultural change (which she values positively) or resisting change (which
she values negatively), she then hierarchizes possession phenomena ac-
cording to their pragmatic ability to promote mental health in the face of
culture change. Bourguignons concern is pragmatic, but in her desire to
promote a liberal humanist agenda she risks losing or dismissing the impor-
tance of angry hantu because they do not serve her humanist teleology.
Place and the Religious Body
What neither Bourguignon or Ong developed was a historicized picture of
the religious life of the Malay. A brief overview of Malay history and indige-
nous religion enhances the possibility of seeing the Malay religious body
otherwise. Central to a Malay notion of subjectivity is the importance of
place. A distinctive contribution to theories of subjectivity made by the Ma-
lay religious body is the relationship of the body to place and to places, a
relationship that is gendered. Womens bodies are perceived to be more re-
ceptive places than male bodies, and thus a signicant element of womens
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
power is related to their placeness. I begin with a look at Malaysia as a geo-
graphical and historical place before focusing on the relationship of place
to subjectivity within the Malay context.
An adequate understanding of the relationship between the Malay
women, their work in the factories, and the possessions requires a rudimen-
tary understanding of the geography and history of the region. Malaysia is
the modern independent nation that includes the Malay Peninsula and the
Northern Coast of Borneo, excluding Singapore and Brunei, which have
maintained their independence. The region functioned as a major conduit
for local trade, which gradually expanded in the early centuries of the rst
millennium to include trade with Indians. By the fth century, Chinese
traders entered into maritime trade, seeking alternative routes to the north-
ern overland routes. The Malay Peninsula is located halfway between China
and India; the Melaka Straits, which run between the peninsula and Suma-
tra, function as safe harbor in the face of seasonal monsoons. With the South
China Sea to the east and the Indian Ocean to the west, this region grewto be
of central importance for the spice trade between Persia and Southeast Asia.
The region shares a similar geography characterized by coastal plains
giving way to a rugged mountainous interior, which means that settlers on
the peninsula, Sumatra, the islands of the archipelago, and Borneo were
divided into two types: interior mountain dwellers and coastal dwellers. The
coastal dwellers can again be divided between farmers and miners and mari-
time communities.
16
The oldest inhabitants of the region lived in the interior
forests and jungles, where some communities continue to exist. There are
several distinct groups of these people who are given the general designation
Orang Asli, the original people, who probably are related to the aboriginal
people of Australia from the time of the Ice Age when Australia may have
been joined to Southeast Asia.
17
It is from the ethnographic evidence detail-
ing Orang Asli culture that scholars derive evidence of what can be called
indigenous religious traditions because the Orang Asli have not converted
to Hinduism or Islam.
18
The Orang Asli were moved into the mountains by a steady ow of Mon-
goloid people from the north. The Proto-Malays and the Deutero-Malays
have been identied as civilizations that equate roughly with Stone Age and
Metal Age civilizations. The factory women are descendants of these people
who established villages on the coastal plains based on farming, shing,
Work
maritime trade, and later mining. Though the Orang Asli are mountain
people and the Malays have avoided the jungles and mountains over the
centuries, contact between the Orang Asli and the coastal people has been
consistent, and trade links were developed between the two groups. Ritual-
ization with respect to ancestors and the forces of fertility is common to
both people.
19
Described as animism by Ali, the indigenous religious tra-
dition is marked by a veneration of the spirits of all things, animate and in-
animate.
In traditional Malay beliefs, there are ghosts (hantu) and spirits (Jembalang, penunggu,
semangat). These supernatural beings are believed to reside in all things in nature
mountains, hills, seas, rivers, land, trees, rocks and so forth. In the daily activities of
the people, due respect must be shown to them, otherwise they are capable of causing
pain, suering and disaster. Therefore if a person wants to go through a forest or
climb a hill, for example, he has rst of all to ask for permission by saying, Saluta-
tions venerable one, may I pass; or if he wants to open up a piece of land, either for
the construction of a house or for cultivation, it is necessary to pacify the spirits
guarding the place or to drive them away. In the same way, evil spirits are driven away
before the planting season and due care must be taken not to upset the spirit or vital
spirit (semangat) in the crop before harvesting, as this is believed to be responsible
for bringing about good harvests.
20
Daily work and the propitiation of spirits are deeply intertwined in this tra-
dition. The contemporary possessions on the shop oors demonstrate that
the indigenous tradition survives in some ways within contemporary Ma-
laysia.
Resilient as the indigenous tradition has been, the religious history of the
region is complex, including the introduction of Buddhism and Hinduism
as early as the fourth century. Indian missionaries of Buddhism and Hindu-
ism imported their traditions, building temples and schools, which devel-
oped prestigious reputations as centers of learning, attracting Chinese
monks such as I Ching who traveled to Srivijaya, a dominant port located
in southeast Sumatra, which he commended as a place to study Buddhist
scriptures. The Andayas propose that acceptance of these traditions by the
Malays was facilitated by similarities between Malay and Indian religion,
including a veneration for particular stones, hills and trees regarded as
manifestations of the deity of the soil, and a general acceptance of the exis-
tence of spirits who must be propitiated in daily life.
21
India was to have a
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
pervasive inuence on the region, bringing models of government that were
adopted by the Malays to various extents. The Chinese would become the
dominant political force in the area by the turn of the second millennium,
but their role as sovereign of the region did not carry with it the cultural
inuence India exerted.
Between the fourteenth and fteenth centuries, two developments
shaped the regions future. The rst was the establishment of Melaka as its
dominant port. Through its role as a conduit for all local trade, Melaka
merchants served to make Malay the language of trade throughout the ar-
chipelago. The second was the introduction of Islam, which is credited
to Indian Moslems trading throughout the region. Though the process of
successfully converting the entire region is still not understood, it is agreed
that the success of Indian Moslem traders introduced and spread the reli-
gion to local societies throughout the region. When the rulers of Melaka
converted, it was through Melakas role as the central source of trade and
power in the area that the adoption of Islam was fortied. Though Islam
had been promoted earlier . . . , the new religion became so closely identied
with Malay society in Melaka that to become Moslem, it was said, was to
masuk Melayu, to enter [the fold of the] Melayu. . . . At the height of Mela-
kas power in the fteenth century, Malay culture spread eastwards beyond
the Straits even to areas which had never known the control of Srivijaya [a
precursor of Melaka located on Sumatras northern coast] and were far be-
yond Melakas political sway. But Melakas period of greatness was already
drawing to an end with the arrival of the Portuguese in Asia.
22
Before moving into colonial history, there is a link between contemporary
Malay women and the precolonial development of religion in the region that
is important to note. It is not unusual to nd references to the propitiation
of spirits during precolonial history. The Orang Asli are attributed not only
with having developed a highly technical and specied knowledge of jungle
resources but also for having the skill to placate the spirits of the plants they
harvested. Spirits of the oceans were propitiated in Arab accounts dating
from the ninth century. The port of Fo-lo-an became important in the tenth
century because it was purportedly protected from pirate raids by the com-
passionate Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara who sent erce winds to drive ene-
mies away. It is not surprising that with this reputation traders from Arab
lands found Fo-lo-an as attractive a market as its overlord Srivijaya.
23
Work
These examples indicate that work and religion were not divided into
separate spheres of reality. Neither were the dierent traditions prevented
from exercising inuence upon each other; an Arab trader would be at-
tracted to a port protected by a Mahayana Bodhisattva. Whether one oered
the ocean spirit a gold brick or one asked of the tree spirit to give its wood,
there was no designated division between the work of religion and the work
of trade. Ones daily prayers and ones material successes were intimately
intertwined with an active world of spirits located in the goods produced,
the places of production, and the places of transaction.
Ali, Ong, and Raymond Firth agree that across Malaysia one nds spe-
cic variations of the indigenous religious deities represented in each re-
gion, but that Hindu and indigenous Malaysian spirits coexist with the Is-
lamic jinn or djinns.
24
Ali describes the relationship of indigenous spirits to
Islam thus:
Although Islam is strongly entrenched in Malay society and culture, this does not
mean that it has displaced the traditional beliefs. Traditional beliefs coexist with Is-
lam in most of the villages. . . . Now from the ideological or doctrinal point of view,
these spirits upheld in traditional beliefs fall outside Islam, for unlike the syaitan and
jinn they are not mentioned in the Quran. Furthermore, the traditional spirits are
believed at times to be the source of power and the ultimate cause of anything which
occurs. Such a belief therefore runs counter to Islam because it encourages a form of
polytheism (syirik). But in spite of this, the traditional belief systems still prevail,
primarily because they are deeply embedded and they have deed many an attempt
to uproot them. Also, the existence of the spirits has been rationalized by the accep-
tance of God as the nal arbiter and that their powers are subject to the overriding
power of the Almighty. Anything that happens is explained in terms of His power
and will. A healthy body or a good harvest is not in the nal analysis attributed to the
power of things such as fertilizers or medicine, just as a bad harvest or illness cannot
be attributed to the power of evil spirits or witchcraft. The fertilizer and medicine,
like the spirits and witchcraft are not the ultimate but only the immediate causes;
they are mere agents whose eectiveness is subject to the power and will of God.
25
Though Malaysia has been Islamic since the fteenth century, the tradi-
tional Malay spirits (such as hantu and weretigers) continue to exist in ten-
sion with Islam and modernity.
Malaysia is one of the most intensively colonized locations on the globe.
First colonized by the Portuguese and then the Dutch, it nally fell under
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
British control at the end of the eighteenth century. The European countries
were seeking its natural resources, including tin, rubber, and lumber, as well
as to secure control of shipping in the region. Between the years and
, Britain had consolidated the various communities living in this region
into a federated district under British suzerainty. Two massive migrations
from India and China occurred during this time to provide two necessary
work forces: the manpower upon which the British Empire would expand
and the prostitution by which such massive development would nd its
pleasure.
26
Though the precolonial economy had begun to create a plural
society with small Indian, Chinese, and Arab ports established in the area,
British immigration policy altered the balance of power. In conjunction with
British development policies, a segregation occurred between the Malays
and the immigrant populations. The Malays were maintained as the rural,
farming population, providing food for the region, while the Indian and
Chinese labor forces were used to develop the rubber industry, tin mining,
and urban commerce, which promoted urban settlement. It is for this reason
that the rural kampung society continues to exist as a relatively homogeneous
Malay society, which is, however, poor and uneducated. It is this society
from which the women on the shop oors have come.
27
With this history of intense colonization, Asads question regarding the
ability of indigenous persons to author their histories becomes crucially
pertinent. Whose history is being written in the region described as the
cross-roads of Asia?
28
The systems of power that moved, dislocated, and
relocated Europeans as well as Southeast Asians have created a situation in
which the indigenous population cannot be credited with authoring their
own histories. The situation in Malaysia requires that the analysis of agency
be shifted away from the equation that subject agent.
Robert L. Winzeler has produced an important critical perspective on
the attention that has been devoted to Malay people as psychologically un-
stable. Winzeler undertook an ethnographic study in order to deconstruct
the colonial fascination with Malaysian mentality. He noted that historical
texts written about the Malays contained general references to Malay char-
acter that indicated inferiority and suggested the possibility of improve-
ment under European inuence.
Orientalism everywhere involved certain assumptions about the psychological nature
of the Oriental Otherabout such matters as stability, sensuality, femininity, and
Work
masculinity. In Malayanist versions of Orientalism . . . instability was given great
emphasis. It was axiomatic that Malays, Javanese, and other Malayan peoples were
by nature nervous, sensitive to the slightest insult, volatile, preoccupied with
maintaining balance and composure and so forth. Such psychological tendencies
were held to be in part a matter of inherent character and in part a consequence of
despotic political rule and a rigidly hierarchical social order that was to be changed
through the creation of a new way of life under European guidance.
29
According to Winzeler, Malaysians continue to be signicantly present in
the production of academic knowledge in terms of their mentality as found
in the prominent role Malay psychology plays in the discourse of culture-
bound syndromes.
30
Winzeler argues for a reevaluation of Malayan phenomena. He suggests
that the Malayan familiarity with trance and possession states implies cer-
tain views about the person as permeable and liable to inuence from with-
out and of the self as interactive rather than autonomous. He contrasts this
view with that of the Westerners who tend to distrust and stigmatize trance
states in general as religiously marginal, fraudulent, or mentally pathologi-
cal.
31
He suggests that these events should be thought of as rituals rather
than syndromes, quoting the observation of Littlewood and Lipsedge:
Whether a particular pattern is described [by academic literature] as a rit-
ual or a syndrome often seems to depend on which type of Western pro-
fessional rst described it.
32
From the perspective of instrumental agency
one can suggest that the Malay subjectivity is uniquely developed to be in-
strumental and to serve as the place through which exchange can take place.
Ong provides a gender analysis of contemporary kampung (rural Malay
village) society, which contributes important information regarding the
forces that impact upon the Malay womens lives, though she makes her
analysis without taking into account the underlying dierences in subjectiv-
ity. She argues that the indigenous tradition (adat) maintains strict divisions
between male and female activities in part due to womens perceived suscep-
tibility to spirits. Young women are believed to be particularly weak in spir-
itual essence (lemah semangat), a condition which makes women susceptible
to irrational and disruptive behavior. Young girls venturing out alone after
twilight attract spirits (jinn and hantu), dwelling in rocks and trees, which
exude an evil odor. Trespassing into forbidden places can incite possession
of young women by angry spirits (kena hantu). Only ritual intervention by
male spirit-healers (bomoh) can exorcize the devil and restore spiritual bal-
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
ance in the victim. . . . Fearful (takut) of strangers and unfamiliar surround-
ings, young girls are socialized to accept the moral custody of father,
brother, and other male kin.
33
This information is vital for understanding
the gendered relationship of womens bodies to placeness. Ong does not,
however, take the more fundamental step of arguing that subjectivity itself
is dierent in Malay society so that gender will be gured dierently. Evalu-
ating womens gendered status in the kampung will be dierent if approached
recognizing that men too are perceived to be permeable. In the context of
colonialism, it was male permeability that marked Malay men as unstable.
It is dierent to consider what female permeability means to the Malay, who
have a picture of the human as permeable to the power of spirits.
Looking at gender in the Malay situation, we can take account of this
unique Malay model of subjectivity as well as the unique moment in history.
The social bodies of the Malay women exist within a complex network of
power relationships that are eected by racially determined and gendered
structures. The systemic inequalities with which the women must contend
are many. As rural Malays they are virtually an underclass in the region
their ancestors once dominated (prior to colonization). Within the kampung,
they reside under the authority of their fathers, brothers, or husbands. In
the workplace they face gender and racial hierarchies that have been strate-
gically organized to prevent loyalties from developing between the women
and their managers. Administrators and managers are almost entirely Japa-
nese, Chinese, or Indian males. Some middle management roles are held by
Malay males, and a very few Malay females have risen to management posi-
tions. The lowest paid work is performed by Malay women.
34
With the in-
creased mobility and economic autonomy that their jobs have brought has
come an increased level of surveillance rhetoric at the national level, associ-
ating their freedom with a dangerous potential promiscuity.
From the perspective of instrumental agency, a gender analysis of indige-
nous tradition or adat recognizes that adat can function restrictively in
womens lives through the association of women with permeability and vul-
nerability to the spirits. Womens association with receptivity can be under-
stood as a factor that reduces their ability to move independently. Within
Malay notions of permeability this association can be understood to denote
the force of womens ambivalent power in the kampung. This association be-
tween women and spirits indicates an intimate relationship between the
Work
place-ness of womens bodies (a place into which spirits can enter) and
the physical places in which the women move, suggesting a heterogeneous
subjectivity whose corporeal boundaries are potentially open to external
agencies. If we take seriously the idea that the social body pregures con-
ceptual renderings of experience (i.e., that the body is not a tabula rasa on
which society imposes meanings) and recall Mausss notion of the develop-
able body, the receptivity of womens bodies as described in adat can be read
as an articulation of a type of power.
35
Working Possessions
Seen from either the materialist or the psychotherapeutic perspective, the
possessions do not really work. Both perspectives are based on a teleological
model of agency, which equates the subject with a conscious agent and eval-
uates the work of the possession according to its ability to increase the au-
tonomy of the self and free the subject from its phantoms. From this per-
spective the Malay possessions are symbols of crisis lacking in pragmatic
ecacy.
From the perspective of the witnesses, possession produces knowledge
of the womans discipline and of her ability to be vigilant, and produces
knowledge of the crisisthe hantu were not appropriately appeased and are
reterritorializing the factories through the social bodies of the Malay
women. From this perspective the hantu and weretigers are engaging a very
real battle for place and demanding propitiation using the womens bodies.
The juxtaposition of microscopes and weretigers is not illogical or irrational
because spirits reside in the resources of production. The hantu do not be-
long in a realm separated from the means of production.
Recalling Winzelers assessment that Malay culture holds certain views
about the person as permeable and liable to inuence from without and of
the self as interactive rather than autonomous, I have argued that this alter-
native notion of subjectivity can be interpreted as constitutive of the unique
form of instrumental agency found in the case of the Malay possessions. In
contrast to Ong and Bourguignon, who identify the possession as the key
event of the Malay situation, I would argue that the signicant production
of the possessions is the place taking of the spirits, not the penetration of
an agent. With the body techniques developed by the young Malay women
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
over the course of their upbringing, they are particularly available to the
power of the ancestors. Their traditional protectors, their fathers, brothers,
or husbands, cannot come to help them in the workplace. But the hantu
cannot be stopped from crossing the factory boundaries. Through the wom-
ens receptivity the spirits are able to demand propitiation. If their potential
receptivity to spirits is understood to be a parallel sacred space in the lives
of women, then the possessions can be read as a type of negotiation involv-
ing the forces of capitalism and the redemptive power of the spirits.
The women are doing work for the spirits. Their activity, rather than
their consciousness, is producing knowledge of a crisis. Like a ute the
women do not speak for themselves, so we cannot recover their own voice.
Witnesses attached some characteristics of agency to the possessed women;
they were not vigilant enough. It was the womans moral development that
was evaluated as the key to her agency. The witness accounts indicate a
dynamic relationship between a womans vigilance and the will of the hantu.
The microrelations of power are based on a model of subjectivity that in-
cludes a permeable corporeality intimately connected with the power of
places to house spirits. I want to emphasize that the witness never questions
the reality of the weretiger as a force that can overcome a woman and that
she implicates the womans responsibility for being vigilant. Neither agent
nor patient, the woman is an instrumental agency. Hantu take place from
a distance, and the women function as instrumental agencies for this place
taking. Central to indigenous Malay religion are rituals for negotiating ones
safe passage in a world where rocks, trees, paths, and graveyards are power-
ful places inhabited by spirits. Traditionally, negotiations would transpire
between the Malays and the spirits who inhabited their natural resources.
Weretigers and hantu inhabit places, and women are most susceptible to
their power in the gendered understanding of the indigenous Malay reli-
gion.
36
The possessed woman becomes a place in which the spirits exert
their will, bringing to the workplace the territoriality of traditional Malay
culture. Through the women a reterritorialization has occurred, creating
the heterogeneous situation of an altered reality on the shop oor to which
the managers must respond.
Whereas Ong and Bourguignon state that the possessed women have not
aected their employers, I would argue that this reterritorializing represents
a signicantly dierent type of negotiation, which has drawn international
Work
attention and has been able to make demands that would be considered out-
rageous in the West such as the slaughter of goats on the factory oors.
37
For traditional Malay culture, places have power. Places produce dierenti-
ations that establish greater kinds of power. The factory is such a place,
exerting a power that alters the ultimate signicance of the womens locat-
edness in the world. The womens bodies are also places of power. In the
factories, places that have produced and altered traditional relationships of
power, the women, as instrumental agencies, have reintroduced the tradi-
tional power of places.
If we pursue the notion that the discursive space I am arguing for is a
theological space, then work of the possessions is an event of theology.
Whereas for Ong the possessions are a guise and for Bourguignon they are
maladaptive, from the perspective of philosophical theology the possessions
are an act of resanctifying place. The administrators of the technologically
sophisticated plants dissociate religion and work and have exercised a for-
getting of indigenous tradition. Through the womens bodies a cultural
memory survives, remembering the need to propitiate the spirits for the
resources taken. This memory is tied to the womens demands for the space
(prayer rooms) and time (breaks for prayer) to cultivate their moral vigilance
while at work. To misread the possessions is to silence a cultural memory
at a time when progress is attempting to enforce the forgetting of that mem-
ory in order to take place in Malaysia indiscriminately. Whereas the hantu
were previously considered to be central to everyday life, Syed Husin Ali
notes the weakening or disappearance of indigenous religious practice
owing to the process of modernization.
38
If the hantu are facing extinction,
then the historical moment is of critical importance. Once they are extinct,
the Malay women will only be hysterics. No longer will the bomoh be called
in to sacrice a goat. No longer will the community gather to discern what
is wrong and develop strategies for appeasing the ambivalent forces that are
housed in powerful places. What is at stake in this historical moment is the
loss of ritualizations that work to keep people involved in their communities
and communities involved in their peoples struggles.
Michael Taussig has written what might be the predominant materialist
analysis of the work of indigenous religions in confronting capitalism. His
argument merits description in order to elucidate why the work of posses-
sions is a point of contested interpretation that bears signicantly upon the
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
interpretation of the agency of the religious other. In The Devil and Commod-
ity Fetishism in South America, Taussig argues that contracts with the devil
and suspected possessions by the devil among peasants in Colombia and
Bolivia are the result of the collision between two worlds, the precapitalist
and the capitalist worlds. Among peasants who became wage laborers for
plantations in Colombia and in tin mines in Bolivia, the devil became widely
popular as a major power in the lives of the workers. He argues that devil
imagery was a a precapitalist critique of the evil of capitalist commodica-
tions of value. For Taussig, things that are imbued with animating power or
agency are fetishes, and he identies a dierence between the fetishes of
precapitalist religion (spirits) and the fetishes of capitalism (things such as
time, which are invested with a power to which humans must submit as
wage earners). As workers were proletarianized into wage labor on planta-
tions and in tin mines, their precapitalist fetishes came into conict with
the commodity fetishism of capitalism, producing the devil as a token of
exchange between the two worlds. Of commodity fetishism he writes:
Of necessity, a commodity-based society produces such phantom objectivity [i.e., that
time has a real and animated existence in our daily lives], and in so doing it ob-
scures its rootsthe relations between people. This amounts to a socially instituted
paradox with bewildering manifestations, the chief of which is the denial by the soci-
etys members of the social construction of reality. Another manifestation is the
schizoid attitude with which the members of such a society necessarily confront the
phantom objects that have been thus abstracted from social life, an attitude that shows
itself to be deeply mystical. On the one hand, these abstractions are cherished as real
objects akin to inert things, whereas on the other, they are thought of as animate
entities with a life-force of their own akin to spirits or gods.
39
Though Taussig is delivering this critique of capitalist society, his argument
raises the question, How does he perceive the religion of the peasants to
function any dierently? And the answer is that he does not, though he gives
the possessing devils almost whimsical names in contrast to the distorted
projections he nds at work in capitalism. Among the peasants he nds
fantastic and magical reactions, orid folk beliefs, and the world of
enchanted beings that they [the peasants] create. The contracts with the
devil that workers bury in their elds and the dolls fashioned to beckon
and house the ambivalent power of the devil are dierent sorts of fantasy
Work
formation. The trajectory of Taussigs argument is toward a universal criti-
cal consciousness, which could peel o the disguised and ctional quality
of our social reality.
40
It follows that once such a critical consciousness is
developed, social reality would be devoid of both the alienated religion he
nds in capitalist society and the fantastic fabrications found in peasant so-
ciety.
Despite his eort to produce a reexive ethnography that would demon-
strate to capitalist consciousness the extent to which we have naturalized
into our lives commodities that are reacted to as grossly evil by a precapital-
ist mind, Taussig signies the peasants practices. He asserts that time (a
commodity fetish) and myth (narrations of indigenous fetishes) are both
products of human invention.
41
Taussigs work is acknowledged as a para-
digmatic example of activist ethnography, and he is referred to by ethnogra-
phers such as Ong as the inspiration for their analyses. Where Taussig con-
siders religiousness to be beliefs, fetishes, I am arguing for an approach to
religious bodies that does not employ an instrumental-symbolic dichotomy.
The work of possession entails the work of animating forces that I cannot
verify but that I do not signify as fetishes produced in the mind.
There is a long and growing tradition of scholars who analyze the work
of possessions in comparison to the work of psychological therapy. The best
scholarship in this eld compares the dierent knowledges produced in pos-
session traditions and Western psychotherapeutic practices and empirically
compares the diering prognoses for recovery found in traditional and mod-
ern societies. For instance, Nancy Waxler, a social psychiatrist doing com-
parative work in the West and Sri Lanka, has argued from her comparative
work with psychotics in Western countries and possessed persons in Sri
Lanka that the prognosis for recovery and a return of the aicted person to
community life is greater for the possessed persons than for those in the
West diagnosed with psychosis. Using social labeling theory she contrasts
the Western situation in which an isolated individual is considered to have
cracked up with the Sri Lankan situation in which the community re-
sponds and the possessed person is considered to be the place in which a
community crisis has taken place that requires community responses.
42
Her
argument suggests that it is as problematic and ineective to think of mental
health as something that happens in an individuals mind as I have argued
it is to think of religiousness as happening in an individuals mind. Her
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
ndings suggest that the prognosis for recovery is greater in traditions
where the person is understood as the instrumental agency of a crisis rather
than the etiology of a sickness. As Laderman found in relation to Malaysia,
however, many analysts make problematic comparisons between primitive
and Western psychotherapies in terms of an apologetic for the possessions,
validating their functions based on the similar functions of psychotherapy
or describing the shortcomings of the magical therapies in contrast to the
educational processes of Western therapies.
43
The agency of the possessed
woman, in these frameworks, is not dierent from the agency of a hysteric
or psychotic. The possessing ancestors, deities, or spirits are designated as
culturally specic types of projection, located in the consciousness of the
possessed person. When the psychologists pragmatic overlay of individual
mental health is employed to read the real meaning of the possessions, an
erasure of the indigenous tradition occurs. Subjecting ourselves to the
meanings and agencies of the people we are drawn to study means recogniz-
ing the work done by ancestors, deities, and spirits, work that might become
increasingly important for both materialists and social psychologists to
identify as the world of global capitalism continues to impact upon our
bodies.
Chapter 5 War
While the Malay women have largely been represented as victims or as in-
eective agents of change, we now turn to the opposite extreme, where sev-
eral possessed women in Zimbabwe are credited with being heroes of the
armed revolution against colonialism. Analyzing possessed bodies in situa-
tions of war is related to the problem of interpreting the work of possession
because war is understood to exist on the real side of the religion-politics
dichotomy. When the possessed womans body is also a soldiers body, she
confuses and troubles the dichotomy. We see in the representations of pos-
sessed women who carry military authority that they reside in an awkward
space whereby scholars and journalists will acknowledge that bullets and
military strategies are really powerful but the womens religious bodies have
only the power of being ritual experts or of exercising symbolic power. In
the case of the possessed women from Zimbabwe, the Nehanda mhondoro,
the symbolic power of their bodies is celebrated, in contrast to representa-
tions of the Malay women. Whether celebrated as agents of change or dis-
missed as ineective victims of change, what is missed in these representa-
tions is recognition of the power of a body whose voice, will and ethic are
determined by an external agency.
Beginning with a brief overview of Shona religion that emphasizes the
relationships of the ancestors to guardianship of the land, I then tell the
story of the Nehanda mhondoro as found in several diverse discourses and
conclude with an analysis of the unique and gendered model of subjectivity
that can be discerned when the Nehanda mhondoro are approached as instru-
mental agencies for the ancestors. As with the Malay example, it is the

The Work, War, and Play of Possession


underlying model of subjectivity that I argue is most signicant for under-
standing the agency these women exercise in the battle for ownership of
the land. I examine early British representations of the Nehanda mhondoros
participation in the rst chimurenga, then move on to ethnographic and in-
digenous representations of the Nehanda mhondoro during the second
chimurenga, focusing on David Lans ethnography, Guns and Rain.
1
Ap-
proaching the Nehanda mhondoro as instrumental agencies for the ancestors
will not only contribute a new evaluation of their agency in the chimurenga
but will also add to the larger context of evaluating the power of religious
bodies at war in Africa. A brief discussion of African traditional religions
helps to explain the interweaving and rigid distinctions that continue to be
found between the people who live in this region and whose religious lives
are intimately linked to military struggles for rule of the land.
Shona Religion
Shona religion has been studied academically under the rubric of African
traditional religions (ATRs). For my purposes, ATR is a term that refers to
the practices found in African communities related to ritualization. Douglas
Dziva species that the term traditional should not be confused with fossil-
ized, but rather connotes that the religions are indigenous. Dened by Plat-
voet as community religions, ATRs suggest a model of religious subjectivity
much closer to that described by Richard King and Talal Asad wherein the
body is involved in remembering the traditions of ones people and negotiat-
ing with power that aects ones life. Scholarship on ATRs is in agreement
that religion is not a separate institution from agriculture, sex, eating, poli-
tics, birth, and death.
2
In his expansion on this theme, Dziva counteracts
the potential to romanticize Africans as somehow especially religious people
and argues that in the past as well as in contemporary society there are Afri-
cans who are lax in their religiousness as fortune allows.
3
His point is impor-
tant as we shift in our notion of what a religious body is or is not. He does
not argue that Africans used to believe but that now, with the inux of West-
ern science, fewer of them do. He argues that in the past and in the present
world, as fortune allows, people negotiate with tradition and participate in
ritualization to the extent that it works for them.
According to Dziva, African traditional religions have diverse concep-
War
tions of a god or gods but share a hierarchical universe that includes lower-
level ancestors who will intercede for people and who are more deeply in-
volved in the daily lives of the people than are the highest ranking ancestors.
In general, ancestor spirits mediate between humans and the most powerful
gods of the traditions. The most powerful ancestors are those who exercised
the greatest power over land and the community. Ownership and gover-
nance of the land is itself therefore an arena of ritualization and contesta-
tion, tied to memories of cultural greatness. Ritualization includes strategic
eorts to align oneself with those ancestors who have the power to secure
ones status within the community. In Shona traditional religion the Ne-
handa mhondoro are ancestors of an ancient, powerful land-ruling family and
therefore reside very high in the hierarchy.
Dziva notes that it might sound romantic, but ethnographic substantia-
tion shows that in most of the African societies, good health, harmony, or-
der, integrity and continuity are all key words which summarize the African
beliefs in a life-arming and life-sustaining religious society. Thus, salva-
tion in African traditional religions is perceived to be on ongoing process
which starts in this world when people are still alive. The present commu-
nity is a religious arena for human and divine interaction; an arena where
punishment, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and reward are executed.
4
Justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and reward are all terms that suggest ne-
gotiation with power that is immanent and instrumental. If the present com-
munity is the religious arena for human and divine interaction, then imma-
nence and instrumentality are key elements of the working relationship of
human bodies to the ancestors, deities, and spirits of each community. Hu-
man bodies are impacted by divine interactions (illness, possession, forti-
tude); through ritualization human bodies negotiate with the will of the
community, especially its elders but also ancestors, deities, and spirits.
Much of that ritualization is directed toward ones ancestors, and therefore
the religious life is an important resource for cultural memories.
The particularities of Shona religion are related to the geography of the
region, which shaped trading and territorializing networks. As Bourdillon
surmises: The culture now classied as Shona originated from a Bantu
settlement of the high fertile plateau between the Limpopo and Zambezi
rivers, bounded in the east by the drop towards the coast and in the west
by the Kalahari desert. This country is moister and cooler than the sur-
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
rounding low-lying country and is free from pests such as the tsetse y
which make the low country less pleasant and less healthy for habitation.
The Bantu settlers subsequently found an added advantage: the plateau was
rich in minerals with iron, gold and copper easily obtainable from surface
mining.
5
Owing to its rich resources and favorable climate, the region has
been a prime area for settlement for two thousand years. Wall paintings
from the earliest Stone Age inhabitants, the Khoisan hunters, and archeo-
logical evidence of Iron Age Shona settlements as early as .. have been
preserved and establish the pattern of settlement.
6
With the tools of the Iron
Age came settlements, agriculture, and buildings, remains of which can be
seen today. Massive stone walls of exfoliated granite establish the famous
ruins of the civilization known as the Great Zimbabwe built sometime after
the twelfth century from which the modern state has taken its name. The
material remains of a civilization that lasted two and a half centuries, the
massive size of the later buildings clearly shows the ability of their authors
to command a large labor force.
7
The name Shona has arisen only in the last century to identify the
people of the region. Dziva states, It is possible that throughout the pre-
Ndebele invasion period [to be discussed below] the Shona may have had
no awareness of their Shona-ness and used no common name as they expe-
rience it now.
8
The shared ancestry and similar dialects of the indigenous
people make the term Shona a useful overall label if understood to infer
diering degrees of cultural and historical links to each other.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, before the arrival of white
settlers, the plateau was becoming settled and most of the modern chief-
doms established.
9
Two settlements of Nguni people signicantly aected
the area. The most important of these for our concern with British repre-
sentations of the Shona were the Ndebele (sometimes called Matabele). The
Ndebele were an oshoot of the Zulu state, which was being forced to move
northward due to the British takeover of the Cape of South Africa at the
turn of the nineteenth century. The British pushed the Boers north, and
they in turn pushed the Zulu north. The Ndebele invasion of the southwest
plateau was successful in establishing sovereignty in the region, incorporat-
ing the Shona as a socially inferior people and forcing the adoption of the
Zulu language. One arena in which they adopted Shona tradition was reli-
gion, adopting the high god Mwari into their spirit world.
10
Despite what
War
the British would later report, the Shona in the northeast plateau never
considered themselves under Ndebele rule.
The Shona universe has a structure composed of three realms: heaven,
earth, and underworld.
The sky world (kudenga) is believed to be full of life and is comprised of God [Mwari]
as the supreme spiritual being, ancestors (vadzimu), lower spiritual beings and then
visible bodies like the sun (zuva), the moon (nwedzi) and the stars (nyeredzi). . . .
Below this sky-world there is the earth, the mundane world (nyika) which is believed
to be the centre of creation (Mbiti :). Just like in the skies, the earth is replete
with life. The human beings, animals, plants and spiritual beings ecologically mingle
on the earth. . . . At the bottom of these two realms is the underworld (kwamupga-
nebwe). The Shona people believe that this realm is also full of life; the sh, croco-
diles, spiritual beings, plants, and sea animals, all are ecologically linked to the other
two realms. . . . Spirits are believed to ow freely from one world to the other.
11
The dependence these realms have on each other is understood in very
practical terms with no separation between instrumental and religious
realms: [I]t is believed that the spiritual beings expect ritual sacrices from
their descendants and, in return, the Shona expect material prosperity and
well-being in their society.
12
In contemporary Shona culture, Mwari is recognized as a singular su-
preme deity, owner of the skies (Samatenga). Scholars continue to debate
whether the idea of a supreme and omniscient god is the result of Christian
inuence, noting that the regional god of the Matopo hills was called Mwari
but functioned as a regional guardian of the land, as did other lesser dei-
ties.
13
Beneath Mwari a hierarchy of ancestors exists. The paramount ances-
tors are the spirits of those who ruled as chiefs (mhondoro), after which come
the ancestors of the people (midzimu or vadzimu as plural forms of mudzimu),
followed by more ambiguous lesser spirits. The transition from the mun-
dane world (nyika) to the sky world (kudenga) is made by mweya, the breath
that leaves the body upon ones death to become a disembodied ancestor, or
mudzimu; these lower-level ancestors are important to everyday life. Ac-
cording to Bourdillon, shrines to venerate spirit elders are found in every
homestead and are approached regularly for help.
14
That is, ritualization of
the ancestors continues to be part of daily practices as fortune demands or
allows. To the extent that one receives help after appealing to the shrine,
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
one will continue to work with that ancestor. This veneration has often been
depicted in racist terms as superstitious or primitive belief. If we understand
the religious bodies of the Shona to be negotiating with their dead ancestors
as fortune allows we can see instead many parallels to the way Western
people relate to their deceased ancestors with photographs and other me-
morials. That is, the veneration of ancestor spirits is represented more ap-
propriately as practices that negotiate with the power deceased bodies exer-
cise in the lives of their living descendants.
Two realms of authority over the land exist in Shona culture and are
intertwined. The rst is the spirit province of the original rulers of the land,
the regional mhondoro. Their spirit provinces are long established and do not
obey contemporary boundaries. The mhondoro continue to watch over the
land and may choose to do so through the person of a spirit medium who is
also called a mhondoro. Once a mhondoro ancestor has come out of a human,
or grabbed them (regional names dier), the persons identity is forever
altered. The person who is possessed by a mhondoro earns the privilege of
being titled mhondoro. There is no one more powerful for relating to the
ancestors than the mhondoro who are consulted for advice in important social
matters, whereas smaller problems are brought to mudzimu who have
smaller and more intimate realms of power.
The second level of authority over the land is that of the chiefs who in
precolonial times were selected by the local mhondoro and therefore were
associated with the power of the ancestors. In precolonial times the chief
and the mhondoro were the two most powerful men in the region (women
are rarely mhondoro), and it was in the chief s interest to maintain good rela-
tions with the mhondoro in his province. In his analysis of Shona religion
Bucher writes, The real owners of the land are, of course, the spirits of
the deceased tribal rulers and particularly those of the mythical founder-
ancestors of the chiefdom. A chief s ownership over the land derives from
his supposed connection with the mythological founder-ancestors of his
chiefdom. It is they who are believed to have chosen him and bestowed on
him their own prodigious power. In their own lifetime they are thought to
have possessed powerful medicines which enabled them to overcome the
original owners of the land, and, subsequently, to defeat any aggressors who
attempted to oust them from their newly-acquired possession.
15
It is in this
context, he argues, that Shona ancestors are understood to be the guardians
War
of the land, their power intimately involved with the power and authority to
rule the land.
Bucher is a Christian who argues that Christians need to take seriously
the deeply developed cosmologies of indigenous tradition if they want to
eectively supplant the indigenous tradition with an authentic Christianity.
Having witnessed the extent to which Christianity was being changed
within independent churches, Bucher wrote his study of Shona tradition so
that the Christian gospel could confront the principles of Shona traditional
religion rather than be subsumed by traditional understandings. For this
reason his candid text exhibits openly what most scholarly texts carefully
maskhe is interested in winning a battle in which the Truth triumphs
over the religious life of the people. He argues that the central and dening
feature of Shona religion is that mans basic preoccupation revolves around
the question of how to acquire and to retain desirable power; and, where he
feels threatened, how to keep undesirable power in check.
16
Though he
intended his analysis as a Christian critique of a more primitive religion, I
would agree with Buchers insight into Shona religion and would argue that,
ironically, it is also the best way to understand Buchers text as well. That
he wrote the book suggests that Christians too are concerned with acquiring
desirable power and trying to keep undesirable power in check as they at-
tempt to establish dominance in the region. As we will see in the story of
the Nehanda mhondoro, the story of colonization is the story of Christian
soldiers who, like Bucher, are interested in acquiring desirable power and
keeping undesirable power, like Nehandas, in check.
Having noted the importance of hierarchy, the relationship of ancestors
to guardianship of the land, and the relationship of religious lives to power,
I now focus on possession. Possession is a key link between humans and
their ancestors. It is an ambivalent though ubiquitous event. It is diagnosed
after a period of illness that cannot be cured by other means. As Bourdillons
description makes clear, the link between humans and spirits created by pos-
session constructs a nonautonomous model of human subjectivity. A per-
sons fate or fortune is associated with the general relationship supposed to
exist between a man and the spirits who control his world and who to some
extent take responsibility out of his own hands.
17
Within Bourdillons de-
scription, however, are the seeds of signication. He cannot write that a
relationship exists between a man and the spirits, only that it is supposed to
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
exist. When Bourdillon, Bucher, and Fry have described possession in their
foundational studies of the Shona, they have explained the ambivalent status
of a body whose sickness cannot be cured by other means as a case of psy-
chopathology. Their analyses create the same tension as noted in the previ-
ous chapters, eliding the heterogenous model of subjectivity, which they
have carefully recorded by dismissing the indigenous explanation that the
human body is receptive to the ancestors interventions. They describe the
possessing ancestors as real beliefs but provide psychological interpreta-
tions of what is really going on.
18
I will return to further discussion of pos-
session after telling the story of the Nehanda mhondoro. As we move into
their story with a brief history of colonialism, it becomes clear that what is
at stake in representing possession among the Shona is whether the religious
bodies of the Nehanda mhondoro are interpreted as anachronistic, psycholog-
ical bodies or whether we understand colonialism to have been a battle be-
tween white and black religious bodies with major theological implications
for all.
The Nehanda Mhondoro
European involvement in Zimbabwe began with the Portuguese in the
middle of the fteenth century. They traded extensively in the region, in-
volving themselves politically in the manipulation of regional chiefdoms in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The British entered the region
in the mid-nineteenth century, propelled by Cecil Rhodess desire to estab-
lish British rule all the way from the Cape to Cairo.
19
In Europe, resources
were dwindling and economic recessions had begun, prompting what is now
called the scramble for Africa, during which European nations argued
diplomatically and fought battles for the rights to the resources of Africa. It
was the Portuguese and the British who mapped out the boundaries of the
region with little concern for the established chiefdoms and customary divi-
sions among people. Though Europeans might have begun as trading part-
ners in the region, their determination to become the owners of the land
carried with it a power that utterly devastated the world of the indigenous
people and simultaneously ushered in new practices of terror that the Brit-
ish would ultimately justify in the name of civilization.
War
Nehanda of Mazoe was a mhondoro at the time the British marched into
the region to civilize it and reap its bounty. According to Lan, the history
of struggle and conquest in the region prior to and during the chimurenga
was understood by the Shona to be intimately intertwined with the ongoing
activity of the ancestors: The single most important duty of the spirit me-
diums is to protect the land. From the grave, from the depths of the forest,
from the body of a lion or of their mediums, the mhondoro control in perpe-
tuity the land they conquered during their lives.
20
It was inevitable that a
conict would arise between the mhondoro and the incursions of colonialist
forces. The rst chimurenga occurred roughly two hundred years after trad-
ing with Europeans was established. Under the guise of trade, Cecil Rhodes
began making deals with the various Ndebele leaders of the plateau who
understood trade and exchange but did not associate negotiation, especially
textual contracts, with dominion over land and so had no idea that Rhodes
intended to establish sovereignty over the land with paper treaties. Rhodes
did not enter into negotiation with the Shona because he considered them
to be a meek people who would not resist colonization.
21
Through a series
of dubious and fraudulent treaties such as the Rudd Concession of ,
Rhodes claimed a monopoly over all metals and minerals in the nonexis-
tent Ndebele kingdoms for Britain and for his business endeavor the Brit-
ish South Africa Company (BSAC), which he supervised and which was
supported militarily by the British government.
22
By creating a myth (that
the Ndebele owned all of Zimbabwe) and by dealing in bad faith with the
Ndebele chief Lobengula (promising guns and money, which were never
delivered, a gunboat for the unnavigable Zambezi River being the most ob-
viously fraudulent promise), Rhodes created Southern Rhodesia.
23
Rhodes manipulated representations of the Ndebele in two ways that
served to justify his overtaking of the territory.
24
First, he represented the
Ndebele as the sovereigns of the entire plateau who could unilaterally speak
for all the indigenous people. Secondly, using painted pictures of the tyran-
nical Ndebele savagely beating the mild Shona, Rhodes was supported by
the Crown in an eort to protect and civilize the meek Shona.
25
By
capitalizing on these misrepresentations, the BSAC was able to garner a
military force unequaled in any other African colonization. T. O. Ranger
describes the situation thus:
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
Despite the deceptive manner of its appearance among the Shona in , when the
Shona paramounts regarded the pioneer settlers and Company police merely as a
rather large trading and gold-seeking caravan which would go away or pass on and
which would in any event not seek to exercise governmental power, the BSAC pre-
sented the African societies of Southern Rhodesia with a challenge more formidable
than that faced by the other people of Central and East Africa at that time. . . . The
Pioneer Column of , the armies which shattered the Ndebele monarchy in ,
were deployments of white power on a scale unrivaled anywhere else in East and
Central Africa. A settler community existed from the very rst moment of company
administration and it was a settler community upon which from the beginning in its
role of prospectors, traders, and farmers the prosperity of the new colony was de-
signed to depend.
26
British settlers in Rhodesia augmented the ability of the Pioneer Column
to take and hold land. As Christian soldiers they came to settleto govern
and to civilizeconsistent with the frontier mentality that propelled much
of the colonial enterprise. Christian missionaries in Zimbabwe laid the
groundwork for other settlers into the area. Drawing from oral resources,
Elizabeth Schmidt relates the history told to her by an elder Shona thus:
Hilario Zinhanga claimed that when the missionaries rst arrived, the Sha-
washa people allowed them to settle and gave them land to use. However, as
time went by, the missionaries began to enforce their own rules, prohibiting
the people from practicing their customs. The people were forced to adopt
Christian ways or leave their ancestral land. As a result, he concluded, the
people started a rebellion.
27
The confrontation between the tradition of the
mhondoro and the tradition of settlers was destined to be a battleground for
propriety and property.
Religion and politics were never separate among either the Europeans or
the Shona. It was a theological confrontation where religious bodies called
upon their gods to win sovereignty over the land. Through the combination
of an unprecedented military force and the presence of settlers who were
determined to glean the resources of this Eden, Rhodesia was fabricated
and then ercely materialized. The battle began immediately with British
demands for labor and taxes, demands that were based upon British ideas
of the natural state of Gods kingdom. Because the BSAC was unwilling to
pay the wages being paid in South African mines, the Native Department
War
instituted forced labor in the Rhodesian mines. According to Beach, in some
mines virtual prison conditions obtained.
28
In conjunction with the exacting of taxes came a series of natural disas-
ters. In the following report prepared by the BSAC to explain to its stock-
holders why the insurrection of had occurred, Earl Grey described
the horrendous conuence of natural disasters:
A drought, abnormal alike in its duration and intensity, had set in with the coming
of Dr. Jameson, and had continued ever since. The locusts, which, if they had been
annual visitors, had never made their presence severely felt, now appeared in swarms
that literally darkened the sky, devastating both the veld and the gardens of the coun-
try, and eating up the crops on which the natives depended for their food. It is stated,
on the authority of Umjaan and Sekombo, that until the occupation of Mashonaland,
no locusts had been seen in any numbers for twenty-ve years in Matabeleland. The
simultaneous advent in Rhodesia of the white man and of swarms of locusts, of a kind
unknown in the country for forty years, and much more destructive than the ordinary
species, caused the locusts to be called by the Matabele Tsintete za makiwa (locusts
of the white man). And as if these plagues were not sucient, the rinderpest, an
absolutely new and unknown disease, suddenly seized the cattle of the Matabele and
mowed them down in herds. The action of the Government in shooting live and
healthy cattle with the view of checking the spread of the disease, although explained
to the natives, appeared to them more terrible and unaccountable than the rinder-
pest itself.
29
Cattle were the principal medium through which the Ndebele and Shona
stored wealth,
30
and it was Earl Greys speculation that the killing of
healthy cattle was the last straw for the indigenous people. I highlight these
multiple factors to indicate the extent to which colonization was experi-
enced as a total and devastating challenge to the power of the Shona ances-
tors. The universe was being overturned. The response, which was deliv-
ered in part by Nehanda, was for the Shona to begin killing white people.
When the Shona responded violently to the British, the BSAC needed
to mount a campaign in Britain again to win more military support. Having
created the myth that the Shona were meek and needed British protection
from the Ndebele, how was it to explain the Shonas joining forces with the
Ndebele?
31
In private reports, Grey described the incapacity of a warlike
and aristocratic race to give up their old habits, and to accept their natural
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
place in the peaceful and industrial organization of a settled civilized com-
munity.
32
In the public record of the BSAC, however, Grey deferred to his
friend Rhodes and blamed the mhondoro for the angry response of the
Shona. And so it happened, that with the locusts, the drought and the rin-
derpest to assist him, the MLimo [mhondoro] had little diculty in working
on the superstitious mind of the Matabele.
33
It was easier to justify the war
if it was against superstitious natives who needed to be saved from them-
selves than if the British people thought an aristocratic and warring people
(like themselves) were ghting for their motherland. As Beach notes, this is
a rare instance where Earl Grey prevaricated. This argument in eect
blamed African irrationality and acts of God, absolving the Company of
responsibility.
34
The dierence between indigenous superstition and British reason is
quite interesting. Rhodes saw a connection between the Cape and Cairo,
which he assumed to be his rightful domaina connection based on prin-
ciples of association such as contiguity.
35
Rhodes believed that by drawing
maps he could make territory and that he could name a country after himself
and it would become his. He produced his magic concession and the settlers
believed in its power to justify their occupation of the land. The indigenous
persons, in contrast, were represented as being childlike and swayed by the
false association they had made between the coming of white men and
the loss of life and wealth for indigenous people.
36
Nehanda, an elderly female mhondoro, and Kagubi, a male mhondoro,
spoke for the ancestors and urged their people to resist colonialism. The
BSAC decided the mhondoro had to be removed in order to quell the surpris-
ingly erce and wholly unexpected Shona resistance. The BSAC captured
Nehanda and Kagubi and brought them to trial in October . Both were
convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Documented by the BSAC,
their capture is pictured in a black-and-white photograph of Kagubi and
Nehanda surrounded by the white and African police forces who are bring-
ing them to prison (gs. . and .). The caption states: The capture of
Kagubi and the witch Nyanda [Nehanda]. Their surrender in October
is considered to mark the end of the Mashona Rebellion. Nyanda went
to her death at the gallows with courage.
37
(The story of her courage is
recounted below.) Beach and Ranger have engaged in debate regarding the
interpretation of Nehandas role in the rst chimurenga. Beach argues that
War
Figure .. Nehanda and Kagubi captured by the colonial forces.
Ranger has been too inuenced by the British scapegoating of the mhondoro
and that neither Nehandas activities during the war nor her death should
be invested with the power to perpetuate or halt the ghtingonly the su-
perior military force and economic domination of the British can be credited
with halting the war.
38
While the argument is important for historically eval-
uating Nehandas role in the war, the legacy of her involvement in the war
has grown to phenomenal status, while Kagubi has virtually disappeared
from the social symbolic. Nehanda has become what Beach describes as a
super-mhondoro, while Kagubis importance was limited to the rst chimur-
enga.
39
I want to suggest that this is in part due to the gendered power that
the gure of a possessed women exercises. Once Kagubi and Nehanda were
captured and executed, the Native Commissioner, Campbell, predicted that
it would be Nehanda (Nianda) who would be the powerful force: There is
no doubt that now the rebellion is over Nianda would be far more dangerous
to the peace of the country than even Kagubi would be.
40
Campbell was
recognizing that, though Kagubi had risen to great power in the short term,
in the long term the depth of the Nehanda tradition and its importance to
Figure .. Nehanda and Kagubi prior to their execution by hanging.
War
a broader group of people would make Nehanda more powerful. Nehanda
became Mbuya Nehanda, grandmother Nehanda, and as such she was im-
mortalized in the songs of the resistance in the century that followed.
The depiction of Nehandas death, written by the mission priest, the Rev.
Father Francis Richartz, became an important part of the legacy of Ne-
handa and illustrates those elements of the volatility of the possessed female
body that make it so compelling.
To Neanda [Nehanda] I did not speak until evening, in order to avoid a scene, though
I had a long quiet talk with her, which made me feel hopeful. However, when in the
evening about oclock I saw her again. . . . I told her that she had to die next morn-
ing, she began to behave like a mad woman. She took her blankets and wished to
leave the cell, and when told to remain and keep quiet, she refused and said she never
would endure to be locked up. When I saw that nothing could be done with her I
went away . . . and Neanda began to dance, to laugh and talk, so that the warders
were obliged to tie her hands and watch her continually, as she threatened to kill
herself. On Wednesday April th I again made an attempt to speak to Neanda and
bring her to a better frame of mind, but she refused, called for her people and wanted
to go back to her own country, the Mazoeand die there, and behaved as she had
done the night before. When I saw that nothing could be done with her, the time for
execution having arrived, I left Neanda and went to Kakubi (Kagubi) who received
in good disposition. Whilst I was conversing with him, Neanda was taken out to the
scaold. Her cries and resistance when she was taken up the ladder, the screaming
and yelling on the scaold disturbed my conversation with Kakubi very much, until
the noisy opening of the trap-door upon which she stood followed by the heavy thud
of her body as it fell, made an end to the interruption.
41
In his compilation of oral and traditional resources, Mutunhu writes, At
the scaold, Nehanda is known to have somehow deed death. It is said that
the rst two attempts to take her life failed. She was nally killed on the
third attempt.
42
Part of the received Nehanda tradition was that while she
was incarcerated she prophesied my bones will rise again. This phrase
became popular during the second chimurenga when a Nehanda medium was
again involved in supporting armed resistance to Ian Smiths government.
The British immediately buried their bodies in a secret placean abso-
lute transgression of the chiey burial whereby mhondoro would be laid to
rest on a raised platform in order to dry out.
43
Richartz acknowledges that
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
their bodies were buried in a secret place so that no natives could take
away their bodies and claim that their spirits had descended to any other
prophetess or witch doctor.
44
The British did crush the resistance violently
in the name of civilization and ruled Rhodesia as a colony until Ian Smiths
Rhodesia Front Party declared its independence from British rule in .
45
Moving forward in history to the representations of the Nehanda mhond-
oro in the second chimurenga, I will use the following names to dierentiate
between the Nehandas: Nehanda indicates the ancestor; Nehanda of Mazoe
and Nehanda of Dande indicate the mhondoro of the rst and second chimur-
enga respectively, using their regional aliation as the descriptor that is ap-
propriate to the role of mhondoro.
46
As part of a larger Pan-Africanism and nationalism that began sweeping
Africa in the s and inspired by a Marxist philosophy of armed struggle,
guerilla troops began to train in countries that bordered Rhodesia.
47
Zim-
babwean men left to train with the guerrillas and then began to lter in
across the borders, needing the help and support of the women in the rural
villages. In the introduction to an oral history of the war, Weiss, a journalist
with feminist and nationalist loyalties, writes:
[In the ss] as in , a Nehanda spirit medium played a major role in the
struggle for freedom. At this time, the Nehanda medium was an aged lady, well over
years old, who lived in the Msengezi district. When the rst trained ZANU
48
guerrillas entered the border villages, they asked the villagers for help. As the colonial
economy had drawn most of the young men away from the rural areas, they were
mainly populated by women ( percent of all women in Zimbabwe live in the rural
areas), children and the old. The women consulted the spirit medium. Mbuya Ne-
handas response was instant and clear: the time had come for the land of the ances-
tors to be wrested from the Whites. The people must ght. This time, she said, they
would be successful.
49
The prophetic drama of this representation of Nehanda is representative of
the heroic status Nehanda holds in contemporary representations.
Gender played a signicant role in the second chimurenga because colo-
nialism had impacted on mens and womens lives dierently in rural areas.
The internal structures of indigenous culture were altered by the colonial
manipulation of the economy and of tribal governance. Women remained in
rural areas, while men were conscripted to work in the mines and to labor
War
in the cities apart from their wives.
50
Greater burdens fell on the women as
they had to assume all of the village work. Even the village structures were
altered. As Schmidt explains, In the political realm, African women were
invisible to the colonial authorities. Having accepted the idea that women
were perpetual minors in society and presumably played no part in public
life, administration ocials assumed that they had no political function.
However, during the precolonial period there was no clear distinction be-
tween the political and religious domains. . . . During the precolonial pe-
riod, the institution of headwoman existed in various parts of the north-
eastern and central Mashonaland. However, according to Umtali native
commissioner W. S. Bazelely, by the late s very few women retained
their oces, and the institution was rapidly disappearing.
51
According to Weiss, the restructuring of village life has come to be un-
derstood by some Zimbabwean women as a mixed blessing. Women were
extremely devalued in the cash economy of Rhodesia and were not permit-
ted to attend mission schools. [Women] came to feel inferior to the men
who had gone to school and moved in the world of the Whites. But on the
other hand, women were not so contaminated as men by foreign ideas. Even
in the later stages of colonialism, the rural women (who remained the major-
ity of African women) were largely cut o from foreign inuence, even from
Christianity. Where women did become Christians, due to the wide network
of missions of various denominations (which did in fact, serve a useful pur-
pose by providing health and educational services), the women wove the
new beliefs into those of the old.
52
Thus women, and especially the Ne-
handa mhondoro, played an integral part in the war against Ian Smiths
government, which had to be waged guerrilla-style from the margins of the
urban power centers. The countryside became a necessary site of military
activity. As described by a woman from one of the villages:
Women were more politically conscious, more revolutionary and more involved in
the armed struggle, because the war was happening in the rural areaswhere the
women were. The men only heard about the guerrillas being at home if they returned
for weekends or for the holidays. And even if there were men in the villages, the
young guerrillas tended to trust the mothers in the village, not only because they
were women, but also because they had been less exposed to the settler regime. . . .
It gave the woman a head start, as it were. . . . So it happened that in , the rst
women were trained in exactly the same way as men. That meant that when they
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
were out in the bush together, the men could no longer say, You cannot do this
because you are a woman. They were shedding blood together. This is the bond.
This is what revolutionized the role of the woman in Zimbabwe.
53
Rural women began by sheltering and feeding the guerrillas, but because of
this the government cracked down on the rural women, forcing many of
them to ee and giving them ample reason to join the guerrilla forces.
Weiss describes the extreme suering that the rural women underwent
as Smiths government extended its ght into the countryside. As with Cecil
Rhodess manipulation of information during the rst chimurenga, Ian
Smiths government claimed that the rural people had asked for protection
from the terrorists. After rural women were forced to move away
from their gardenstheir source of foodto the keeps, where they were
enclosed by barbed wire and under constant surveillance. People were
herded together utterly disrupting the pattern of village life.
54
Weiss elabo-
rates:
The Rhodesian forces combed the countryside and bullied the villagers, all of whom
they suspected of running with the terrs. As the majority of Zimbabwean women
lived on the land, as the majority of the rural population was, in any case, composed
of women, it was the women who sheltered and fed the vakomana [the guerrillas].
Women carried ammunition under their everyday loads and used their children as
messengers for the ghters. Their suering was terrible. Their huts were raided, their
men were taken away, they were beaten, raped and massacred. The keeps became
concentration camps, from which they had to walk many kilometers daily in order to
till their elds. Those who returned late were shot as curfew breakers. Rhodesian
forces followed refugees across the borders, bombed and raided camps, and killed
thousands of people. The Selous Scouts, who were trained specically to ght in the
bush, were notorious for their cruelty in the rural areas. Missionaries who helped
guerrillas were arrested and many of those who were allegedly murdered by terror-
ists, may well have been killed by Selous Scouts.
55
As a powerful elder in the rural village, Nehanda of Dande, a Korekore
woman, came into contact with and aided Marxist guerrillas who found
themselves in need of her knowledge and her support.
Lans ethnography of the second chimurenga is driven by a question of
how to understand the relationship of a socialist war and religious bodies.
The second chimurenga was a guerrilla war fought to liberate a colonized
country from its oppressors, whose leaders professed a socialist ideology
War
and a commitment to leading Zimbabwe into the modern world but whose
ghters sang songs to the ancestors and told stories of how the ancestors
protected and guided them.
56
A closer look at his ethnography shows that
he provides an important history of the war and Nehandas role in it, but I
want to press his argument in a direction that I think is a corrective for
understanding religious bodies in a postcolonial context, for his question
reiterates a Western separation between socialist soldiers (critical conscious-
ness) and irrational religionists.
Lan begins his ethnography of the Korekore during the second chimur-
enga with a description of Nehanda, capitalizing on the evocative power of
the possessed woman to draw the reader into his text. The description is
taken from the records of Cde Mayor Urimbo, the leader of a group of
ZANU guerrillas who had come into Zimbabwe from their training grounds
in Mozambique. Nehanda of Dande was [a] small woman, very thin and
very old, with white hair and skin that was exceedingly black. She was
dressed in a piece of black cloth that was wrapped around her body and she
wore bangles, some of them gold, on her wrist, and other ornaments around
her neck. Her skin was dry and cracked with age, and dung was regularly
rubbed on to protect it from the sun.
57
Urimbo described his meeting and interaction with the medium after he
arrived in the area:
We had to start by talking to the masses. We spoke to the old people who said we
must consult the mediums. We were taken to Nehanda. She was very old. She never
bathed and ate only once or twice a week. Her food had to be ground with a mortar
and pestle. She hated all European things. We told her: We are the children of Zim-
babwe, we want to liberate Zimbabwe. She was very much interested. She knew very
much about war and the regulation of war. She said: This forest is very, very dicult
for you to penetrate, but she gave us directions. She told us what kind of food to
eat, which routes to take, what part of the forest we were not allowed to stay in or
sleep in, where we were not allowed to ght. She said we were forbidden to go with
girls and she taught us how to interpret many signs in the forest which would allow
us to live safely and to know when our enemy was near.
58
After this very specic listing of tactical advice that Nehanda gave to the
guerrillas Lan provides the following analysis of the exchange, calling her a
ritual expert. The mediums are experts on ritual. . . . If the guerrillas obey
the ritual prohibitions that the mediums impose, they will be safe and the
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
war they are ghting will meet with success.
59
Asking Asads question
again, how is it that Lan is making a distinction here about what is a ritual
and what is not? Urimbo has just described all the pragmatic and strategic
information that Nehanda provided for military purposes, and yet Lan calls
her an expert on ritual rather than an expert soldier. By doing so, Lan lo-
cates her religious body on the symbolic side of the symbolic-instrumental
dichotomy.
Nehanda and four other mediums entered into an agreement with the
guerrillas to travel and live with them throughout the northeast region,
since none of the guerrillas was originally from the area and therefore did
not know the landscape of the Zambezi Valley, nor did they have the
peoples trust. The mediums insisted that the guerrillas obey prohibitions
against sleeping with girls and eating certain foods. The mediums would
explain to the villagers that the guerrillas were from Zimbabwe and not for-
eigners from Mozambique or Zambia. They would tell them why the guer-
rillas had come and assure them that they had their interests at heart. They
agreed to advise the guerrillas on the safest routes to carry weapons through
the Zambezi Valley and up on to the Plateau, and to provide medicines to
protect them in battle and to cure the wounded.
60
In , Smiths government discovered the guerrilla buildup in the
Zambezi Valley. They began helicopter and ground patrol searches. The
three male mediums could easily vanish behind the camouage of the shoul-
der-high grass and the mile upon mile of identical spindly grey trees. But
the medium of Nehanda was feeble and weak. Fearing that she would be
captured and punished for the support that she had given them, the guerril-
las decided to take her out of the country. At rst the aged medium refused
to go, preferring to remain in the thick of the ghting. But eventually she
agreed and was carried on a stretcher to the Zambezi River. She was
brought into Mozambique and, according to Murimbo, continued to super-
vise from afar, doing her command work, directing us in Zimbabwe. She
died in mid-. Her spirit had directed that she should be buried in
Zimbabwe but the war made this impossible. Instead her followers chose a
site at the side of a road used by guerrillas on their journey into Zimbabwe.
She was carried to the grave covered in a white cloth and buried, like a
chief, on a wooden platform sunk in the earth surrounded by a hut built
and thatched in a single day.
61
War
Evaluating the power of this woman who was buried with the honor of a
chief, but nevertheless buried in a neighboring country, requires the shift
argued for by Asad and Nair. In the postcolonial situation, it is categorically
inconsistent to look for agents because the systems of power in which people
are moving are far greater than the autonomous actions of individuals.
Victory came to the resistance in . By this time, Mbuya (grand-
mother) Nehanda was a gure that all Zimbabweans could recognize.
Though Nehanda of Dande practiced only in her northern region, Nehanda
was celebrated by the resistance across Zimbabwe in poetry and songs.
62
As heard on the radio on the morning before Zimbabwe ocially began
self-rule:
Newscaster: Good morning. . . . Here is the news. Zimbabwe will become a new state
with eect from midnight tonight. . . . Among the ceremonies will be a royal salute,
the lowering of the Union Jack, and the raising of the Zimbabwe ag. . . . On we go
with the music of Zimbabwe! Listen now to the voices of our comrades with Mbuya
Nehanda (song, by the ZANU-PF Ideological Choir).
Grandmother Nehanda
You prophesied,
Nehandas bones resurrected,
ZANUs spear caught their re
Which was transformed into ZANUs gun,
The gun which liberated our land.
The exploiters of Zimbabwe
Were Cannibals drinking the masses blood.
63
Sucking and sapping their energy.
The gun stopped all this.
Grandmother Nehanda.
You prophesied.
64
Lan noted, With Nehanda established as the mhondoro who protects the
whole of the new nation state, it is almost as if Zimbabwe had come to be
regarded as a single spirit province.
65
The ag in gure . shows the pro-
le of Nehanda in the sky world above the gure of the new president, Rob-
ert Mugabe, exemplifying the governments embrace of Nehanda as a unify-
ing sovereign.
Nehanda has become a central gure in the ne arts. Depicted in the
Figure .. Flag from the second chimurenga with gure of Nehanda above gure of
Robert Mugabe.
War
novel Feso, by Solomon Mutswairo (banned by the Rhodesian Front govern-
ment), the poetic novel Nehanda, by Yvonne Vera (which won the
Commonwealth Literature award, Africa Region),
66
in the novel Death
Throes, by Charles Samupindi, and in the play Mhondoro, which received
critical acclaim in a Harare Repertory Theatre production (winning the an-
nual theater awards for best play, best actress, best director), Nehanda has
become a force in the literature and arts of Zimbabwe. In an article describ-
ing the role of women in Zimbabwean literature, Chenjerai Hove identies
Nehanda as a prominent symbol of the typical mother-gure who is also
a child of the soil (mwana wevhu).
67
Hove suggests that Zimbabwean writ-
ers are comfortable with women as lovers they can dominate and visionary
grandmothers but that there are few representations of women as mothers,
wives, or equals. In light of this context it is again important to recognize
that part of the reason representations of the possessed woman are attractive
and powerful and therefore likely to be recorded and drawn upon by people
in power is that instrumental agency is not progressive feminism and does
not suggest autonomy. This is why, I would argue, one needs to assess the
agency of the possessed woman neither as protofeminist nor as victim.
In his review of Nehanda in the arts, Ranger recounts an interview be-
tween a sculptor, David Mutasa, and one of the Nehandas, the Karoi Ne-
handa, who is recognized by Mugabes government as an ocial Nehanda
and therefore provided with nancial support. Mutasa was trying to create
a statue of the Nehanda medium of . The statue was to be located on
the site where the Nehanda medium was tried by the colonial authorities of
the British South Africa Company. The sculptor sought the counsel of the
medium because he was having great diculty creating the sculpture. She
told him that no representation of Nehanda should be attempted without
her blessing. There are too many people who think they know about Ne-
handa. But she speaks through me alone.
68
Subsequent to the interview
the Karoi Nehanda fell in popular support. The government imposed an un-
popular resettlement scheme against which the Karoi Nehanda did not join
in protest with the local people. She was then challenged by another Ne-
handa medium who the local people claim is the real Nehanda.
69
The national identication of Nehanda is itself an irony of colonialism.
Weiss notes that historians have yet to agree on the reasons why Nehanda
and two other mhondoro have become super-mhondoro in the last century. I
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
propose that the super-mhondoro is an eect of the nation-state. Because the
death of Nehanda of Mazoe coincided with the birth of Rhodesia as a na-
tion, Nehanda has become inextricably tied with the alien idea of nation-
hood. In a more fervent nationalist tone Weiss describes the signicance of
a sculpture of Nehanda that is found in the Parliament of Zimbabwe in Har-
are: On the rst oor there stands a gure that is wholly Zimbabwean. Its
subject is a woman, an African woman. Her features are strong, unsmiling
and condent. Strangers, naturally, ask who she is; but Zimbabweans know.
She is Mbuya Nehandaheroine, ancestor, spirit-medium. It is tting that
she should stand guard in this place as a symbol of the new Zimbabwe, for
she played a signicant role in the struggle to build it. In many ways, she is
also the symbol of the African women who, like her, suered in the name
of freedom.
70
Weisss statement that Zimbabweans know Nehanda is located in the
midst of identity politics that include ongoing strife between the Shona and
the Ndebele. There is an ironic danger in celebrating Mbuya Nehanda as
the sovereign of a single spirit province. The Ndebele are now a minority in
Zimbabwe, have suered under Shona discrimination since independence,
and are much less likely to identify with Mbuya Nehanda. Whereas Rhodes
claimed the Ndebele were sovereigns of the land who could speak for all the
people, national identication of Nehanda as a spirit for all the people is
likely to function oppressively against the Ndebele. The Nehanda statues,
ags, and representations in the ne arts might be interpreted as a reterrito-
rializing of the region in deance of the British attempt to eliminate the
ancestors power. Identifying her as a national symbol, however, is to elide
the history and the dierence of the spirit provinces. Nations belong to
Western history, but the mhondoro represent nonteleological time and the
uctuating boundaries of chiefdoms within spirit provinces.
There is a signicant contrast between Weisss statement, Zimbabweans
know Nehanda, and the mhondoros statement, There are too many people
who think they know about Nehanda. This contrast reects the very real
power negotiations that occur in representing Nehanda. Weiss represents
Nehanda as a symbol that is self-evident to Zimbabweans, making a nation-
alist link to ancestral rule that is likely to suppress the dierences between
Ndebele and Shona Zimbabweans. In contrast, the Karoi Nehanda claims
that it is only through her body that one comes to know Nehanda. The
War
mhondoro is disclaiming a symbolic Nehanda that could exist without the
body of the medium. From the Karoi Nehandas perspective, Nehanda
maintains her territory through the mediums body, not through a network
of symbols that represent a nation-state.
Shona Instrumental Agency
What remains to be done is to depict the unique contribution that possessed
women in the Shona tradition bring to theories of subjectivity and agency.
Unlike the other societies described in this book, in the Shona society men
are the ones who most often hold positions of authority as mhondoro. The
Nehanda mhondoro are exceptions to the tradition. I begin with Lans discus-
sion of possession, drawing from the insights of his eldwork but arguing
that an alternative approach to Shona subjectivity will produce an alterna-
tive understanding of possession that is especially important for evaluating
the distinct spheres of power women and men exercise in Shona tradition.
Lan did not begin his research to study possession. He and many other
ethnographers make this point in their introductions. Possession com-
manded his attention, drawing his intellectual desire to the task of repre-
senting possessed bodies. It was the incongruous combination of mhondoro
and armed military struggle that ultimately structured his book. To under-
stand this incongruous mix he studied possession among the Korekore, who
are Shona. In the following description of how the Korekore understand
possession, Lan suggests that the subjectivity of the medium is paradoxical.
When an ancestor feels the need to communicate directly with its descendants it
chooses a woman or a man and uses her or his mouth to speak. It is said svikiro
inobatwa nemidzimu, the medium is grabbed by the ancestor. The medium does not
wish to be possessed. Indeed possession is a hardship and a trial. It is the all-powerful
ancestors who make their choice, grab their mediums and take control of their
lives. When possessed, the medium is thought to lose all control of body and mind.
He may be referred to as homwe which means pocket or little bag. The medium is
simply the receptacle, the vessel of the spirit. He has no specialized knowledge or
unusual qualities of his own. But this attitude to the mediums contains a paradox.
Although the medium is thought of as an ordinary person, when a particular woman
or man is selected from all others, they are marked out as extraordinary, as unique.
The medium combines in one body two contradictory aspects: he has no special qual-
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
ities and he is as close as anyone can come to divinity. He has no inuence on the will
of the ancestor, yet the ancestor cannot act without him. He is a person of no special
power and he is a source of the most signicant power on earth.
71
This description of the medium gives specicity to the dynamic I have ar-
gued is the instrumental agency of a possessed person. The homwe is the
instrument that is grabbed by the ancestor.
72
The individuals body is not
important, but the body is of great importance because it houses the ances-
tor. Neither the possessed person nor the ancestor is blamed for the pos-
session. Rather, the codependence between ancestors and humans is ac-
knowledged when the ancestors come out. As Bourdillon describes this
relationship for Shona traditions, [S]uch spirits have a right to be hon-
oured in this way and they have no way of making their wishes known except
through mild illness in the community.
73
In his analysis Lan identies the paradox of instrumental agency quite
distinctly but then resorts to a Western model of subjectivity. On the one
hand he writes, The medium is at once passive vessel and dynamo, origi-
nating and challenging but never in his own name or his own person.
74
On
the other hand, Lan describes this paradox as a matter of choice that is not
conscious fraud but instead is more like a socially prescribed perfor-
mance. Although he acknowledges that choice is an inadequate description
of the process, ultimately Lan understands possession to be a matter of un-
conscious psychological responses.
As to the state of mind of the medium in trance, I have found no evidence that sug-
gests pretense or conscious fraud. The process of initiation structures the aspirant
mediums perception of his own experience. Choices are constantly put in front of
him. Once he has chosen he has to accept the institutionalized consequences of the
choice he has made. The rst suggestion that a spirit may wish to possess him is
made not by the patient but by the traditional healer whom he consults. No one can
organize a possession ritual for himself. They never occur unless there is a general
agreement that there is good cause. . . . Each choice the medium makes elicits a re-
sponse from the listeners which determines the subsequent choice the medium
makes. It is in the interaction between the medium and his audience that a credible
personality for the spirit is evolved and a patient converted into a medium. The word
choice stands inadequately for a complex range of individual psychological re-
sponses to the support or disbelief the patient receives from his kin and neighbors.
75
War
Choice is an inadequate description, I would suggest, because choice applies
to a theory of subjectivity based on a conscious individual or a modern psy-
chological subject. In his further description of the mhondoros activity Lan
again psychologizes the event.
It is only when the system breaks down that the mediums true signicance becomes
apparent. This might happen if the innovations or changes proposed by the medium
are too radical, too challenging of established rights and authorities. Then his original-
ity and creativity force aside the veils and stand revealed. Or it might be that a medium is
thought to be accruing too much personal benet from his profession, making too
much money or accumulating too many wives. Then his good faith may be questioned
and belief in his ability or desire to deny himself for the good of the community may
be suspended. If this should happen the consequences are disastrous. All at once, the
channel between living and dead is at risk of being closed down. The system can only
operate at all when the source of its energy, the creativity of the medium, is successfully
(though unconsciously) concealed and denied.
76
Lan specically locates his underlying theory of agency in the creativity of
the medium, conscious or unconscious. Again we nd evidence that a line
of assessment is found within the tradition that is very dierent from the
assessment suggested by Lan. As Bourdillon states, when someone ex-
presses skepticism over divination or possession, it is not that he doubts
the ecacy of the process of divination but rather he suspects the particular
diviner of being incompetent or a charlatan. Even the most sceptical of
Shona can usually cite at least one diviner, often someone living some dis-
tance away, whom they believe to be genuinely able to divine.
77
From Lans
perspective, there is no room for the source of energy to come from outside
of the creativity of the medium. In contrast, the indigenous structures for
questioning the power of a medium have to do with whether or not the
person exerts the power and wisdom of a spirit, indicating that the person
has been overcome, grabbed, or emptied.
What is ironic in Lans otherwise extremely sensitive report on the role of
mediums is that he begins the book with miracle stories told by the Marxist
guerrillas (how the ancestors led them to a supply of tobacco being guarded
under the coils of a snake) but then discounts any transcendental agency
outside of the creativity of the mediums. In his analysis, the ancestors be-
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
come psychological projections, veils of human creativity. Another conse-
quence of the move to psychologize the possessions is that the only qualita-
tive distinction to be made between the mhondoro and the white government
in the battle for territory is that the mhondoro are described as unconsciously
employing veils and rhetoric in contrast to the white governments con-
scious eorts to deceive. Lan documents how Ian Smith and his white mi-
nority government attempted to use the mediums strategically against the
chimurenga.
As the rst spate of attacks intensied into a war, so attempts were made to use the
mediums to counteract the inuence of the guerrillas. Tape recordings of mediums
denouncing the guerrillas while, supposedly, in trance were broadcast from aero-
planes. Leaets bearing similar messages were scattered over the operational areas:
+o .tt +nr rrortrs or +nr t.o
Some of you have been helping terrorists who came to cause disturbances to you and
your families. Your spirits have told your spiritual medium that they are disappointed
because of your action. Mhondoro, your tribal spirit, has sent a message to say that
your ancestral spirits are very dissatised with you. As a result of this there has been
no rain. It is only the government which can help you, but you have to realize your
obligation to help the government also.
78
If the mediums are unconsciously manipulating veils of human creativity,
then they are but less conscious practitioners of the governments practice.
Lan has written the ethnography carefully enough that the reader knows
there is a qualitative dierence between the government propaganda and
the messages delivered by the mediums, but Lan is erasing a qualitative
dierence between what the mediums are doing and what the government
is doing when he applies the psychological explanation to possession. Ap-
proached as instrumental agencies, the mhondoro are not agents with veils.
They are religious bodies engaged in negotiations with power. Messages
could not rain down from planes and pacify a superstitious people.
Rather, village by village the guerrillas were directed to the huts of the
mhondoro, who, if convinced of the guerrillas commitment to the freedom of
the people, were then very eective recruiters and also functioned as guides
through the perilous back country.
Lan argues that the complex subjectivity of a mhondoro is understood best
as a great spectacle of the past, an illusion created and maintained be-
War
cause of the prohibitions by which the mhondoro must live. The mhondoro
. . . present what amounts to a non-stop historical spectacle: the dead ances-
tors of the present chiefs returned to earth, the history of the land displayed
and acted out, the heroes of the past available once more not to rule but to
give the benet of their wisdom, to tell the truth which only they, being
dead, understand. . . . Four sets of ritual prohibitions create this illu-
sion. . . . All of these reinforce the historical spectacle because they present
the mediums as if they were the mhondoro made esh.
79
Lan is describing the mhondoro as an as if subjectivity, an illusion,
rather than an identity that is constituted through its practices. From Lans
perspective, the Shona blur two identities in dealing with the illusion:
Mediums are as quick as non-specialists to insist on the distinction be-
tween the medium and the mhondoro that possesses them. But the rituals of
their daily lives blur this distinction for they operate at all times, whether
the mediums are possessed or not. . . . The blurring of the division between
mhondoro and medium is so extreme that the name of the mhondoro is com-
monly used to refer to the medium. . . . Although it is constantly insisted
that medium and mhondoro are totally separate entities, in practice the intan-
gible essence of the one is lost within the material reality of the other.
80
The word blur conveys a subtle devaluation of what might instead be
understood as a complex knowledge. Lan infers that a distinction should be
made between intangible essence and material reality. What if the intangible
essence of the one is found within the material reality of the other? We are
confronted with contrasting models of subjectivity when we read Lans
argument that the ritual prohibitions practiced by the mhondoro create an
illusion. In Lans world-view, the human body is simply a human body. Psy-
chologically it functions at both conscious and unconscious levels, the latter
of which can conceal and deny its own creative agency. Sociologically it
creates an illusion. In the Shona tradition, the body is a human body and
simultaneously the place through which an ancestor might speak.
Gender
Signicant arguments are being made as to whether or not gender is an
appropriate category of analysis in the African context. Epitomized by the
contrasting approaches of two Nigerian scholars, I Amadiume and Oye`r-
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
onke Oyewu`m , some African studies scholars criticize as Eurocentric the
universal use of gender for cultural analysis.
81
Amadiume criticizes Western
feminists for failing to see the racism in their evaluations of African women
as oppressed sisters and argues that the structures of Igbo kinship and
society are so dierent from Western ones that unique models of dual-sex
gender are found in Africa in contrast to Western models, where a singular
male subject reigns as the standard to which women must aspire. Amadiume
contextualizes gender to illustrate what is unique about Igbo womens
power. Oyewu`m , however, argues that gender is a product of a Western
emphasis on male-female sexual identity and is utterly inappropriate for the
task of understanding Yoruba kinship and subjective identity, where age is
the most important factor for determining ones status in the community.
She also criticizes Western scholars who have labeled the Yoruba as patriar-
chal because their categories of analysis make them blind to the varied and
important avenues of power shared by Yoruba women. My approach is to
prioritize the analysis of Shona subjectivity, but then to highlight the inclu-
sions, exclusions, and power relationships that function according to what I
perceive to be gendered distinctions that are based on the dierences in
sexual identities of Shona people. Acknowledging that knowing Shona
subjectivity is an epistemological impossibility, I have tried to broaden my
understanding of Shona tradition so that my perceptions of which distinc-
tions matter might be useful for scholarly debate and will allow others to
critically engage with my necessarily speculative interpretations. In terms
of recent debates regarding indigenous epistemology, this approach places
me within the eld of those who wish to engage in the politics of translation
in contrast to those who would argue that it is impossible for an outsider to
contribute to the study of culture. There is a role for gender analyses in the
politics of translation, from this perspective, and it will be a rigorous and
fruitful area for future scholarship as the information and the terms of de-
bate are developed.
The problem of imposing a monolithic interpretation of gender is found
in a statement made by Lan that Schmidt adopts as well, criticizing male
mediums for appropriating womens religious symbolism.
82
Lan describes
how the moon is associated with womens menstrual cycles, but that the
mhondoro rituals contradictorily require the full moon. He criticizes this as
War
an act of patriarchal appropriation: It is as if the symbolism of biological
reproduction, in reality the most signicant source of fertility and creativity,
has been stolen by men to lend lustre to their own cheap-jack construction
of cloth, beads, sticks and beer.
83
Schmidt then borrows this quotation from
Lan, which raises the question, If the men are participating in cheap-jack
constructions, is Nehanda participating in a cheap-jack construction as
well? Or does womens oppression mean that their few forms of ritual power
are to be celebrated whether they are constructions or not?
If the interpretive framework is shifted away from a monolithic under-
standing of gender toward alternative constructions of gender, then the
Shona model of subjectivity can be seen to produce a far dierent model of
masculinity as well as femininity, both of which ritualize receptivity. Once
the shift is made, it becomes problematic to describe the structural privilege
that produces a higher number of male mediums as merely perpetuating
patriarchal privilege. Both male and female are vulnerable to being grabbed
in the Shona construction of subjectivity, penetrated by the will and knowl-
edge of the ancestor and wielded according to the will of the ancestor and
community. Neither male nor female owns the body, which is possessed by
the ancestor. In contrast to Lan I would argue instead that the men are also
practicing an instrumental agency. Acknowledging the instrumental agency
of possession is not an apology for the gender hierarchy of the tradition.
Rather, gender is understood to be a primary eld in which relationships
are structured according to perceived dierences in sexuality, and gender is
recognized as one of the elds of subordination and domination in which
ritualization takes place. Neither female nor male ritualizations can be
neatly separated according to a dichotomy of female symbolic spiritualism
versus male instrumental patriarchy.
The structures of Shona tradition can be seen to be undergirded by a
fundamental distinction, which runs through the core of the Shona uni-
verse. A distinction is made between the superior knowledge of the ances-
tors and the inferior embodied knowledge of humans. Humans have imper-
fect knowledge compared to the ancestors, who can see and hear everything
and have no biological needs. Biological needs are associated with wetness
and blood, while the spirit world is associated with a breath that is dry. The
older one gets, the closer one gets to the ancestors:
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
[T]he process of human ageing is imagined by the Shona as a process of drying out.
At birth a child is thought of as thoroughly wet. The rst stage of a childs develop-
ment is marked by the closing of the fontanelle, the soft-skinned gap in the centre of
a babys skull. Young toothless children, remote from the ancestors and lacking all
authority are wet, soft and bloody. The older people get, the closer to the ancestors
and the more authoritative they become. They are dryer, harder and bonier. Both
women and men gradually acquire dryness as they progress through life. But women
periodically revert to utter wetness. It is only when they lose the ability to produce
children, when they are least like women and most like men, that they have really
begun to dry out. So it is that the only women who play an individual role in the
rituals of possession by a mhondoro, the women who brew the beer, must be post-
menopausal, thoroughly brittle and dry.
84
The emphasis on the dryness of the ancestors sets up a fundamental distinc-
tion between womens and mens religious bodies that therefore impacts
upon all elements of life. Womens wetness means that their bodies carry an
ambivalent power, which gives them some kinds of power while it also makes
them vulnerable to accusations as bearers of illness and misfortune. Unlike
contemporary Western culture, where menopause is highly privatized,
medicalized, and generally associated with a womans devaluation as she
ages, the Shona structure means that a postmenopausal woman experiences
a jump in social status because she has become drier, putting her on a par
with elder men, both of which carry great authority because they are closer
to the spirits. Thus the structure limits the possibility that women will hold
positions of authority while wet, and a menstruating woman would not be
recognized as being possessed by a mhondoro. Among the Korekore, Neh-
anda is one of only four mhondoro who are female or have a feminine aspect
and one of two mhondoro who are unequivocally women and whose mediums
are only women.
85
While men predominate in the most important roles as instrumental
agencies for the ancestors, women predominate in lesser and more ambiva-
lent roles such as diviners, healers, and witches. With the inux of European
vocabulary the term witches was adopted to identify those women who were
associated with more aggressive practices; in fact, the British colonizers
drew from old British laws against witchcraft to deal with witchcraft allega-
tions. Fry proposes an interpretation of womens power based on his study
War
of the Zezuru (near Harare): I suggest that the concept of witchcraft is a
recognition of inherent evil in Zezuru society which is attributed to women
because of their structural position and in recognition of the very real power
they wield in spite of their ocial status as jural minors.
86
Fry highlights
the ambivalent nature of womens power in his assessment rather than infer-
ring that they have none.
Masculine privilege and female ambivalence is structurally maintained in
Shona society through the exogamous, virilocal, and polygamous marriage
arrangements, which puts women at a disadvantage precisely because it
takes them away from their ancestors. Marriage is the single most signicant
determinant of status for a woman in Shona society. Through marriage
women live apart from their ancestors. Being apart from their ancestors,
they are vulnerable to the accusation that they have brought an outsider
spirit or witch to the community.
87
A wife has a very dicult negotiation
ahead of her as she moves to her husbands home because structurally wives
share the status of being outsiders who are vulnerable to charges of bringing
bad spirits to the community. Wives will be competing against each other
and in relation to their husbands sisters who carry more power than his
wives. Sisters in a family play a powerful role because the bride price which
they attract will then become family wealth used to buy a wife for their
brothers. In this way womens lives are intimately linked with power which
is never theirs alone but is always tied to patriarchal lineages. As wives,
women are jural minors but signicantly, when they go through menopause
or die, they become persons. When they die their spirits are brought home
and their grave is dug by their own lineage.
88
Elizabeth Schmidt provides a traditional interpretation of Shona wom-
ens power, citing Levi-Strausss analysis of the gender bias of such marriage
arrangements: [I]t is the gift-givers who are socially linked through the
exchange not the gifts. Thus, once again, women are conduits of a relation-
ship, rather than partners to it.
89
It might be useful to reect briey on
Schmidts phrase that women are conduits of the most fundamental com-
munity relationship among the Shona. A conduit is not an autonomous
agent. Sisters are important as conduits of wealth for their brothers, while
wives are important as conduits for the husbands lineage. The contradic-
tory position of Shona women as the foci for producing the lineage but si-
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
multaneously as the responsible party for structural tensions in Shona soci-
ety (wives are suspected when bad things befall the village) creates the
unique situation in which Shona womens religious bodies must negotiate.
The Nehanda mhondoro were therefore incredible women. They were
postmenopausal women who were designated with the most powerful status
any human carries. As women living in an exogamous situation away from
their own lineages, their power was established through the intense testing
ritualizations that establish the authenticity of possession. It is a grave mis-
take to interpret their agency as mhondoro according to a Western model of
agency. If we approach them as instrumental agencies, the paradoxical na-
ture of their power as religious bodies in the ght for land is forefronted.
Nehanda of Mazoe was hanged, Nehanda of Dande was buried outside of
her country, and the Nehanda of Karoi is being supported by the govern-
ment although contested by her peers. The evaluation of their varying de-
grees of agency according to political ecacy or religious authenticity would
be ridiculous. The individual body of Nehanda of Mazoe was hanged, which
is bad, but because she was executed at that particular point in history,
she helped inspire revolt against oppression. She has forever altered Zim-
babwes history. While the story of each womans life is dierent, what these
women share in terms of their agency is that they are not where they are
speaking. As a conduit that receives the ancestors knowledge, she is neither
a passive victim nor an active agent. She is an instrumental agency, a prac-
tice and a place, for the will of the territorial ancestors.
In conclusion, I want to briey address the problem of representing and
evaluating religious bodies at war. John and Jean Comaro begin their im-
portant book Ethnography and the Historical Imagination with a headline taken
from the Chicago Tribune that illustrates the heart of the problem. Mystic
Warriors Gaining Ground in Mozambique War, shouts the headline. The
story about the war is replete with signiers that express a Western sense of
superiority over the simplistic and primitive beliefs that were miraculously
contributing to the success of the Mozambique soldiers. The mens chests
had been scarred as part of a ritualization to vaccinate them from bullets.
Western diplomats scratched their heads in amazement, according to the
Tribunes account, which concludes that the eectiveness of the religious
leader of the soldiers could be explained by the predominance of supersti-
tious beliefs. Mozambique was a country where potions, amulets, monkey
War
hands, and ostrich feet were believed to have the power to ward o evil
spirits. We are left with exotic, anachronistic, psychosomatic soldiers. De-
spairing that anthropology has had no impact on public perceptions of other
people, the Comaros lament that this story tells us more about the contem-
porary Western imagination than it does about the signicance and meaning
of the war for the people ghting it. They propose that anthropologists draw
from cultural theory in order to intervene more eectively in the public
discourses about exotic others, and they argue for anthropology to engage
more seriously in the analysis of power at the microcosmic level as well as
relating this to power at the macrocosmic, world-system level (such as the
historical imagination produced in newspapers).
While I share similar concerns with regard to the representation and
evaluation of historical agency, I am proposing a dierent line of argument
than that taken by the Comaros. The newspaper article raises the problem
of how one identies and veries the power at work in religious bodies. The
Comaros identify hegemony and ideology as the two agentive dimensions
of power at work in culture. Hegemony is that which is naturalized in cul-
ture. This is why its power seems to be independent of human agency, to
lie in what it silences, what it puts beyond the limits of the thinkable. Ideol-
ogy is the narrative structure of a cultures world-view, reecting the domi-
nant discourse and also innovated upon as counterideology by contesting
discourses. They argue that hegemony and ideology may fruitfully be re-
garded as the two empowered dimensions of any culture.
90
My linked ques-
tions to the Comaros would be, Is the power of the Mozambique warriors
to be understood as the power of hegemony? Does it merely seem to be
independent of human agency because religious belief has been naturalized?
That is, are there only two empowered dimensions of any culture? How are
we to assess the power of ancestors who guide warriors and the ritualization
of chests with scarication as a vaccine against bullets? If we approach the
bodies of the Mozambique warriors as religious bodies, we need to create a
discursive space in which the agency of religious forces can be recognized
as such. This is not because religious forces are real and thus should not
be scrutinized critically. This is a methodological argument regarding our
ability to recognize alternative models of subjectivity and to subject our-
selves to the agency of the others who attract our attention. Methodologi-
cally it allows the scholar to represent religious bodies at war as bodies that
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
are negotiating with power that is not the same power that Western scholars
have identied as hegemony and ideology. This is where theology stands as
an alternative discursive politic to social constructionism.
Africa is the locus of some of the most violent battles that have been
fought in the last century. The reporting of these battles has been extremely
confused and egregious because of the combined legacy of colonialist rac-
ism and Enlightenment-based perceptions of primitive religion. The situ-
ation is unlikely to change greatly until the Western imagination comes to
recognize that the religion-politics dichotomy has never eectively de-
scribed the relationship of religious bodies to their struggles for power, es-
pecially struggles over land. This dichotomy is especially irrelevant in rela-
tion to African traditional religions, which have always associated power
with the ability to acquire and maintain governance over the land with the
help of ancestors, deities, and spirits. Power includes the ability to prot
from the land because one is living well in relation to its spirit guardians.
Religious bodies have therefore always been related to agricultural successes
and failures as well as to military successes and failures. Work and war, from
this perspective, have always been religious. If we approach religious bodies
as disciplined bodies, like the bodies of dancers or soldiers, we can under-
stand that their engagements in war are not predicated by false or simplistic
beliefs that mold the warring bodies. Rather, religious bodies have been de-
veloped over time, tempered and strengthened to do battle in negotiation
with a will that is greater than theirs. Religious bodies undergo gendered
ritualizations with which they negotiate with power that is greater than their
individual agency. From this perspective, the dierence between a religious
body and a soldiers body is no longer seen to be dichotomous.
Wars are still being fought in Zimbabwe, and Nehanda is found working
at the level of the national symbolic as well as in regional situations where
there are now many women who are possessed by Nehanda.
91
Terence
Ranger notes that Nehanda is alive and well among mhondoro and that the
Nehanda medium of / is being constantly invoked in sculpture,
books and plays. Ranger also quotes a review in the Harare newspaper the
Herald that proclaims: Mbuya Nehanda is back in full force. Everywhere
it is Mbuya Nehanda. What is it that the black Zimbabwean Joan of Arc
wants to tell her folks? Is it a call to arms again?
92
What indeed, and how
War
would a scholar evaluate the many Nehandas? Are they the product of hege-
mony and ideology?
The recent appearance of multiple Nehandas scattered throughout Zim-
babwe need not be understood to be a farce but rather the various mhondoro
can be interpreted to be engaging ritualization, negotiating the systems of
subordination and domination in Zimbabwe and prioritizing spirit in the
mundane world. If we interpret the many Nehandas as events of ritualiza-
tion, then it will come as no surprise that only those Nehanda mhondoro
who work, only those Nehanda mhondoro who guard the land eectively, will
thrive. It is probable that Nehanda of Mazoe and Nehanda of Dande exer-
cised similar power in the chimurengas to the extent that they had a regional
inuence and promoted resistance to white domination. By emphasizing
Nehandas pervasive presence I do not mean to suggest that the mhondoro
were determining forces for either war; rather, the attention they have at-
tracted and the enduring power of their representations is representative of
the instrumental agency of possessed women. As land disputes heated up
prior to the June elections in Zimbabwe, very little was said by the
political parties or in media coverage about Nehanda or about the role
women played in the resistance during the second chimurenga. The agency
of women in general and the instrumental agency of possessed women in
particular always exists in relation to the structures of power in which they
live. How and if we remember that power is my concern.
Chapter 6 Play(s)
Possessed women gure as the central characters of two masterpieces of
theater: Euripides Bacchae (fth century ... Greece) and S. Anskys The
Dybbuk (written in eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century).
1
These plays capitalize on the performative force of a possessed body; more
specically, they use the unique volatility of a possessed woman, which en-
ables her to say and do what could not be said or done by any other character
to such great, tragic eect. Evaluating the performative force of the pos-
sessed bodies, a force I call the play of possession, is the goal of this chapter.
The play of possession, like the work and war of possession, is a primary
component of why representations of possessed women have survived across
time and cultures. That both plays have been given the status of masterpiece
indicates to me that once again representations of possessed women are ex-
erting an enduring power that merits critical reection. Gender theorists in
the elds of classics and Jewish and Yiddish studies have been drawn to
these plays. My contribution to the critical interpretations of these plays is
to highlight the instrumental agency of the possessed character. It is only
by understanding the possessed bodies as bodies that are negotiating with
power, bodies that are the place and practice of a negotiation with a will that
is greater than the human will, that one can evaluate the strong attraction
they have exerted and continue to exert.
Both plays were written in traditions in which women were associated
with possession phenomena. Both plays were written in traditions in which
men held oces of political and religious authority or where men adminis-
tered those positions of authority held by women. Each was written at a

Play(s)
time of cultural upheaval in which traditional religious and political author-
ity was being called into question. And both were written by playwrights
who are now recognized as cultural critics who resided on the margins of
their communities. Both authors embraced challenges to religious authority
that were fermenting at the time, but rather than reject religious traditions
they engaged them through the character of the possessed woman. Because
of her transgressive and conservative agency, Euripides and Ansky used a
possessed woman to deliver cultural critiques that worked with and against
the received traditions of each play. The appearance of possessed women as
central characters suggests that a transgressive potential resides in the role
of the possessed woman. If we approach these plays from the perspective of
instrumental agency, we arrive at a better understanding of the agency these
women, who were neither autonomous agents nor psychological victims,
have exerted. I will address the plays individually, beginning with the histor-
ical context of the play with specic reference to gender and then engaging
with critical interpretations of possessed women within the religious tradi-
tion. I then engage with critical interpretations of play based on the argu-
ment that the possessed women are used by the playwrights as instrumen-
tal agencies.
Euripides, The Bacchae
Synopsis
The Bacchae tells the story of the tragic confrontation between two cousins,
Dionysus and Pentheus. Their mutual grandfather, Cadmus, was once the
powerful king of Thebes. His daughter Semele had a fatal tryst with Zeus,
who fathered Dionysus. Angered and jealous, Hera tricked Semele into de-
manding of her lover that he reveal his true nature to her. Compelled by his
vow to answer any demand she might make, Zeus showed himself as light-
ning, killing Semele. Zeus rescued the unborn child (Dionysus) and carried
Dionysus in his thigh until his birth. Cadmus has handed on the crown to
his grandson Pentheus, whose mother is Agave, sister to Semele. Dionysus
returns to Thebes to avenge his mothers memory and to demand honor
from Thebes. The play begins with a prologue by Dionysus (), which
depicts the tensions between the sisters in a patriarchal culture where
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
women were required to be chaste and to produce legitimate heirs for
male citizens:
My purpose is to end the lies
told by Semeles own sisters,
who had the least right to speak them.
They swore to Thebes that Zeus was not
my father, that some man shed loved
made Semele pregnant, and that her claim
Zeus fathered her child was a gamble
Kadmos forced her to take
a blasphemy, her sisters crowed,
which made Zeus in a ash of rage
crush out her life.
Figure .. Early fth-century Athenian cup depicting maenad.
Play(s)
The play moves in three ascending parts leading to the peripeteia, in which
Dionysus and Pentheus confront each other, followed by three descending
parts. The rst part introduces Dionysus and his band of loyal maenads
(women who are devotees of Dionysus and are possessed by him) who have
followed him across Asia
2
(see g. .). They are the tragedys chorus, and
in their rst choral ode they sing of the happiness that devotion to Dionysus
brings. They remain on stage throughout the play, a feature that adds ten-
sion to the plot, since Pentheus is trying to stop all Bacchic revelry.
3
A sec-
ond group of maenads, the Theban maenads, has been possessed by Diony-
sus, but we do not see this group because they are up on Mount Cithaeron.
Among them are Agave, Inoe, and Autonoe, Semeles sisters and Diony-
suss aunts.
In the second part we are introduced to Pentheus, son of Echion and
Agave and domineering young king of Thebes, who has returned from his
travels to nd that the women of his city have all ed to dance with Bacchus.
He sees his grandfather, Cadmus, and the blind prophet, Tiresias, dressed
in fawn skins and castigates them for participating in the Bacchic revelry.
Unlike Agave, Cadmus honored Semeles memory, maintaining her tomb,
which is visible on stage throughout the play. Tiresias is his equally aged
friend; together they represent the wisdom of old age but are ineective in
their appeals to Pentheus and therefore unable to alter the inevitable tragedy
of the conict between the cousins. The old men argue with Pentheus about
what wisdom is and suggest that Pentheus mistakes intellectual power for
wisdom before they exit to join the maenads on Mount Cithaeron.
Dionysus enters the stage with his hands bound, having been captured
by Pentheuss men, who indicate that he did not resist. He is in the form of
a man who has long hair and whom Pentheus both admires and criticizes
for his eeminate beauty. Again Pentheus is met in dialogue with challenges
about the dierence between wisdom and intellectual wit. Pentheus at-
tempts to jail Dionysus, but after leading him into the castle, an earthquake
and a re shake the castle, a scene referred to as the palace miracle. Dionysus
emerges from the smoke and re to tell his maenad chorus that Pentheus
was thwarted by a phantasmagoric battle with a bull.
The third part is the messengers speech, describing the wonders of the
maenads on the mountain. We learn that the women are performing miracles,
suckling wild animals and causing honey and wine to spring from the
ground. But when they are interfered with by Pentheuss men, their bucolic
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
nurturance turns into violence and they defeat the men in combat and tear
apart the mountain villages livestock for sacrices and food.
The peripeteia of the play is a masterpiece of character and gender trans-
formation that reinforces the Greek association of femininity with posses-
sion. In what begins as a blustering dialogue by the shaken Pentheus as he
emerges from the crumbling castle, we see Dionysus slowly but surely pos-
sess Pentheus. In full reversal of his previous militaristic character the pos-
sessed Pentheus coquettishly dresses as a maenad in order to spy on the
errant women of Thebes rather than leading his army to the mountains to
conquer them. Where once he mocked Cadmus and Tiresius, Pentheus now
primps and prances through town on his way to spy on his mother and aunts.
The descending nal half of the play begins with a choral ode by the
maenad chorus addressing vengeance and wisdom. This is followed by the
second messengers speech, in which we learn of Pentheuss fate. Crouched
in a tree on the mountain, Pentheus appears to the Theban maenads to be
a wild beast. Led by Agave, they triumphantly tear him apart with their
bare hands. Agave carries the lions head to town mounted on her thyrsus.
She enters the stage boasting to her father how proud he can be of her
triumph (). The terrible irony of this overdetermined speech high-
lights the power dierentials between mens and womens lives in an accurate
reection of gender in Athens at the time:
Father, now you can boast that youve fathered
the bravest daughters a man could!
I say daughters but the daughter I mean is me.
I quit my loom and found more serious work
now I hunt wild animals barehanded. Heres one
still warm, cradled here in my arms.
You must be fearless to kill this animal.
Hes something to hang up over our doors.
You hold him, Father. Dont you love him?
Dont you want to call our clan together?
Well celebrate! Youll all share the glory of my success.
In a touching dialogue, Cadmus brings his daughter back to her senses and
the realization that she has murdered her son. They both face Dionysus,
now appearing as a god, who delivers their fates. They depart from the stage
Play(s)
banished from Thebes, never to be together again. Cadmus is promised
happiness in the end, but Agave is doomed to wander in exile with her sis-
ters. Through the instrumental agency of Agave, the city of Thebes has
been made to honor the memory of Semele and to honor Dionysus as a god.
The Bacchae was one of Euripides nal plays, written in ...
shortly before his death and produced posthumously in Athens shortly
thereafter by his son, the Younger Euripides.
4
Euripides is likely to have
written the play while in self-imposed exile at the court of King Archelaus
in Macedonia. His withdrawal from Athens has generated scholarly specu-
lation that it was politically expedient for the playwright to leave the city
that would soon put his acquaintance Socrates to death.
5
Euripides had
faced charges of impiety at least once, from which he was exonerated, but
his disdain for the ongoing Peloponnesian War was well known, and he is
said to have left the city in grief as others rejoiced over his misfortune.
6
The rst major production of the play was at the Greater Dionysia, a
ve-day theatrical festival performed by men to a male audience.
7
Tickets
to the theater were distributed to citizens in good standing, and the audience
sat by tribe, as they would at other political events. The festival served sev-
eral purposes. [H]onors voted to citizens and to foreigners were pro-
claimed in the theater; the tribute from Athens allies was exhibited in the
theater; [and] the orphans of war who had been raised at the citys expense
were paraded in the theater in full panoply in the year when they reached
their majority.
8
The ve days of performance began with a contest of boys
and mens dithyrambs (one from each tribe) on the rst day, a contest of ve
comedies on the second day, and a contest of three tragic ensembles (each
with three tragedies and a satyr play) on the nal three days. The same
two or three actors performed all the speaking parts of a tragedy, with ap-
propriate changes of mask and costume, so that the actors were almost con-
tinuously speaking and moving through four elaborate performances.
9
Over
time, the actors daily requirements were reduced, but the chorus members
continued to be responsible for the singing and dancing of four plays on the
same day.
Winkler argues that the Greater Dionysia was a festival occasion for the
elaborate symbolic play on themes of proper and improper civic behavior,
in which the principal component of proper male citizenship was mili-
tary. . . . A central reference point for these representationsthe notional
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
learners of its lessons (paideia) about the trials of manhood (andreia)were
the young men of the city, and they were also the choral performers at least
of tragedy, and perhaps also of comedy. Winkler argues that the tragic
chorus was an aesthetically elevated version of close-order drill composed
of the same ephebes who would march in the same prole, in the same the-
ater, as military cadets. He concludes that as a ground-plan for the City
Dionysia, these features of the original presentation and social occasion show
us that the audiences experience of tragedywas built ona profoundly political
core, and that Athens youngest citizen-soldiers occupied a central (though
in various ways masked) role in this festival of self-representation.
10
For this festival of self-representation, the self-exiled Euripides created
scenes that challenged the male actors and ephebic chorus to play the role
of their symbolic opposites. Longo argues that the chorus must be recog-
nized in its role as representatives of the collective citizen body.
11
Euripi-
des chose the Asiatic maenads as his chorus, bringing possessed women to
the center of cultural reection at the Greater Dionysia, challenging bound-
aries between men and women as well as boundaries between theater, reli-
gion, and politics. The play won the festival prize for tragedy, which Euripi-
des had been previously denied, and the play also went on to great celebrity
as one of the plays repeatedly reproduced with lavish expenditure on the
Athenian stage. It would also appear to have become a favourite play in Mac-
edonia.
12
That The Bacchae has attracted and continues to attract wide audi-
ences is undeniable.
13
Historical Context
Athens was an exhausted city by the nal decade of the fth century. Having
been involved in the Peloponnesian War since , the sometimes dominant
city was on the verge of surrendering to Sparta and her allies when The
Bacchae was performed. Though the fth century is called the Golden Age
of Athens, it was a century of major upheavals. Prior to the time that the
war started, democratic leaders (Ephialtes and Pericles) created reforms
that deposed the wealthy Areopagus of its power and more fully democra-
tized the government. In the intervening years, oligarchs struggled with
democrats, causing numerous transfers of power between aristocracies and
democratic political bodies. These struggles for power coincided with a
Play(s)
broader owering of intellectual and artistic creativity. Democritus, Anti-
phon, Hippocrates, Pythagorus, and Protagoras respectively laid the foun-
dations for the development of a philosophy disposed of its Gods, oratory
as a literary genre, and mathematical paradigms of the cosmos.
14
These de-
velopments led to the rise of rationalism and science, modalities of thought,
begun by the pre-Socratics and epitomized by the sophist movement, that
challenged traditional beliefs in gods and aristocratic claims upon the power
to govern.
In ... and for years afterward, Athens suered from a plague that
devastated the city, decimated the army, and took the life of Pericles, argu-
ably the one leader of the city who recognized Athenss strengths as well as
its weaknesses. He had led Athens strategically into a limited but secure
power. Those who followed him (a dicult genealogy to reproduce, given
the constant struggle to dene the government, but including Cleon, Cleo-
phon, and Alcibiades), did not share his strategic foresight. They strove
for empire but depleted Athenss strength. This same period of time also
produced a religious fervor in Athens. Challenges to tradition were coun-
tered by Athenians reverence for their city and its deities as represented in
the great temples.
15
That Euripides had developed a reputation for speaking
out against the war and against demagoguery helps to explain his self-exile
at this point in Athenss history.
16
The religious life was therefore intimately related to the governing power
and the social life of the polis. The approach to religious bodies for which I
have argued in the previous chapters works well with approaches developed
by classicists because again the modern divisions between religion and poli-
tics do not apply to the Athenian polis.
17
Ritualization was practiced in re-
gard to war, politics, theater, sport, commerce, and marriage in the form
of acknowledging and propitiating the gods whose wills would be seen as
responsible for the successes and failures of human endeavors. In her de-
scription of Greek religion in antiquity, Jane Ellen Harrison draws from
Platos Euthyphron, where Socrates leads Euthyphron to acknowledge that
[i]f we give to the gods they must want something of us, they must want
to do business with us. Holiness is then an art in which gods and men do
business with each other. This appraisal by Socrates of Euthyphrons idea
of religion is markedly instrumental in its function and purpose. Expanding
her study of Greek representations of religion, Harrison reects upon the
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
writings of Xenophon ( ...), a contemporary of Euripides:
Burnt-sacrice (qusia), feasting, agonistic games, stately temples are to
him the essence of religion; the word sacrice brings to his mind not renun-
ciation but social banquet; the temple is not to him so much the awful dwell-
ing-place of a divinity as an integral part of a beautiful and ample city.
18
Religion permeated the world of the polis in practical and instrumental ex-
changes in all facets of human life, from war to love.
The unique cosmology of the Greek polis produced a unique social body,
intimately intertwined with the interventions of the hierarchical Greek pan-
theon. Greek subjectivity was therefore understood to be permeable to the
intrusions of the gods; or for those who dismissed the gods as anthropomor-
phic, human agency was related to the more powerful agencies of fate and
destiny. Using Agamemnons Apology from the Homeric poems to exem-
plify a representative view of the relationship between humans and the
agency of deities in early Greek antiquity, Dodds explores the term ate, used
by Agamemnon and throughout the Iliad when humans are explaining their
relationship to the interventions of deities. Ate is a partial and temporary
insanity; and, like all insanity, it is ascribed . . . to external daemonic
agency. In regard to his stealing of Achilles mistress, Agamemnon de-
clares: Not I was the cause of this act, but Zeus, Moira and the Erinys
who walks in darkness: they it was who in the assembly put wild ate in my
understanding, on that day when I arbitrarily took Achilles prize from him.
So what could I do? Deity will always have its way.
19
Human agency was
constrained by and subject to a dynamic conguration of deities and Moira
(portion, lot), producing a complex sense of the subjects agency. In Euripi-
des time, a cultivated sense that humans were instrumental agencies for
divinity was combined with daily acts of ritualization to produce a pervasive
sense of divine intervention in all facets of human lives.
While Agamemnon laments his instrumental agency in this speech, the
gendered structures of Greek life suggest that men had much greater free-
dom to evaluate and interpret their ethical responsibilities and culpability
than women. On the Greek spectrum of subjectivity, gender gured heavily.
To be precise, Greek women were not enfranchised citizens. They were to
be emulated only in their almost resistanceless availability or permeability
with respect to truth, a permeability compatible with their sexual vocation,
which was to receive, to take into themselves.
20
Greek women were the ob-
Play(s)
jects of medical, legal, and philosophical discourse, not the subjects, and
were exchanged between men without having legal rights to ownership of
themselves or their belongings. Their activities included weaving cloth,
managing the household, and bearing and caring for children. Most women
were not given an education beyond training in the household duties. Those
women who wrote or engaged in philosophical discourse, such as Sappho
and Hypatia, were extremely rare exceptions to the rule.
21
As Page du Bois
has argued, there are shifts in the metaphors used over time to describe
women, but, whether it be eld, furrow, or tablet, in all cases they were to
be worked with a phallic plow or stylus in order to produce. Nevertheless,
if we do not impose a model of the modern subject as our sole standard
for evaluating their agency, the representations of their ambivalent religious
power can become a resource that informs and expands contemporary theo-
ries of agency.
22
In the otherwise strictly segregated world of the Greek polis, religious
observances were the one arena in which women had public responsibilities.
Sue Blundell notes, Religion was the one area of activity where a section
of the population that had been ideologically conned to the private sphere
was allowed to emerge into public prominence.
23
Blundell suggests that this
was in part due to the presence of female deities in the Greek pantheon;
consequently, priestesses were needed to tend to their temples. Women ex-
ercised important roles in three areas of Greek religion that relate to the
evaluation of the possessed women in The Bacchae: care of the dead, as or-
acles, and in festivals in which women had segregated ceremonies. Relating
to the rst, Blundell writes: The performance of services on behalf of the
dead continued to be an important aspect of womens religious activities in
the Classical as in the Archaic Age. . . . Women also appear far more fre-
quently than men as the bearers of oerings of food, wine, oil, and garlands
to tombs, which suggests that the duties owed to the dead during the period
of mourning and at certain annual festivals fell largely to the females of the
family.
24
It is signicant that Euripides began the play at Semeles tomb. It
was primarily womens business to take care of the dead, and it was Semeles
sisters who most egregiously dishonored her memory. In the prologue, Dio-
nysus describes the tomb as a sacred place that no one enters (), but by
the end of the play he has revivied its power such that the tomb will com-
mand the ritualizations that will honor Semeles memory.
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
According to Hammonds argument regarding the demise of family reli-
gion, owing largely to Athenss ongoing wars, the Greek audience is likely
to have empathized with this scene and to have suered from a similar cos-
mological distress: Family religion, on the other hand [in contrast to the
civic rituals], suered. For centuries its ceremonies had been held at the
shrines in the demes, but with the evacuation of the countryside they were
discontinued for long periods. The eect was serious, because the average
Athenian derived his or her stability more from this side of personal religion
than from the Eleusinian Mysteries or Orphic tradition. Family traditions,
such as respect for parents and the marriage-bond, were correspondingly
weakened. Family land, hitherto inalienable, came on the market under the
stress of economic need. The standards of the younger generation were fur-
ther shaken by the strain of the plague, the revolution, and the long war.
25
Euripides emphasized family religion by depicting Dionysuss grief over his
mothers dishonored and forgotten memory. The tomb remains on stage
beside the castle throughout the play, its ame growing in size, indicating
that sacred power is increasing as Dionysus achieves his goal of bringing
honor to his mothers memory and with it the subsequent acknowledgment
of his divinity. Symbol of an all-important thread in the fabric of Athenian
life, Semeles tomb is transformed from a forgotten relic to a revitalized
social obligation.
In contrast to the more domestic rituals of caring for the dead were the
institutional religious roles, such as the Pythia at the Delphic Oracle, which
were held by women (sibyls) who received and spoke the words of the gods,
which were then recorded by priests and disseminated. In Burkerts discus-
sion of the Delphian sibyls we see the women depicted as instruments em-
powered by the force of the god.
26
There is no oracle of which so much is
known or about which so much is in dispute as that of Pytho, the sanctuary
of the Delphians. Originally, it is said, the god gave responses here only
once a year at the festival of his advent in the spring; but as a result of the fame
of the oracle, services came to be oered through the entire year; indeed, at
times three Pythiai held oce at once. . . . In addition there is the tradition
about the sibyls, individual prophesying women of early times who admit-
tedly are known only through legend. . . . Heraclitus assumes as well-known
that the sibyl with raving mouth . . . reaches over a thousand years . . . by
force of the god. The Delphian sibyl also called herself the wedded wife of
Play(s)
the god Apollo.
27
The solitary practice of the Pythia contrasts with Bacchic
revelries in which groups of women participated. What is common to mae-
nads, sibyls, and Pythiai is that all were considered possessed and shared
the status of being instrumental agencies for the gods.
28
These women
gained power not through their prowess and integrity as orators, a skill
highly developed and praised among men, but through their capacity to be
spoken through.
Maenadisms dening feature was its devotion to Dionysus, the god of
wine and theater, both of which can transform persons beyond their normal
personality. Dionysus was a multifaceted God characterized by the power
of ambivalence, spanning chthonic depths and Olympian heights, crossing
the boundaries of identity, which were important to Greeks.
29
From the Ho-
meric Hymn to Demeter (. ), the oldest literary allusion, we can assume
minimally that women in some cities at some times practiced a ritual that
led them from the connes of the oikos to the surrounding mountains ritual-
izing the ambivalent God.
30
Dressed in long robes with a fawn skin draped
across the shoulder, crowned with wreaths of ivy, carrying a thyrsus or beat-
ing a tympanum, Bacchae are depicted in art, literature, and law. Accompa-
nied by kettledrum and ute, their ecstatic dancing ran through the night
and lasted for several days and nights. It is to this recognized phenomenon
that Euripides refers.
31
Once congregated, the maenads had greater freedom
of movement than women otherwise experienced, and they could move be-
yond the city walls and into the night.
Several scholars have interpreted maenadism according to modern psy-
chological and sociological models of subjectivity, which, as I read them,
reduce the alterity of maenads.
32
This reduction occurs because such
scholars are working with a model of the autonomous individual as their
norm, and from this norm the women of Greek antiquity fall short. Many
examples of important feminist scholarship apply the resolution of hysteri-
cal tension hypothesis to maenads, thus subtly erasing what might be
dierent about Greek women and their relationship to divine agency from
modern notions of psychological subjects. Ross Kraemer draws from Lewis
and Kenelm Burridge in her analysis of womens participation in maenad-
ism and suggests, following Burridge, that women would be more likely to
seek to heighten their status at times of sociobiological changes (puberty
and menopause) because that is where their identities are recognized. She
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
suggests that this is why Agave, nearing menopause, is a representative can-
didate for possession. Following Lewis she states, Possession thus appears
to neutralize the potentially destructive emotions felt by oppressed individ-
uals of a society permitting them to be vented through highly institutional-
ized, regulated forms. And ultimately she describes possession as a pathol-
ogy to which the oppressed Greek women were vulnerable: [T]he overall
status of women in ancient Greece comes into play. As many historians have
noted, the status of women in classical Greece ranks among the worst of
women in Western society at any time. It is likely that many women could
not meet their societys measure of a good woman. Even if they did, a
tremendous disparity remained between the rewards a successful woman
could expect and those awarded to the successful man. This disparity may
have threatened the entire social fabric of ancient Greece and increased
the vulnerability of Greek women to the cult of Dionysus.
33
Kraemers lan-
guage implies that Dionysiac possession is a pathology. Though her concern
is to note the very real legal and ideological oppression of Greek women,
which is an important cultural specicity to acknowledge, she does not look
to maenadism as a resource for thinking about alternative models of agency.
She instead describes the women as vulnerable, that is, as victims or pa-
tients of a pathology.
Others who concur with this type of analysis include Lilian Portefaix,
who proposes that Euripides depiction of the experiences of the maenads
during the trance can be explained anthropologically as a regression to an
earlier state of culture, as opposed to a civilized state.
34
Much of this schol-
arship argues that Dionysus is the synthesizer of tensions, breaking down
dichotomies, but that maenadism is in the end an ineectual vehicle for
increasing the agency of Greek women. In their collection of writings about
women in antiquity, Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant state: The
politically oppressed often turn to ecstasy as a temporary means of pos-
sessing the power they otherwise lack: orgiastic ritual, secret cults, trances,
and magic provided such outlets, especially for women who could not justify
meeting together for any other purpose.
35
My point is not to argue against
the idea that women were oppressed in Greek society but rather to show
that the feminist framework for interpreting possession has adopted Lewiss
sociological analysis and has inscribed the Greek maenads as regressive
or vulnerable.
36
Even feminist scholarship is willing to reinscribe Greek
Play(s)
women as less than subjectivities, perpetuating the rational agent as the
standard of analysis.
Maenadism is thus better understood as a gendered representative of the
profound philosophical and theological exploration made by the Greeks of
forces that imposed themselves upon human experience and exceeded the
grasp of rational understanding. Dodds describes four types of divine
madness, as elucidated by Socrates in the Phaedrus, to support his claim
that the Greeks were involved in rigorous and creative investigations of the
divine interventions that aected their lives irrationally: () Prophetic mad-
ness, whose patron God is Apollo; () Telestic or ritual madness, whose pa-
tron is Dionysus; () Poetic madness, inspired by the Muses; and () Erotic
madness, inspired by Aphrodite and Eros.
37
These distinctions can be read
as evidence that the Greek horizon exceeded anthropologistic limits. This
is not to say that intellectual challenges to religion were inconsequential but
rather to indicate that a longstanding philosophical tradition existed that
engaged seriously in an eort to comprehend extrahuman interventions into
daily life. In the context of Greek popular religion in general, the Pythia,
the sybils, and maenadism indicate the gendered power, the instrumental
agency, of possessed Greek women, who were vulnerable to, but therefore
made powerful by, the intrusions of forces far beyond the control of ratio-
nal masculinity.
38
Women on Stage
The relationship of Athenian women to dramatic representations of women
on the Athenian stage is anomalous. In Foleys eort to devise a methodol-
ogy sucient for relating theatrical depictions of women to the actual lives
of Athenian women she uses the Bacchae as an example because it raises so
many questions about womens power and about Euripides intentions with
regard to representing women. Athenian women had few legal rights and
were largely excluded from economic or political social interaction, but they
gured prominently as characters in Athenian theater. Foley describes the
dramatic dierence between what we can discern about womens lives and
the theatrical representations of women: While women in daily life appear
to have been conned to the internal spaces of the household, to public si-
lence, and to non-participation in the political life of Athens, women play
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
an exceptionally prominent role in drama. They speak for themselves, lay
claim to a wide-ranging intelligence, criticize their lot, and inuence men
with their rhetoric. They leave the household and even take action in the
political sphere denied to them in life. She suggests two sources for the
representation of strong female characters. First is the mythological tradi-
tion, whose inherited plots emphasize intrafamilial crises. Second, The
informal power that women exercise within the domestic sphere should not
come as a surprise in any culture.
39
But, she concludes, neither of these
suggestions suciently explains why the role of women in Athenian tragedy
often transformed the received myth and expanded upon womens agency
in such a public setting.
Ruth Padel argues that possessed women were a powerful symbolic gure
in myth, literature, and drama, representing a male fantasy that associated
women with dark, inner spaces. Athenian males in particular were preoccu-
pied with increasing their empire, possessing foreign lands, and constraining
their women to the oikos. Padel proposes that the symbolic association of
women with possession exemplies several of Greek males greatest fears:
losing control of their women, losing control of themselves, and being in-
vaded. She argues that representations of possessed women served their
eort to control women in social life and cult. In reference to The Bacchae
she argues that the very presence of the maenads on stage (rather than in-
side, where they should be) indicate(s) something wrong in the state of
Thebes. The ultimate purpose for employing possessed women, she ar-
gues, is that they speak best to humanitys condition. Women are the pos-
sessed; natural victims in the human system, as humanity is the natural vic-
tim in the divine world. A ctive female voice can most sharply express
the pain and resentment against the apparently unjust system productive of
such pain.
40
Though the symbol might be a powerful symbol relating to all of human-
ity, her nal analysis is pessimistic regarding the emancipatory potential of
possessed women when they are employed symbolically by Greek authors,
especially tragedians. She speculates that womens suering is used by the
Greek tragedians to exploit misogynist sentiment and that the continuing
success of tragedy should be analyzed for its reproduction of fantasies of
womens suering: Female suering, within the male system, is a useful
Play(s)
tragic instrument. . . . This instrument is used by a male dramatist aiming
exclusively at male sensibilities, meaning to write a good play and gain the
prize. His aim is not to emancipate contemporary women, but to nd a
useful image of suering: not so much imaginative sympathy with, as liter-
ary exploitation of, womens victimized position. Female gures in tragedy
are there partly as a natural site for inner pain, a social and sexual emblem
of private parts (Blair, ) suering invasion, human and daemonic, by
the outer world.
41
From Padels perspective, we should be very suspicious
of the way that Euripides has employed the gure of Agave.
In a related argument, Zeitlin argues that Greek tragic theater uses the
feminine for the purposes of imagining a fuller model for the masculine self,
and playing the other opens that self to those often banned emotions of fear
and pity. She looks specically to The Bacchae as a paradigmatic example of
playing the other: [T]he fact that Pentheus dons a feminine costume and
rehearses in it before our eyes exposes perhaps one of the most marked fea-
tures of Greek theatrical mimesis: that men are the only actors in this civic
theater; in order to represent women on stage, men must always put on a
feminine costume and mask. What this means is that it is not a woman who
speaks or acts for herself and in herself on stage; it is always a man who
impersonates her. According to Zeitlin, however, the ramications of
playing the other are not very signicant for altering perceptions of or
attitudes toward women: Women as individuals or chorus may occupy cen-
ter stage and leave a far more indelible emotional impression on their spec-
tators than do their male counterparts (as does Antigone, for example, over
Kreon). But functionally women are never an end in themselves, and nothing
changes for them once they have lived out their drama on stage. Rather,
they play the roles of catalysts, agents, instruments, blockers, spoilers, de-
stroyers, and sometimes helpers or saviors for the male characters. When
elaborately represented, they may serve as antimodels as well as hidden
models for that masculine self . . . and concomitantly, their experience of
suering or their acts that lead them to disaster regularly occur before and
precipitate those of men.
42
Zeitlin argues that womens roles functioned instrumentally for the male-
centered story lines of Athenian tragedy. Like Padel she levels her critique
at all tragedy. If, however, the Greek model of subjectivity is such that both
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
men and women are understood to be catalysts, agents, and instruments,
then the question might be whether any characters are functionally an end
in themselves. Perhaps Padels point is well taken herethat the possessed
woman speaks best for humanitys instrumental condition. Instrumentality
itself is being dramatized in the play in at least two distinct forms: the Asi-
atic maenad chorus and the possessed Thebans (including Agave and Pen-
theus). Dierent kinds of instrumental agency produce dierent kinds of
results. The role of the Asiatic maenads could hardly be equated with the
role of the Theban women, whose function in the play is much more similar
to that of Pentheus.
It has been argued that Euripides was writing to transgress and challenge
Athenian gender politics. Zeitlin credits Euripides in general with having
greater interest in and skill at subtly portraying the psychology of female
characters.
43
In her article Euripides the Misogynist? Jennifer March
studies three of Euripides plays to support her claim that he was not a mis-
ogynist, but rather that his innovations on traditional myth were centered
on his female characters;
44
thus he was introducing women as levers of
innovation in the religious imagination. She suggests that Euripides intro-
duced the innovation of the death of Pentheus at the hands of his mother
in order to intensify a myth that depicted the struggle between physis and
nomos (the terms of a familiar debate among the Sophists) by forcing the
ultimate breakdown in civilization, a mother tearing apart her son. She ar-
gues that he does so not to reinforce misogyny but rather in order to concen-
trate on Agaves brave acknowledgment of human frailty as she comes to
recognize her role in Pentheuss death.
45
Foley examines Euripides innovation on the myth of Pentheuss death
as his statement against dichotomous thinking and against the polarity
woman : nature :: male : culture.
They [the maenads] play the roles of hunters and nurturersthey give their breasts
to wild animalssimultaneously. They drink raw milk, and wine, Dionysus gift to
culture. But does Agaves fantasy that she has become a successful hunter pose a
greater threat than Pentheus partially willing transformation into a woman? Why is
woman most dangerous when she becomes a man? Does the dangerous transforma-
tion reect more on women than on men? Are we to interpret this transformation as
a reection of womens repressed and undervalued status in Greek society, which
Play(s)
results in a state of trance and in an absorption of the qualities of the dominant group?
Or is Euripides also consciously exploiting and subverting a set of cultural assump-
tions about sex roles and their place in the cultural system? That is, when Dionysus
removes normal cultural limits, we confront the ways in which cultural norms warp
and dangerously conne human beings of both sexes, and create cultural instabil-
ities.
46
Foley goes on to state, however, It is dicult to be certain whether the play
challenges or reinforces those distinctions which culture makes in establish-
ing its dierences from nature. . . . The nature/culture dichotomy certainly
reveals something important about the way women are envisioned in the
Bacchae. But by itself it only illuminates assumptions that the play seems to
throw into question.
47
Drawing from Michelle Rosaldos formulation that female is to domestic
as male is to public, Foley documents the shifting relationships between
oikos and polis at the close of the fth century in Athens and proposes that
drama was the place where societal tensions created by these changes were
acted out. Thus, multiple female characters who play masculinized roles
and the multiple male characters who initiate womens rebellions can be
understood as signiers that Athenians were uneasy with the nuclear family
of the new oikos in contrast to their previous system of clan-based society.
48
In the larger context of Greek dramas, Euripides not only wrote a play
where female characters played masculinized roles (Agave claimed her
prowess as a hunter) and where men precipitated womens rebellions (when
Pentheus or his men intruded upon the maenads they were transformed
from bucolic to violent). Euripides Bacchae might reect a male fantasy that
reproduces exploitative representations of possessed women for the purpose
of maintaining an ideological imperative to control women. It certainly did
not function like an act of legislation designed to increase womens rights,
and there was no visible consequence regarding womens access to economic
or political power after its production. However, several elements of the play
that have troubled previous interpreters relate directly to the interpretation
of the agency of possessed women. The problem for interpretation is that
Euripides constructed complex and compelling representations of pos-
sessed women that cannot be interpreted according to a model of subjectiv-
ity that equates agency with agents of social change or that interprets agency
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
according to a passive-active dichotomy.
49
Focusing on the maenad chorus
and their exchanges with the possessed Agave I will argue that there are
important dierences in the kinds of instrumentality the women exercise,
which Euripides has masterfully crafted in order to say to the Athenian au-
dience what they know but cannot see.
Euripides constructed two categorically dierent types of possessed
women: the Asiatic chorus and the Theban maenads. One might fruitfully
argue that Pentheus represents a third type of possessed woman, but my
greater interest is to study the chorus and Agave, neither of which have
received as much scholarly attention as has Pentheus. The maenad chorus
has a terrible power in this play, which has troubled most interpreters who
have by and large described them as irrational or primitive in their ultimate
celebration of Dionysuss triumph. It is arguable, however, that this chorus
functions traditionally as do other chorusesthey deliver the playwrights
most important messages. Drawing from Arthurs innovative analysis of the
chorus, it becomes clear that one of the things that other interpreters of the
play have evaluated negatively is womens assumption of religious power,
which they acquired through their receptivity to Dionysiac intrusion.
Arthur charts the transformation of the maenad chorus from the rst par-
odos, which emphasizes the happiness and joy of being Bacchants, through
four stasimons, which progressively align the Bacchants with Dionysuss
power to exact revenge, to the fth choral ode, which celebrates Pentheuss
bloody death. Following the progression from the quietistic rhetoric of the
prologue through their themes of escape in the early stasimons and culmi-
nating in their growing assumption of power as they realize they are in
league with a victor who can crush his enemies, her analysis nds that a
meaningful and symbolic transformation is occurring that is directly related
to their agency.
Arthur argues that throughout the play the maenads are concerned that
their thoughts and actions be wise. It is the quality of the wisdom that
changes, not their attitude. The qualitative change is one whereby at rst
they counsel that it is wise to keep ones heart and mind / away from in-
temperate men (), but gradually they increase in hostility toward
those who do not share their wisdom. The chorus of the third stasimon
celebrates the wisdom of vengeance: What is wisdom? Or what more beau-
tiful prize / do the gods grant to mortals / than to hold the hand in strength
Play(s)
above the head / of ones enemies? / What is lovely is always dear (
). Arthur states: As the chorus had identied themselves with Dionysus
in his rejection by Thebes [antistrophe of the second stasimon], so now they
come to realize that they share in his power. And the new power which they
feel is theirs eects an enormous change in their attitude.
50
In the rst cho-
ral ode, they conclude with the following simile: And then, like a colt be-
side its grazing mother, / the Bacchant runs and gambols for joy ().
In the epode of the second stasimon they refer to the riches that Dionysus
brings to the land of horses (). In the third stasimon they compare
themselves to a fawn who escapes from the hunter by leaping over a river
and into freedom, and they follow this imagery with the chorus noted above
(), indicating that once they have crossed the stream, they are identi-
fying with the hunter rather than the hunted. That which is lovely is not
passive, nor is it submissive, but instead deardemanding a price. By the
fourth stasimon, they begin by beckoning the hounds of Lyssa, and their
chorus is a violent demand for vengeance: Let justice show herself clearly,
let her carry a sword / and thrust it through the throat / of the godless,
lawless, unjust / earthborn child of Echion (). They have been
transformed from women who sang of eeing from their oppressors to
women who share in the power of Dionysus to demand vengeance. Because
they were receptive to Dionysus at the start, however, they do not enact
vengeance; they only demand that it be seen.
When Agave nally enters the stage carrying the head of her son whom
she believes to be a lion cub, she engages in a dialogue with the Asiatic
maenads. In this scene Euripides wields two types of possessed women to
an almost unbearable eect. When Agave enters the stage, the chorus main-
tains its distinction from her, though she is not aware that it is doing so.
Here comes Agave running home. Look at her eyes: shes mad ().
An ironic dialogue ensues between the maenads ():
Agave: Our hunt was lucky, now lets feast! And share!
Leader: Share what with you, woman.
Agave: This bull! Hes young. Blooming!
Feel his thick wavy mane.
It crowns him and blends
with the soft down under his jaw.
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
Leader: He is a beast, to judge by that hair.
Agave: That priest of Bakkhos
tracked him for usO he was wise!
then signaled our attack.
Leader: Our leader knows how to hunt.
Agave: Are you still praising me?
Leader: You can take it for that.
Arthurs argument begins to give meaning to what has been described oth-
erwise as cruel and gratuitous irony. The chorus is exercising the power
that it shares with its god to see truth. Its irony is pointing toward a truth
that Agave cannot yet see, though her words betray the truth she does not
see when she compares the lion cub to an ephebe with soft down under his
jaw. Through its questions, the chorus, most likely composed of ephebes,
allows Agave to declare that the sacrice of Thebes (dramatic foil for Ath-
ens) is an ephebe (the young men training to be soldiers to carry on the
Peloponnesian War). Recalling again Zeitlin and Winklers arguments that
the theater provided a place for the city to reect upon itself, Agaves re-
sponse at this climactic moment of the play encompassed a truth so awful
(we are killing our sons and proudly displaying them) that only a possessed
woman could deliver the lines in response to the probing questions of the
maenad chorus.
Though the chorus functions traditionally in Greek tragedy as the
mouthpiece for the playwright, many scholars have been troubled by the
growing power of this chorus, interpreting its celebration of vengeance as a
bad and inconsistent force, a chaotic, blind force. In his analysis of Agaves
dialogue with the maenad chorus studied above, R. P. Winnington-Ingram
claims that the chorus is partaking in a devilish play and that it employs
cruel and gratuitous irony. He argues this to support his claim that Eurip-
ides was surely anti-Dionysus and that the plays ambivalence arises only
because he employs irony so thickly throughout the play. Of the maenads,
Winnington-Ingram states: They know Dionysus indeed as the author and
sharer of their joys, their peace and their frenzy, but how he works in the
world they cannot see, for their view is deliberately restricted to the appetite
and emotion of the moment; they are blind, like the blind forces of nature
Play(s)
they so closely resemble.
51
But, clearly and consistently through their odes
they can see more clearly than the Thebans in either their unpossessed state
(epitomized by Pentheus in the early scenes) or in their possessed state
(epitomized by Agave). The Asiatic chorus maintains not only an ability to
see the truth but also an ability to understand the limits of its power: the
maenads understand the power of instrumental agency.
Dodds argues (and Arthur disagrees) that the chorus functions as a back-
drop for the action of the play, delivering commentary on what has hap-
pened and what will happen next.
52
He does note that Euripides makes a
deliberate return to a grave semi-liturgical style, which is in stark contrast
to maenadic enthusiasm, and oers the following analysis: This severity of
form seems to be deliberate: it goes beyond what the conditions of the the-
ater enforced. And in fact the plays tremendous power arises in part from
the tension between the classical formality of its style and structure and the
strange religious experiences which it depicts
53
Arthurs improvement over
Dodds is to explore the ideas presented in the strange religious experience
and to demonstrate that, in part, what Dodds has described as strange is
that women were assuming power through their permeability to divine pen-
etration.
Hans Oranje reads the choral odes as evidence that there are two dramas
being enacted in the play, a liberation drama and a vengeance drama, and
that the chorus delivers the nal exposition of these dramas. (A similar ar-
gument made by Dodds, that the chorus expounds on what happens, con-
trasts with Arthur, who argues that the chorus delivers its own related but
separate ideas.) [T]he liberation drama in the Bacchae is sealed by the
chorus invoking the god in their song to come from distant space to Thebes
to free his thiasos from the grip of oppression (;;): and the fulllment
of the divine vengeance is portrayed in the chorus vision of Pentheus jour-
ney to Cithaeron (;;o), in the prayer to the god to appear as a bull, a snake,
or a lion, and to cast his deadly net round Pentheus with a smile (ror8:),
and in the dance of joy for Agave and her gruesome prize (rro).
54
As an example of the mood of liberation, which he argues it is the
choruss function to create, he cites the song of freedom (rrrr::); how-
ever, the song of freedom is replete with paradoxical expressions of freedom
and the necessity of tradition and law (rr8r:o). The Gods work
slowly, / but you can trust them / their power breaks all / mad arrogant
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
men / who love foolishness / and pay no mind to the gods / but the gods
are devious / and in no hurry / they put / an impious man at his ease,
then / hunt him down. / Therefore: / Let no one / do or conceive / any-
thing / the ancient law forbids. / It costs little to believe, / that, whatever
divinity is, / it is power; / it costs little to believe those laws / which time
seasons, strengthens / and lets stand / such laws are Nature herself /
coming to ower. Oranje claims that the Asiatic maenads think in black
and whitea problematic claim given their ability to reveal and conceal
the truths of Dionysiac possession.
55
He then describes several instances in
which the chorus speaks paradoxically. That they speak in paradox contra-
dicts his claim that they think in black and white; thus, Oranjes analysis
fails in its dichotomous structures. Liberation for the maenads is not the
opposite of captivity. They may have escaped from their looms, but they are
possessed and they describe this condition as sweet work.
Oranje argues that the maenad chorus sets the mood for the second
drama of vengeance and reads their later odes as evidence of this. In line
with Arthur, however, I would disagree that the chorus is merely a backdrop
for the plot of the story; instead, it presents important ideas and its transfor-
mation is itself important. Though the maenads identify themselves with
the power of the victor to demand vengeance, they do not precipitate it. In
contrast to Agave they say, though I might join that hunt / my hearts not
in itits in hunting what I see / clearlythose great obvious things /
which make our lives graceful, / worth living / Day and night / to love
the gods we hold in awe, / to defend every age-old truth, / and forget all
the rest (). Of her hunt they proclaim, Vengeance! bring it out /
into the open / where every one of us may see: / with your righteous
sword / cut this godhaters / throat (). They identify them-
selves with the power to exact vengeance; they describe their hunt as a hunt
for what they can see clearly and for vengeance to be seen in its horrible
truth. Arthurs analysis demonstrates that women, exercising religious
power, can make sense, can see clearly, and can be speaking important ideas.
The receptivity to forces that are greater than human reason gives them the
wisdom to live in a relationship with the past (symbolized as Semeles sacred
and forgotten tomb) and the future (symbolized by the banishment from
Thebes of its aristocratic line). Such a challenge was facing the Athenian au-
dience.
Play(s)
The irony is tortuous and indicates how Euripides used two dierent
kinds of possessed women to heighten what Zeitlin describes as a key to
understanding tragedydiscrepant awareness: Tragedy is the art form,
above all, that makes the most of what is called discrepant awarenesswhat
one character knows and the other doesnt, or what none of the characters
knows but the audience does. Thus it is that irony is tragedys characteristic
trope; several levels of meaning operate at the same time. Characters speak
without knowing what they say, and misreading is the typical and predict-
able response to the various cues that others give.
56
What is unique to this play is the extent to which discrepant awareness
is employedand in fact it is the very nature of the possessed woman, who
is not where she is speaking, to evoke such a critical level of discrepant
awareness. A conscious woman could not carry the head of her child onto
the stage, and only a possessed woman could do so taking notice of his
downy whiskers without realizing what she was seeing and saying. The au-
dience is implicated in the choruss overdetermined and ironic dialogue be-
cause they too know what Agave does not know.
The maenad chorus functions as the mouthpiece for Euripides message,
as is traditional for the chorus, but it could never deliver the message as
powerfully as it does without the alternative maenad, Agave. Through this
dialogue, Euripides extended the audiences experience of knowing what
Agave did not know consciously but which her words betrayed; that she was
instrumental in exacting one of the most cruel and extreme punishments
ever depicted in Greek tragedy. If we think of this in terms of the metaphor
of ute and hammer, it was because Agave was rigid and unreceptive to the
wisdom of Dionysus that she could be wielded like a hammer. Agave is used
in this play like a hammer that delivers a blow of which it is unaware. The
chorus, who was receptive to Dionysus, is more exible and could not have
been wielded with such forcenor could it have delivered as powerful a
message without her. Their receptivity allowed the maenads to walk be-
tween the world of Dionysus and Agave, torquing the already tragic scene
with the power they had been awarded through their receptivity.
In the nal scene, Agaves transformation makes a nal statement for
Euripides. In contrast to the peripeteia of the play (in which Pentheus slides
into Dionysiac possession as he dons womens attire) is the moment when
Agave comes back to her senses (Agave returns from her delusion of hunt-
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
ing prowess to clear perception). Through the gentle but persistent ques-
tioning of her father, Agave comes to realize that the young lion whose head
she proudly displays as her trophy is actually her son, murdered by her.
She asks, Who killed him? How did he come into my hands? She cannot
remember what occurred during her possession, though she was used by
Dionysus to force a communal remembering of the god Dionysus. She then
asks, But what part had Pentheus in my madness?
57
I am selecting Vella-
cotts translation of line that is otherwise translated by Bagg as Why
was Pentheus punished for my crime? because the rst translation raises at
least two questions. Agave is asking why Pentheus was punished so brutally
for her failures to honor sister and god, but she is simultaneously asking a
broader question: How was Pentheus, ruler of Thebes, responsible for the
folly (in contrast to wisdom) that ultimately led to his own death? Looking
to Cadmuss response, we see that this is not Agaves crime, but their com-
munal crime against the god: Like you, he mocked and enraged the god
(). Agave was used as an individual body, not an individual, to redress
a communal disorder.
58
In the plays conclusion we are left with an exiled woman given no desti-
nation and no closure. To Cadmus, Dionysus proclaims a dire prophecy in
which Cadmus and his wife will become serpents and will wreak havoc upon
the Greek homelands but will eventually be spared and spirited to the Is-
lands of the Blest. Cadmus says to Agave, Nor can I tell you, child / where
exile must take you. / Your father is too weak to help (). He ad-
vises her to hide in the mountains. And though she may go to the mountains,
there is one mountain to which she will never go, because her subjectivity
becomes an object in its shadow: Lead me away from Cithaeron / I hate
to look at that mountain, / I dont want it to see me! (). She and
her aristocratic sisters are going nowhere to be no one together, apart from
their lineage and unable to continue the lineage. The traditional role of the
woman is denied; patriarchys desire (as symbolized by Pentheus) has been
refused.
The maenad chorus has the last words in a city that was literally about
to fall to Sparta: The gods can do anything / They can frustrate / what-
ever seems certain, / and make what no one wants / all at once come true! /
Today, this god has shown it all (). Unlike the tragic instrumental-
ity experienced by Agave, the Asiatic maenads have done sweet work for the
Play(s)
god through their words but not their deeds. In their identication with the
power of Dionysus, they are not speaking as moral agentsthat was not an
option open to women. Rather, through their instrumental agency, they de-
liver a moral to the community.
The encounter between the two types of maenads forces the interpreta-
tion of their actions beyond the category of individual agents and beyond
notions of proper female religious bodies if we are to understand their
strange religious experience(s).
59
Maenads, gendered subjects within pa-
triarchal Greek culture, are individual bodies but not individual agents.
Through their instrumental agency rather than through them as agents, Eu-
ripides delivered two messages: the message of the chorus, receptive to Dio-
nysus, to honor their gods and remember their dead; and the message of
Agave, unreceptive to Dionysus and overtaken more forcefully, brandishing
the sacrice of the lion cub that bears the whiskers of an ephebe.
S. Ansky, The Dybbuk
Synopsis
This play proceeds in four acts to tell the tale of two young Hasidic Jews,
Leah and Khonon, drawn together by a sacred vow made by their fathers.
60
As young husbands, Sender and Nissen vowed to arrange a marriage be-
tween their children should one have a boy and one a girl, but Nissen moved
away and died before either man realized that the vow needed to be honored
because a daughter, Leah, had been born to Sender, and a son, Khonon,
had been born to Nissen.
The play is set in the shtetl where Leah, her grandmother Frade, and her
father Reb Sender live. Leahs mother died when she was an infant. Reb
Sender engrossed himself in building his fortunes, leaving the work of car-
ing for Leah to her grandmother Frade. Khonon is a newcomer to town
who has immersed himself in study at the yeshiva. He has wandered to this
town from afar with no known family ties. Unbeknownst to Sender, Khonon
is the hoped-for boy and therefore betrothed to Leah. Reb Sender is com-
pelled by a haunting concern for the poor young Khonon and invites him
to share meals regularly, though he remains unaware of Khonons identity.
Khonon and Leah fall deeply in love during these encounters. Reb Sender,
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
however, has already entered into negotiations with another prosperous
family to betroth his daughter. Neither Leah nor Khonon openly express
their love and desire for marriage; Khonon knows that he is too poor, and
Leah is a good daughter who does not consider disobeying her father.
The rst act focuses on Khonon and takes place in the synagogue where
Khonon directs his ascetic devotions to any of the mystical forces that will
help him to marry Leah. Contemplating the Holy Ark he says: One, two,
three, four, ve, six, seven, eight, nine scrolls . . . they add up to the numeri-
cal values of emes, truth. And every scroll has four wooden handles that we
call the trees of life . . . again thirty-six! Not an hour goes by that I dont
come across that number. I dont know what it means, but I feel that it con-
tains the essence of the matter, the truth that I seek. Thirty-six is the nu-
merical value of the letters in Leahs name. Khonon adds ups to three times
thirty-six. But Leah also spells not God, not through god. (Shudders)
What a terrible thought! Yet how it draws me. Khonon argues with his
fellow students that [w]e need not wage war against sin, we need only to
purify it, which is what he attempts to do with his love for Leah, cleansing
it from any sinful lust and transforming it into a transcendent love through
his fervent devotions and study.
Leah enters the synagogue with her grandmother, Frade, to view the
Holy Ark hangings in order to make new ones to honor her mothers yort-
sayt, the anniversary of her death. In order to kiss the scrolls before leaving,
Leah must walk past Khonon as she goes to the Ark. The caretaker holds
the scroll for her to kiss. She embraces it and presses her lips close, kissing
it with passion. Her grandmother reacts saying, Enough, my child,
enough! A brief kiss is all one may give the scroll. Torah scrolls are written
in black re on white re! The women leave and Khonon sings the Song
of Songs. Reb Sender then enters at the end of the act to announce that
nally, after many thwarted attempts, he has betrothed his daughter. A joy-
ful drink is shared between the yeshiva students until it is realized that Kho-
non has fallen to the ground, killed by the news.
In act the focus is on Leah, whose heart is aching at both the loss of
Khonon and her impending marriage. While dancing with the poor people
in town, part of a customary feast for the poor that is thrown by the wealthy
on the occasion of a wedding, she is overcome by an ecstatic experience (g.
.). When she revives she reports to Frade: They held me, they sur-
Play(s)
Figure .. A still from Michael Waszynskys lm The Dybbuk based on the play. Here
we see Leah, played by Lili Liliana, during the dance with the beggars when she is swept
up by Khonons spirit. It was her encounter with him at the graveyard and then during
this dance that allows him to possess her and prevent the marriage from taking place.
rounded me, they pressed themselves against me and pushed their cold, dry
ngers into my esh. My head swam; I grew faint. Then someone lifted me
high into the air and carried me far, far away. This experience provides her
with the courage to speak to Frade about the souls of the too-soon de-
parted. Frade is frightened and amazed at Leahs bold talk about spiritual
matters. God help you, child! What are you talking about? Souls? What
souls? Leah speaks of souls only to Frade, saying nothing to her father
when he enters.
Before she can meet the bridegroom, Leah must invite her deceased
mother to the wedding. Frade accompanies her to the graveyard. Leah also
wants to invite Khonon. Frade does not want her to but relents.
Frade (in a low, frightened voice): Oh, my child, I am afraid! They say he died a ter-
rible death. (Leah cries quietly.): Dont cry, you can invite him, only dont cry. I will
take the sin on myself.
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
They return late from the graveyard; Frade says to Leahs companions,
She fell into a faintit was all I could do to revive her. Im still shaking.
They proceed to the awaiting wedding party.
When her bridegroom places the veil on Leahs head she tears it o,
jumps up, pushes him away, and cries out, You are not my bridegroom!
She falls upon the grave of two lovers
61
and beseeches their help, then sud-
denly with wild eyes begins speaking in the voice of a man.
Leah (dybbuk): Ah! Ah! You have buried me! but I have returned to my promised
bride and will not leave her!
(Nahman [father of the groom] goes to Leah; she shouts at him: Murderer!)
Nahman: She is mad!
Messenger: A dybbuk has entered the body of the bride.
62
The scene concludes with the messengers prescient testament.
The third act takes place at the Miropolye temple, where a powerful Ha-
sidic rabbi lives, Reb Azriel, to whom Sender brings his daughter.
63
Upon
hearing that Sender has arrived begging for help he says, as if to himself:
To me? To me? How could he have come to me when the me in me is no
longer here?
Sender and Frade enter the rebbes room. Leah remains at the door in
spite of their nervous gesticulations urging her to enter the presence of the
powerful rebbe. In an obedient voice Leah says that she is trying to enter
but cannot. Reb Azriel commands her to come in. She crosses the threshold
and sits dutifully, then suddenly jumps up and storms at him with a mans
voice. The rebbe and dybbuk begin a circuitous dialogue, matching wits as
the dybbuk slowly reveals information about himself. The rebbe commands
him to leave the body of this maiden so that a living branch of the tree of
Israel will not wither and die. The dybbuk roars back that he must stay with
Leah or else his anguished and harried soul will have no home, then begs
the rebbe to pity him. Reb Azriel does pity him but nevertheless gathers a
minyan to ask their blessings as he exhorts the spirit to leave. The dybbuk
makes deant challenges to the rabbi and appeals to his sense of justice with
sophisticated religious argumentation.
This scene exemplies the transgressive and conservative dimension of
the possession. As the instrumental agency for Khonon, Leah is found in
Play(s)
the center of a male sacred space (the minyan) making religious arguments
and defying the authority of the rebbe. Nevertheless, none of the other char-
acters attributes this power to her, and in no way does her speaking challenge
gendered Hasidic doctrines regarding womens spiritual authority.
The dybbuk is strong enough to withstand the prayers of the minyan, so
the rebbe dismisses Leah from the room and prepares the men of the minyan
for an excommunication ceremony. The messenger reminds the rebbe that
the chief rabbi, Reb Shimson, needs to be called to give his consent for this
critical procedure. When Reb Shimson arrives, he intercedes on behalf of
Nissen and Khonon instead. He recounts that the previous night he saw
Nissen ben Rivke, Khonons deceased father, in his dreams. Nissen ap-
peared three times in his dream, demanding that the rabbi bring Sender
before a rabbinic court. Reb Azriel agrees to hold the trial for Nissen and
calls Leah back into the room. Without telling either the dybbuk or Leah
about the dream or the trial, he tells the dybbuk that he has one day to leave
her body. Leah is left frightened and confused. Grandma, I am afraid.
What will they do to him? What will they do to me? Her confusion indi-
cates her gendered location in the discourse of the rabbis. Though she is
carrying Khonons soul, her absence from the discussion between Reb
Shimson and Reb Azriel indicates that the ocial transactions are being
argued between men, dead and living (Nissen and Sender) as facilitated by
the powerful rebbe. Leah is not told of the new turn of events (the rabbinic
court) and is not invited to the rabbinic court in which men will hear the
charges of the dead man against her father.
In act , the synagogue is prepared with a curtain behind which Pure
Dead Nissens soul is commanded to reside. Pure Dead Nissens speech is
not heard but is translated by Reb Shimson. Only the slightest movements
of the curtain indicate Nissens presence. We learn from Nissen that Sender
and he were best friends who betrothed their children should one have a
boy and one a girl. Nissen moved far away and then died soon thereafter.
Nissen charges that Sender has broken this vow against heaven, resulting
in Khonons death and leaving Nissen without heirs. Reb Shimson trans-
lates the otherwise inaudible voice of Nissen: Nissen ben Rivke states that
with his sons death he has been cut o from both worlds. Nothing remains
of him, neither name nor memory; there is no one to succeed him and no
one to recite the Kaddish on the anniversary of his death. His light has been
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
extinguished forever, the crown of his head has plunged into an abyss. He
therefore asks that the court sentence Sender, according to the laws of the
holy Torah, for spilling the blood of Nissens son and cutting o the family
line forever. (Fearful silence; Sender sobs.)
64
It is only through a male heir
that Nissen can have the Kaddish recited, and only a male heir is considered
to continue the family line. The problem that tears Nissens heart apart is a
problem based on patrilineality and the heightened evaluation of males in
the Jewish tradition. Wives and daughters are not bearers of the lineage,
other than literally, so that Nissens wife and daughters are insignicant to
his fate.
Sender replies that it is the duty of the grooms family to contact the
brides family and that Nissens family never notied him of the birth of a
son. Nissen counters by asking Sender why he never asked Khonons last
name or where Khonon was from, even though he had fed Khonon many
meals at his house. Nissen charges Sender with not wanting to know that
the poor boy was Nissens son in order that he could marry Leah to a wealth-
ier man. Sender sobs and replies that indeed he was drawn to the boy but
had no way of knowing. Silence follows. The rabbi passes judgment: since
the court does not know if the children were conceived at the time of the
vow, Sender is not guilty but must give half of his fortune to the poor and
perform the lifelong duty of reciting the mourners Kaddish for Nissen ben
Rivke and his son, just as if they were his own relations. Reb Azriel then
asks Nissen to forgive Sender and for Nissen to use his parental authority
to bid his son leave Leahs body so that a branch of the fruitful tree of
Israel will not wither. Reb Azriel asks the Almighty to shine his grace on
Nissen and Khonon.
Nissen, however, never acknowledges the rebbes judgment and leaves
from behind the curtain without saying an Amen, which makes the wit-
nesses of the court nervous. Immediately Azriel calls Leah into the room.
He commences with the exorcism, but still the dybbuk will not leave of his
own volition. Azriel resolves to excommunicate the dybbuk, thereby forcing
it out of her body. Leahs body thrashes about and screams as the dybbuk
ghts against the combined wills of the minyan. When nally the dybbuks
strength is gone and he submits to leave, Azriel revokes the excommunica-
tion, saving Khonons soul. Khonon asks for the mourners Kaddish, which
Sender is ordered to say. Leah faints.
Play(s)
The rabbi orders the wedding canopy to be set up, eager to have the
marriage commence, since Leah is so vulnerable in her weakened state to
further intrusions that would prevent her from marrying. Interventions
continue to upset Reb Azriels eorts; the grooms carriage has broken a
wheel and the groom can be seen walking, just in sight of the synagogue.
Leah asks her grandmother to rock her to sleep as the men leave to hasten
the groom to the canopy. Frade sings in a rhythmic chant but sings herself
to sleep instead. Leah then hears Khonon sigh, and they begin to speak.
Leah asks why he left her a second time, and he says that he broke every
law to try to stay with her but nally left her body in order to enter her soul.
Leah beckons to Khonon:
Return to me, my bridegroom, my husband. I will carry you in my heart, and in
the still of the night you will come to me in my dreams and together we will rock
our unborn babies to sleep. (Cries) Well sew little shirts for them, and sing them
sweet songs. (Sings, weeping)
Hushaby, my babies,
Without clothes, without a bed.
Unborn children, never mine, Lost forever, lost in time.
(A wedding march is heard; Leah shudders) They are about to lead me to the wed-
ding canopy to marry a stranger. Come to me, my bridegroom!
The play closes as Reb Azriel and the others enter to see Leahs gure melt-
ing into the glow of an embrace with Khonon. Sender too is left without
an heir.
Ansky wrote this play late in his career, in approximately , and never
saw it performed. When the Vilna Troupe performed it shortly after Anskys
death in to honor him, their production was so popular that it pro-
pelled them into international fame and became their signature perfor-
mance. Consistent with his later writings, it is an armation of Jewish
religious history and consistent with his reconversion to Judaism. The
popularity of the play and its subsequent adaptations into lm and ballet by
some of the most famous artists of the twentieth century indicate its ongoing
power to attract directors as well as audiences.
65
Writing at a time of intense
cultural transformations, Ansky constructed the role of a possessed Jewish
woman whose character has since become a profound representation of Jew-
ish identity who speaks powerfully to wider audiences.
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
Anskys life (r8or:o) is characteristic of the eastern European Jews
who critically embraced and transformed Jewish traditions. As a young man
Ansky was a self-identied critical realist who sought to undermine reli-
gious ideology while he tutored Jewish students, clandestinely bringing to
them the ideas of the Enlightenment.
66
Frustrated by Jewish rejection of his
ideas and writings, he then devoted his life, from the r88os until the early
roos, to the emancipation of the Russian narod (folk). Inuenced by theo-
rists of the Revolution such as the populist Peter Lavrov, Ansky was active
in the General Jewish Labor Bund in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia.
67
The
Jewish Labor Bund encompassed the spectrum of Jewish radicals, from
atheists to practicing Jews, and elements of traditional Jewish life, such as
the calendar of Jewish holidays, inuenced Bund activities.
Pressured by the continued force of anti-Semitism and pogroms, Ansky
intellectually engaged with Zionists who argued that Jews must have a
homeland in Palestine to end their exile and free them from persecution.
Always inuenced by Lavrovs universalism, Ansky nevertheless was feeling
the inuence of growing Jewish nationalism, which he directed toward the
emancipation of the Jewish folk.
68
Between the years ror, when he read
I. L. Peretzs collected writings in Yiddish, and ro, when he met with
Zionist youth groups in Geneva, his energies were redirected to record the
history of his people and to further their freedom and rights. He conceived
of the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition, which he directed from rr: to
rr, gathering thousands of photographs, folk tales and legends, folk
songs, and Purim plays, hundreds of historical documents, manuscripts, and
sacred objects. By devoting his energy to the scholarly study of Jewish folk
culture, Ansky was able to pursue the life of a revolutionary without re-
jecting the religious tradition of his people.
Wherever The Dybbuk was performed it was received with wild acclaim
or censorious critique. Roskies describes the extremes of public response:
No Jewish drama was ever more popularor controversial. . . . Habimah,
the Hebrew repertory company founded in Moscow, made theater history
with its expressionist decor and grotesque staging, which it has since pre-
served as a living memorial. The unprecedented furor over a mere folk play
soon had professional critics in Poland and Palestine up in arms. Pseudo-
art! screamed the title of M. Vanvilds book-length diatribe against the Yid-
dish productions, its philistine audience, and its deluded admirers. In Tel
Play(s)
Aviv the recently imported Hebrew production was put on trial in and
convicted of being a pastiche of legendary, realistic and symbolist ele-
ments.
69
Judaisms concern with iconography and idolatry created a suspicion to-
ward theater expressed in the rst-century prayer I thank Thee, my Lord,
that I spend my time in the temples of prayer instead of in theaters.
70
Espe-
cially problematic from an Orthodox perspective was a woman on stage.
The stage provoked objections because of the idolatry and immoral acts
associated with it, and because of Judaisms injunctions against a female
voice being heard publicly and men impersonating women by donning their
apparel.
71
Hasidic Jews in Poland angrily boycotted its performance, in-
dicating that they were not ready for this representation of a female Jewish
role.
72
Anskys rigorous research into the lives of his people and his accurate
and sympathetic representation of a Yiddish woman served to inform the
modern public of the humanity of shtetl communities. Nevertheless, to
the Orthodox and Hasidic communities her popularity was a blasphemous
and heretical crisis.
The alternative title for this play is Between Two Worlds, which describes
many aspects of the historical context of the play as well as Anskys personal
history. Ansky lived most of his life in the Pale of Settlement, which was a
regional ghetto created by the czars. The Pale of Settlement can be pictured
as a band of land running between Europe and Russia from the Baltic Sea
to the Black Sea. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Romania bordered it on
the west. Jews were conned to living in this region. Only the wealthiest
Jews were allowed to live outside of the Pale, and those living inside it faced
taxation and restricted dwelling rights. Jews living in the Pale of Settlement
were tied closely to Russian history and culture, though the very existence
of this borderland indicated the tenuous relationship Jews had with non-
Jewish eastern Europeans. Intellectual and political movements such as the
Enlightenment and socialism were altered as they passed through the Pale
of Settlement. Hasidism, a pietistic movement within Judaism, took hold
throughout the area. It was a crucible of sorts in which Ansky lived for most
of his life except for a few years of living with activists in Paris and Swit-
zerland.
In the eighteenth century, no European country accepted Jews as full
citizens, though Germany oered a relatively welcoming environment.
73
It
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
was from Germany in the last decades of the eighteenth century that a criti-
cal movement among Jews arose: Haskalah (Hebrew) or haskole (Yiddish),
Enlightenment. Compelled by the philosophy, sciences, and literary criti-
cism of the Enlightenment, the maskilim (the enlightened ones), intellec-
tuals of the Haskalah, embarked upon the project of bringing Jews for-
ward into the Enlightenment. The Haskalah literature as a whole based
itself on the premise that the Jews, caught within the dreams of their old,
and by then archaic, cultural traditions of legal exegesis and kabbalistic mys-
ticism, had to be awakened, jolted if necessary, into facing up to present
social and cultural realities. They had to shake o their ostensible inertia
and actively join the progressive European community of the nineteenth
century.
74
Natural sciences, evolutionary theory, and physical sciences were
infusing the intellectual air with growing excitement, and Moses Mendels-
sohn is credited with leadership of the maskilim.
Geographical dierences between western and eastern Europe inu-
enced the way that Jewish identity was interpreted among the maskilim.
Western Jews, especially German Jews, desired citizenship in Germany and
assimilation. As the movement reached the Pale of Settlement, it was trans-
formed by the dierent needs and identications of the Jews who lived
there. In eastern Europe, regional identities were of greater importance and
national boundaries were in greater ux, so that a singular national identity
was not as important. As European cultural inuences moved eastward with
the industrial revolution reaching the Pale in the nineteenth century, the
Jews of the Haskalah in eastern Europe adopted a dierent approach and
turned their reforming energy toward creating a modern humanistic Jew
rather than turning themselves into national citizens.
75
Anskys work is ex-
emplary of the way that the eastern European Jews developed their particu-
lar world-view. Ansky wrote a hymn called The Oath in for the Bund
while he was its ocial poet. As described by Henry Tobias: The old revo-
lutionary circles had had their songs, of course; but now the singing of The
Oath was a ceremonial act, more akin to the Jewish religious ritual. The act
itself was an important symbol of internal discipline in a society [the Bund]
largely lacking external enforcement. To the workers, singing the hymn was
a solemn aair, to be performed with joined hands and even at times with
the sacred scroll of the law or the prayer shawl. For them, a simple descrip-
tion of class struggle did not suce as a declaration of faith.
76
The adoption
Play(s)
and use of Anskys hymn suggests that ritualization continued to work for
eastern European Jews who transformed rather than rejected those practices
that gave meaning to their experiences. Their religious bodies were engag-
ing in negotiations with Jewish tradition and socialist activism.
Gender was a primary eld of power relations identied by socialist the-
ory, but, as Irene Klepsz notes, the term maskil (singular form of maskilim)
was never used in Yiddish in relation to a woman. A woman could be the
mother, wife, and/or daughter of a maskil, but she herself was never de-
scribed as one.
77
Research into the lives of women involved in the Bund
produced this description of their struggles:
In a society where parental authority was great in any case, women led far more
restricted and regulated lives than men. It was not unusual by now for the daughters
of the assimilated bourgeoisie to attend state schools and universities. But among
lower-class Jewish families the very idea of educating women, beyond the minimum
need for prayer, was out of the question. In these families the break with the older
generation was excruciating. It is easy to imagine the shock of parents on learning
that their daughters had attended secret meetings late at night or on the Sabbath.
Home life was likely to prove bitter indeed for a young woman who joined the move-
ment. Arguments, if not beatings, were sure to follow once her aliation was discov-
ered. The gradual move toward the emancipation of women shook the very founda-
tion of Jewish social life.
78
As the move toward emancipation progressed, Jewish women involved in
socialist activism were caught in a double bind; the responsibilities included
in their new freedoms were added to their old responsibilities. Though
many maskilim and socialists promoted an agenda of radical egalitarianism,
women were not freed from traditional domestic responsibilities, nor did
they experience long-term socioeconomic increases in their power. The
male-dominated revolutionary leaders urged Jewish women to become ed-
ucated and many critiqued the compulsory roles of housewife and mother.
Radicals, whether Zionist or communist, though diering in how they inte-
grated women in their movements and in their vision of womens roles in
future societies, called on them to become politically and socially active,
and, in some cases, sexually liberated.
79
Ambivalence toward women, how-
ever, was manifest in many ways. In her short story Unchanged, Yente
Serdatzky writes of the abuse and confusion women experienced in the early
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
twentieth century as Jewish radicals encouraged womens sexual liberation
but simultaneously expected them to perform their prior duties as help-
mates for men.
80
Within and without traditional Jewish communities women
negotiated with systems of domination and subordination in the wake of
cultural transformations that held great promise of equality but depended
conservatively on their traditional free labor as mothers and wives.
Hasidism, a pietistic Jewish movement begun in eastern Europe in the
middle of the eighteenth century, is the second of the two worlds Ansky
lived between. Its founder, the Baal Shem Tov (BeShT or Besht,
), was a rabbi, kabbalist, and healer. In the collected tales of the Besht
he is seen to have performed his wonder in the uncertain and dangerous
areas of lifehealing the sick, exorcizing dybbuks (restless souls of dead
people), and helping barren women to bear children. Upon his death, his
disciples formed dynamistic courts and established distinctive patterns of
thought, feeling, worship, dress, and custom. These changes drew the Hasi-
dim apart from the followers of the more austere rabbinic tradition, and the
Hasidim formed separate congregations in villages and towns throughout
eastern and central Europe. The major focus of Hasidic belief concerned
the omnipresence of God in all things and the desire to attain unity with
the divine by intense concentration and the abandonment of self. Most
striking was the enthusiasm and the intensity which permeated their ac-
tions.
81
Hasidism was inuenced by Lurianic kabbalism, but whereas the Luria-
nic Kabbalah appealed primarily to an esoteric audience and to the more
learned, Hasidism had its impact among the masses. In Hasidism emphasis
was placed on the mystic in relation to the community and on the transfor-
mation of the mystic vision into living experience. The mystic visionary
became the Tsaddik (or Rebbe)the righteous leader of the community.
82
The Hasidic movement brought new life and democracy to the strained and
struggling rabbinic orthodoxy, and so rapidly became the most potent force
in the lives of the Jews of Eastern Europe.
83
Gender is a primary eld of power within Hasidism. The Hasidim were
a brotherhood whose teachings threatened the hierarchy of the rabbinic tra-
dition but did not challenge patriarchal spiritual authority.
84
Men did not
work because of the intensity and fervor with which a man should devote
himself to study. The three pillars of Hasidism are kavvanah (concentra-
Play(s)
tion), devekut (communion with God), and hitlahavut (enthusiasm),
85
but
these three pillars applied to the ritualization of mens religious lives. The
pious and righteous wives and mothers of the Hasidim were likely to pro-
vide a family income in addition to bearing and raising children. This cre-
ated a role for women in Hasidism that could be interpreted as uniquely
empowering or as uniquely oppressive. In the folk story The Wife of Abra-
ham, we see the role that wives and daughters held. Note that daughter
and mother are never named except by their association to Abraham. Mes-
sengers from a famous rabbi have traveled to arrange a marriage with Abra-
hams daughter.
After they [the messengers] rested from the journey, immediately after prayer, they
went to the house of the rabbi, our rabbi and teacher Faivel. It was the custom of
that rabbi not to trouble himself with the worldly problems of earning a living, but
instead to engage himself in studying the Torah the whole day and the night as well.
His wife was the one who had to concern herself with earning a livelihood. So when
they came to his house, his wife was returning from the synagogue, and she greeted
them and said: My brethren, where did you come from? They said: From the
holy community of Mezhirich. She said: What are you doing here? Do you have
some negotiation to arrange or something else? They told her the story. Our great
rabbi sent us to propose the marriage of your daughter and his son, who recently
became a widower. She laughed at them since she did not know the rabbi and had
never heard his name. Moreover, the girl was only twelve years old, and it had never
occurred to her to seek marriage proposals. After hearing the oer repeated many
times, the idea registered in her mind, and she said: Is not my husband, thank God,
in my house? Why should I concern myself with it? He will decide what is best.
86
The story goes on to describe how Rabbi Faivel agreed to the marriage and
that the messengers demanded that the contract be made ocial as of that
day, rather than allowing the girl the customary twelve months after be-
trothal. Faivel nally agreed but did not want to leave his studies, so he sent
the wife and daughter o. The wife had the freedom to travel without him,
but her freedom is dicult to distinguish from the obligation to do all that
Orthodox women did plus provide the labor power for economic exchanges.
It also does not appear that the daughters wedding holds enough spiritual
merit for Faivel to interrupt his studies to attend.
Interpreting the representations of females in this story is a complex is-
sue because those representations are the product of patriarchal systems of
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
textual production, which leaves one to read the silence of the other half
of the Kingdom.
87
The twelve-year-old daughter appears to function as an
exchangeable token between two famous rabbis; we get no sense of how the
mother feels about losing her daughter to marriage at such a young age and
so quickly or how the daughter feels. As Daniel Boyarin has argued, how-
ever, reading androcentric texts androcentrically is itself a repetition of era-
sure.
88
Reading against the grain of the androcentrism does not deny it but
capitalizes on the armation that behind these representations a daughter
and her mother negotiated this event as best they could, neither as heroes
nor as victims, for they were not autonomous agents within the patriarchal
system of Hasidism.
89
Dybbukim (plural of dybbuk), disembodied souls that possess humans and
in some cases animals or objects such as trees, exist within a Jewish tradition
of possession that is as old as the Hebrew Bible ( Sam. :) but is espe-
cially prevalent in Hasidism. The term dybbuk became popular and recog-
nizable due to the popularity of Anskys play but appears in Jewish literature
as early as the eighteenth century.
90
Academic literature on possession in
Judaism is not extensive.
91
It is primarily women who are possessed, which
surely contributes to this lacuna in scholarship. Scholarship is beginning to
address the gendered aspects of possession in Judaism, but as I will demon-
strate below the trend in scholarship is toward employing a modern social-
psychological model of subjectivity against which possessions are thought
of as evidence of deprivation.
92
After the late-fteenth-century expulsion of Jews from Spain, references
to possession increase among ocial and popular Jewish texts. Chajes ar-
gues in line with Scholem and Ruderman that the doctrine of the transmi-
gration of souls (Gilgul) gained increasing importance in early modern
Europe as Jews sought to reconcile their received tradition with their
experience of exile (Galut).
93
As Gilgul became of greater importance, the
Kabbalistic variation of Gilgul, ibur, gained importance. Ibur literally means
impregnation and denotes that one is impregnated with a possessing deity.
Ibur possessions occurred mostly in males and were highly valued. Iron-
ically, when women were possessed it was much less likely that they were
evaluated as being impregnated by a good spirit. Starting from the Hebrew
word for cleaving, clinging, or holding fast, Ashkenazic rabbis diagnosed
womens experiences as possessions by a disembodied soul, a dybbuk.
94
Play(s)
Evidence of the increased appearance of possession is found in a genre
of stories written from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centurydybbuk sto-
ries. R. Hayyim Vital, a student of R. Isaac Luria, was a recognized writer
of dybbuk stories in the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Chajes draws
from his writings to argue that a normative possession plot is at work in
dybbuk stories:
[T]he antagonist is a disembodied soul who has occupied the body of the victim with
the apparent goal of advancing his thus far unsuccessful attempt to gain admittance
to Gehennom. Gehennom, the Jewish Purgatory, rather than Hell, was a cleansing
ground for the polluted soul. There, after death, it could rid itself of the dross
accumulated over a lifetime of sin before taking its place in the World to Come. . . .
While this purgation was a painful one for the soul undergoing it, the alternative . . .
was immeasurably worse: to wander aimlessly, tormented and suering, without the
consolation that one was, in the process, earning forgiveness and solace. According
to Vital, souls in such a position at times overcome individuals, resulting in their pos-
session.
95
By possessing a human the disembodied soul was able to avoid the erce
tormenting he faced from angels who punished him relentlessly (most dyb-
bukim were males, and many of them were being punished for sexual trans-
gressions); also, the dybbukim could use the voice of the possessed person to
plead their case to the exorcizing rabbi, begging forgiveness and asking for
admission to Gehennom. The recent and extensive anthologizing of tradi-
tional dybbuk stories by Gedalyah Nigal indicates their increasing status as
a valuable genre of Jewish literature.
The dissemination of dybbuk stories is evident in the nineteenth century,
indicating an increased interest in possession. Chajes compares the sudden
concern with dybbukim in the European Jewish community to the coinci-
dence of the Christian Age of the Demonic, roughly the years
in Europe. Chajes argues that dybbuk stories are the product of rabbis who
were in need of strategies for competing with the pressure of Christian pop-
ulations (and their possessions). In his argument, the rabbis are invested
with the agency to employ the representations of the possessed women as
components, objects, of a larger social imagination. He asks, Could the
rabbis aord to be the only clergymen unable to perform exorcisms in a
period when the reality of possession was hardly doubted by even the most
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
scientic of men? And again, Rabbis may have sensed the power of pos-
session, both good and bad, to shore up their lagging image before the
public. Noting the general homiletic nature of the dybbuk stories, he pro-
poses that they were used as propaganda to combat skepticism and laxity
and to reinforce the doctrine of Gilgul. He concludes: Possession could
thus reinforce rabbinic authority by inculcating fear of sin as well as by dem-
onstrating the rabbis ability to exorcize, and, in cases of good possession,
by transforming them into angelic beings, their every word into a revelation.
While new revelation could challenge the status quo, I believe that the rabbis
knew, at some level, that the best response to this possibility was the very
appropriation of the phenomenon. They thus became masters of both its
ends: instruments of new revelation, i.e., good possession, and expert exor-
cisers of evil possession. The new revelation and exorcism could, in tan-
dem, function as an eective reinforcement of the status quo.
96
Chajess
analysis sounds very much like Firths discussion of possession in Malaysia
and Buchers discussion of possession in Zimbabwe: both wrote that sha-
mans appear to be masters of spirits to their people, but to us they appear
to be masters of people. By crediting the rabbis with the production of these
stories, the agency of the possessed women is lost. Chajess modern frame-
work (he has found human agents) erases the powerful alterity recounted
in the dybbuk stories.
The following excerpt of a dybbuk story is taken from a collection of ac-
counts surrounding the life of Rabbi Isaac Luria () and demon-
strates the negotiating strategies typical of dybbukim in their relationship to
host and rabbi. This dialogue is occurring between a possessed widow, an
innkeeper, and a doctor who was called before the rabbis were called:
Naomi, he [the doctor] said. Naomi. Can you hear me? The womans face began
to tighten, her eyes opened wider, and she grimaced as though in great pain. She
began to speak without moving her lips. The voice was that of a male. Fool! said
the voice. How dare you call me Naomi! Schmuel [the doctor] started back, almost
knocking into Reuben [the innkeeper]. My name is Ezra, not Naomi. Naomi is
merely my temporary dwelling place. Why do you stand there terried? Have you
lost the ability to speak? Schmuel and Reuben remained trembling near the door.
Dont worry. I wont hurt you, the voice went on. I am a soul in exile, doomed to
wander this world without a home. I have no intention of harming Naomi, or anyone
else. Believe me. But what am I to do? I have been sent back to this world without
a body.
97
Play(s)
The dybbuk goes on to recount a dream Reuben had the previous night in
which he stood up in synagogue to nd himself naked. The spirit laughs
riotously at this and tells Reuben that he is trying to be lofty without cloth-
ing himself in the fundamentals of Torah knowledge. The dybbuk goes on
to embarrass other onlookers with his insight into their private lives.
Rabbi Chaim Vital is called to the room and commands the dybbuk to
reveal his sins and also to reveal to the rabbi wisdom that the dybbuk has
acquired regarding death.
98
The dybbuk, Ezra, fathered many bastard chil-
dren during his lifetime. Having served his bodily desires in life, the dybbuk
found that his soul was still enslaved to his body upon death, unable to
ascend to heaven. Rabbi Vital discovers that the dybbuk entered when Naomi
uttered the name of Satan in anger, but that it was her loss of faith in general
that made her vulnerable to the dybbuks intrusion. Ultimately and with
great pain to the widow, the dybbuk is driven out of the space between the
esh and the nail of the little toe of her right foot, so that whatever scar may
remain will be of no serious consequence to her.
99
Upon his departure,
prayers are said to minimize Ezras suering as well.
Of central importance to the dybbuk stories is the extensive dialogue that
occurs between the dybbuk and the witnesses. Through the often witty dis-
course, the dybbuk tells its story, why he was not allowed into the gates of
Gehennom, how many years he has wandered, and why he should be allowed
to stay in the body. Using the body of the woman, he reports his life history,
confesses his illicit desires, and asks for forgiveness from the audience,
which the dybbuk depends upon to hear his story. The dialogues are highly
overdetermined with much sexual innuendo, many humorous denigrations
and bold accusations. From a contemporary perspective these dialogues
look to be incipient psychoanalysis. What is radically dierent is that they
occur in a community setting, with witnesses to the dialogue playing a con-
stitutive role in the dialogue in addition to the rabbis direct role. The dia-
logues also function to determine whether the woman is really possessed
(does she have supernatural knowledge, and are her lips still as the dybbuks
voice is heard?) or whether she is suering from mental or physical illness.
The possibility of intervention by disembodied souls is taken seriously, and
a system of knowledge exists for assessing the origin of the womans
suering.
The dialogues in dybbuk stories create an intimacy and a bond of commu-
nity between the dybbuk and the gathered audience. Knowing the dybbuks
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
story, the witnesses care about the dybbuks fate at the same time that they
desire the dybbuk to leave the possessed persons body. It is likely that the
witnesses, who most often are close acquaintances of the possessed person,
sense that the person was receptive to the dybbuk, indicating that her soul
was troubled. Witnesses are likely to participate in the dialogue and ask how
or why the dybbuk chose this person in order to understand the spiritual
elements of her vulnerability. Oftentimes the dybbuk comes forward with
unsolicited information that the audience members did not want others in
the community to know, further cementing a bond of community responsi-
bility as the accused witness must now repent and help the soul of the pos-
sessed and the dybbuk. The possession serves to reawaken faith and also ex-
poses other vulnerable people in the community who need guidance, such
as Reuben and his unfounded aspirations to religious knowledge.
Only after a terrible struggle in the body of Naomi is the rabbi able to
make the demon leave and also to purge a satanic angel who immediately
replaced the dybbuk. During this exorcism we learn of Naomis body: The
woman screamed at the top of her lungs, and began perspiring heavily, her
body shaking violently beneath the bed sheet. . . . The woman turned her
head stiy away from Rabbi Vital. Leave the woman, the Rabbi com-
manded quietly, but with tremendous force of will. His eyes were still xed
on Naomis face. The widow began to whimper and her hands clutched at
the sides of the bed. She was writhing in pain, the veins of her neck becom-
ing increasingly visible. Rabbi Vital noticed a horrible swelling in her throat;
she seemed to be choking.
100
If we interpret this representation as a piece of rabbinic propaganda, we
miss the theological importance of Naomi. If we read the story against the
androcentric grain, it describes a parallel sacred space in womens lives
where their social bodies function, within and against the connes of tradi-
tional patriarchy, to deliver theology for the community. From this perspec-
tive one can see a gendered agency in the permeability of womens bodies.
It is due to the ambivalent power of womens bodies that dybbukim choose
to possess them. The popularity of the stories and their dissemination across
Ashkenazic Jewish culture indicates the eectiveness of womens bodies to
produce knowledge in the community, a knowledge that was reproduced
and disseminated, informing the larger Jewish community of a theological
crisis.
Play(s)
Functionalist analyses of possession by early modern historians incorpo-
rate the anthropological theory of E. E. Evans-Pritchard, which links witch-
craft accusations with the breakdown of the village community and the
emergence of a new set of individual values in place of the older communal
ones.
101
Reformation historiographers have recognized the repeated motif
of repentance and piety in possession accounts. D. P. Walker has interpreted
the relationship of women to the repeated appearance of the pietistic idiom
in their possessions as evidence that the possessions were the only opportu-
nity for women to preach.
102
In support of Walkers analysis, Chajes notes
that in a rabbis daughter became possessed by a dybbuk who returned
to urge the community of Damascus to repent. She [the rabbis daughter]
cut quite a gure during her possession, assuming many roles traditionally
reserved for Jewish males.
103
Historiographical evidence is pertinent for un-
derstanding the agency of the women, but if applied using a modern psy-
chological agent as the model of subjectivity, the women possessed by dybbu-
kim will continue to be signied as less than agents. To reinterpret the
historiographical evidence, I submit that the work of the possessions at the
community level addressed a breakdown and reorientation of the commu-
nity toward its departed souls. At the individual level, the work of the pos-
session engaged women in public events of ritualization. This aspect of the
possession should not be understood as a guise for preaching. The womens
agency was an instrumental agency; they were sites for theological battles
over the salvation of human souls.
The dybbuk exorcisms provide both a conservative and a progressive
venue for a Jewish womans voice, paradoxically forcing the community to
respond to the altered voice that both animates and chokes her. A closer
analysis of the role that women play in dybbuk stories indicates that they
serve as the instrumental agency for the redemption of the dybbuks soul.
The woman serves as an agency, a place through which the dybbuk can admit
his guilt, can provide information to the community about the afterlife, and
can expose the transgressions of the community, thereby bonding his salva-
tion to that of the community. The possessed woman serves as the place
where the souls redemption is won.
Many dybbuk stories are Hasidic. The predominance of womens bodies
being possessed can be understood as a gendered parallel sacred space
among the Hasidim. The social bodies of the male Hasidim were cultivated
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
for an immanent relationship with transcendental power, interpreting the
Law in the service of dvekut, the longing to fuse the soul with the divine
Source of the world.
104
Permeable human subjectivity was central to Ha-
sidic theology, and possessions occurred to both men and women but with
diering evaluations. Howard Schwartz describes dybbukim as negative pos-
sessions, associated largely with evil and mostly manifest in women, in con-
trast to ibur possessions, which occur when men become united in spirit
with a great teacher. The presence of an ibur was regarded as an exceptional
blessing by Jewish mystics, especially those of Safed in the sixteenth cen-
tury, while the same mystics strove greatly to exorcize dybbuks from those
who were possessed by them.
105
Although this gendered devaluation of womens possessions is a frequent
characteristic of Hasidic possession stories, Schwartz builds his article on
problematic dichotomies, which I have noted are often used in the interpre-
tation of possessed women. He contrasts positive (ibur) and negative posses-
sions (dybbuk), saying, Considering that the dybbuk is linked so closely to
evil and madness, it is remarkable to discover a Jewish form of spirit posses-
sion that is regarded as positive.
106
I would counter that what is remarkable
is not that there are positive and negative evaluations of possession but that
Schwartz, a scholar whose work engages gender theory, does not analyze
the dierentiation between positive and negative as a gendered evaluation.
Dybbuk stories in fact relate a sense of ambivalence; what Schwartz calls
evil possessions are not evil but rather save the soul of both the dybbuk
and its host. By interpreting this ambivalence as a patriarchal response to
womens associations with receptivity to souls, the dybbuk stories can be in-
terpreted as evidence that women participated in the religious lives of their
communities as instrumental agencies rather than as evil, illogical forces.
An additional problematic dichotomy in Schwartzs analysis appears in
his description of the great Rabbi Karo, where he suggests that logic and
possession are opposites: Yet, remarkably enough for one with such a nely
tuned legal mind, Joseph Karo was a mystic who wrote a book recounting
his possession by a spirit when he studied the Mishnah, the core text of the
Talmud. . . . On several occasions others were present when Rabbi Karo
seemed to go into a trance and this spirit spoke through him in a voice of
its own.
107
In this analysis, Schwartz nds it remarkable that the parameters
of possession do not obey distinctions between the nely tuned legal mind
Play(s)
and the possessed mind.
108
In contrast, I would argue that what is remark-
able here is the appropriation by men of the metaphor of impregnation.
Although this appropriation does not seem to have produced a change in
the asymmetrical relationships between men and women, it does indicate
that receptivity was a developed capacity among men, reecting an alterna-
tive model of gender dierences and a model of subjectivity that recognized
womens receptivity as a form of power that men desired.
The Mother Tongue
Yiddish, the jargon of the folk, became the language of Jewish emancipa-
tion through the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries owing to
the dynamics of the Haskala, socialism, and Hasidism. Yiddish theater be-
came a vehicle for exploring, expressing, and celebrating the transformed
Jewish identity that was a result of these movements. A hierarchical rela-
tionship exists between Hebrew, the holy language, and Yiddish, the com-
mon language of Ashkenazic Jews. Yiddish was developed in the late Middle
Ages out of Old High German, Hebrew, and Romance and other linguistic
elements. The language picked up Slavic elements as Jews emigrated east-
ward.
109
All eastern European Jews had access to Yiddish.
110
Rabbis spoke
Yiddish among themselves, corresponded, mediated conicts, interpreted
halokhe, pronounced judgments and issued laws, divorce papers and legal
settlements in Yiddish.
111
In contrast, two axes of power functioned to limit access to Hebrew: class
and gender. Jews in exile, goles, were likely to suer from abject poverty so
that many men were unable to pursue an education in Hebrew. Women were
kept from the study of Hebrew, while it was mans highest duty to study
Torah. Those women who did study Hebrew were the exception. The rab-
bis wife, the rebetsn and the zogerin/woman speaker (whose function was to
interpret for and pray with the women behind the mekhitse) were often
literate in Yiddish and Hebrew and served as sources of wisdom. They
wielded power, demanded respect.
112
Apart from these exceptions, Hebrew
was the language of patriarchal religious authority.
As the nineteenth century progressed, the Jewish question was ad-
dressed in terms of what language Jews should speak. The Hasidim adopted
Yiddish rather than Hebrew in a move that challenged traditional rabbinic
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
authority. The maskilim rst viewed Yiddish with suspicion as a jargon that
isolated Jews from economic and intellectual engagement in Europe. Never-
theless, because it was the language of the masses and of women, it was a
necessary tool with which to reach and educate them.
113
For socialists in
eastern Europe later in the nineteenth century, Yiddish was celebrated as
the language of the folk and was used to educate the masses to overcome
their oppression. Zionists, in contrast, argued that once a homeland was
created, Hebrew would be the language of the Jews. They too, however, had
to speak to the Jews in Yiddish.
114
To adopt Yiddish was thus to transform
its role in society and to revalue it.
Ambivalence toward women was evident in arguments surrounding Yid-
dish. The invitation to the First Yiddish Language Conference in
Czernowitz was addressed to Honoured Sir! Esther Frumkin of the Jew-
ish Labor Bund was its sole female representative among the famous names
of Nathan Birnbaum, Chaim Zhitlowsky (possibly Anskys closest friend),
Peretz, Sholom Asch, and Avrom Reisen. Perceived as divisive, some
blamed her for single-handedly ruining the conference.
115
Passionately
committed to the democratic adoption of the mother tongue, she stormed
out of the conference frustrated with the elitism (local Jews were not al-
lowed to attend) and with the ambivalence toward Yiddish expressed by
her colleagues.
In a contemporary study of gender and Jewish literature Anita Norich
describes an implicit understanding of Yiddish as the mother tongueas
matrilineal, matronymicand of Hebrew as the father tonguepatrilineal,
patronymic, a language in which the inuence of tradition is paramount.
116
She voices a feminist suspicion about the revaluation of Yiddish: The rela-
tive status of Hebrew and Yiddish as literary languages changed so radically
as to be nearly reversed in the twentieth centuryas have the anxieties fe-
male writers have experienced as they inscribe themselves into a culture that
can hardly be said to have embraced them.
117
Further complicating the politics of Yiddish were internal divisions
among Jews. The two movements that adopted Yiddish, haskole and Hasid-
ism, were ercely antagonistic. Haskole and hasidism were produced in the
same era, with the decline of the traditional kehile [ruling Orthodox elite];
Moses Mendelssohn and the Baal Shem Tov were contemporaries, in fact.
But the two movements took opposite routes, and maskilim and hasidim
Play(s)
hated each other as much as traditional Orthodox believers hated them
both. Literature of the time, including drama, reected the contempora-
neousness of the two movements less than it did the chasm between them.
Jewish writers who wrote about Hasidism or who depicted shtetl life in their
plays were in an odd relationship with their material, varying from antago-
nistic depictions of the Hasidim as superstitious and ignorant folk to nostal-
gic or sympathetic depictions of the Old World. Yiddish playwrights were
in an even more tenuous relationship when they were depicting shtetl life.
Theater was anathema to the Hasidim except for the springtime Purim
plays, which had been part of Jewish tradition since the fth century.
118
The existence of Yiddish theater is itself evidence of the eect that the
Haskalah had on the cultural endeavors of Jewish intellectuals. Representing
a break with orthodoxy, playwrights nevertheless drew from religious tradi-
tion. Yiddish playwrights were writing not only against Orthodox prohibi-
tions but also against anti-Semitic characterizations of Jews in popular
Christian culture. The Jew and the Jewess were stock characters for
Christian theaters from as early as medieval Christian plays. Jews had g-
ured as the foils for Christian identity for centuries in the theaters of En-
gland and Europe.
119
Yiddish theater was building a repertoire at the end of
the nineteenth century, for the rst time producing plays with Jews as sub-
jects rather than objects.
Isaac Eichel, a colleague of Moses Mendelssohn, wrote the rst modern
Yiddish comedy, meant to be read rather than performed, at the end of the
eighteenth century. It was entitled Reb Henoch, and its characters spoke
Yiddish, German, French or English according to their level of learning!
In eastern Europe, Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (), Sholom
Aleichem (), and I. L. Peretz () adopted Yiddish and
began writing the literature and theater of the Yiddish renaissance. Travel-
ing theater troupes from the west found a popular following for Yiddish
theater in eastern Europe. Ansky inherited a tradition brought east by Abra-
ham Goldfaden, whose productions with the two Brodber singers played in
Romania in and inspired a thriving eastern European Yiddish theater.
The plays of Yiddish theater companies were performed by several small,
dedicated troupes who also studied and performed European classics such
as Shakespeare. An international Yiddish theater arose in the course of the
nineteenth century in western Europe, eastern Europe, and the United
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
States, specically New York City (where more than two million Jews emi-
grated between and ).
120
Those playwrights recognized as writers
of the Yiddish renaissance were all males: Jacob Gordin, David Pinski, Sho-
lom Asch, Peretz Hirshbein, Isaac Loeb Peretz, Sholom Aleichem, and
S. Ansky.
121
The challenge of interpreting how Ansky employed the instrumental
agency of Leah is complex, given that he transgressed Hasidic doctrine in
the writing of the play and he transgressed Orthodox doctrine by having a
woman on stage. His critical realism allowed him to challenge these doc-
trines, but again his critical realism inuenced the believable, sensitive, and
informed depiction he constructed of her world. The plays outstanding
success at the time suggests that Ansky also used her, speaking the mother
tongue, to enrich the lives of his people through a depiction of traditional
shtetl life as they confronted transformations of Jewish identity in the twen-
tieth century.
Scholarly Interpretations of the Play
In recent interpretations of the play by Roskies and Eli Yasif it becomes
clear that literary scholars are also assuming that religion is a symbolic part
of life, in contrast to instrumental or real parts of life such as romance or
psychology. Employing this assumption, their analyses provide no option
for adequately interpreting the complex character of Leah, a desiring and
religious subject in a patriarchal world.
Roskies notes that Anskys most signicant innovation of the dybbuk sto-
ries from which he drew was to have the dybbuk be in love with the woman
he possessed.
122
He argues that this romantic innovation is a secularization
of the dybbuk story. He never explains why a love story is a secular, dra-
matic story, but in several places makes the claim that this tale is secular and
served antireligious ends.
123
This problematic division between secular and
religious denudes Leahs possessed body of religious signicance and cre-
ates an articial barrier between religious bodies and sexual bodies. What is
powerful about Anskys innovation is that he develops the character of the
possessed woman with depth; she is both a desiring subject and an instru-
mental agency for a sacred vow.
Rather than describing the introduction of romance as a secularization of
Play(s)
Yiddish tradition, Ansky could be interpreted as having developed Leah as
a shtetl woman who desires. To petition the writing of Charles Winquist,
Leah is a woman desiring theology as evidenced in her passionate embrace
of the Torah scrolls, her eloquent speeches to Frade, and her nal entreaty
or invitation to the dybbuk to unite with her. This is not to suggest that she
is a modern agent. It is impossible to propose what Leahs desire might be
or to dierentiate it from the desire of the law. It would be a mistake of
subjectivity to ask what she wantedshe was an instrumental agency for a
sacred vow. Desire itself suggests instrumentality. Recalling the linguistic
meaning of instrumentality by which some levels of agency are attributed
to the subject, the possessed woman who is a desiring woman is attributed
with a complex mixture of a driving will and being driven.
Yasif argues that dybbuk stories are an example of the central role of the
body as a site of protest in Jewish literature and presents The Dybbuk as an
example of his point. He uses Oesterreich, Bourguignon, Lewis, and Prince
to inform his analysis: As the young woman could not control her life and
choose the man she loved in the real world, the entrance into an hysterical
state enabled her to achieve her will outside the framework of society and
reality.
124
By describing her possession as a hysterical state he signies
the Hasidic tradition, imposing a modern psychological interpretation. Ya-
sif s description renders null the possibility that her body was engaged with
the extrahuman agency of the dybbuk (literally and guratively) and alters
the evaluation of Leahs agency by doing so.
125
If it is important to study
Jews and Judaism from an embodied perspective, it is important to ask,
Which embodied perspective? If viewed with an eye toward the ritualization
of the possession, Leahs role contributes to critical reection about what
an individual female body in Hasidic Judaism meant and to what extent the
social body of Hasidic women created reality eectively in a world where
the souls of the too-soon departed required the interventions of their hu-
man communities.
Anskys play depicts the gendered ritualizations that Leahs religious
body underwent. When the possession disrupted the marriage ceremony, a
dierentiation was made between the power of the sacred (a disembodied
betrothed) and the worldly (the arranged betrothed). The community re-
sponded by evaluating the power struggle that ensued as a sacred power
struggle requiring the help of the most powerful rabbis, the drawing to-
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
gether of the minyan, the assembling of a rabbinic court, the performance
and renunciation of an exorcism, and the rabbis demand for lifelong retri-
bution from Sender. The social bodies of the men and women were devel-
oped in dierent relationships to union with the divine. While Leah was
kept from the privileged space that devout study occupied for the yeshiva
students, her body was recognized as a receptive space. Her spiritual poten-
tial was her embodied receptivity. Negotiating between systems of subordi-
nation and domination in which she found herself to be betrothed to two
men, one dead and one alive, Leah functioned as an instrumental agency
for the law, maintaining the sacrality of a vow made between fathers. Trans-
gressive and conservative, she was receptive to the spirit of her departed
love, but she was also fullling the original patriarchal desire between two
fathers who would arrange for her transfer from one man to another.
Within Orthodox and Hasidic traditions, girls and mothers were the
property of men; care would be taken to assure that ownership was carefully
and ocially transferred from father to husband at moments such as mar-
riage. Anskys play builds on the tension of the moment of transaction by
interrupting the successful transfer of Leah from father to groom.
126
To be
possessed outside of that marital exchange relocated Leahs life, elevating
her status as a religious subject from the less authoritative role of bride to a
role of central importance to the rabbinic leadership. The ritualizations that
occurred in response to her possession indicated her increased signicance
to the patriarchal leadership of the community. Leahs death indicated that
her options were nevertheless severely limited. Rather than creating either
a resolution to the possession or a fairy-tale ending, Leahs death indicates
that Anskys critical realism was at work. It killed Leah to be possessed out-
side of the arranged marriage.
Feminist scholarship has brought to light a critical framework for contex-
tualizing interpretations of Leahs role in the play with greater suspicion.
Klepsz claims that the male authors of the Yiddish renaissance used mame-
loshn (mother tongue) precisely because it was folksy, associated with the
common man while conveying a sentimental attachment to women and
motherhood.
127
Her argument amounts to the charge that a few male au-
thors appropriated and defeminized Yiddish, creating a patrilineal geneal-
ogy of authorship that wrote about Jewish women either nostalgically or
misogynistically. While recent Yiddish studies have revived, translated, and
Play(s)
analyzed the times and writings of Abramovitsh, Sholom Aleichem, and
Peretz for their important contribution to world literature,
128
Klepsz eyes
the designation of Abramovitsh as the zeyde/grandfather of modern Yid-
dish literature with suspicion, and she questions Sholem Aleichems claim
to be the eynikl/grandson.
Klepsz argues that because Yiddish was associated with women, these
male writers had to dissociate its previous associations with trashy wom-
ens novels and defeminize Yiddish, the mother tongue.
The aim of Sholom Aleichems famous declaration that he was Mendeles literary
heir was more than just self-aggrandizement and erasure of other serious writers.
The young writer knew that despite Mendele and despite theory and politics, Yiddish
was on shaky ground as a medium for serious writing. What better way to show that
contemporary Yiddish literature was not a continuation, but a break from its illiterate
and womens roots than to ctionalize Mendele, at fty-two, as its zeyde/grandfa-
ther and Sholom Aleichem himself, at twenty-nine, his eynikl/grandson? By mak-
ing literature in mame-loshn patrilineal rather than matrilineal, Sholom Aleichem in-
stantly created a male Yiddish literary dynasty which mirrored the rabbinical
scholarly dynasties whose legitimacy and fame were rooted in Hebrew. Just when
Yiddish was being championed as an authentic national mame-loshn, Sholom
Aleichem declaredand everyone agreedits literature now belonged to the fa-
thers.
129
Reviewing the literature of Abramovitsh, Sholom Aleichem, and Peretz,
Klepsz nds that women are constructed dierently by each author and
even dierently over time by a single author, but nevertheless she arrives at
the charge that the women characters represent mens experiences and fears
of women within a patriarchal framework. She argues that the men of the
Yiddish renaissance perpetuated a conservative agenda through their fetishi-
zation of Jewish women, whether dear grandmothers or gossiping shrews.
Leahs character, however, is more complex than a fetishization. Her
character is an exception to the traditional depiction of women in dybbuk
stories. Leah is not imbued with a faint heart, wandering intellectual inter-
ests, or selshness. She is not depicted as a spurious or irreligious woman
who could be blamed for her receptivity to the dybbuk. This story reects
upon the fathers failure to observe the Law, not hers. Frade is also an excep-
tional grandmother, and she plays a minor role with major importance in
the play. The dybbuk possessions are facilitated twice by Frades actions
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
Frade allows Leah to invite Khonon to the wedding when they go to the
graveyard, and Frade falls asleep in the nal scene allowing Leah to commu-
nicate again with Khonon.
130
A conspirator in the web of necessity that
brings the lovers together, Frade functions to allow Leahs speech to be
heard and Leahs desires to be enacted.
In contrast, the nal scene in which Leah and Khonon are united in a
glowing, heavenly embrace could be interpreted to epitomize the way that
women were nostalgically employed by the writers of the Yiddish renais-
sance. What we see is a warm and glowing embrace, a spiritual union. What
is sweetly being portrayed is that it will kill Leah to unite her soul with
Khonon. That a subtle misogyny or pleasure might accompany this glow-
ing conclusion (a devout woman is a dead woman) raises a feminist suspi-
cion. Klepsz cautions that shtetl life and Yiddish literature have been
wrapped in a veil of nostalgia which obscures their true complexity. For
feminists to indulge in such nostalgia is particularly dangerous because it
discourages criticism, fosters ignorance of the true condition of Eastern Eu-
ropean Jewish women, and, in this case, erases the magnitude of the classical
writers failures both in promoting the womens cause in their writing and
in their relations with women writers.
131
Leahs death at the conclusion of
the play could be but one more example of how womens deaths have repeat-
edly been not-quite-performed on stage and might be the perfect vehicle
for misogynist nostalgia.
132
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake not to read Anskys play against the
grain of androcentric nostalgia. Leahs death might reect Anskys critical
realism more than a nostalgic fetishization: she had no earthly option, no
earthly voice to state her desire, no religious authority with which to argue
with the rebbe. In contrast to traditional dybbuk stories, which resolve the
struggle between the disembodied soul and his host in compliance with the
rabbis will, in Anskys version the earthly resolution negotiated by Rebbe
Azriel is thwarted in favor of the spiritual resolution, which successfully
joins the lovers in a union of souls. Leah does not follow the will of the
rabbis or her father to bear fruit for the tree of Israel, but she also does not
choose her husband. She invites the penetration of his soul. More
agentive than most brides, Leah is nevertheless only able to fulll her desire
by joining the too-soon departed.
There is evidence for and against Klepszs charges. Yiddish theater in
Play(s)
general used folk culture to evoke polarities: emotion and realism, mysticism
and the critique of idealism, socioeconomic realities and supernatural
struggles. Ansky employed the character of the possessed woman within
these evocative strategies to singularly powerful eect.
133
In the following
example we can see the strategies Ansky used as Leah is being spoken
through by the dybbuk. Preceding the dialogue, Reb Azriel threatens that if
the dybbuk does not leave the body he will cover it with curses and maledic-
tions, with conjurations and oaths, but that if the dybbuk will leave, Azriel
will use his power to reclaim Khonons soul. The dramatic reply shakes the
men of the minyan.
Leah (dybbuk [Screams]): I am not afraid of your curses and threats, and I dont be-
lieve in your assurances. No power in the world can help me! There is no more ex-
alted realm than my present haven, and there is no deeper abyss than the one that
awaits me. I will not leave!
Reb Azriel: In the name of the Almighty God I make my nal petition and com-
mand you to leave the maidens body! If you do not leave, you will be excommuni-
cated and given over to the angels of destruction. (A fearful pause)
Leah (dybbuk): In the name of the Almighty God I am joined to my intended for-
ever and will never leave her.
The emotions generated in this powerful scene are many, from sympathy
for the dybbuk to fear of Leahs volatile body as it moves violently and pro-
duces altered screams. Is this nostalgic fetishization or radical politics? De-
picting Leahs instrumental agency, Ansky can play on both conservative
and transgressive registers.
The critical point for evaluating the representation of Leah is that she
will never be an agent of progressive change. If Klepszs concern about
nostalgia is in part based on a progressive teleology, Leahs agency will by
denition be found to be inadequate. Instrumental agency will thwart femi-
nist desires for representations of womens autonomy and will thwart the
desires of a materialist dialectic. As the plays second or subtitle suggests,
Leah is Between Two Worlds, but in neither of these worlds is she an agent.
To guard against the potential nostalgia or misogyny that she nds
haunting the founding fathers of Yiddish literature, Klepsz argues that
we should turn to examine the writings of women at the time. The female
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
authors of the Yiddish renaissance wrote about many women characters at
many dierent ages and transformations, but of those writers gathered in
Found Treasures and Gender and Text, none of them wrote plays (because
women could not), and none of them wrote about dybbukim.
134
Silence and
voice are central to their stories, but these themes are explored in terms of
a womans internal dialogue and polylogue, screaming and choking. In an
autobiographical text depicting shtetl life in the Kiev Province from to
, Dora Schulner wrote about a young woman, Reyzele, who was forced
to marry an old man. Numbness, silence, and hopelessness are the motifs
that conclude this story. Rokhl Brokhes wrote prolically between and
in Minsk but was tortured and killed by Nazis in . In her story
The Zogerin, Brokhes wrote about the angry rantings of a poor zogerin (a
female leadership role in the temple) who lashed out at her community for
using her without adequately paying her for her work. The women who
witnessed her mad diatribe left her, shaking their heads. Only her grand-
son remained by default to hear her loud remonstrations. In his shame and
helplessness he urged her to please be quiet. Depicting shtetl life in the
s, Sarah Hamer-Jacklyn wrote My Mothers Dream, a yisker bikhl or
story commemorating the destroyed Jewish communities of eastern Europe.
The story is told from the perspective of Sorele, the oldest daughter, who
prays that her mothers third child will be a boy. Yente Serdatzky portrayed
the lives of Jewish women in revolutionary Europe (circa ) and the sub-
sequent disillusionment they suered due to the abuse they experienced in
the Haskalah environment, which encouraged sexual liberation.
135
These stories consistently suggest that being possessed by men in patri-
archal institutions is a problem, but they do not turn to a model of religious
possession as a potential emancipatory resource for these women. Instead
their characters represent the association of individual women and madness,
a more modern and psychological exploration of womens experience.
Whereas Malka Lee wrote about a young girls experience of having her
father burn her poetry (her own little creations), Ansky moved an audience
to tears with Leahs lullaby about unborn children.
136
Did Ansky create a
fetish? Ansky returned to folklore after years of materialist dialectic. He
turned to folklore and the role of a possessed woman to bring something
else to the stage that promised to deliver what revolutionary activism and
the Haskalah had not: a critical reection of and creative expression of Jew-
Play(s)
ish culture and heritage. There is a transformative potential in the gure of
Leah that the institutionalized and isolated psychological women of moder-
nity do not oer.
To compare the dierence more specically I will expand upon Celia
Dropkinss story The Dancer.
137
Dropkins () was born in Rus-
sia, moved to Kiev, Ukraine, at age seventeen, and then followed her hus-
band to the United States in . Her rst Yiddish poems were printed in
, and her collected volume In Heysnvint (In hot wind) was published in
. The Dancer is a story about a young woman in Warsaw, Poland,
who struggles to express her creative and athletic abilities as a dancer and
who tragically ends up institutionalized. Gysia was called dummy as a
young girl because she was so quiet; however, her demeanor changed when
she reached adolescence. She broke into peals of laughter and ts of danc-
ing, only to have this joyous spontaneity stied in her marriage. Gysia
wanted to study dance in Warsaw but instead followed her husband to New
York. Suering from her years of silence, she was ultimately driven insane
and institutionalized. Anskys play and Dropkinss story both end in trag-
edy, but Leahs death leads the audience to a dierent sense of life, one that
is engaged outside of the anthropologistic horizon. Dropkinss character
never moves beyond the tragic connes of the isolated and institutionalized
subjectivity of madness in modernity.
As many Jewish feminists have noted, In Jewish law there is no such
thing as an autonomous woman.
138
What frameworks would be sucient
for evaluating the agency of a Jewish woman within the constraints of Jewish
legal constructions of women? More specically, what framework would be
sucient for evaluating the agency of the possessed Jewish woman who has
become so famous, repeatedly represented in text and on stage, in glaring
contrast to the absence of half the Kingdom in Jewish history? She is not
an individual, nor is she an autonomous woman nor an institutionalized hys-
teric. Through her individual body she transforms the communitys rela-
tionship to its cultural memory. Although she never challenges a womans
right to raise her own voice as a spiritual authority, she says what a woman
could never say. Iconoclastic and conservative, transgressive and reinforc-
ing, her role embodies the paradoxes of instrumental agency by remembering
a religious history that the Haskalah did not and that psychological models
of subjectivity suppress.
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
While the women writers of Anskys time did not invoke dybbukim, there
are several contemporary literary and theatrical works that do, reecting
what I am arguing is a larger contemporary interest in the gure of the
possessed woman. Ellen Galfords The Dyke and the Dybbuk and The Dybbuk
of Delight: An Anthology of Jewish Womens Poetry
139
have revisited the theme
of the dybbuk to capitalize on its transgressive potential, which suggests that
the dybbuk is a gure that promises transformation for contemporary cre-
ative writers identied with a feminist agenda.
140
Paddy Chayefskys The
Tenth Man is a dramatic appropriation of Anskys play, set in the United
States, which also promises redemption in combination with critical real-
ism.
141
Galfords The Dyke and the Dybbuk is a lesbian exploration of perme-
ability, porosity, identity, and womens agency within contemporary Judaism
and within contemporary Hasidism. It is Galfords appropriation of the pos-
sibilities such permeability holds for lesbian negotiations with patriarchal
tradition. In this story Galford juxtaposes a lesbian character, Rainbow
Rosenbloom, lm critic and taxi driver in London, with the character of a
contemporary Hasidic wife, Riva, who wears a wig and remains behind the
temple curtain. The dybbuk is also a lesbian who has been assigned the job
of possessing the rst daughter of the rst daughter of every generation in
a family line that descends from eastern Europe. By titling her story The
Dyke and the Dybbuk, Galford has appropriated the famous title of the best-
known Yiddish play and lm. Galford too will use the allure of the possessed
woman, but gives it her own blunt lesbian appropriation in order to chal-
lenge and engage a tradition that does not recognize lesbians.
So also the editors of The Dybbuk of Delight: An Anthology of Jewish Wom-
ens Poetry turned to the model of the dybbuk to identify their creative appro-
priation of the feminine modality of possession. In our research into the
meaning and manifestation of dybbuks, we were struck by two things: rst
that the impure spirit only cleaves . . . to someone who desires to cleave
unto them; secondly, that possession takes place in a moment of melan-
cholia or confusion. These two conditions for spiritual possession struck us
very forcibly as being highly analogous to the act of creative writing.
142
These writers have called on the permeating presence of dybbuk possessions
to symbolize their creative process, suggesting that receptivity is a part of
their cultivated practice as poets. Also indicated in their association with
Play(s)
dybbukim is the struggle of wills that ensues in the writing process as op-
posed to a model of an autonomous author.
In Chayefskys adaptation of The Dybbuk, rst presented in r by Saint
Subber and Arthur Cantor at the Booth Theater in New York City, the cast
reects the pluralistic American Jewish community of Mineola, Long Is-
land. David Foreman, a retired biology teacher, kidnaps his granddaughter
Evelyn and brings her to the temple, distraught with the psychiatrists prog-
nosis that she will live a life of institutionalization. Foreman is motivated in
part because he recognizes Evelyns dybbuk as Hannah Luchinsky, a woman
Foreman debased a half century earlier when he was in Europe. Through
Evelyn, Hannah identies herself as the whore of Kiev. Once in the com-
pany of other Jews at the synagogue, Hannah exposes the transgressions of
the other men, a common motif in dybbuk stories.
In order to exorcize the dybbuk, a hung-over stranger is pulled o the
street to complete the minyan. He is Arthur, the tenth man. Evelyn engages
him in conversation while her grandfather searches for the rabbi to perform
an exorcism. She realizes that he too is possessed by a dybbuk who locks up
his emotions. At rst the young rabbi refuses to lead such an anachronistic
ritual but nally relents, admitting, But it would please me a great deal to
believe once again in a God of dybbuks. The dybbuk that emerges is not
Evelyns but is Arthurs, the atheist, who then proclaims: God of my fa-
thers, you have exorcized all truth as I knew it out of me. You have taken
away my reason and denition. Give me then a desire to wake in the morn-
ing, a passion for the things of life, a pleasure in work, a purpose to sor-
row . . . (He slowly stands, for a reason unknown even to himself, and turns to regard
the slouched gure of +nr oiat) Dybbuk, hear me. I will cherish this girl, and
give her a home. I will tend to her needs and hold her in my arms when she
screams out with your voice. Her soul is mine nowher soul, her charm,
her beautyeven you, her insanity are mine. If god will not exorcize you,
dybbuk, I will.
143
As with Ansky, we are left with a transformation that is
both conservative (she now belongs to Arthur) and transformative (she
will be loved rather than institutionalized). In this adaptation, however, a
male character assumes center stage and does so with an agency that is more
autonomous than either Leahs or Evelyns.
Against these multiple backdrops, the paradoxes of Leahs instrumental
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
agency are not resolved. The critical realist depicted her role as a token of
exchange between fathers in both worlds. Leah is not a heroinethere is
no iconography to depict the woman who serves as a ute and a hammer
between two worlds. She is the instrumental agency through which a cul-
tural memory, a sacred vow, is brought to community awareness, although
she is not present for the rabbinic court in which Nissen makes this vow
known to other men. Reinforcing and challenging Jewish constructions of
women, Leah draws the eye of the audience to witness the nal possession:
Come to me, my bridegroom.
Agave and Leah, two possessed leading ladies, are not the same, and their
possessions are not the same. Neither will the relationship of theater to rit-
ual be the same across traditions. Nevertheless, approaching the interpreta-
tion of their characters in light of the cross-cultural and transhistorical role
possessed women play for a historian of religions, their importance in these
masterpieces becomes clearer. The genius of these playwrights lies in their
employment of these volatile religious bodies, which function as the instru-
mental agencies for a performance within a performance.
The Play of Possession
Having discussed the role of the possessed woman in two plays, I want to
return to the issue of the performative nature of possessions. A possession
that occurred without an audience would be a nonevent. An audience is
required to witness and interpret what is happening because the possessed
body itself is not conscious during the event. The dynamic that I have called
instrumental agency rests upon the need for an audience. In addition to the
fundamental requirement for an audience is the volatility and alterity of the
possessed bodyit puts on a good show with altered voices, transgressive
language and actions, and erotic or spurious demands. The possessed body
demonstrates incredible power, communicating knowledge that the individ-
ual body could never have known. Possessions are expressive in a puzzling
way so that witnesses are compelled to interrogate and interpret the mean-
ing of the possession. The performative force of possession, what I am call-
ing the play of possession, has attracted much scholarly argument, most of
which has been pursued using a symbolic-instrumental dichotomy so that
the play of possession has been viewed suspiciously as the real work of the
Play(s)
possession, performed by a conscious actor. Scholars who have employed
an instrumental-symbolic dichotomy in their interpretation of possessions
have found that the performative dimension of possessions is evidence of its
humanly inspired origin: the possessed are interpreted to be actors
(agents) who are manipulating a guise or illusion (creating a spectacle, as
Lan described it). The performance has been interpreted to be the real func-
tion of the possession (attracting attention or establishing a role of au-
thority).
Paul Stoller identies performance theory as one of ve dominant motifs
employed by scholars in the study of possession, one which he employed in
his ethnography of possession among the Songhay of the Republic of Niger,
Fusion of the Worlds. In his later work on possession, Stoller moved away from
performance theory, arguing that theatrical and performance metaphors
were insucient concepts, largely imposed upon traditions that did not
themselves identify their possessions as performances.
144
Ann Gold, in con-
trast, has argued convincingly that rural Rajasthanis have their own per-
formative conceptualizations of the nature and outcomes of spirit posses-
sions.
145
Not only do people refer to authentic possessions and fake
possessions but they have also developed an entire genre of theater perfor-
mances of possession, including humorous performances of fake posses-
sions. Therefore, performance theories need not be dismissed as the tool of
a Western framework. The distinguishing factor between Stollers notion of
performance theory and Golds description of the Rajasthani performance
theory is that the Western academic notion is based on the idea that a con-
scious actor is acting a part. In the case of rural Rajasthanis performance
theory, the question is whether or not the person is really overcome (not a
conscious agent). An authentic possession is one in which the possessed
person is an instrumental agency for, rather than an agent of, performance.
The volatility and expressiveness of possession create an audience. Cre-
ating an audience is part of the work or force of the possession, the play
of possession. The pun is intended and reects why it is that scholarship
employing an instrumental-symbolic dichotomy would view the play of pos-
session with suspicion. It works. It plays. Moving beyond a symbolic-
instrumental dichotomy, the play of the possession is interpreted as ritual-
ization that creates reality eectively, prioritizing the sacred and constitut-
ing subjectivity in relation to the agency of an innite reality, be it ancestor,
The Work, War, and Play of Possession
deity, or spirit. The play of possession constitutes the instrumental agency
of the possessed person whose role in society changes as he or she is recog-
nized to be wielded by an external force. And although the play might at
times include raucous humor and at other times horror (Stoller described
the Songhay possessions as horric comedy), the play of possession is seri-
ous work.
146
Conclusion
Mrs. Tan was a young mother with three children and a husband; they were
living in the village of Peihotien, Taiwan, in . Her husband had lost the
job that brought him to the area and no longer provided for the family. They
were therefore outsiders among the established families. She was known to
be a shy and reserved woman, respected for being pious and making simple
oerings to the gods even though she was poor. After several months of
erratic behavior, which intensied to the point that she began beating on
her chest because it felt on re, Mrs. Tan experienced a possession so force-
fully it drew the entire village to spectate and speculate. One of those people
was Margery Wolf, the wife of an ethnographer; she described the noises
that drew the village out to the paddy elds to witness Mrs. Tan thrashing
in the muck: I heard a sound that lowered my body temperature by ten
degrees and pulled the hair of my scalp into a knot. It started with a low
bovine moan and undulated up the scale into an intense piercing scream.
At its peak, it dropped o into almost a gargle, stopped briey, and then on
a lower scale was punctuated by a series of short hoarse shrieks.
1
While
the local women cleaned her up and cared for her, Mrs. Tans husband was
instructed to get medical help. Mrs. Tan requested incense, which she held
while mumbling strange words. A doctor came and gave her a shot to put
her to sleep. She was then brought to a makeshift hospital, where she was
tied to a bed and given further sedation for several days until her husband
retrieved her because it was costing too much.
In the following weeks, the members of the community struggled to eval-
uate the event. Was she possessed by a god? It was after all the Seventh

The Hammer and the Flute


Month, when the doors of hell were open and all the ghosts could wander.
Water was especially dangerous because ghosts that had drowned would
pull unwary people to their deaths. Or was her husband forcing her to do
this in the hope of making money from her as a tang-ki, a medium for a
god? Ultimately a local male authority passed judgment that she was ill, not
possessed. Her mother took her away from the town. That was the last that
Wolf knew of Mrs. Tan.
This story represents for me all that is important and at stake in repre-
senting and evaluating the agency of possessed women. This story is not
about whether a possession is real or fake; it is about religious bodies negoti-
ating with power. As a pious woman who devoutly made sacrices and who
had endured years of deprivation, her tempered body was overcome by
forces that drew an entire community to witness the event, searching for
clues as to whether or not she was gone and a god had overcome her body.
As a young woman and an outsider she had little power in the ritualization
that followed whereby the older women and the male religious authorities
established ocially that a god had not overcome her. Mrs. Tan was not a
failed agent, or a frustrated hysteric, or an ineective protestor. Evaluating
her agency requires a shifted register wherein the power of her religious
body can be related to the greater forces that impact upon her life from
religious tradition and its gods and ancestors to global capital.
Thirty years after the event, Wolf revisited the story as an ethnographer
rather than as the wife of an ethnographer. Inuenced by postcolonial and
feminist theory, Wolf now reected upon the power dierentials that consti-
tute ethnography. She tells the story four times in order to demonstrate and
experiment with her ethnographic responsibility as she delivers Mrs. Tans
possession account to the world of text. The four versions are: () A suc-
cinct report of the events, the recording of which Wolf attributes to the
unusual interest her young Taiwanese female informant, Wu Chieh, had in
Mrs. Tans welfare; () a ctional account of the story, which concludes with
Wolf s own death in a typhoon that hit the village after Mrs. Tan left, im-
plying that the god was exacting retribution; () a reproduction of her
eldnotes; and () a commentary on the politics of transcribing eldnotes.
In the fourth version she assesses her objectivity in relation to the eldnotes:
Still, there are clearly some assumptions. For example, I did not entertain
the presence of a god as one of the explanations of Mrs. Tans behavior, and
Conclusion
I may have edited out of Wu Chiehs dictations to me hints of her own atti-
tudes. Again, I regret that I did not reect more at the time on Wu Chiehs
unusual absorption in these incidents.
2
Each of the accounts that Wolf has presented is therefore an enuncia-
tional contract, to recall De Certeaus argument. Each plays by rules that
create a relationship between the possessed woman and the people drawn
to represent and evaluate her. Which of Wolf s accounts is the real account?
What was Mrs. Tan really doing? As Wolf demonstrates in her performative
texts, these are questions that belong to a simpler intellectual time than we
now live in. How to evaluate the agency of Mrs. Tans paradoxically power-
ful and powerless body is a question of our time. Her story survived for
thirty years in Wolf s eldnotes, to be recalled now, when the question of
voice and agency has become central for theory in the elds of philosophy,
postcolonial studies, womens studies, anthropology, literary studies, neo-
Marxism, and comparative psychology. How might one evaluate that power?
Wolf comes to a conclusion that is often reached in reexive scholar-
shipthat the power dierentials that constitute contemporary social rela-
tions are a problem that should be overcome. Power dierentials within
this society and between us and those we study exist and, alas, will continue
to exist for the foreseeable future. . . . Obviously, the anthropologist must be
careful not to take advantage of their (usually) considerably greater power in
ways that will disadvantage the people they are studying.
3
It is the alas
that I have tried to challenge by highlighting the two interrelated levels
where the construction of agency runs in accounts of possession. The poli-
tics of dierence and the development of an ethics of sexual dierence are
built on the argument that power dierentials are necessary elements of a
world where dierences can compete in the face of global capitals produc-
tions of the same. The problem is not power dierentials but how they are
exercised. Wolf was compelled by the power of the possessed woman and
wrote a book that works with all the force that representations of possessed
bodies generate. Did Wolf take advantage of her power? Did she take advan-
tage of Mrs. Tans power? Did she disadvantage Mrs. Tan? Did she em-
power Mrs. Tan? Am I taking advantage of Wolf ? or Tan? The possessed
body needs an author to tell its story, and authors tell the story of the pos-
sessed body because it is powerful and makes for a compelling story. There
will never be a neutral ground for an author and a possessed body. The
The Hammer and the Flute
question is how the relationship of power between the witness-author and
the possessed body is evaluated.
There is a tension in my argument. On the one hand, I have approached
the possessions as an intellectual problem of representation; on the other
hand, I share what Erndl has described as a feminist concern for the welfare
of women. If one approaches the story of Mrs. Tan as the story of a religious
body negotiating with power, then the two interacting levels of agency that
concern me are both addressed. At a formal level, a discursive space is made
for the possibility that Wolf did not entertainthat a god had possessed
Mrs. Tan. The problematic of signication does not go away, but it does
become reexive as we reect on the desire to be in proximity with bodies
that are possessed. As for the concern with welfare, interpreting possessed
women as instrumental agencies will not empower them, but it does shift
the ground of evaluation and signication, facilitating a chance to engage
in representations less hegemonically and perhaps to engage with public
opinion or legal battles. We live in a time where indigenous bodies are con-
fronting corporations and governments over land and the right to pursue
ritualization. To paraphrase the young rabbi in Chayefskys play, it will be
good to live in this time with bodies that ritualize their struggles, negotiating
with the power of places and remembering the too-soon departed.
The function of this text, as I am able to perceive it, is twofold in that in
Part it oers a blueprint for the comparative study of possession, and in
Part it illustrates thematically what is gained by approaching possessions
in this way. In Part I traced the structures that have supported the interdis-
ciplinary study of possession, arguing that the assertion by scholars that
they did not believe in possession was a symptom of the instrumental-
symbolic dichotomy that undergirds the Western construction of reli-
giousness. Because possessions are consistently evaluated as symbolic prac-
tices, existing in the minds of believers, possession was and continues to be
interpreted as orid folk belief rather than as instrumental or constituting
practice. A related Western construction is the normative model of subjec-
tivity that values autonomy as the epitome of human empowerment, espe-
cially the autonomy of critical reason. With such a normative standard in
place, the possessed body can only be found to fall short as an anachronism.
The reorientation of possession studies requires challenging the dichotomy
and the normative assumption about agency that are the legacy of Enlight-
Conclusion
enment desires. In the time of globalization, such a teleological model is
suspect as racist and also inadequate to the task of describing the power
relationships that aect subjectivity worldwide. Once possessed bodies are
approached as developable bodies that are negotiating relations of subordi-
nation and domination, and if their unique agency is recognized for its in-
strumentality, we can identify alternative models of subjectivity, allowing us
to develop new grids for evaluating the struggles that are so often the terrain
of possessions.
The riskiest element of the blueprint is the suggestion that theology
might be transformed as a eld and become the ground for comparative
religious studies. While the blueprint is rmly grounded in the politics of
cross-cultural translation, I am suggesting that the unique element that dis-
tinguishes religious bodies as such is that they are bodies that negotiate with
a power that exists outside of the anthropologistic horizon. Religious bodies
engage with the power of Buddhist enlightenment, the will of Allah, the
demands of the ancestors, and the interventions of the Holy Spirit, for ex-
ample. Theology would be transformed, becoming the discursive space in
which such comparative models of subjectivity might be discussed, their
ethics contrasted, and their struggles debated. I am not wedded to the term
theology but am committed to the argument that a discursive space is
needed in order to discuss the unique power struggles engaged in by reli-
gious bodies.
In Part I have thrown my hat into the ring of the politics of translation,
whether that be the eort to translate meaning across the gulf of time or
across cultures that are synchronous. It is not organized as Malaysia, Zim-
babwe, Greek antiquity, and Yiddish studies because my argument is the-
matic and I am not a specialist in these areas. I hope Part will function as
a starting point that specialists might engage, bringing their expertise to the
task of elucidating the meanings and agencies of historically and culturally
specic possessed bodies. While I think it is an impossible task to translate
meaning, there is much at stake in doing it as well as possible. The politics
of representing indigenous epistemologies or ancient epistemologies
will be as heated and sustained as have been the debates in Western philo-
sophical traditions. The unique characteristics of possessed bodies with
their blotted consciousness can highlight the questions involved, such as
Who speaks authentically for the possessed body?
The Hammer and the Flute
Finally, the book functions for usthose of us who live within the
institutions and disciplinary structures of the Western traditionbecause
we are missing some very important frameworks for thinking about human
subjectivity. We have exported our analysis of possession extremely eec-
tively, as evidenced by the brief institutionalization of Mrs. Tan, tied to a
bed and sedated. We have exported our diagnosis of individual bodies, most
often women who crack up, but the prognosis for our methods is not good
when compared to the prognosis for people whose traditions respond with
ritualizations. Social psychologist Nancy Waxler has provided us with the
empirical evidence that suggests people are more likely to return to produc-
tive lives within their communities when they are understood to be instru-
mental agencies for a power that requires a community response and ritual-
ization than are people who are institutionalized and treated as individuals.
The elds of community psychology and ethnopsychiatry have been devel-
oping clinical interfaces for relating their sciences to indigenous ritualiza-
tions in response to the needs of immigrant populations in large urban cen-
ters, for example. I would like to think this book might contribute to a
general opening of comparative interpretation in response to a larger recog-
nition that our bodies continue to be spoken through despite our aspirations
to autonomy.
This is not to suggest a naive understanding of community or ritualiza-
tion. Instrumental agency is a dangerous and ambivalent kind of power. The
more axes of power with which a body is negotiating, the greater the risk.
Where Michael Brown has documented the recent increase in channeling
among women in the United States, women such as Nehanda or Mrs. Tan
are confronted with entirely dierent levels of force in their instrumental
agency. At the level of representations of religious bodies, however, recog-
nizing the instrumental agency of possessed bodies will expand the catego-
ries of dierence by which the politics of dierence can be thought.
4
Reli-
gious bodies, womens religious bodies (veiled, circumcized, praying,
possessed, marrying) will continue to be a force in the postcolonial world,
and it will be important to engage with them in ways that create the condi-
tions for the possibility of translation and building coalitions as well as theo-
rizing subjectivity and interrogating womens power in their communities.
It is important to do so without ignoring or erasing their religiousness or
Conclusion
signifying it as anachronistic for those scholars invested in the power of
imagined communities.
5
The comparative study of possessed bodies brings a critical focus to
many of the concerns that are being raised in contemporary discourse re-
garding womens agency in terms of race, class, and gender hierarchies. For
example, Gayatri Spivaks question Can the Subaltern Speak? becomes
an even more complex question to answer if the subaltern is possessed by a
deity that represents indigenous traditions but makes demands for a Mos-
lem prayer room inside a technologically sophisticated factory.
6
Luce Irigar-
ays formulation, Any Theory of the Subject Has Already Been Appro-
priated by the Masculine,
7
remains a compelling feminist suspicion in
relation to the agency of the possessed woman who is spoken through by a
voice that is often a male and if not male, an ancestor, spirit, or deity en-
meshed in a religion and economy that is overwhelmingly patriarchal. As
with the feminist philosophies of Grosz and Butler, however, most Western
feminist theory has posed its questions within the anthropologistic frame-
work, desiring to increase womens autonomy in a world of patriarchal
power. The possessed woman whose voice is doubly lost reorients these
questions away from a model of individual identity and toward a model of
communal identity, away from a progressive drive for autonomy and toward
a complex negotiation with transgressing a tradition while remembering it.
The government and people of Zimbabwe have begun to redistribute the
land that had, until now, been kept predominantly by white farmers even
after the hard-won battle against colonialist control of the country. The vio-
lence ensuing from this process has generated international concern, but
little reference is being made to Nehanda, who once was emblazoned above
the prole of Robert Mugabe as he assumed leadership for indigenous rule.
I imagine the current Nehanda mhondoro nd themselves embroiled in this
conict but without much access to or power in national and international
policy debates. Relegated by the news media and international governing
bodies to the anachronistic space, they have been given no role in mediating
this process, which is likely to impact rural women as ercely as any other
group. The question of telling their stories rather than forgetting these
women who were instrumental in winning Zimbabwes independence re-
lates to an expression of nostalgia and the drive toward autonomy, if I may
The Hammer and the Flute
borrow from an argument made by Charles Long. Long suggests that there
are three moments in religiosity: the manifestation (revealing-in-mystery,
kratophany, crisis of ultimacy, holy dread), the myth, and the institution.
The second moment, myth, calls the originary power of the manifestation
(the possession in this case) into language but through the process of putting
the originary power into language, creates a double-bind for itself. The myth
is a sign that the rst step toward human autonomy has already taken place,
not simply because the myth tells the story of a rupture but equally because
language itself, even the language of myth, is a premonition of human au-
tonomy.
8
That is to say, by casting the possession in the structures, forms,
and molds of language, human creativity and agency are establishing their
abilities to record the event, constituting a double bind in relation to the
question of agency within and without the anthropologistic horizon. Per-
haps representations of possessed women are mythic in nature. If we ap-
proach possessed bodies as instrumental agencies and identify the paradox
of inscribing possessions, we come to understand what drives this moment
in history when the possessed woman is so paradoxically present and absent.
Notes
Introduction
r. These descriptions are taken from the ethnography by Aihwa Ong, Spirits of Resis-
tance and Capitalist Discipline (Albany: SUNY Press, r8;), :8.
:. Ibid., :o.
. Ibid., :o;.
. Ann Grodzins Gold, Spirit Possession Perceived and Performed in Rural Rajas-
than, Contribution to Indian Sociology ::, r (r88): , n. r.
. Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Con-
test (New York: Routledge, r).
o. Ibid., o.
;. Elizabeth Mayes, Spirit Possession in the Age of Materialism (Ph.D. diss., New
York University, May r).
8. Lawrence Sullivan, Body Works: Knowledge of the Body in the Study of Reli-
gion, History of Religions o, r (ro): 8o, at 8;.
. Lawrence Sullivan, Icanchus Drum (New York: Macmillan, r88), .
ro. Trinh T. Min-ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, r8), ;.
rr. Charles Long, Signications (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, r8o), .
r:. Ibid., .
r. Talal Asad raises this point in Agency and Pain: An Exploration, Culture and
Religion r, r (:ooo): :oo. See especially n. :. In reference to the oft-repeated criticism
that a text has somehow robbed a people of their agency, he states that he is puzzled that
such power can be attributed to a text, especially retrospectively. Charles Long maintains
that in terms of the history of representations of religious others, a scandal undergirds
the history of religions. Methodologically it is important to recognize that representa-

Notes to Pages
tions signify and that inherent in those signications are evaluations of agency, which
often include racist and sexist devaluations of the people who have attracted ones intel-
lectual interests.
r. T. K. Oesterreich, Possession: Demoniacal and Other among Primitive Races, in Antiq-
uity, the Middle Ages, and Modern Times, trans. D. Ibberson (London: Kegan Paul, Trench,
Trubner, ro), r:r. He goes on to state, Not only material coming from observers
who have seen in possession purely and simply a morbid psychic state will be regarded
as admissible; the most interesting . . . accounts come precisely fromauthors who believe
in the reality of possession . . . [and] may very well be used in spite of the writers out-
look. Oesterreichs approach to possession demonstrates the awkward and signifying
relationship that haunts most possession studies.
r. Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, trans. Tom Conley (New York: Colum-
bia University Press, r88), ::.
ro. Marilyn Skinner, Rescuing Creusa: New Methodological Approaches to
Women in Antiquity, Helios r, : (r8;): r8.
r;. Michel de Certeau, The Mystic Fable, trans. Michael B. Smith (Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, r:), .
r8. Chilla Bulbeck, Re-Orienting Western Feminisms (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, r8), and Richard King, Religion and Orientalism (London: Routledge, r).
Chapter . Signifying Possession
r. Long, Signications, .
:. Important bibliographic resources include Erika Bourguignon, Possession (San
Francisco: Chandler and Sharp, r;o), and World Distribution and Patterns of Posses-
sion States, in Trance and Possession States, ed. Raymond Prince (Montreal: R. M. Bucke
Memorial Society, ro8); Nils Holm, Ecstasy Research in the Twentieth CenturyAn
Introduction, in Religious Ecstasy (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, r8r); I. M. Lewis,
Ecstatic Religion (New York: Routledge, r8); Oesterreich, Possession; and most recently
the survey found in Robert M. Torrance, The Spiritual Quest (Berkeley: University of
California Press, r).
. Robert Segal, Reductionism in the Study of Religion, in Religion and Reduc-
tionism: Essays on Eliade, Segal, and the Challenge of the Social Sciences for the Study of Religion,
ed. Thomas A. Idinopulos and Edward A. Yonan (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J.
Brill, r).
. Holm, Ecstasy Research, ro.
. Ibid.
Notes to Pages
o. Oesterreich, Possession, translators preface, ix.
;. Oesterreich takes this description from Justinus Kerner, a nineteenth-century
German physician, in Possession, ::.
8. Oesterreich, Possession, r:r.
. Ibid., :o, :;, ;8.
ro. Possibly this relationship represents a religious relationship that Charles Long
describes as the religion of contact. Whereas Western scholarship has carefully logged
the religiosity of its others, it has never examined its drive to study others as a part of its
own religious practices, religious because they serve to orient the human cosmologically
vis-a`-vis its others. The current popularity of possession studies as well as the presence
of possession motifs in popular culture suggests to me that possession and permeable
subjectivities are a point of immediate anxiety and curiosity against which Western mo-
dernity is orienting itself.
rr. Bourguignon, Possession, , r.
r:. Talal Asad traces this line of argument in the anthropological study of religion,
noting Cliord Geertzs pivotal role in describing such a distinction. Asad argues that
Geertzs treatment of religious belief, which lies at the core of his conception of reli-
gion, is a modern, privatized Christian one because and to the extent that it emphasizes
the priority of belief as a state of mind rather than as constituting activity in the world.
Genealogies of Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, r), ;. I discuss
this point further in Chapter :.
r. King writes: If we approach the study of religions (religious studies) as one
would approach the study of cultures (cultural studies) rather than as an investigation
of divergent truth claims (the theology of religions) one need not become especially
concerned with the question of which religion, if any, has cornered the market on truth.
We do not ask if Russian or Spanish culture is true or false, nor do we need to in order
to gain some understanding of them. Cultures are not the sort of things that are usually
thought of as true or false. Perhaps it is also important to acknowledge in religious stud-
ies that [sic] the sorts of questions that the academic study of religion can (or possibly
should) attempt to answer. I have no illusions that this approach is free of tensions or
problems of its own. Indeed, to some extent, methodological agnosticism continually
balances on a tightrope between the secular on the one hand and the various religious
traditions under examination on the other. However, the tension on the tightrope is pre-
cisely what makes the study of religion such a fascinating and worthwhile exercise (;).
r. For a specic example of the process of evaluating the authenticity of possessions
see Gold, Spirit Possession, and Margery Wolf s Thrice Told Tale (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, r:). My thanks to Ann Gold, who brought this distinction to my
attention.
Notes to Pages
r. In his analysis of cargo cults, Charles Long quotes the early work of F. E. Wil-
liams (r:). In Williamss description of Vailala Madness we see that a similar herme-
neutical problem is at work: This movement involved, on the one hand a set of prepos-
terous beliefs among its victimsin particular the expectation of an early visit from
deceased relativesand on the other hand, collective nervous symptoms of sometimes
grotesque and idiotic nature (r). Long also credits the eld of anthropology with de-
veloping new theoretical and methodological approaches to such phenomena, which
contributed to the important work of recognizing the signicance these movements held
for understanding the religious signicance of colonization. In Long, Signications, other
works he cites include I. C. Jarvie, The Revolution in Anthropology (Chicago: Henry
Regnery, ro); Vitorio Lanternari, The Religions of the Oppressed (New York: Knopf,
ro); Kenelm Burridge, Mambu (New York: Harper and Row, r;o), and New Heaven,
New Earth (New York: Schocken Books, ro); Weston Le Barre, The Ghost Dance (Gar-
den City, N.Y.: Doubleday, r;o); and Anthony F. C. Wallace, Religion: An Anthropological
View (New York: Random House, roo).
ro. Raymond Prince, ed., Trance and Possession States, Proceedings of the Second An-
nual Conference of the R. M. Buke Memorial Society, March roo, Montreal.
r;. Ibid., r8r.
r8. Asad, Genealogies of Religion, r, in reference to the tension he sees underlying
anthropological and phenomenological studies of religion.
r. In John F. Schumaker, ed., Religion and Mental Health (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, r:).
:o. Felicitas Goodman, Speaking in Tongues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
r;:); Ecstasy, Ritual, and Alternate Reality (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
r88); How About Demons? (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, r88).
:r. Goodman, Ecstasy, .
::. Goodman, Tongues, r:.
:. Goodman, Ecstasy, , ;, ;8, :.
:. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion, r, ::, :.
:. Enrique Dussell, The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor, and the
Philosophy of Liberation (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, ro).
:o. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion, o.
:;. These phrases occur in order on the following pages: roo, ro:, ro, roo, ro,
rr, rr, r8:. Some of these descriptions reect a theory of subjectivity based on an
individual agent, such as aggressive self-assertion. Others reect Lewiss distrust of
religiosity as an ideology, similar to Marxs sense of religion as an opiate.
:8. Ibid., r. An overview of the book reveals his greater attention to the shamans
as individual men who struggle for power (central cults). His concern with oppressed
Notes to Pages
women and men who vent their frustrations (peripheral cults) receives less overall
attention.
:. Ibid., r8.
o. An apt discussion of the problem is found in Paula Cooey, Religious Imagination
and the Body (New York: Oxford University Press, r): Those who turn to hermeneu-
tical theory, socioeconomic theory, and anthropological theory as authoritative for under-
standing religious traditions presuppose a very dierent concept of religion . . . namely
that religious symbol systems are themselves human artifacts, manifestations of culture.
As products of human making religious symbol systems are governed by principles char-
acteristics of human making. As religious human beings, adherents project an ultimate
reality; thus central symbols reect and further shape what is at the core thoroughly
human from beginning to end (r).
r. Vincent Crapanzano, in Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade, editor in chief
(New York: Macmillan, r8;), r: r:r.
:. Holm, Religious Ecstasy, r;.
. Carolyn Cooper, Something Ancestral Recaptured: Spirit Possession as Trope
in Selected Feminist Fictions of the African Diaspora, in Motherlands: Black Womens
Writing from Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia, ed. Susheila Nasta (New Brunswick,
N.J.: Rutgers University Press, r:); Mae Gwendolyn Henderson, Speaking in
Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writers Literary Tradition, in
Hilde Heine and Carolyn Korsmeyer, eds., Aesthetics in Feminist Perspective (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, r).
. Doris G. Bargen, A Womans Weapon: Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji (Ho-
nolulu: University of Hawaii Press, r;).
. Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Womens Rights in Nineteenth-Century
America (Boston: Beacon Press, r:).
o. Thomas J. Csordas, Health and the Holy in African and Afro-American Spirit
Possession, Social Science and Medicine : (r8;): rrr, at r.
;. See Pam Belluck, Mingling Two Worlds of Medicine, New York Times, May ,
ro. As New York Citys immigrant population balloons, doctors and hospitals are
regularly faced with patients who also seek treatment from folk healers, spiritualists or
herbalists, a practice transplanted from countries like Mexico, China, Haiti and Cambo-
dia. Doctors are used to looking at these healers, who may use pigeon blood, mercury or
animal sacrices, as purveyors of superstitious quackery, ineective at best, dangerous at
worst. But some doctors at respected hospitals have begun to condone their patients use
of both conventional medicine and folk healing, even to the point of consulting with a
healer, referring patients to one or allowing the healer to come to the hospital. They say
it can be healthier for patients because it encourages them to followdoctors instructions,
Notes to Pages
keeps them coming in for treatment, improves their attitude toward their illnesses, and
seems to allay some psychological and possibly some physical symptoms. The bias to-
ward Western science is still evident in derogatory labels such as quackery. See also Dan-
iel Goleman, Making Room on the Couch for Culture, New York Times, December ,
r. The article describes the work of Juan Mezzich, a psychiatrist at the forefront of
a new movement in psychiatry to recognize the cultural trappings that patients bring
with them. The article describes how Mezzich recognized a patients trouble as susto,
or loss of the soula Latin American interpretation of what psychiatry would have
called depression. The doctor did not prescribe antidepressants, but instead we orga-
nized a sort of wake where everyone talked about the loss of her uncle and what it meant
to them. Mezzich reports: The wake was quite powerful for her. She didnt need any
antidepressants, and within a few meetings, including two with her family, her symptoms
lifted and she was back participating fully in life once again. Prior to meeting with
Mezzich she had been misdiagnosed as psychotic.
8. Colleen Ward, A Transcultural Perspective on Women and Madness: The Case
of the Mystical Aiction, Womens Studies International Forum , (r8:): rrr8, at
r:, r;.
. Katherine P. Ewing, The Illusion of Wholeness: Culture, Self, and the Experi-
ence of Inconsistency, Ethos r8, (ro): :r.
o. Lars Kjrholm, Possession and Substance in Indian Civilization, Volk :
(r8:): r;o, at r8.
r. Stephen Inglis, Possession and Pottery: Serving the Divine in a South Indian
Community, in Gods of Flesh, Gods of Stone, ed. Joanne Waghorne and Norman Cutler
(Chambersburg, Pa.: Anima Press, r8), 88ror, at roo, ror.
:. Elisabeth Schoembucher, Gods, Ghosts, and Demons: Possession in South
Asia, in Flags of Fame: Studies in South Asian Folk Culture, ed. Heidrun Bruchner, Lothar
Lutze, and Aditya Malik (New Delhi: Manohar, r), :o;.
. Kathleen M. Erndl, The Goddess and Womens Power: A Hindu Case Study,
in Women and Goddess Traditions in Antiquity and Today, ed. Karen L. King (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, r;), r;8, at r8. See also Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of
Northwest India in Myth, Ritual, and Symbol (New York: Oxford University Press, r),
and Seranvali: The Mother Who Possesses, in Devi: Goddesses of India, ed. Donna Wul
and John Stratton Hawley (Berkeley: University of California Press, ro), r;.
. Erndl, Womens Power, :;.
. Ibid., ::.
o. Ibid., ::, :r.
;. Ibid., o.
8. For Japan, see Helen Hardacre, Japanese New Religions: Proles in Gender, in
Fundamentalism and Gender, ed. John Stratton Hawley (New York: Oxford University
Notes to Page
Press, ), ; and Gender and the Millennium in O

moto Kyodan: The Limits


of Religious Innovation, in Innovations in Religious Traditions, ed. Michael A. Williams,
Collett Cox, and Martin S. Jaee (Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, ), . Hard-
acres analysis is discussed in Chapter .
The double stance approach has been developed by several scholars of possession in
India. They argue against reductive analyses and provide more accurate, more informed
interpretations of possession by incorporating the study of cosmology and identifying
the personalistic dimensions of the possessing gods and goddesses. Their analyses con-
tinue, however, to attribute the agency of the possessing deities to cultural beliefs. See
Manuel Moreno, Gods Forceful Call: Possession as a Divine Strategy, in Waghorne
and Cutler, Gods of Flesh, Gods of Stone, . The events described here seem to
emphasize the Hindu belief that gods and humans exist in spatio-temporal contiguity,
and that they are related by complementary, mutually rewarding bodily exchanges. Pos-
session is a dynamic context in which this type of complementary exchange is initiated
by divine persons as a strategy to refurbish their depleted powers. These events also
underscore a basic quality that humans must possess to become recipients of the gods
forceful calls, namely a sort of matching or compatibility (satmya) of their natures
with the gods needs. . . . Gods are essential actors in a Hindu world characterized by
reciprocity. More powerful and generous than humans, they can alleviate problems that
are beyond human capacity (). See also Margaret Trawick Egnor, The Changed
Mother, or What the Smallpox Goddess Did When There Was No More Smallpox,
Contributions to Asian Studies (): . Egnor describes Hindu deities as operating
in realms which are entirely beyond the control of individualsthe realms of subcon-
scious drives and of social forces (, n. ). See also June McDaniel, The Madness of
the Saints: Ecstatic Religion in Bengal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ). She
identies her approach as a phenomenological one in which she brackets the question of
belief in order to record the phenomena as religious phenomena. And see John M. Stan-
ley, Gods, Ghosts, and Possession, in The Experience of Hinduism: Essays on Religion in
Maharashtra, ed. Eleanor Zelliott and Maxine Berntsen (Albany: SUNY Press, ),
.
For Korea, see Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women
in Korean Ritual Life (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, ); for Taiwan, see Wolf,
Thrice Told Tale. For Indonesia, see Anna L. Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, ). In this ethnography of the Meratus Day-
aks of southeast Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Tsings goal is to develop a dierent
set of conceptual tools for thinking about out-of-the-way places, to redress the poverty
of an urban imagination which systematically has denied the possibilities of dierence
within the modern world and thus looked to relatively isolated people to represent its
only adversary, its dying Other (x). Uma Adang, a non-Muslim woman who began
Notes to Pages
hearing voices from the ancient Indonesian kingdom of Majapahit, functions promi-
nently as Tsings teacher and guide. The voices and prophecies spoken by Uma
Adang are described by Tsing as the playful parody that Uma Adang created in even
her most bizarre announcements (ro). Again we see the double stance. Parody and id-
iom are interpretations with which scholars can be comfortable, even when they are try-
ing to broaden the conceptual tools being used for thinking about cultural dierence.
For Jamaica, see Diane J. Austin-Broos, Jamaica Genesis (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, r;); for the Caribbean, Margarite Fernandez Olmos and Lizbeth
Paravisini-Gebert, eds., Sacred Possessions (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University
Press, r;). Also, Deborah Wyrick provides a review of recent studies of Santer a and
Vodou in Divine Transpositions: Recent Scholarship on Vodou and Santer a Religious
Art, Jouvert , r and :; http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/vir:/vodou.htm.
For Africa, see Susan J. Rasmussen, Spirit Possession and Personhood among the Kel Ewey
Tuareg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r); Judy Rosenthal, Possession, Ec-
stasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, r8); Paul
Stoller and Cheryl Olkes, In Sorcerys Shadow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
r8;); Paul Stoller, Fusion of the Worlds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r8),
The Cinematic Griot (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r:), and Embodying Colonial
Memories (New York: Routledge, r); and Janet Boddy, Wombs and Alien Spirits (Madi-
son: University of Wisconsin Press, r8).
For Central and South America, see Michael Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetish-
ism in South America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, r8o); for urban
America, Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Berkeley:
University of California Press, rr); and Claude F. Jacobs and Andrew J. Kaslow, The
Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs, and Rituals of an African-American Reli-
gion (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, rr).
. For instance, in Jamaica Genesis, her study of Pentecostalism in Jamaica, Diane
J. Austin-Broos uses Comaros distinction between ideology as explicit discourse and
ideology as lived experience (). See Jean Comaro, Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r8).
o. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (ro:; London: Collins, roo);
Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask (London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, ro); originally published as Le chamanisme et les Techniques
archa ques de lextase (Paris: Librarie Payot, rr); Torrance, Spiritual Quest; and Susan
Starr Sered, Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister (Oxford: Oxford University Press, r).
r. Eliade, Shamanism, xv. He goes on to distinguish this from the work of the phe-
nomenologist who does not employ comparison but rather approaches an event.
:. Tomoko Matsuzawa has produced the denitive reading of the sacred as it func-
tions in Eliades text. She argues that Eliade has two working denitions of the sacred,
Notes to Pages
which work against each other. The rst is his famous dictum the sacred is society,
and the second is his shadow denition of the sacred as absolute dierence. In Search of
Dreamtime (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r). In Chapter I discuss theology
as a discourse that relates formally to contemporary theorizations of absolute dierence.
. The concept of the boundary line has been developed further by several histori-
ans of religion. Catherine Albanese identies these lines as territorial boundaries such as
the thresholds that mark ethnic territories; corporeal boundaries that are crossed in the
everyday acts of eating, defecating, and sexual intercourse; temporal boundaries such
as birth, puberty, marriage, death; and especially in modern, Western constructions of
subjectivity, identity boundaries. Charles Longs study of religions of contact is built on
the argument that colonialism was a profoundly religious event for the colonizers and the
colonized because boundaries were encountered in situations of contact that produced
experiences of alterity in the context of history as terror. These are examples of
boundary-line situations that the historian of religion studies as religious events. People
confront their limitations at boundaries, creating heightened experiences of locatedness
in the face of powers greater than the human. This description roughly follows Al-
baneses outline of religious boundaries found in her introduction to America: Religions
and Religion, :d ed. (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, r:), . For a discussion of boundaries
and orientation in Long and Albanese, see Jeremy Carrette and Mary Keller, Religions,
Orientation, and Critical Theory: Race, Gender, and Sexuality at the r8 Lambeth
Conference, Theology and Sexuality rr (r): :r.
. Eliade, Shamanism, o.
. Ibid., :: From the time of Krivoshapkin (r8or, r8o), V. G. Bogoraz (rro),
N.Y. Viashevsky (rrr), and M. A. Czaplicka (rr), the psychopathological phenome-
nology of Siberian shamanism has constantly been emphasized.
o. Ibid., :;, o.
;. Ibid., o.
8. William James based his analysis of religious subjectivity on an androcentric
model of mystics and their personal religious experience in The Varieties of Religious
Experience, based on the Giord Lectures delivered at Edinburgh, ror: (London: Col-
lins, roo). He writes, One may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience has
its root and center in mystical states of consciousness; so for us, who in these lectures
are treating personal experience as the exclusive subject of our study, such states of con-
sciousness ought to form the vital chapter from which the other chapters get their
light (;).
. Torrance, Spiritual Quest, xii.
oo. Long, Human Centers: An Essay On Method in the History of Religions, in
Signications, o;8. The Enlightenment orientation in the history of religions repre-
sents the continuation of a classical Western epistemological stance. Its methodologies,
Notes to Pages
while critical of former positions, tended to relocate the epistemological center of inquiry
as new data were confronted, yet it remained wedded to the notion of a centered con-
sciousness as the locus of inquiry. Its systematic inquiry presupposed the locus of an
ordered and centered intelligence in human consciousness. The problemof reductionism
in all the human sciences stems from this issue; it is most acute in the area of religious
studies (ooo;).
or. For example, in the introduction to chapter , Possession and Transformation,
Torrance contrasts nontribal religions with tribal religions thus: By contrast, the core
belief of tribal spirit possession cultsthat it is not man who raises himself to the heav-
ens in these postmythical times but the gods who descend, with individually variant and
never fully predictable results, upon manremains consistent in most instances from
the tropical or subtropical regions we have been examining (rr;).
o:. Sered, Priestess, Mother, ror.
Chapter . Reorienting Possession
r. Sered, Priestess, Mother, r8r. Other important arguments include Rita Gross, Femi-
nism and Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, ro); Ursula King, ed., Women in the Worlds
Religions (New York: Paragon House, r8;); and Ursula King, ed., Religion and Gender
(Oxford: Blackwell, r).
:. Sered, Priestess, Mother, r8.
. Ibid., o.
. Asad, Genealogies of Religion, .
. Ibid., n. r:.
o. Ibid., 8, r.
;. Ibid., ;, , :.
8. Ibid., r.
. Ibid., o.
ro. Janaki Nair, On the Question of Agency in Indian Feminist Historiography,
Gender and History o, r (r): 8:roo, at 8:.
rr. Ibid., 8.
r:. Ibid., 8.
r. Ibid., 8.
r. Theories of agency are being argued across many disciplines. An exciting ex-
ample that strives to move past victim-victor, agent-patient dichotomies is: Susan Carol
Rogers, The Myth of Male Dominance, in Western Women and Imperialism, ed. Nupur
Chaudhuri and Margaret Strobel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, r:).
r. Asad, Genealogies of Religion, .
Notes to Pages
ro. Ibid.
r;. James Cliord, The Predicament of Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
r88), rr.
r8. Asad, Genealogies of Religion, ro.
r. See Jane Flax, Thinking Fragments (Berkeley: University of California Press,
ro): In postmodern philosophies woman is often still utilized as the other or as mirror
for Man; when she exists at all, it is as the repository for the qualities Man has denied
to himself and now wishes to reclaim. Womans speech is constricted by these rulesor
she is (and may remain) silenced. As Irigaray so aptly puts it, woman is for thembut
always according to himessentially an-archic and a-teleological. For the imperative
that is imposed on thembut solely from the outside, and not without violenceis
enjoy without law . . . when that strange state of body that men call womens plea-
sure turns up, it is gratuitous, accidental, unforeseen, supplementary to the essen-
tial (::o).
:o. Asad describes Rosalind OHanlon as a scholar who questions the liberal hu-
manist notions of subjectivity and agency in her review of the work of the subaltern
studies group of historians in her article Recovering the Subject: Subaltern Studies and
Histories of Resistance in Colonial South Asia, Modern Asian Studies ::, r (r88): r8
::, but delivers the critique that because OHanlon is a progressivist, she therefore is
obliged to reintroduce the principle of the self-constituting subject, owing to the
moral, legal, and political implications of such a self, in her eort to uncover the au-
thentic purposes of the subaltern. She attempts to distinguish the subalterns authentic
purposes from those of his master, a task that requires the subaltern to make history in
an autonomous reaction. Genealogies of Religion, rr.
:r. Ibid., r, emphasis added.
::. Ibid.
:. Ibid., ro.
:. Ibid., .
:. Ibid., ;.
:o. Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
r:).
:;. Ibid., ;8.
:8. Asad (Genealogies of Religion) notes that in the rro edition of the Encyclopaedia
Britannica the denition of ritual dierentiated between the interpretive abilities of
primitives and reective thinkers: As regards the symbolic interpretation of ritual,
this is usually held not to be primitive; and it is doubtless true that an unreective age
is hardly aware of the dierences between outward sign and inward meaning, and
thinks as it were by means of its eyes ().
Notes to Pages
:. George Lako, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, r8;); Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r;;).
o. Bell, Ritual Theory, o.
r. Ibid., ;.
:. Ibid., ;.
. Ibid., o.
. Susan S. Wadley, The Spirit Rides or the Spirit Comes: Possession in a
North Indian Village, in The Realmof the Extra-Human: Agents and Audiences, ed. Ageha-
nanda Bharati (Paris: Mouton, r;o), ::, at :, :.
. Bell, Ritual Theory, r;o.
o. Ibid., pt. , Ritual and Power, ro::, at ro.
;. Ibid., 8, ro, n. ;o, 8.
8. Ibid., ::r.
Chapter . Flutes, Hammers, and Mounted Women
r. Jean-Louis Durand suggests that ritual can be understood as instrumentality, but
Durand never explains what he means. He only uses the word instrument when he
looks at the instruments used in sacrice. Ritual as Instrumentality, trans. Paula Wiss-
ing, in The Cuisine of Sacrice among the Greeks, ed. Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre
Vernant (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r8).
:. Marcel Mauss contributed an early analysis of the techniques of the body, a
valuable addition to the academic analysis of religious bodies that acknowledges their
developable status as recipients of theological knowledge. I believe precisely that at
the bottom of all our mystical states there are body techniques which we have not stud-
ied, but which were studied fully in China and India, even in very remote periods. This
socio-psycho-biological study should be made. I think that there are necessarily biologi-
cal means of entering into communion with God. Marcel Mauss, Body Techniques,
in Marcel Mauss, Sociology and Psychology: Essays, ed. and trans. B. Brewster (London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, r;), r::. I am proposing that theory in religious studies
needs to make room for developable bodies.
. Yamana Kachru cites this denition from the work of Pandharipande r; and
states: Thus, while the [direct object] identies entities that are aected by the state,
process or action of the verb, the instrumental identies entities that have an instrumen-
tal role. Yamana Kachru, Experiencer and Other Oblique Subjects in Hindi, in Expe-
riencer Subjects in South Asian Languages, ed. Manindra Verma and K. P. Mohanan (Stan-
ford, Calif.: Center for the Study of Language Information, ro), ;r.
. Ronald Inden, Imagining India (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, ro). See chapter r,
Notes to Pages
Agents: Systems of Overlapping Classes, and chapter o, From Patients to Agents.
Talal Asads critique of Inden is found in the Introduction to Genealogies of Religion.
. Asad, Genealogies of Religion, .
o. Ibid., r.
;. An important example of feminist scholarship that argues that possessions are
ultimately conservative is Mary McCormick Maagas Liminal Women: Pneumatologi-
cal Practices among West African Christians, in Images of African Women, ed. Stephanie
Newell, Occasional Paper no. (Stirling, Scotland: University of Stirling, Centre of
Commonwealth Studies, September r). In this article she revisits Victor Turners
notion of liminality and delivers a feminist critique of his framework, but ultimately
agrees with him that possessions do not alter everyday power relationships and therefore
are not revitalising for the West African Christian women she is describing who en-
gage in possession or pneumatological practices. While I nd her critical analysis of
Turner to be useful, her ultimate evaluation of the agency of possessed persons perpetu-
ates a problematic teleological notion of agency.
8. Though I am not referring to Jonathan Z. Smith specically, his book To Take
Place develops the thematic of taking place as a theory for understanding ritual (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, r8;).
. Helen Hardacre, Gender and the Millennium in O

moto Kyodan: The Limits of


Religious Innovation, in Michael A. Williams, Collett Cox, and Martin S. Jaee, eds.,
Innovation in Religious Traditions (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, r:), at :ro, :r;.
ro. Joan Scott, Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis, American Histor-
ical Review r, (r8o): ro;, at roo;.
rr. Rita M. Gross, Androcentrism and Androgyny in the Methodology of History
of Religions, in Beyond Androcentrism: New Essays on Women and Religion, ed. Rita M.
Gross (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, r;;), ;r.
r:. David Ford, Theology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, r), , r:.
r. Richard Grigg, Theology As a Way of Thinking (Atlanta: Scholars Press, ro), :.
r. Newman Robert Glass, Working Emptiness (Atlanta: Scholars Press, r).
r. Cooey, Religious Imagination, viii.
ro. Ibid.
r;. Charles Winquist, Desiring Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
r).
r8. Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter (New York: Routledge, r); Elizabeth Grosz,
Volatile Bodies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, r); Pheng Cheah, Mat-
tering, Diacritics :o, r (ro): ro8.
r. Butler, Bodies That Matter, :, ro.
:o. Cheah, Mattering, rr:, citing Butler, Bodies That Matter, ;.
Notes to Pages
:r. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New
York: Grove Press, ro;). An excellent discussion of Fanons engagement with Lacan is
found in Ronald A. T. Judy, Fanons Body of Black Experience, in Fanon: A Critical
Reader, ed. Lewis R. Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Renee T. White (Ox-
ford: Blackwell, r).
::. Butler, Bodies That Matter, ::o.
:. Rosenthal, Possession, Ecstasy, and Law. Rosenthals ethnography of possession
among the Ewe in West Africa speculates on her desires and anthropologys desire in
relation to the colonial context of anthropology as a discipline. Trained in the Lacanian
tradition, she explores the potential for comparative interpretations between Lacanian
frameworks and Ewe frameworks. She writes that a community of spirits and worshipers
requested that she write the ethnography. Faced by this demand, she found Lacanian
theory to be a powerful tool for interpreting possession. Paul Stoller also relates a similar
request coming from the Hauka, the Songhay spirits in his research area in Niger. Schol-
ars create an interesting position or posture for themselves when beginning their ethnog-
raphies by relating how they are responding to the demand of spirits. Paul Stoller, Em-
bodying Colonial Memories (New York: Routledge, r). Willy Apollon also proposes a
Lacanian-inuenced analysis of possession in relation to drives as nonindividualistic
forces by suggesting that possession is a precapitalist, pretheatrical expression of the
drives. He argues that possession is being commodied in contemporary manifestations
owing to global capitalism; an example is the folklorication of possession encouraged
by tourism. Of the great white theater of writing and rational discourse he writes:
What we are able to see of the voices within the spectacle of possession runs the risk
of being dissolved by the act of interpretation, in which writing reduces it to the sign.
How can possession be made to pass through writing? What kind of disturbance could
theory introduce into writing, in order to provoke the emergence of a style able to con-
note possession? At the point at which meaning, in its multiplicity, gives resonance to
what orthography keeps within the eld of the simplest kind of reading, one might sus-
pect that the surveillance of the voices that inhabit language by writing could be sub-
verted through the violence enacted upon writing. Willy Apollon, The Crisis of Pos-
session, trans. Peter Canning and Tracy McNulty, Jouvert , r: (r), http://
social.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/vil:/apollo.htm, paragraph .
:. Grosz, Volatile Bodies, vii, :ro.
:. Ibid., ro.
:o. Ibid.
:;. Ibid., xiii.
:8. Cheah, Mattering, rr.
:. Ibid., r:o:r.
o. Ibid., r:r.
Notes to Pages
r. Grosz, Volatile Bodies, xxi.
:. Cheah, Mattering, r::.
. Ibid., r:o.
. Ibid., rrr.
. Ibid., r:r.
o. Ibid.
;. Toni Morrison and Charles Long refer to the process of crawling back or re-
turning to the discredited knowledge of traditions that have undergone colonization.
These directional references are meant to contest progressive teleology rather than re-
inforce it. Toni Morrison, Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation, in Mari Evans,
ed., Black Women Writers (London: Pluto Press, r8); Charles Long, Archaism and
Hermeneutics and The Oppression of Religion and Religious of the Oppressed, in
Signications (chaps. and ro, respectively).
8. Cheah, Mattering, r:.
. Khawar Mumtaz, Identity Politics and Women: Fundamentalism and Women
in Pakistan, in Valentine M. Moghadam, ed., Identity Politics and WomenCultural Reas-
sertions and Feminisms in International Perspective (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, r),
at :o.
o. Marie-Aimee Helie-Lukas, The Preferential Symbol for Islamic Identity:
Women in Muslim Personal Laws, in Moghadam, Identity Politics, 8.
r. Cheah, Mattering, r8.
:. Ibid.
. Ibid.
Chapter . Work
r. Ong, Spirits of Resistance; Bourguignon, Religion as a Mediating Factor. For a
critique, see Robert L. Winzeler, Latah in Southeast Asia: The History and Ethnography of
a Culture-Bound Syndrome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r).
:. Ong species that Malay refers to the people, the bumiputra, or sons of the soil,
and has been dened in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia to denote Malay-Muslims
who are collectively guaranteed a share of the national wealth (Siddique r8r), which
includes immigrants from other parts of the Malay-Indonesian archipelago who have
been assimilated into the dominant indigenous group (::, n. r).
. Ibid., :o.
. See Annette Fuentes and Barbara Ehrenreich, Women in the Global Factory (Bos-
ton: South End Press, r:).
. Dierent regions of Malaysia have experienced dierent models of transforma-
tion. Ingrid Rudies ethnographic work in Kelantan over the past thirty years has docu-
Notes to Pages
mented the transformations that occurred where men were the desired work force. In
her work Rudie is also concerned with the representation of womens agency as a matter
of the construction of subjectivity. In A Hall of Mirrors: Autonomy Translated over
Time, she details her struggle over the years to describe the agency of the Malay women
as scholarly paradigms have changed. In her earlier work she avoided describing the
Malay women as oppressed, though it was a popular feminist motif. Instead she stressed
the economic independence they exercised as food producers within the kampung. She
described the mix of their independence and dependence as the economic autonomy of
women vis-a`-vis husbands, and the nature of womens cooperative projects as a system
of its own. The coexistence of economic autonomy and social and ritual segregation
became my new catchwords (ro;). In her later work she concluded: If I say that this
issue of identity is an issue of fullment, I talk within a western modernist and individu-
alist frame of reference. If I say that it has something to do with attachment and belong-
ing, I take care of the Malay idiom at the same time as I do not exclude the possibility
of fullment (rr). A nal point she raises is that the concept of work itself has changed
over time in Kelantan. The vernacular word for workkerjaused to cover a wide
range of activities including material production as well as ceremonial undertakings, and
the broadest translation is probably necessary activities but in the r8os women re-
plied to Rudies question about their work that they had none, meaning that they were
not in formal, permanent employment. Housework, gardening, petty trade and ceremo-
nial had seemingly fallen out of the work category (ro). In Gendered Fields: Women,
Men, and Ethnography, ed. Diane Bell, Pat Caplan, and Wazir Jahan Karim (London:
Routledge, r), roro.
o. Ong, Spirits of Resistance, :o, :o.
;. De Certeau, Writing of History, ::.
8. Ong, Spirits of Resistance, :8, :o8.
. Ibid., :ro.
ro. Ibid., :o;.
rr. Ibid., xv.
r:. Ibid., :o.
r. At times Ong does acknowledge spirituality as an important component of the
womens lives, as in the following analysis: [S]pirit imageries reveal not only a mode of
unconscious retaliation against male authority but fundamentally a sense of dislocation
in human relations and a need for greater spiritual vigilance in domains reconstituted
by capitalist relations of production (:o;). As I read Ong, however, she is nevertheless
subsuming that importance under modern psychological and sociological interpretations
of reality.
r. Bourguignon, Mediating Factor, :o:.
r. Bell, Ritual Theory, o.
Notes to Pages
ro. Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya, A History of Malaysia, Macmil-
lan Asian History Series (London: Macmillan, r8:), r.
r;. N. J. Ryan, The Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore, Oxford in Asia College
Texts (London: Oxford University Press, ro), .
r8. Carol Laderman, Taming the Wind of Desire: Psychology, Medicine, and Aesthetics in
Malay Shamanistic Performance (Berkeley: University of California Press, rr), ::.
r. Andaya and Andaya, History of Malaysia, .
:o. Syed Husin Ali, Malay Peasant Society and Leadership (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford
University Press, r;), o.
:r. Andaya and Andaya, History of Malaysia, ro, :, r.
::. Ibid., , , .
:. Ibid., rr, :, :8.
:. Ong, Spirits of Resistance, :o; Raymond Firth, Ritual and Drama in Malay Spirit
Mediumship, Comparative Studies in Society and History , : (ro;): ro:oo.
:. Ali, Malay Peasant Society, o.
:o. Peter J. Rimmer and Lisa M. Allen, eds., The Underside of Malaysian History (Sin-
gapore: Singapore University Press, ro), ;.
:;. As described by J. E. Jayasuriya: [T]here are certain factorsgeographical, ed-
ucational, economicthat tend to keep the races apart or cause invidious distinctions
among them. Urban areas have a preponderance of Chinese and Indians, while the ma-
jority of the Malays live in rural areas. . . . [T]he British reliance on immigrant races
for the tasks of development and modern sector employment needs, and the dierential
provision of educational facilities so as not to disturb the Malay social structure, which
was in eect to perpetuate Malay disadvantage, have brought in their train problems that
have bedeviled the country for some decades, and might persist for a few decades more
(). Dynamics of Nation-Building in Malaysia (Colombo, Sri Lanka: Associated Educa-
tional Publishers, r8).
:8. Peter J. Rimmer, Lenore Manderson, and Colin Barlow describe Malaysia as the
crossroads of Asia in the introduction to Underside of Malaysian History, .
:. Winzeler, Latah in Southeast Asia, .
o. Raymond Firths discussion of Malay Spirit Mediumship exemplies this ten-
dency. He identies four Malay psychological syndromes as important for understanding
spirit mediumship. Winzeler notes that latah, one of the four syndromes Firth discusses,
has been the most frequently discussed and most important of the culture-bound syn-
dromes (Prince and Tcheng-Laroche r8;: rr). Ibid., ;.
r. Ibid., ro, rr.
:. Roland Littlewood and Maurice Lipsedge, Culture Bound Syndromes, in Re-
cent Advances in Psychiatry, th ed., ed. K. Granville-Grossman (Edinburgh: Churchill-
Livingstone, r8), rr8.
Notes to Pages
. Ong, Spirits of Resistance, 88.
. Ibid., chap. ;, The Modern Corporation: Manufacturing Gender Hierarchy,
rr;8.
. As important as Ongs observations are for depicting the role of traditional reli-
gion for young Malay women, her analysis indicates that she considers this facet of their
lives to be socially imposed upon the women, who are socialized to accept the moral
custody of males (my emphasis). Though Ong is familiar with and calls upon the work
of Foucault and Jameson as models of her understanding of power, Ong does not de-
scribe the womens participation in religion as a negotiated participation in systems of
subordination and domination. There is no sense that women might exercise an ambiva-
lent power in the kampung drawn from their proclivity toward possession, and no sense
that the possessions might be the sacred space parallel to that of the bomoh in a religious
tradition with both masculine and feminine aspects. It is fair to point to the unequal
gendered constructs found in adat, but to reduce religion to a social symbolic that justi-
es the oppression of women is to misunderstand the womens negotiated participation
in adat, as well as to promote a notion that religion molds individuals, especially women.
o. Ong states: Young girls venturing out alone after twilight attract spirits ( jinn
and hantu) dwelling in rocks and trees, which exude an evil odor. Trespassing into forbid-
den places can incite possession of young women by angry spirits (kena hantu) (88).
;. Annette Fuentes and Barbara Ehrenreich compare the Malaysian possessions to
an event in a shoe factory in the midwestern United States in which workers fell faint
and had headaches, nausea, blurred vision, muscle soreness and chest pains. They
argue that the incidents represent cultural variants of labor struggles. What is dierent
between the two examples is that the Malay women are negotiating with spirits and this
attracts international attention, which contributes to the dissemination of their protest.
Global Factory, 8.
8. Ali, Malay Peasant Society, rr.
. Taussig, Devil and Commodity Fetishism, .
o. Ibid., rorr, .
r. Ibid., .
:. Nancy Waxler, Is Mental Illness Cured in Traditional Societies? A Theoretical
Analysis, Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry r (r;;): :.
. Laderman, Wind of Desire, r:r.
Chapter . War
r. David Lan, Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe (London:
James Currey; Berkeley: University of California Press, r8).
:. Douglas Dziva, A Critical Examination of Patterns of Research in the Academic
Notes to Pages
Study of Shona Traditional Religion, with Special Reference to Methodological Consid-
erations (Ph.D. diss., University of Natal, ro), :. Dziva cites the work of Thorpe,
Mbiti, and Platvoet. Claire Jones argues that religion/politics/way of life are not sepa-
rablethe term is pasichigare, glossed as the ways of the ancestors (literally, the earth
of the past; the semantic eld pasi includes the owners). Letter to author, April r;.
. Dziva, Critical Examination, :. By virtue of being born into an African fam-
ily one automatically becomes integrated into the religious beliefs and practices of ones
forefathers. One thereby naturally participates and shares in its socio-religious life. How-
ever, in modern communities Mbitis assertion that all individuals in African community
are religious is not necessarily correct. I maintain that both in traditional times and at
the present day, not all Africans are religious; many are lax and non-observant as for-
tune allows.
. Ibid., o.
. Michael Bourdillon, The Shona Peoples (Gwelo, Rhodesia: Mambo Press, r;o), r.
o. David N. Beach, The Shona and Zimbabwe, (London: Heinemann, r8o).
Ruth Weiss states: The Shona people appear to identify with a region and a place. As
their eld of activities ranged right down to the coastal area, it is clear that the borders
which divide the coastal people [current Mozambique] from those on the high plateau
were generally a colonial convention, unknown before r8:o. There is thus no single his-
tory of the Shona, but a web of regional histories. What unies them is a common lan-
guage and culture and, in specic cases, a common national spirit (). Ruth Weiss, The
Women of Zimbabwe (London: Kesho Publications, r8o).
;. Bourdillon, Shona Peoples, :r.
8. Dziva, Critical Examination, . Dziva acknowledges the region between the
Zambezi and Limpopo rivers as the academically recognized home of the Shona but
notes that the Shona are also found in areas bordering Zimbabwe and parts of Mozam-
bique, Botswana, South Africa and Zambia (ro).
. Bourdillon, Shona Peoples, :;.
ro. Ibid., :8.
rr. Dziva, Critical Examination, :o:r.
r:. Ibid., :o.
r. Ibid., rr.
r. Bourdillon, Shona Peoples, :o.
r. Hubert Bucher, Spirits and Power: An Analysis of Shona Cosmology (Cape Town:
Oxford University Press, r8o), , ::.
ro. Ibid., r.
r;. Bourdillon, Shona Peoples, r;.
r8. The evaluation of psychology as real versus the unreal indigenous knowledge
is clear in the following statements: Before consulting the diviner, he was suering from
Notes to Pages
a complaint which made him anxious: after taking the diviners advice, the anxiety ceased
and the complaint was no longer considered abnormal or serious. The improvement may
have been psychological, but the old man certainly felt it as real (ibid., r88). Bucher
aligns his analysis with that of Lienhardts Divinity and Experience to argue that the ances-
tors are conceptualizations of power with which the Shona free themselves symboli-
cally from what they must otherwise passively endure (r). In Spirits of Protest Peter Fry
writes, Spirits, in the last analysis, are the creation of society; they come into being, rise
and fall from grace through the energies of their mediums who attempt to satisfy the
religious aspirations of the people whom they serve and to full their own vocation as
prophets, diviners and healers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r;o), . The
modern agent is especially evident in Frys construction. Mediums are agents who can
do what they do in order to fulll their Weberian vocation. Ultimately Fry argues, in
line with Bucher, that spirit mediums attain their power by articulating group consen-
susthey manipulate and articulate the social symbolic.
r. Weiss, Women of Zimbabwe, o.
:o. Lan, Guns and Rain, r8.
:r. Weiss, Women of Zimbabwe, o.
::. David Sweetman provides this alternative history of the contestation between
the Ndebele and the Shona: It was true that the Ndebele had driven out the Shona
from the south-west and established their own kingdom when they entered these lands
in the middle of the nineteenth century. But in a major battle in r88 the Shona had
proved that they could defend themselves and the two groups had accepted that each
would have part of the country. Relations between the two were far from being those of
master and slave as the white man imagined. There was mutual respect and many points
of contact between them, not least because the Ndebele adopted most of the Shona reli-
gious beliefs in order to be at peace with the land they had conquered. Women Leaders
in African History (London: Heinemann, r8), .
:. Tendai Mutunhu, Nehanda of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia): The Story of a Woman
Liberation Leader and Fighter, Ufanhamu ;, r (r;o): ;o. On October o, r888,
Rhodess imperial agents, Charles Rudd, Rochfort Maguire and Francis Thompson,
with the connivance of the Rev. Charles Helm of the London Missionary Society, tricked
and deceived King Lobengula of the Matabele [Ndebele] to sign a mineral concession
whose contents were not fully and truthfully explained by the missionary who spoke
Sindebele, the Matabele language. This concession became known as the Rudd Conces-
sion. In return for granting this mineral concession to Rhodes, the Matabele King was
supposed to receive about $oo per month for an unspecied period, rr,ooo Martin-
Henry breech loading ries and a steam gun-boat to be stationed somewhere on the
Zambezi River about oo miles from the Matabele capital of Bulawayo. How Rhodes or
his agents were going to take the gun-boat up the unnavigable Zambezi River has never
Notes to Pages
been explained. At any rate, King Lobengula never received from Rhodes the money,
the guns nor the gun-boat. In r88, Rhodes used the Rudd Concession to acquire the
Royal Charter from Queen Victoria which gave him the right to colonize Zimbabwe and
subjugate its people (oo).
:. Lawrence Vambe describes how Cecil Rhodes bribed Frederick Courteney Sel-
ous, a big-game hunter, author and journalist, in order to keep Selous from publishing
articles in British newspapers that contained incontestable proof that the Shona had
never been conquered by or come in any way under the Ndebele. . . . When he men-
tioned to Rhodes that the subject of his articles was about this new country and about
the true facts of the relationship between the Ndebele and the Shona, Rhodes realized
that he had to silence him. Selous was at once taken on as an employee of Rhodes and
paid for withdrawing publication of the articles. An Ill-Fated People (London: Heine-
mann, r;:), ;o;;.
:. See Terence O. Ranger, Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, (Evanston: North-
western University Press, ro;), plate :, facing p. rr;. The caption beneath the picture
of the erce Ndebele slaughtering the weak Shona states: A Company view of an
Ndebele raid upon the Shona. This contemporary drawing was used as part of the prep-
aration of public opinion for the war of r8.
:o. Ibid., o.
:;. Elizabeth Schmidt, Peasants, Traders, and Wives (Harare: Baobab Books, r:), ;.
:8. David N. Beach, foreword to British South Africa Company, The Rebellions
(Bulawayo: Books of Rhodesia, r), ii. Hereafter BSAC.
:. BSAC, o, report led by Earl Grey.
o. Beach, foreword to BSAC, ii.
r. In his foreword to The Rebellions, Beach describes this as a dominant myth
propagated by the BSAC. The myth argued that, since the Ndebele were united under
one ruler and had often raided the Shona, the Shona were therefore the complete reverse
of the Ndebele, disunited, weak, cowardly and unable to organize themselves. This myth,
which grossly distorted the facts of nineteenth century history, was implicitly believed
by most Europeans in r8o.
:. Greys loyalty to Rhodes forced him into conict with his own sense of honesty
and his version of the causes of the Ndebele rising reads oddly when compared with his
correspondence in the Martin Report and in his private papers (ibid.).
. BSAC, o.
. Beach, foreword to BSAC, ii. In his report on the MLimo Superstition con-
tained in the BSAC, Mr. W. E. Thomas, the Native Commissioner, states: The people
believed most implicitly in the MLimo, and the priests enforced the observance of all
the rites and ceremonies of their creed without respect of persons. Ngwali (as the
MLimo was called) was a god of peace and plenty, and never in the knowledge of the
Notes to Page
natives has he posed as the god of war; . . . He blossomed forth as a god of war for the
rst time during the late Matabele rising in this present year, and even to this day the
natives in Matabeleland say, who ever heard of Ngwali being a god of war or armies?
. . . The deduction I make from the foregoing facts is this, viz., that the Matabele having
imbibed gradually some of the Makalanga ideas with reference to the MLimo, and hav-
ing often striven to propitiate him with oerings, that they might reap good crops and
be kept from sickness and harm, had learned in a great measure to participate in the
Makalanga faith in him, the Indunas, knowing that the people had this faith and circum-
stances combining to assist them, persuaded one or two of the abantwana bomlimo
(sons of god) or priests, to co-operate with them and proclaim as the will of the MLimo
(or god) what was really the will of the Indunas: hence the rising. I do not think that
there is any man who actually personates MLimo and is known as such by the priests,
but I think the priests pretend to hold converse with MLimo, and thus hoodwink the
people, probably believing thoroughly in their rites themselves (). The contrast be-
tween the role of MLimo as described by Thomas (hoodwinking the people) and the
role of the charter by which the BSAC convinced settlers and Britain that they had a
right to the land is indicative of the competing metaphysical assumptions, which are
never acknowledged by the colonizers. That the charter won over the MLimo was
then assumed to indicate the rightness of documents and maps over the rightness
of mhondoro claims to the land.
. For a discussion of the dierence between science and magic, see Jonathan
Z. Smith, In Comparison a Magic Dwells, in Imagining Religion (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, ), . Smith notes that the study of religion based some of its
earliest distinctions, such as the dierence between science and magic, on the Enlighten-
ments Laws of Association. Scholars such as E. B. Tylor and J. G. Frazer distinguished
between the legitimate application of the Laws (science) and the illegitimate appli-
cation (magic) (). Magicians misapplied the Laws of Association and would super-
stitiously assume that when two things were similar, or when two things were contigu-
ous, or when one thing appears to cause another thing, that they were related (). My
point relates to the way that Rhodes and the other members of the BSAC were able to
choose which laws of association were legitimate and which were illegitimate.
. John White, a famous missionary, explained the simpleness of the Shona to
the press thus in : As is their custom these Mashonas when they need advice resort
to these mediums of their gods. The witch-doctors then inquire from the Murenga
the Great Spirit. If you want to get rid of all your troubles, they replied, kill all the
white men. That the advice was atrociously cruel and fearfully indiscriminate we will
all admit. But think for a moment. These people are utterly savage and reason accord-
ingly. They believed they had grievances; they ignorantly thought we had brought the
plague amongst them; they knew nothing of venting their grievances in a constitutional
Notes to Pages
manner. According to their notion the best way to rid themselves of an evil is to destroy
its cause. . . . These witch-doctors through their coming much into contact with men
are naturally shrewd and cunning. John Whites letter in the Methodist Times, January
r8;. That the constitutional manner had sorely failed both the Ndebele and the
Shona is not admitted by White. Lobengula is described by Terence Ranger as having
gone to almost humiliating lengths to avoid war with the whites (Revolt, o). White
also does not acknowledge that the BSAC thought the best way to rid themselves of an
evil was to destroy the spirit mediums as the cause of the revolt.
;. The picture and caption are found found facing page r:; in BSAC.
8. Lan, Guns and Rain, describes an ongoing scholarly debate regarding the impor-
tance of the mediums and refers to Ranger, Revolt, and D. N. Beach, Chimurenga:
The Shona Rising of r8o/;, Journal of African History :o, (r;): :o, along
with his own contribution (r, n. ).
. See Ranger, Revolt, :r. The Kagubi spirit does not appear as part of Professor
Gelfands Chaminuka-Nehanda hierarchy; Bullock tells us that the claims of the medium
in r8o were novel and were eventually repudiated by the Shona themselves as fraudu-
lent so that no medium of the Kagubi spirit re-appeared after his death.
o. As quoted in Ranger, Revolt, :ro from Campbells report of r8.
r. Weiss, Women of Zimbabwe, 8o.
:. Mutunhu, Nehanda of Zimbabwe, o;.
. Lan states: A medium is given precisely the same burial as a chief. His body is
allowed to disintegrate, the esh to separate from the bone, before it is nally placed
inside the earth (Guns and Rain, o).
. Ranger, Revolt, ro.
. See ibid. for details of how the British developed successful strategies for ghting
the Shona, including using dynamite in the caves to which civilians and warriors had
ed.
o. Following Lan, Guns and Rain, o.
;. Weiss, Women of Zimbabwe, o, and Lan, Guns and Rain, :o;.
8. Zimbabwe African National Union, led by Robert Mugabe. The military wing
of ZANU was ZANLA, the Liberation Army.
. Weiss, Women of Zimbabwe, r.
o. Men were the desired labor force, even as domestic servants, by the white Rhode-
sians. According to Weiss, The White mans perception of African women was even
lower than the one he had of his own women: he saw them as purchased chattel living
in a backward society. . . . The mechanisms of drawing the African male into the White
mans cash economy were several: by driving Africans onto impoverished land, which
became overcrowded and increasingly less productive, men were forced to look for paid
work. The establishment of taxes, which presupposed the possession of cash, created a
Notes to Pages
further need for wages. And in those cases where it was dicult to attract labour
particularly at the minesforced labour was introduced ().
r. Schmidt, Peasants, Traders, and Wives, r.
:. Weiss, Women of Zimbabwe, .
. Ibid., 8o.
. Ibid., ;.
. Ibid., ;:.
o. Lan, Guns and Rain, xvi.
;. Ibid., .
8. Ibid.
. Ibid.
oo. Ibid., .
or. Ibid.
o:. See Lan, Schmidt, and Weiss for examples of poetry and songs devoted to Ne-
handa found in dierent parts of Zimbabwe.
o. Cannibalism is the primary crime of a witch in traditional Shona religion.
o. Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation, April r;, r8o.
o. Lan, Guns and Rain, :r8.
oo. I was particularly moved by Yvonne Veras novel Nehanda (Harare: Baobab
Books, r) as an exciting example of the land-identied but nonnationalistic represen-
tation of Nehanda of Mazoe. The poetic imagery and stream-of-consciousness style pro-
duced a description of the mediums actions and evoked a sense of her altered subjectiv-
ity in the encounter with the ancestor who possessed her. Vera appropriated the
possibility that the young Charwe was experiencing the intrusions of the ancestor while
she was wet, which marks a feminist intervention in the imagining of what Shona
traditional culture might have meant for females. She concludes the novel: Her tongue
will not rest and lls the forest with echoes of her being. After she has drunk water from
a stream she sings. She ghts the silence that strangers have willed upon her (:).
o;. Chenjerai Hove, Woman in Words: Images of Zimbabwean Women in Litera-
ture, Woman Plus r, : (May ro): rro.
o8. Terence Ranger, Books Diary, Southern Africa Review of Books, September
October r, rr, at rr. It is important to note that she is not prohibiting representa-
tions of Nehanda. She is prohibiting representations that have not secured Nehandas
approval.
o. Terence Ranger, letter to author, March :o, r;. Ranger reports that Maia
Spierenburg, a Dutch anthropologist, has recently done work in the Zambezi Valley,
where the settlement scheme has been imposed. People looked to the Karoi Nehanda
to visit the area and to speak on their behalf. She has not done so. . . . I speculated on
Notes to Pages
the possibility of another Nehanda medium arising in opposition to the Karoi Nehanda
[in June ro]. When I got to Zimbabwe last year I was told that this was exactly what
has happened.
;o. Weiss, Women of Zimbabwe, r.
;r. Lan, Guns and Rain, .
;:. Dziva and Jones both noted that grabbed must be a phrase that is specic to
the Korekore, and both suggested less volatile phrases such as touched by or coming
out, which nevertheless indicate that the ancestor is agentive. Bucher consistently em-
ployed the phrase that the ancestor was coming out of the medium.
;. Bourdillon, Shona Peoples, r8.
;. Lan, Guns and Rain, oo.
;. Ibid., .
;o. Ibid., oo; emphasis added.
;;. Bourdillon, Shona Peoples, r8o.
;8. Lan, Guns and Rain, ;.
;. Ibid., o8o.
8o. Ibid., o.
8r. I Amadiume, Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Soci-
ety (London: Zed Books, r8;); Oye`ronke Oyewu`m , The Invention of Women: Making an
African Sense of Western Gender Discourses (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
r;). I address the contrast in detail in a forthcoming article, Do Gender Analyses
Damage Religious Studies in a Postcolonial World?
8:. Ann G. Gold drew my attention to the line of argument regarding masculine
appropriations of womens reproductive capacities that begins with Bruno Betelheims
Symbolic Wounds: Puberty Rites and the Envious Male (London: Thames and Hudson,
r) and is developed in the anthology Death and the Regeneration of Life, ed. Maurice
Bloch and Jonathan Parry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r8:).
8. Lan, Guns and Rain, 8.
8. Ibid., .
8. Ibid., 88. See Lans discussion of the feminine aspect of the two mhondoro who
are male with female aspects, 88r.
8o. Fry, Spirits of Protest, ::.
8;. Schmidt, Peasants, Traders, and Wives, r;. While the spirits of her husbands
lineage ensured the health and well-being of their living descendants, her own ancestral
spirits were considered alien to his kin, among whom she had made her home. As an
outsider, a wife was an easy scapegoat for family crises and was especially open to charges
of witchcraft. . . . Their position was contradictory. Through their production of chil-
dren, exogamous wives enabled the lineage to continue, yet they were also the foci of
Notes to Pages
lineage segmentation. . . . As the most vulnerable members of a male-dominated society,
outsider women were forced to accept responsibility for the structural tensions resulting
from patrilineage exogamy (r;r8).
88. See Bucher, Spirits and Power, oro8.
8. Schmidt, Peasants, Traders, and Wives, r;.
o. John Comaro and Jean Comaro, Ethnography and the Historical Imagination
(Boulder: Westview Press, r:), :, :8.
r. In a letter, Will Cavendish of St. Johns College, Oxford, notied me that the
rr/: drought in Zimbabwe saw a major revival on Nehanda spirit mediums, particu-
larly in the South East of the country, where there was one Nehanda medium in particu-
lar who rapidly accumulated a huge following and became a real threat to the local
chiefs (February r, r;). In a letter, Douglas Dziva of the University of Zimbabwe
states that the president of the Zimbabwe Tribal Healers Association, Chavunduka, told
himthat currently there are about four women claiming to be possessed by the Nehanda
spirit (February r, r;). Of multiple Nehandas, David Lan states: Although it some-
times happens that more than one medium claims to be possessed by the same spirit,
typically each of these mediums will deny that the others are legitimate and may chal-
lenge them to prove their authenticity. In the case of Nehanda, however, two separate
traditions exist and the mediums of each will acknowledge the legitimacy of the other.
However competition may arise between mediums within each tradition (Guns and
Rain, 8, n. ).
:. Ranger, Books Diary, rr.
Chapter . Play(s)
r. Editions used are Euripides, The Bakkhai, trans. Robert Bagg (Amherst: Univer-
sity of Massachusetts Press, r;8). All other citations of this play will be taken from this
translation and cited by line unless otherwise noted. S. Ansky, The Dybbuk and Other
Writings by S. Ansky, ed. David G. Roskies, trans. Golda Werman (New York: Schocken
Books, r:).
:. Edward Said argues that this identication of Dionysuss Asian origins is evidence
of the early roots of Orientalism for European imaginative geography. In The Bacchae,
perhaps the most Asiatic of all the Attic dramas, Dionysus is explicitly connected with
his Asian origins and with the strangely threatening excesses of Oriental mysteries. Ed-
ward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, r;), o;.
. John Edwin Sandys, The Bacchae of Euripides (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, roo), lxvi.
. Ibid., xliii.
. See Sandys, Euripides in Macedonia, in Bacchae of Euripides, xxxiiixlii; Gilbert
Notes to Pages
Murray, Euripides and His Age (London: Williams and Norgate, r:), chap. ;, ro;o;
and E. R. Dodds, Euripides Bacchae (Oxford: Clarendon Press, roo). Dodds writes:
The poet was over ;o and, as we have some reason to think, a disappointed man. If the
prize-lists were any test, he had been relatively unsuccessful as a dramatist; he had be-
come the butt of the comic poets; and in an Athens crazed by twenty years of increas-
ingly disastrous war his outspoken criticisms of demagogy and power-politics must have
made him many enemies (xxxix).
o. Murray, Euripides, ro8.
;. Froma Zeitlin states that unlike other Dionysiac festivals in Attika (and else-
where) where both men and women participate, the City Dionysia seems to belong to
men only (with the sole exception of a girl assigned to carry the ritual basket in the
preliminary procession). Playing the Other: Theater, Theatricality, and the Feminine
in Greek Drama, in Nothing to Do with Dionysos? ed. John J. Winkler and Froma Zeitlin
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, ro), o, n. .
8. Oddone Longo, The Theater of the Polis, in ibid., rro.
. Winkler and Zeitlin, introduction to ibid., , n. ; .
ro. Winkler, The Ephebes Song: Tragoidia and Polis, in ibid., :o:r, ::, o:.
rr. Longo, Theater of the Polis, r;.
r:. Sandys, Bacchae of Euripedes, lxxxii.
r. In Three Recent Versions of The Bacchae, in Madness in Drama ed. James Red-
mond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r), Elizabeth Hale Winkler dis-
cusses two feminist reworkings of the play and one postcolonial version: Maureen Dus
Rites (ro), Caryl Churchill and David Lans collaboration AMouthful of Birds, and Wole
Soyinkas The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (r;). I take these reworkings to
be further evidence that the possessed women of the original play attract the attention
of cultural critics concerned with issues of justice and community. David Lan is the
author of Guns and Rain, discussed in Chap. .
r. N. G. L. Hammond, A History of Greece to B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
r8o), :8;. See bk. , The Great Wars between Athens and Sparta, :8;;, espe-
cially chap. o, The Cultural Crisis in the Peloponnesian War, :ro.
r. For a discussion of Athenian piety, see Jon D. Mikalson, Honor Thy Gods: Popular
Religion in Greek Tragedy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, rr), o:o.
For a broader discussion of Athens see Werner Jaegers chapter, Euripides and His
Age, in his Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, vol. r, trans. Gilbert Highet (New York:
Oxford University Press, ro:), :8.
ro. Murray states: It was natural, too, that his people should hate him. Nations at
war do not easily forgive those who denounce their wars as unjust; when the war, in spite
of all heroism, goes against them, their resentment is all the bitterer (Euripides, roo).
r;. For example, Simon Prices recent text, Religions of the Ancient Greeks (Cambridge:
Notes to Pages
Cambridge University Press, r), in which his approach is described in the prelimi-
nary abstract as follows: Simon Price does not describe some abstract and self-
contained system of religion or myths but examines local practices and ideas in the light
of Greek ideas, relating them, for example, to gender roles and to cultural and political
life (including Attic tragedy and the trial of Socrates).
r8. Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, rr), , citing Plato, Euthyphron r D; :.
r. E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California
Press, rr), ; citing the Iliad, r.8o .
:o. Giulia Sissa, The Sexual Philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, in A History of
Women in the West, ed. Pauline Schmitt Pantel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
Belknap Press, r:), o;.
:r. Helene P. Foley, The Conception of Women in Athenian Drama, in Reections
of Women in Antiquity, ed. Helene P. Foley (New York: Gordon and Breach Science Pub-
lishers, r8r). Foley summarizes: Women in Athens were lifelong legal minors, who
exercised no positive political and nancial rights. The female Athenian citizen was le-
gally excluded from participation in the political (legislative, judicial, and military) life
of the city, and this exclusion was of particular importance in a radical democracy which
placed great importance on the participation of the male citizen in public life (r:).
::. Page Du Bois has inuenced my reading with her important book, Sowing the
Body (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, rr). She looks specically to the ways in
which Greek gurations of gender are radically dierent from our own, thus broadening
our ability to imagine gender beyond our habits of thought. My interest is in the classi-
cal world as an other, as an alternative to our own, one in which we must recognize dier-
ence, about which we construct an allegory, an interested narrative that speaks to our
own situation. Just as an ethnographer creates a textual dialectic between her own cul-
ture and that which she represents, so a writer concerned with the historicity of gender
categories must recognize her interests in telling a certain story about the ancient
world (:o).
:. Sue Blundell, Women in Ancient Greece (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
r), ro.
:. Ibid., ro:. Womens roles in maintaining family religion cannot be determined,
because little evidence of this work survives, so it must be inferred through archeologi-
cal evidence (such as vase painting) and legislation. Blundell notes that in the late Ar-
chaic age, the lawgiver Solon passed restrictive legislation regarding womens participa-
tion in public funeral rituals (ro:).
:. Hammond, History of Greece, .
:o. William Golding depicts the life of the sibyls (ca. fth century n.c.r.) as narrated
by a young woman at the Oracle of Delphi. Golding died before completing the manu-
Notes to Page
script, but it has since been compiled and published by his family and editor as The
Double Tongue (London: Faber, ro). Instrumentality is a key motif in his novel.
:;. Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, r8),
rrr;. Emphasis added to denote that the Pythia appears to have altered tradition by
creating a demand. This ecacy is consistent with what I am calling the instrumental
agency of possessed women.
:8. The Pythia became entheos, plena deo: the god entered into her and used her
vocal organs as if they were his own, . . . that is why Apollos Delphic utterances are
always couched in the rst person, never in the third. Dodds, Greeks and Irrational,
;o;r. The association of women with possession was longstanding and cross-cultural
such that the Pythias powers were originally attributed to possession, and that re-
mained the usual view throughout antiquityit did not occur even to the Christian
Fathers to reject it (;r).
:. Charles Segal describes the following as the important boundaries that Dionysus
crosses: Dionysus is an Olympian god, but he has chthonic attributes. Divine, he ap-
pears in the bestial form of bull, snake, or lion. He has a place at the center of the civic
religion. The greater Dionysia of Athens, where tragedies and comedies were performed,
is the most familiar example. Yet his worship also involves ecstatic aming torches on
the mountains. He is a male god, but he has the softness, sensuality, and emotionality
that the Greeks generally associate with women. He has the force and energy of a vigor-
ous young man, but the grace, charm and beauty of a girl. He is Greek, but he comes
from barbarian Asia, escorted by a band of wild Asian women. He is a local Theban
divinity, but he is also a universal god of many names, whose power, as Sophocles says
in the last ode of the Antigone, extends from Italy to the East. As he crosses the geo-
graphical division between Hellene and barbarian, so he crosses the class division within
society oering his gift of wine as equal joy to both rich and poor (:r:). Both a native
by birth and a violently resisted intruder, he honors Thebes and threatens its destruc-
tion. He is neither child nor man, but, eternal adolescent, occupies a place somewhere
between the two. He has the residual functions of both a fertility daimon and a chthonic
deity. Dionysiac Poetics and Euripides Bacchae (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
r8:), ro.
o. Burkert, Greek Religion, :o; A. Henrichs, Greek Maenadism from Olympias to
Messalina, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 8: (r;8): r:roo.
r. E. R. Dodds argues: There must have been a time when the maenads or thyiads
or really became for a few hours or days what their name implieswild women
whose human personality has been temporarily replaced by another. Whether this might
be so in Euripides day we have no sure means of knowing. Greeks and Irrational, :;r.
:. See Foleys critique of this tendency in the work of Philip Slater in Conception
of Women, r;o.
Notes to Pages
. Ross Kraemer, Ecstasy and Possession: Women of Ancient Greece and the Cult
of Dionysus, in Unspoken Worlds: Womens Religious Lives, ed. Nancy Auer Falk and Rita
M. Gross (New York: Harper and Row, r8o), oo, o.
. Lilian Portefaix, Concepts of Ecstasy in Euripides Bacchanals and Their In-
terpretation, in Holm, Religious Ecstasy, :o.
. Mary R. Lefkowitz andMaureen B. Fant, eds., Womens Lives in Greece andRome: A
Source Book in Translation, :d ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, r:), :;.
o. In part this is due to the explanatory power of Lewiss work, which is acknowl-
edged by all of these authors. Sue Blundell also turns to Lewis to explain the function
of maenadismin Women in Ancient Greece. She goes on to complexify her analysis, drawing
insight from Zeitlins Cultic Models of the Feminine: Rites of Dionysus and Demeter,
Arethusa r (r8:): r:;, in which Zeitlin argues that any liberating aspects of cult
participation must be balanced against the negative eects of reinforcing male ideology.
Blundell concludes, It may have been this reinforcement of an existing ideology, rather
than any safety-valve eect, which represented the main value of the cult in mens eyes.
The release from tension would only have involved a very small number of women,
whereas potentially the whole of the female population could be contained within the
ideology (ro). Like Zeitlin I think it important to acknowledge the conservative as
well as the transgressive function served in the representation of possessed women, but
in addition it is important to recognize how our critical assessments of power can be
broadened by taking seriously the religious life of those we study rather than imposing
upon them a modern framework in search of agents, teleological subjects who bring
about change through their conscious actions.
;. Dodds, Greeks and Irrational, o. Doddss argument, however, suers from the
time in which he was writing. In line with Brenks and Smiths studies of daemons, he
argues that within Homeric literature extrahuman agency abounds, but he problemati-
cally equates this belief with primitivism, an equation that troubles Dodds because the
Greeks were so civilized. We may sum up the result by saying that all departures
from normal human behavior whose causes are not immediately perceived, whether by
the subjects own consciousness or by the observation of others, are ascribed to a super-
natural agency, just as is any departure from the normal behavior of the weather or the
normal behavior of a bowstring. This nding will not surprise the nonclassical anthro-
pologist: he will at once produce copious parallels from Borneo or Central Africa. But it
is surely odd to nd this belief, this sense of constant daily dependence on the supernatu-
ral, rmly embedded in poems supposedly so irreligious as the Iliad and the Odyssey.
And we may also ask ourselves why a people so civilized, clear-headed, and rational as
the Ionians did not eliminate from their national epics these links with Borneo and the
primitive past, just as they eliminated fear of the dead, fear of pollution, and other primi-
tive terrors which must originally have played a part in the saga. I doubt if the early
Notes to Pages
literature of any other European peopleeven my own superstitious countrymen, the
Irishpostulates supernatural interference in human behavior with such frequency or
over so wide a eld (r). In Chapter I argued that the categorization of civilized
versus primitive people is itself a symptom found in the academic study of religion
that indicates a religious crisis by which the dominant discourse attempts to locate itself,
orient itself hierarchically, as master over its others. Dodds works with an assumed pro-
gressive teleology that equates human autonomy with intellectual progress. The Greeks
are therefore curious to him in that they embrace both intellectual questioning and dae-
monic intervention. What Dodds describes as odd is a signier of his relation to the
Greeks he studies. He is normal (individual, autonomous) and they are odd (primitively
engaging thoughts of deic or daemonic interventions). Two articles that oer thorough
historical and textual study of the daemon in Greek antiquity are Jonathan Z. Smith,
Towards Interpreting Demonic Powers in Hellenistic and Roman Antiquity, in Aufstieg
und Niedergang der Romischen Welt, II: Principat, ro, r, ed. Wolfgang Haase (Berlin: Walter
de Gruyter, r;8), :; and Frederick E. Brenk, In the Light of the Moon: Demon-
ology in the Early Imperial Period, in Aufstieg, :oo8:r, in which he engages critically
Smiths developmental argument. For a discussion of daemons during the era of the
Middle Platonists Plutarch and Apuleius, see Patricia C. Miller, Dreams in Late Antiquity
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, r), especially Dreams and Daemons,
.
8. Blundell writes: [T]he role accorded both to the goddesses and to their women
worshipers can be seen to entail an acknowledgment of the social signicance of the
female principle. Religion was a dangerous area for men, for it involved demonstrations
of female power on both the divine and human levels (ro).
. Foley, Reections of Women, r.
o. Ruth Padel, Women: Model for Possession by Greek Daemons, in Images of
Women in Antiquity, ed. Averil Cameron and Amelie Kuhurt (London: Routledge, r),
r, at , , r, ro.
r. Ibid., ro.
:. Zeitlin, 8, o, o.
. Ibid., 8;.
. Jennifer March, Euripides the Misogynist? in Euripides, Women, and Sexuality,
ed. Anton Powell (London: Routledge, ro), :;, at o:.
. To clarify a distinction between my interpretation and Marchs: She argues that
Agaves triumph is that she accepts her human responsibility and thus brings the play
around as a tragic celebration of nomos, whereas I would argue that Agaves return to
sanity is not triumphant and cannot be understood in dichotomous analysis. Agave goes
into exile, but she gained wisdom (not reason) by recognizing that she had been used as
the instrumental agency for Dionysuss will.
Notes to Pages
o. Foley, Reections of Women, r.
;. Ibid., r.
8. Ibid., r8.
. Two technical studies of The Bacchae that were of use to me were Marilyn Arthur,
The Choral Odes of the Bacchae of Euripides, Yale Classical Studies :: (r;:): r8o;
and Hans Oranje, Euripides Bacchae, the Play and Its Audience (Leiden, The Netherlands:
J. Brill, r8).
o. Arthur, Choral Odes, ro, r.
r. R. P. Winnington-Ingram, Euripides and Dionysus (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, r8), r, ro;.
:. Arthur, Choral Odes, ro. Dodds notes the thematic relation of the choral
ode to events which have just transpired or are just about to, and asserts that this relation
reinforces . . . the emotional eect of the preceding scene and leads up to the following
one. Such a treatment of the chorus concentrates on the mood set rather than the ideas
presented, because it assumes that the choral odes are related to the rest of the play only
insofar as they provide some kind of commentary on the action that has preceded or
which will follow, or insofar as they enlarge upon ideas already presented or anticipate
those to come. My own emphasis will be on certain ideas and themes developed by the
chorus which are independent of, although not unrelated to, the dramatic action of the
play. That is to say, I would contend that the stasima of the Bacchae do not operate as a
kind of basso continuo, supporting already articulated themes and ideas, but rather that the
dramatic action of the play and the choral odes work like two melodies in counterpoint,
complementing each other to be sure, but having each an existence and a thrust indepen-
dent of the other.
. Dodds, Euripides Bacchae, xxxvii, xxxviii.
. Oranje, Euripides Bacchae, r.
. Ibid., ro:.
o. Zeitlin, Nothing to Do with Dionysus, 8o.
;. Euripides, Medea; Hyppolytus; the Bacchae, trans. Phillip Vellacott (London: Cur-
wen Press, ro;), ro. Winnington-Ingram also selects this translation (Euripides and
Dionysus, r:). Arrowsmith follows Bagg.
8. In this way her question indicates a communal understanding that recalls, for
instance, the Malaysian understanding that people are only latah when others make them
so. Annie Pritchard has argued, within the context of Greek tragedies, that the model of
individual moral agency is not adequate for interpreting womens moral agency: I chal-
lenge the claim that the gender-neutral individual, detached from moral, social, and rela-
tional contexts is the most adequate account of the moral individual for a feminist ethics.
I take up the radical feminist claim that the way in which we read the ethical actions
Notes to Pages
of subjects cannot be separated from the issue of gender, as moral agents are always
gendered subjects who live within, and dene themselves in terms of, specic ideological
systems. Antigones Mirrors: Reections on Moral Madness, Hypatia ;, (r:): ;;
, at ;;.
. Dodds, Euripides Bacchae, xxxviii.
oo. The names of the characters in the play appear dierently in several translations.
I will follow the transliteration of Yiddish employed by Roskies in The Dybbuk and
Other Writings. When citing other authors I will use their transliterations. As noted by
Nahma Sandrow, the transliteration of Yiddish is extremely dicult, politically charged,
and currently a contestatory issue for Yiddishists. The YIVO Institute for Jewish Re-
search has devised a system for consistent transliteration, but the diculties of em-
ploying the system are great. Anskys name appears dierently throughout the literature
as S. Rappaport, S. Y. Ansky, and An-ski. Nahma Sandrow, Note on Transliteration,
in Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater (New York: Harper and Row,
r;;), ixxi.
or. This tombstone is one of the realistic touches Ansky used in the play, drawing
from tombstones pointed out to him by shtetl informants as he pursued ethnographic
studies in the region. The tombstone represents the anti-Semitic violence faced by Jews
in the region and harks back to the Chmielnicki massacres in the mid-seventeenth cen-
tury. Roskies, The Dybbuk and Other Writing, xxv.
o:. The messenger is a stranger in town whose insight into Leahs possession shows
him to be supernaturally aware of the events that transpire.
o. Reb and rebbe are Hasidic variations of rabbi that indicate the more democratized
notion of a righteous member of the community.
o. Though Reb Shimson is being used by Nissen to speak for him, his role is sig-
nicantly dierent from Leahs. He functions as an interpreter and amplier of Nissens
words, which is much dierent from Leah, whose body movements and voice are
eected and aected as she is wielded by the dybbuk. Reb Shimson is never penetrated
by Nissens spirit, nor is his consciousness overcome, though his dreams are interrupted.
The modality of intervention is gendered and creates a dierent dynamic.
o. The Dybbuk has been described as the indisputable masterpiece of the Jewish
theater by Roskies (xi). The play was adapted to lm (The Dybbuk, directed by Michal
Waszynski, Poland, r;), and Sandrow describes it as [p]robably the best known Yid-
dish lm (Vagabond Stars, r). The ballet Dybbuk, by Leonard Bernstein, was rst
produced by the New York City Ballet with choreography by Jerome Robbins and pre-
miered May ro, r;. The play was recently revived by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
oo. Roskies writes, At the age of seventeen, Shloyme-Zanvl had lost his faith, had
become a critical realist, and was running a commune on the outskirts of town for
Notes to Pages
poor boys who had left the yeshiva. He taught them mathematics and Russian and urged
them on to productive labor. A year later, Shloyme-Zanvl left home to preach the gospel
in the heartland of Jewish obscurantism. This brief period spent in the Hasidic shtetl of
Liozno as an undercover agent for the Enlightenment was a turning point. While subver-
sive acts remained a vivid and viable option throughout his life, the inaugural mission
failed because he was ushed out by the Orthodox establishment. It marked the begin-
ning of his estrangement from the seemingly hopeless cause of Jewish reform (xiixiii).
o;. Ibid., xiv.
o8. But the new Jewish politics in Russia, Europe, America, and Palestine, as histo-
rian Jonathan Frankel has shown, was now entering a period of nationalization (ibid.,
xvii).
o. Ibid., xxvi.
;o. Quoted by David Lifson, The Yiddish Theater in America (New York: Thomas
Yoselo, ro), r8, from B. Gorin, The History of Jewish Theater (New York: Max N.
Maisel, r:) (in Hebrew).
;r. Ellen Schi, FromStereotype to Metaphor: The Jewin Contemporary Drama (Albany:
SUNY Press, r8:), rr.
;:. Roskies, The Dybbuk and Other Writings, xxix.
;. Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, ::.
;. Dan Miron, introduction to Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler, ed. Dan Miron and
Ken Frieden (New York: Schocken Books, ro), xii.
;. Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, :.
;o. Henry J. Tobias, The Jewish Bund in Russia fromIts Origins to (Stanford: Stan-
ford University Press, r;:), .
;;. Irene Klepsz, introduction to Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers,
ed. Frieda Forman et al. (Toronto: Second Story Press, r), .
;8. Tobias, Jewish Bund, .
;. Klepsz, Found Treasures, .
8o. This story is discussed further in the chapter and is reprinted in Found Treasures.
8r. Dan Ben-Amos and Jerome R. Mintz, trans. and eds., In Praise of the Baal Shem
Tov (New York: Schocken Books, r;o), xxiv, xxi.
8:. Ibid., xxii.
8. Chaim Zhitlowsky, A Note on Chassidism, found in The Dybbuk: APlay in Four
Acts, trans. from the original Yiddish by Henry G. Alsberg and Winifred Katzin (Lon-
don: E. Benn, r:;), r. Zhitlowsky was an eminent philosopher and close friend of
Ansky.
8. Ben-Amos does not consider gender in his analysis of Hasidism: [I]f Hasidism
infused Judaism with new life and spirit, it also threatened traditional roles and values.
Talmudic learning, long the touchstone of the pious, occupied a lesser place among the
Notes to Pages
Hasidim; the established forms and hours of the prayers were changed; and the cantor,
so prominent in the larger synagogues, was displaced so that any inspired layman could
chant the liturgy. The pendulum of community power threatened to swing from the
powerful rich and the learned rabbis to the Tsaddikim and their followers. This challenge
to entrenched values and the displacement of the social and religious hierarchy alarmed
and united the mitnaggedim (literally opponents) of Hasidism and established battle
lines in the villages of eastern and central Europe which were to continue into the pres-
ent century (In Praise, xxii).
8. Ibid., xxii.
8o. Ibid., .
8;. The phrase half of the Kingdom is in reference to the edited volume Half the
Kingdom: Seven Jewish Feminists, ed. Francine Zuckerman (Montreal: Vehicule Press,
r:). The phrase is a feminist appropriation from the Book of Esther, where the king
says to Esther that he would give her anything, even half his kingdom. In the feminist
appropriation the phrase implies at least two things: that half the kingdom is missing
from Jewish history owing to its patriarchal bias and that feminist scholarship is provid-
ing a gift that is of benet to all Jewish people.
88. Boyarin argues, One of the most important insights of feminist research into
ancient societies in the last several years has been the realization that it is not possible
to take what texts say about womens positions in society at face value (Bynum r8o:
:8). . . . [R]eading only the misogyny or androcentrism of the texts can itself be a mi-
sogynist gesture, for it leads us to negate the possibility that women had in fact a much
more active, creative role than the texts would have us believe. Reading Androcentrism
against the Grain: Women, Sex, and Torah-Study, Poetics Today r:, r (spring rr):
:o.
8. Important research into Jewish womens lives is now growing, as exemplied in
Chava Weisslers article The Traditional Piety of Ashkenazic Women, in Jewish Spiritu-
ality: From the Sixteenth Century to the Present, ed. Arthur Green (New York: Crossroad,
r8;). Her study of tkhines, Yiddish supplicatory prayers, includes prayers composed by
women and men, demonstrating the dierent emphases they placed in halakhic practice
as well as prayer imagery.
o. J. H. Chajes, Judgements Sweetened: Possession and Exorcism in Early Mod-
ern Jewish Culture, Journal of Early Modern History r, : (r;): r:.
r. Chajes notes, Demonic possession and exorcism have been generally neglected
in Jewish historiography, scholars having only recently begun to assess their meaning
and signicance within Jewish life and literature (r:).
:. Yoram Bilu, The Dibbuk in Judaism, in The Politics of Gender in Early Modern
Europe: Sixteenth Century Essays, ed. Jean R. Brink, A. P. Coudert, and M. C. Horowitz
(Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, r8); and The Dibbuk in Ju-
Notes to Pages
daism: Mental Disorder as Cultural Resource (in Hebrew), Jerusalem Studies in Jewish
Thought :, (r8:): :o. English version in Psychoanalytic Study of Society, vol. rr,
ed. L. B. Boyer and S. A. Grolnick (Hillsdale, N.J.: Analytic Press, r8). According to
Bilu, the possessed are hysterics. Gedalyah Nigal has compiled extensive primary mate-
rial published in Hebrew. However, I did not pursue his analysis of these stories based
on Chajess description of his work: Nigal assumes that possession victims suered
from forms of epilepsy and schizophrenia (r:). The translated titles are The Dibbuk
in Jewish Mysticism, Daat (r8o); Stories of Spirits in Italy in the Eighteenth Cen-
tury, in Fields of Oerings: Studies in Honor of Raphael Patai, ed. V. D. Sanua (Rutherford,
N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, r8); and Dybbuk Stories in Jewish Literature
(Jerusalem: R. Mas, r).
. Gershon Sholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken Books,
r;); David Ruderman, Kabbalah, Magic, and Science (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, r88).
. Chajes, Judgements Sweetened, r::.
. Ibid., r.
o. Ibid., ro, ro;, ro8.
;. Gershon Winkler, Dybbuk (New York: Judaica Press, r8:), .
8. Chajes argues that a feature that distinguishes Christian from Jewish possessions
of the early modern period is that Christians were expelling demons, while Jews were
negotiating with dybbukim who were ambivalent gures but not evil. Dybbukim could
provide the rabbis with information they desired regarding the afterlife.
. Winkler, Dybbuk, r.
roo. Ibid., :.
ror. Clarke Garrett, Women and Witches: Patterns of Analysis, in Witchcraft,
Women and Society, ed. B. P. Levack (New York: Garland, r:), r.
ro:. D. P. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the
Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (Scolar Press, r8r), ;o .
ro. Chajes, Judgements Sweetened, ror.
ro. Zhitlowsky, Note on Chassidism, r;.
ro. Howard Schwartz, Spirit Possession in Judaism, Parabola r, (r): ;:.
roo. Ibid., ;:.
ro;. Ibid., ;o.
ro8. Rita Gross argues that by looking with androgynous eyes toward traditions that
were previously viewed as patriarchal, we can begin to see such things as parallel sacred
spaces that are otherwise discounted or evaluated negatively, reinforcing patriarchal dis-
missals of womens religious lives. Androcentrism and Androgyny in the Methodology
of History of Religions, in Beyond Androcentrism, ;r.
ro. Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, :.
Notes to Pages
rro. Anita Norich notes, Not only had many authors written in both languages
[prior to the twentieth century], but the argument has been made that Jewish literature
must be regarded as entirely bilingual and cannot be meaningfully separated into its two
component languages. Anita Norich, Jewish Literature and Feminist Criticism: An
Introduction to Gender and Text, in Gender and Text in Modern Hebrewand Yiddish Liter-
ature, ed. Naomi B. Sokolo, Anne Lapidus Lerner, and Anita Norich (New York: Jewish
Theological Seminary of America, r:), . She cites the work of Benjamin Harshav,
The Meaning of Yiddish (Berkeley: University of California Press, ro).
rrr. Irene Klepsz, Found Treasures, :o:;.
rr:. Ibid., :o, :;.
rr. Ken Frieden traces the origin of this line of thought to Moses Mendelssohn
(r;:8o) in Berlin. In his book Classic Yiddish Fiction: Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and
Peretz (Albany: SUNY Press, r), Frieden describes this as a suicidal principal: as
soon as the masses became suciently enlightened to speak French, German, Russian,
and English, they and their benefactors would abandon Yiddish (x).
rr. Klepsz states: Since most Jews understood only Yiddish, some Zionists es-
tablished Yiddish papers and journals. A small minority, like those from Poaley tsion,
supported Hebrew and Yiddish. But all Zionists agreed on ending Jewish exile and using
Hebrew in the future Jewish state (Found Treasures, :).
rr. Ibid., o.
rro. Norich, Gender and Text, . Kathryn Hellerstein has composed a select anno-
tated bibliography of gender studies and Yiddish literature, which can be found in Gender
and Text, :.
rr;. Norich, .
rr8. Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, ; : and for discussion of Purim plays.
rr. Schi traces the appearance the the Jew and the Jewess in her introduction
to FromStereotype to Metaphor, noting the transitions and developments of Jewish charac-
ters over time, and that by and large they functioned as foils for Christian identity. I
emphasize this connection because one cannot discuss Anskys representation without
noting the centuries of racist and anti-Semitic representations of the Jewess, to which
his production contributed an alternative.
r:o. Ibid., rro; see rr for a discussion of playwrights and performing troupes
in the context of Hasidism, the Haskalah, Jewish tradition, and the establishment of
Yiddish theater traditions.
r:r. These are the names recognized by Schi, who states that the crowning glory
of the Yiddish theater was to attain a goal common to all the literary theaters of the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the fostering of native talent (rr8). As noted
in the Sokolo et al. anthology, native talent was fostered within gendered constructs of
which genres were appropriate for male and female creative endeavors.
Notes to Pages
r::. Roskies, The Dybbuk and Other Writings, xxvii.
r:. Roskies writes: Ansky introduced a rich layering of literary and folklorist mo-
tifs that give the play an authentic, mystical feel even as it turns traditional narratives
to secular, dramatic, ends (xxvi). He oers as evidence the Messengers speech at the
beginning of act , a soliloquy on the longing of the worlds heart for the mountain
spring. . . . But whereas in its original context, the parable expressed Reb Nahmans par-
adoxical faith in an absent God, the parable retold by the Messenger alludes to the sexual
longing between the living and the dead (xxviixxviii). Why he considers the introduc-
tion of sexual longing to be secularizing is never explained. He surmises that the angry
response of the Polish Hasidic community is also due to secularization in the play: And
no wonder the esh-and-blood Hasidim angrily boycotted the performances of Anskys
Dybbuk in Poland. The manifold religious elements in the play had come to serve antireli-
gious ends (xxix). The underlying problem in his analysis is that Roskies understands
religion to be antisexual or antiromantic. Central to the disciplined practices of Judaism,
however, is the acknowledgment that the body is a sexual and desiring body. The puri-
cation of desire does not mean its erasure but rather acknowledges the need to develop
appropriate sexual practices. Anskys innovative retelling of this story is not irreligious
in making the dybbuk a lover, but it is groundbreaking in terms of representations of a
Jewish womans choice to desire a spiritual unionthat is, to prioritize her religious life
rather than to allow the men of the community to impose the undesired sexual life of an
arranged marriage upon her.
r:. Eli Yasif, The Body Never Lies: The Body in Medieval Jewish Folk Narrative,
in People of the Body: Jews and Judaism from an Embodied Perspective, ed. Howard Eilberg-
Schwartz (Albany: SUNY Press, r:), :o:r, at :r.
r:. Chajes points out that the early modern French historian Moshe Sluhovsky
has recently suggested that social deprivation is inadequate to account for the predom-
inance of women among the possessed. However, his alternative is not very alternative.
He argues that greater attention ought to be paid to personal psychopathological dy-
namics, which underlie an outburst of this unique behavior. Sluhovsky isolates the
possessed womens sexual anxieties as the most signicant element at work (Judge-
ments Sweetened, ror, n. r:;). Again the erasure of any agency on the part of the
dybbuk marks the predominant model of subjectivity undergirding contemporary posses-
sion scholarship. Sluhovskys article is A Divine Apparition or Demonic Possession?
Female Agency and Church Authority in Demonic Possession in Sixteenth Century
France, in Sixteenth Century Journal :;, (r): roo:.
r:o. See Judith Wegners Chattel or Person? (New York: Oxford University Press,
r88) for a discussion of the liminal points in Jewish womens life as inscribed by Halak-
hic law.
r:;. Klepsz, Found Treasures, .
Notes to Pages
r:8. Dan Miron and Ken Frieden, Mendele the Book Peddler; Frieden, Classic Yiddish
Fiction; Benjamin Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish (Berkeley: University of California
Press, ro); Roskies, The Dybbuk and Other Writings.
r:. Klepsz, Found Treasures, ;.
ro. I want to thank Kathy Lanier for pointing out to me Frades role in facilitating
the possessions.
rr. Klepsz, Found Treasures, r:.
r:. I mention this in reference to Nicole Lorauxs book Tragic Ways of Killing a
Woman, trans. Anthony Forster (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, r8;). Loraux
examines fth-century Greek tragedy, specically the suicides of wives and the deaths
of virgins. The virgin Leahs death is in keeping with the theme of Lorauxs study and
indicates another line of promising comparative work.
r. Schi states: The unmistakable tone of the Yiddish theater is also more easily
and accurately recognized than described. It is a web of paradoxes, simultaneously senti-
mental and humorous, upright and sensational, naive and proud, realistic and gurative.
It tugs unashamed at the heartstrings while challenging the intellect to conrm its re-
ections on human experience. It has an astonishing plasticity that allows it to encom-
pass and harmonize the most disparate elements into what can only be called a mixed
tone (From Stereotype to Metaphor, r:o).
r. Throughout Gender and Text the question of genre and gender is raised, includ-
ing Dan Mirons Why Was There No Womens Poetry in Hebrew before r:o?
(o).
r. Dora Schulner, Reyzeles Wedding; Rokhl Brokhes, The Zogerin; Sarah
Hamer-Jacklyn, My Mothers Dream; and Yente Serdatzky, Unchanged, all in
Found Treasures.
ro. Malka Lee, Through the Eyes of Childhood, in ibid.
r;. Celia Dropkins, The Dancer, in ibid.
r8. Rebecca Alpert, Challenging Male/Female Complementarity: Jewish Lesbi-
ans and the Jewish Tradition, in Eilberg-Schwartz, People of the Body, o.
r. Ellen Galford, The Dyke and the Dybbuk (Seattle: Seal Press, r); The Dybbuk
of Delight: An Anthology of Jewish Womens Poetry, ed. Sonja Lyndon and Sylvia Paskin
(Nottingham: Five Leaves Publications, r).
ro. These feminist works reect what I am arguing is occurring in literature at
large, academic and nonacademic, which is a contemporary interest in and exploration
of the gure of the possessed woman.
rr. Paddy Chayefsky, The Tenth Man (New York: Random House, roo).
r:. Lyndon and Paskin, The Dybbuk of Delight, o. These authors are not using the
Yiddish plural form, which reects the Americanization of the Yiddish term that is prob-
lematic to Yiddishists.
Notes to Pages
r. Chayefsky, Tenth Man, r, r.
r. Paul Stoller, Fusion of the Worlds; Embodying Colonial Memories, :o.
r. Gold, Spirit Possession in Rural Rajasthan, ;. Gold also includes an exten-
sive bibliography of performance theory as it has been applied in cases of possession.
ro. Stoller, Embodying Colonial Memories, ;.
Conclusion
r. Wolf, Thrice Told Tale, ror;.
:. Ibid., 8.
. Ibid., o.
. Feminism and the Politics of Dierence, ed. Sneja Gunew and Anna Yeatman (Boul-
der, Colo.: Westview Press, r), is a classic reference for the issues raised by attending
to dierence.
. The phrase imagined communities refers to Chandra Talpade Mohantys use
of the term in her introduction, Cartographies of Struggle: Third World Women and
the Politics of Feminism, in Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, ed. Chandra
Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, rr).
o. Gayatri Spivak, Can the Subaltern Speak? in Marxism and the Interpretation of
Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, r88).
;. Luce Irigaray, Speculumof the Other Woman, trans. G. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell Univer-
sity Press, r8).
8. Long, Signications, .
Bibliography
Ali, Syed Husin. Malay Peasant Society and Leadership. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, r;.
Amadiume, I. Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society.
London: Zed Books, r8;.
Andaya, Barbara Watson, and Leonard Y. Andaya. A History of Malaysia. Macmillan
Asian History Series. London: Macmillan, r8:.
An-ski, S. The Dybbuk: A Play in Four Acts. Trans. Henry G. Alsberg and Winifred Kat-
zin. London: E. Benn, r:;.
Ansky, S. The Dybbuk and Other Writings by S. Ansky. Ed. David G. Roskies, trans. Golda
Werman. New York: Schocken Books, r:.
Apollon, Willy. The Crisis of Possession. Trans. Peter Canning and Tracy McNulty.
Jouvert , r and , : (r); http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/vil:/apollo.htm.
Arac, Jonathan, and Barbara Johnson, eds. Consequences of Theory: Selected Papers fromthe
English Institute, . n.s., no. r. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
rr.
Arthur, Marilyn. The Choral Odes of the Bacchae of Euripides. Yale Classical Studies
:: (r;:): r8o.
Asad, Talal. Genealogies of Religion. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, r.
. Agency and Pain: An Exploration. Culture and Religion r, r (:ooo): :oo.
Austin-Broos, Diane J. Jamaica Genesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r;.
Bargen, Doris G. A Womans Weapon: Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, r;.
Beach, David N. The Shona and Zimbabwe, . London: Heinemann, r8o.
. Chimurenga: The Shona Rising of r8o/;. Journal of African History :o,
(r;): :o.
Bell, Catherine. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, r:.

Bibliography
Bell, Diane, Pat Caplan, and Wazir Jahan Karim, eds. Gendered Fields: Women, Men, and
Ethnography. London: Routledge, r.
Ben-Amos, Dan, and Jerome R. Mintz, trans. and eds. In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov.
New York: Schocken Books, r;o.
Bharati, Agehananda. The Realm of Extra-Human: Agents and Audiences. Paris: Mouton,
r;o.
Blundell, Sue. Women in Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, r.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, r;;.
Bourdillon, Michael. The Shona Peoples. Gwelo, Rhodesia: Mambo Press, r;o.
Bourguignon, Erika. Possession. San Francisco: Chandler and Sharp, r;o.
. Religion as a Mediating Factor in Culture Change. In Religion and Mental
Health, ed. John F. Schumaker. New York: Oxford University Press, r:.
Boyarin, Daniel. Reading Androcentrism against the Grain: Women, Sex, and Torah-
Study. Poetics Today r:, r (spring rr): :.
British South Africa Company (BSAC). The Rebellions. Reprint of The British South
Africa Company Reports on the Native Disturbances in Rhodesia, . Bulawayo:
Books of Rhodesia, r;. Foreword by David N. Beach.
Brown, Karen McCarthy. Alourdes: A Case Study of Moral Leadership in Haitian Vou-
dou. In Saints and Virtues, ed. John Hawley. Berkeley: University of California
Press, r8;.
Brown, Michael F. The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality in an Anxious Age. Cam-
bridge: Harvard University Press, r;.
Bruchner, Heidrun, Lothar Lutze, and Aditya Malik, eds. Flags of Fame: Studies in South
Asian Folk Culture. New Delhi: Manohar, r.
Bucher, Hubert. Spirits and Power: An Analysis of Shona Cosmology. Cape Town: Oxford
University Press, r8o.
Bulbeck, Chilla. Re-Orienting Western Feminisms. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, r8.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, r8.
Burridge, Kenelm. New Heaven, New Earth: A Study of Millenarian Activities. Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, ro.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, ro.
. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, r.
Cameron, Averil, and Amelie Kuhurt, eds. Images of Women in Antiquity. London: Rout-
ledge, r.
Carrette, Jeremy, and Mary Keller. Religions, Orientation, and Critical Theory: Race,
Gender, and Sexuality at the r8 Lambeth Conference. Theology and Sexuality rr
(r): :r.
Bibliography
Chajes, J. H. Judgements Sweetened: Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern Jewish
Culture. Journal of Early Modern History r, : (r;): r:ro.
Chambliss, J. J., ed. Nobility, Tragedy, and Naturalism: Education in Ancient Greece. Minne-
apolis: Burgess, r;r.
Chaudhuri, Nupur, and Margaret Strobel, eds. Western Women and Imperialism.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, r:.
Chayefsky, Paddy. The Tenth Man. New York: Random House, roo. Copyright, as an
unpublished work by SPD Productions, roo.
Cheah, Pheng. Mattering. Diacritics :o, r (ro): ro8.
Cliord, James. The Predicament of Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, r88.
Comaro, John, and Jean Comaro. Ethnography and the Historical Imagination. Boulder:
Westview Press, r:.
Cooey, Paula M. Religious Imagination and the Body. New York: Oxford University Press,
r.
Csordas, Thomas J. Health and the Holy in African and Afro-American Spirit Posses-
sion. Social Science and Medicine : (r8;): rrr.
De Certeau, Michel. Mystic. Diacritics ::, : (r:): rr:.
. The Madness of Vision. Enclitic ;, r (r8): :r.
. Heterologies. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, r8o.
. The Writing of History. Trans. Tom Conley. New York: Columbia University
Press, r88.
. The Mystic Fable. Trans. Michael B. Smith. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, r:.
Detienne, Marcel, and Jean-Pierre Vernant, eds. The Cuisine of Sacrice among the Greeks.
Trans. Paula Wissing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r8.
Detweiler, Robert, and William G. Doty, eds. The Daemonic Imagination. American Acad-
emy of Religion, Studies in Religion, oo. Atlanta: Scholars Press, ro.
Dodds, E. R. The Greeks and the Irrational. Berkeley: University of California Press, rr.
. Euripides Bacchae. Oxford: Clarendon Press, roo.
Du Bois, Page. Sowing the Body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, rr.
Dussell, Enrique. The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor, and the Philoso-
phy of Liberation. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, ro.
Dziva, Douglas. A Critical Examination of Patterns of Research in the Academic Study
of Shona Traditional Religion, with Special Reference to Methodological Considera-
tions. Ph.D. diss., University of Natal, ro.
Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard, ed. People of the Body: Jews and Judaismfrom an Embodied Per-
spective. Albany: SUNY Press, r:.
Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Lon-
Bibliography
don: Routledge and Kegan Paul, ro. Originally published as La chamanisme et les
techniques archa ques de lextase (Paris: Librarie Payot, rr).
Erndl, Kathleen M. Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of Northwest India in Myth,
Ritual, and Symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, r.
Euripides. Medea; Hyppolytus; the Bacchae. Trans. Phillip Vellacott. London: Curwen
Press, ro;.
. The Bakkhai. Trans. Robert Bagg. Amherst: University of Massachusetts
Press, r;8.
Ewing, Katherine P. The Illusion of Wholeness: Culture, Self, and the Experience of
Inconsistency. Ethos r8, (ro): :r.
Falk, Nancy Auer, and Rita M. Gross, eds. Unspoken Worlds: Womens Religious Lives. New
York: Harper and Row, r8o.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York:
Grove Press, ro;.
Firth, Raymond. Ritual and Drama in Malay Spirit Mediumship. Comparative Studies
in Society and History , : (ro;): ro:oo.
Flanagan, Owen. Self Expressions: Mind, Morals, and the Meaning of Life. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, ro.
Flax, Jane. Thinking Fragments. Berkeley: University of California Press, ro.
Foley, Helene P., ed. Reections of Women in Antiquity. New York: Gordon and Breach,
r8r.
Ford, David. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, r.
Frieden, Ken. Classic Yiddish Fiction: Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz. Albany:
SUNY Press, r.
Fry, Peter. Spirits of Protest. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r;o.
Fuentes, Annette, and Barbara Ehrenreich. Women in the Global Factory. Boston: South
End Press, r:.
Galford, Ellen. The Dyke and the Dybbuk. Seattle: Seal Press, r.
Gardiner, Judith Kegan, ed. Provoking Agents: Gender and Agency in Theory and Practice.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, r.
Gelfand, Michael. Shona Religion with Special Reference to the Makorekore. Cape Town:
Juta and Co., ro:.
. The Genuine Shona: Survival Values of an African Culture. Salisbury: Mambo
Press, r;.
Glass, Newman Robert. Working Emptiness. Atlanta: Scholars Press, r.
Gold, Ann Grodzins. Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims. Berkeley: Univer-
sity of California Press, r88.
. Spirit Possession Perceived and Performed in Rural Rajasthan. Contribution to
Indian Sociology ::, r (r88): o.
Bibliography
Goodman, Felicitas. Speaking in Tongues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r;:.
. Ecstasy, Ritual, and Alternate Reality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
r88.
. How about Demons? Bloomington: Indiana University Press, r88.
Green, Arthur. Jewish Spirituality: From the Sixteenth Century to the Present. New York:
Crossroad, r8;.
Grigg, Richard. Theology As a Way of Thinking. Atlanta: Scholars Press, ro.
Gross, Rita M., ed. Beyond Androcentrism: New Essays on Women and Religion. Missoula,
Mont.: Scholars Press, r;;.
Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, r.
Gullick, J. M. Malay Society in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, r8;.
Gunew, Sneja, ed. Feminist Knowledge: Critique and Construct. London: Routledge, ro.
Gunew, Sneja, and Anna Yeatman, eds. Feminism and the Politics of Dierence. Boulder,
Colo.: Westview Press, r.
Hammond, N. G. L. A History of Greece to B.C. Oxford: Clarendon Press, r8o.
Harrison, Jane Ellen. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. Princeton: Princeton Uni-
versity Press, rr.
Hawley, John Stratton, ed. Fundamentalism and Gender. New York: Oxford University
Press, r.
Hawley, Richard, and Barbara Levick, eds. Women in Antiquity. London: Routledge, r.
Heine, Hilde, and Carolyn Korsmeyer, eds. Aesthetics in Feminist Perspective. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, r.
Holm, Nils G. Religious Ecstasy. Symposium in Papers, Aba, Finland, August r8r.
Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, r8r.
Hove, Chenjerai. Woman in Words: Images of Zimbabwean Women in Literature.
Woman Plus r, : (ro): rro.
Idinopulos, Thomas A., and Edward Yonan, eds. Religion and Reductionism. Leiden, The
Netherlands: E. J. Brill, r.
Inden, Ronald. Imagining India. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, ro.
Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman. Trans. G. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, r8.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. ro:; London: Collins, roo.
Jayasuriya, J. E. Dynamics of Nation-Building in Malaysia. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Associated
Educational Publishers, r8.
Kendall, Laurel. Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits. Honolulu: University of
Hawaii Press, r8.
Keuls, Eva C. The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens. New York: Harper
and Row, r8.
Bibliography
King, Karen L. Women and Goddess Traditions in Antiquity and Today. Minneapolis: For-
tress Press, r;.
King, Richard. Religion and Orientalism. London: Routledge, r.
Kjholm, Lars. Possession and Substance in Indian Civilization. Volk : (r8:):
r;o.
Kleinberg, S. Jay, ed. Retrieving Womens History. Paris: UNESCO, r88.
Klepsz, Irene. Introduction to Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers, ed.
Frieda Forman, Ethel Raicus, Sarah Silberstein Swartz, and Margie Wolfe. Toronto:
Second Story Press, r.
Laderman, Carol. Taming the Wind of Desire: Psychology, Medicine, and Aesthetics in Malay
Shamanistic Performance. Berkeley: University of California Press, rr.
Lako, George. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, r8;.
Lambeck, Michael. Human Spirits: A Cultural Account of Trance in Mayotte. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, r8r.
Lan, David. Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe. London: James
Currey; Berkeley: University of California Press, r8.
Landis, Joseph C. The Great Jewish Plays. New York: Avon Books, r8o.
Lashgari, Deirdre, ed. Violence, Silence, and Anger: Womens Writing as Transgression. Char-
lottesville: University Press of Virginia, r.
Lefkowitz, Mary R., and Maureen B. Fant, eds. Womens Lives in Greece and Rome: A
Source Book in Translation. :d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, r:.
Lienhardt, Godfrey. Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, ror.
Lewis, I. M. Ecstatic Religion. New York: Routledge, r8.
Lewis, I. M., Ahmed Al-Sa, and Sayyid Hurreiz, eds. Womens Medicine: The Zar-Bori
Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the Interna-
tional African Institute, rr.
Lifson, David. The Yiddish Theater in America. New York: Thomas Yoselo, ro.
Long, Charles. Signications. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, r8o.
Lyndon, Sonja, and Sylvia Paskin, eds. The Dybbuk of Delight: An Anthology of Jewish
Womens Poetry. Nottingham: Five Leaves Publications, r.
Maaga, Mary McCormick. Liminal Women: Pneumatological Practices among West
African Christians. In Images of African Women, ed. Stephanie Newell. Occasional
Paper no. . Stirling, Scotland: University of Stirling, Centre of Commonwealth
Studies, September r.
Mann, Patricia S. Micro-Politics: Agency in a Postfeminist Era. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, r.
Bibliography
Martin, David, and Phyllis Johnson. The Struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War.
Salisbury: Zimbabwe Publishing House, r8r.
Matsuzawa, Tomoko. In Search of Dreamtime. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r.
Mauss, Marcel. Sociology and Psychology: Essays. Ed. and trans. B. Brewster. London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, r;.
Mayes, Elizabeth. Spirit Possession in the Age of Materialism. Ph.D. diss., New York
University, May r.
McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest.
New York: Routledge, r.
Mele, Alfred R. Autonomous Agents: From Self-Control to Autonomy. New York: Oxford
University Press, r.
Mikalson, Jon D. Honor Thy Gods: Popular Religion in Greek Tragedy. Chapel Hill: Univer-
sity of North Carolina Press, rr.
Miller, David. Theologia Imaginalis. In The Archeology of the Imagination, ed. Charles
E. Winquist. JAAR Thematic Studies 8 (r8r): rr8.
Miller, Patricia Cox. Dreams in Late Antiquity. Princeton: Princeton University Press,
r.
Miron, Dan, and Ken Frieden, eds. Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler. New York:
Schocken Books, ro.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres, eds. Third World Women
and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, rr.
Mudenge, S. I. G. A Political History of Munhumutapa c. . Harare: Zimbabwe
Publishing House, r88.
Murray, Gilbert. Euripides and His Age. London: Williams and Norgate, r:.
. Five Stages of Greek Religion. New York: Columbia University Press, r:.
Mutunhu, Tendai. Nehanda of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia): The Story of a Woman Libera-
tion Leader and Fighter. Ufanhamu ;, r (r;o): ;o.
Nair, Janaki. On the Question of Agency in Indian Feminist Historiography. Gender
and History o, r (r): 8:roo.
Nasta, Susheila, ed. Motherlands. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, r:.
Oesterreich, T. K. Possession: Demoniacal and Other among Primitive Races, in Antiquity, the
Middle Ages, and Modern Time. Trans. D. Ibberson. London: Kegan Paul, Trench,
Trubner, ro.
Olmos, Margarite Fernandez, and Lizbeth Paravisini-Gebert, eds. Sacred Possessions.
New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, r;.
Ong, Aihwa. Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline. Albany: SUNY Press, r8;.
Oranje, Hans. Euripides Bacchae, the Play and Its Audience. Leiden, The Netherlands: J.
Brill, r8.
Bibliography
Oyewu`m , Oye`ronke. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender
Discourses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, r;.
Pantel, Pauline Schmitt, ed. A History of Women in the West. Vol. r. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, Belknap Press, r:.
Philipose, Pamela, and Teesta Setalvad. Demystifying Sati: A Rejoinder to Nandi. Il-
lustrated Weekly of India, March r, r88.
Powell, Anton, ed. Euripides, Women, and Sexuality. London: Routledge, ro.
Price, Simon. Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
r.
Prince, Raymond, ed. Trance and Possession States. Montreal: R. M. Bucke Memorial So-
ciety, ro8.
Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin. Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Trac in Women. Ithaca: Cor-
nell University Press, r.
Rasmussen, Susan J. Spirit Possession and Personhood among the Kel Ewey Tuareg. Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, r.
Ranger, T. O. Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, . Evanston: Northwestern Univer-
sity Press, ro;.
. Books Diary. Southern Africa Reviewof Books, SeptemberOctober r, rr.
Rimmer, Peter J., and Lisa M. Allen, eds. The Underside of Malaysian History. Kent Ridge,
Singapore: Singapore University Press, ro.
Rosenthal, Judy. Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville: University
Press of Virginia, r8.
Ryan, N. J. The Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore. Oxford in Asia College Texts.
London: Oxford University Press, ro.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, r;.
Samupindi, Charles. Death Throes. Gweru, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press, ro.
Sandrow, Nahma. Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater. New York: Harper
and Row, r;;.
Sandys, John Edwin. The Bacchae of Euripides. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
roo.
Schi, Ellen. From Stereotype to Metaphor: The Jew in Contemporary Drama. Albany:
SUNY Press, r8:.
Schmidt, Elizabeth. Peasants, Traders, and Wives. Harare: Baobab Books, r:.
Schumaker, John F., ed. Religion and Mental Health. New York: Oxford University
Press, r:.
Schwartz, Howard. Spirit Possession in Judaism. Parabola r, (r): ;:;o.
Scott, Joan. Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis. American Historical Re-
view r, (r8o): ro;.
Bibliography
Segal, Charles. Dionysiac Poetics and Euripides Bacchae. Princeton: Princeton University
Press, r8:.
. Interpreting Greek Tragedy: Myth, Poetry, Text. Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
r8o.
Sered, Susan Starr. Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister. Oxford: Oxford University Press, r.
Simon, Bennett. Mind and Madness in Ancient Greece. Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
r;8.
Skeat, Walter William. Malay Magic. New York: Dover, ro;.
Skinner, Marilyn. Rescuing Creusa: New Methodological Approaches to Women in
Antiquity. Helios r, : (r8;): r8.
Smith, Jonathan Z. Imagining Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r8:.
. Dierential Equations: On Constructing the Other. Thirteenth Annual Ari-
zona State University Lecture in Religion, Tempe, Ariz., r:.
Sokolo, Naomi B., Anne Lapidus Lerner, and Anita Norich, eds. Gender and Text in
Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of
America, r:.
Stinton, T. C. W. Collected Papers on Greek Tragedy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, ro.
Stoller, Paul. Fusion of the Worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r8.
. Embodying Colonial Memories. New York: Routledge, r.
Sullivan, Lawrence. Icanchus Drum. New York: Macmillan, r88.
. Body Works: Knowledge of the Body in the Study of Religion. History of
Religions o, r (ro): 8o.
Sweetman, David. Women Leaders in African History. London: Heinemann, r8.
Taussig, Michael. The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. Chapel Hill: Uni-
versity of North Carolina Press, r8o.
Tobias, Henry J. The Jewish Bund in Russia from Its Origins to . Stanford: Stanford
University Press, r;:.
Torrance, Robert M. The Spiritual Quest. Berkeley: University of California Press, r.
Trinh, T. Min-ha. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Blooming-
ton: Indiana University Press, r8.
Tsing, Anna L. In the Realm of the Diamond Queen. Princeton: Princeton University
Press, r.
Vambe, Lawrence. An Ill-Fated People. London: Heinemann, r;:.
Vera, Yvonne. Nehanda. Harare: Baobab Books, r.
Verma, Manindra, and K. P. Mohanan, eds. Experiencer Subjects in South Asian Languages.
Stanford, Calif.: Center for the Study of Language Information, ro.
Waghorne, Joanne, and Norman Cutler, eds. Gods of Flesh, Gods of Stone. Chambersburg,
Pa.: Anima Press, r8.
Bibliography
Walker, D. P. Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcismin France and England in Late Sixteenth
and Early Seventeenth Centuries. London: Scolar, r8r.
Ward, Colleen. A Transcultural Perspective on Women and Madness: The Case of the
Mystical Aiction. Womens Studies International Forum , (r8:): rrr8.
Waxler, Nancy E. Is Mental Illness Cured in Traditional Societies? A Theoretical Anal-
ysis. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry r (r;;): :.
Weed, Elizabeth, ed. Coming to Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics. New York: Routledge,
r8.
Weiss, Ruth. The Women of Zimbabwe. London: Kesho Publications, r8o.
Weissler, Chava. The Traditional Piety of Ashkenazic Women. Jewish Spirituality: From
the Sixteenth Century to the Present. Ed. Arthur Green. New York: Crossroad, r8;.
Williams, Michael A., Collett Cox, and Martin S. Jaee, eds. Innovations in Religious Tra-
ditions. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, r:.
Wilson, Peter J. A Malay Village and Malaysia. New Haven: HRAF Press, ro;.
Winkler, Elizabeth Hale. Three Recent Versions of The Bacchae. In Madness in Drama,
ed. James Redmond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r.
Winkler, Gershon. Dybbuk. New York: Judaica Press, r8:.
Winkler, John J., and Froma Zeitlin, eds. Nothing to Do with Dionysos? Princeton:
Princeton University Press, ro.
Winnington-Ingram, R. P. Euripides and Dionysus. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, r8.
Winquist, Charles E. Desiring Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, r.
Winzeler, Robert L. Latah in Southeast Asia: the History and Ethnography of a Culture-
Bound Syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, r.
Wolf, Margery. A Thrice Told Tale. Stanford: Stanford University Press, r:.
Wul, Donna, and John Stratton Hawley, eds. Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: Univer-
sity of California Press, ro.
Zuckerman, Francine, ed. Half the Kingdom: Seven Jewish Feminists. Montreal: Vehicule
Press, r:.
Index
ability, possession as, : anthropologistic horizon, , , ;
anthropology, :o, r, r; feminist, Abramovitsh, S. Y., :o, :r
accounts of possession, ro:; ; myth of male dominance, or;
and possession, r, , African traditional religions, o, r:o:;,
roo Apollon, W., or
Arthur, M., r8o8r, r8, r8 Agamemnon, r;o
agency, :, o, :, ;; Butler and, 8o; Asad, T., o, 8, ;8;; and agency,
, oro, ;, ;; construction, r:; nonvoluntaristic, o,
8or, ;, 8o8;, 8; postcolonial ate, r;o
Athens, ro8o critiques, o, ;8;; and subjectiv-
ity, ;8, oo, ;r, ;, ::r audience, ::o, ::r
Augustine, Saint, o agency of possessed bodies, :, , , ::,
::, ::; Enlightenment perspective, authentic/unauthentic possessions, r,
::r , . See also instrumental agency
Albanese, C., :n autodescriptions, r
autosuggestion, :8, : Aleichem, S., :o, :r
Ali, S. H., rr, r:r
alterity, r, , ro, ro8, ::o Baal Shem Tov, r8, :o8
Bacchae, The (Euripides), ro:, ro;, ro8; fe- Amadiume, I., r
anachronistic bodies, 8, :;, , ro, :: male characters, r;8, r;; historical
context, ro8;; as liberation drama, anachronistic space, 8
ancestors, :, 8, r:;, ro; agency of, r;, r88; representations of possessed
women in, r;o, r;8, r;, r8o8;; syn- ::, ;:, ;, ;, :, ro8; hierarchy of,
r:;, r: opsis, ro; as vengeance drama, r8
backwardness, ;, :r, ;8, 8 Ansky, S., , ro, r; critical realism of,
r, :ro, :r; and Jewish folk culture, Bargen, D., o
Bazeley, W. S., rr :ro; The Oath, ro;. See also Dyb-
buk, The Beach, D., r, ro, r;

Index
belief, :, , ;; knowledge and, r, , Cliord, J., o:
colonialism, o, rr, :, :8, r:; revolt o, ;; possession and, ;, rr, :, :; re-
ligiosity and, o;, :, :, ;, 8; against, r:, r, r, ro;,
ro; women under, rr: scholarship and, r, r:, ,
Bell, C., ooo, o;, o;:, ; Comaro, J., r
community, , r:r, r:, r:;, ::8; Belluck, P., :n
Ben-Amos, D., :oon agency in, , ;:; breakdown of, :o;
cultural memory, r8o, :r;, ::o; in dyb- Bilu, Y., :oon
Blundell, S., r;r buk stories, :o, :o, :rrr:
consciousness, , r, , oo, o; agency Boddy, J., :
body/bodies: how they matter, 8o, and, r, o; altered state, 8, ;o;
blurred, , ;o, ;r; critical, r: , ; organic insuciency, 8, r, ;
and power, o;o, ;, :o. See also pos- conservative dimension, ror, :r:,
:r;, :n sessed bodies; religious bodies
bomoh (spirit-healers), :, ro;, rr; conversion, o
Cooey, P., 8 Borneo, :oon
Bourdieu, P., o; Cooper, C., o
Crapanzano, V., 8 Bourdillon, M., r:;, r:, ro, rr
Bourguignon, E., :, ro, rrorr, creativity, :, rr:, :r8
Csordas, T. J., or r:o:r
Boyarin, D., :oo cults, central/peripheral, ;
cultural memory, r:r, r:;, r8o, :r;, ::o Braude, A., o
British: in Malaysia, rro; in Zimbabwe, culture, 8, :, ror
culture/nature dichotomy, , r;8; r:, r, ro, ro
British South Africa Company, r, r,
ro dead, care of by Greek women, r;r
De Certeau, M., r, ro, ro8 Brokhes, R., :ro
Bucher, H., ror, :o: deities, :, r;o; vessels for, :,
Delphic Oracle, r;: Buddhism, 8o, 8, rr
Burkert, W., r;: deprivation theory, , :, , 8, 88
Derrida, J., 8, roo Butler, J., 88o; Cheahs critique, ;
devil, contracts with, r::
Dionysus, r;, r;, r8:8, r8o capitalism, o, :, r:r:
cattle, killing of in Rhodesia, r discipline, o, oo, ;, ;8, , rr
discrepant awareness, r8 Chajes, J. H., :oo, :or:, :o
Chayesfsky, P., :r8, :r discursive space, ::, ;;, ;8, 8:8,
ro; of theology, 88;, r:r, ::;. Cheah, P., 888, o, ;roo
choice, :, , o, ;, ror See also instrumental agency
divine madness, four types, r; Christian culture, characterization of
Jews in, :o Dobu,
Dodds, E. R., r;o, r;, r8 Christianity, rr, rr
Index
Dropkins, C., :r; feminism, ro, :, , r, , ; and
agency of women, ro, , 8, oo, dryness, ;o, ro
Du Bois, P., r;r o:o, ; and autonomy of women,
o, , ::; and The Dybbuk, :r:r;; Durand, J.-L., ::n
Dussell, E., o and maenadism, r;;; racism and,
r; and subjectivity, 88roo Dybbuk, The (Ansky): reception of, r,
r; representation of possessed Firth, R., rr, :o:
Flax, J., :rn women, r, :rr, :rr; scholarly in-
terpretations, :ro:o; synopsis, Foley, H. P., r;;o, r;8;
Ford, D., 8 r8;
dybbukim, :oo, :or, :o fraud, ro, rr
Freud, S., :8, dybbuk stories, :or, :o:, :oo, :r8
:o; dialogue in, :o:, :o; seculari- Frieden, K., :o;n
Frumkin, E., :o8 zation in, :ro
Dziva, D., r:o:;, r:8 Fry, P., ro;
Galford, E., :r8 ecstasy, , :o,
Egnor, M. T., :;n gender, :, , :, 8r8:; in Africa,
r8; in ancient Greece, r;o;r; Eichel, I., :o
Eliade, M., :; Shamanism, o and Hasidism, r8:oo, :oo; impact
of colonialism on, ro:; power and, emancipation, r;o;;, :ro
empowerment, , , 8r8:, rr8. See also men; women
Gilgul, :oo, :o: Encyclopedia of Religion, entry on posses-
sion, 8 Glass, R., 8
global neocolonialism, , o;, Enlightenment, ;8, ; Jewish, ro
Erndl, K., roo
glossalia, Eskimos, ;
ethnography, ro, r;, r:; of Korekore, Gold, A. G., , r, ::r
Goldfaden, A., :o r:, r, r; power dieren-
tials, r, ::, :: Goodman, F.,
Gordon, L., oo Euripides, r;, ro, ro;, ro, r;8. See also
Bacchae, The Greek philosophy, ro
Greek tragedy, r8; chorus, ro8, r8: Evans-Pritchard, E. E., :o
evil, :oo 8; female characters, r;o, r;;, r;8
r; Ewing, K. P., r
excess, :, Greek women: dramatic representations,
r;8;; and oppression, r;, r;o;;; explanations, indigenous, :, o, , ro,
rro and religious observance, r;r;; and
religious power, r8o, r8r, r8; status
of, r;o;r, r;, r;; as victims, r;, Fant, M. B., r;
fantasy, o, : r;o, r;;
Index
Grey, Albert Henry, th Earl, ro India, , ;;, :;n
indigenous tradition: eect of colonial- Grigg, R., 88
Gross, R., 8:, :oon ism, ror; weakening of, r:r
inequality, 8, rr8 Grosz, E., 88, r; Cheahs critique,
; inference, controlled, r, r;
Inglis, S., : guise, possession as, ;o, ro8, ro
instrumental, denitions of, ;;;
instrumental agency, ro, ::, ;, :, Hamer-Jacklyn, S., :ro
Hammond, N. G. L., r;: ro, ::8; in ancient Greece, r;o, r;;
of Deguchi Nao, 8o8r; in Malaysia, hantu, r, ro, rr, r:o, r:r; agency of,
ro8, ro, rro ro;8, rr8, rr:o; and mattering,
;8; power of possessed women, Hardacre, H., 8o8r
Harrison, J. E., ro r;; and receptivity, , 8:; representa-
tion of in plays, ro, r;8, r;8o, r8;, Hasidism, 8r, r, r8; tradition of pos-
session, :oo:o;; use of Yiddish rather ror, :o, :r:, :r, ::o; in Shona,
ro, r, ro, r8. See also discursive than Hebrew, :o;8, :o
Haskalah, ro;, :o space
instrumentality, , r:;, r;8, :rr healing, ;, or
Hebrew, :o;, :o8 instrumental-symbolic dichotomy, ;,
rro, r, ::r, ::o Hegel, G. W. F., o
hegemony, r; redemptive, ;o;r interpretation, r, r, r, ::, o; indige-
nous, , ro, rro Helie-Lukas, M.-A.,
Henderson, M. G., o interrogation, r, 8
Irigaray, L., ::, :rn Hinduism, , rr, :;n
history, possessions and, ; irony, r8
Islam, ;, ; in Malaysia, rr, rr; Holm, N., :o,
Hove, C., ro women and, 8, , roo
hysteria, :;, r, r;, :rr
James, W., , o
Japan, women in new religions, 8o8r ibur possessions, 8r, :oo, :oo
I Ching, rr Jayasuria, J. E., :;n
Jewish Ethnographic Expedition, r ideals, 8o
ideas, Jewish Labor Bund, r, ro
Jewish women, r:, r;, :r;; access to identication, 8, , o
identities: blurring, r; new, rro Hebrew, :o;; ambivalence towards,
r;8, :o, :o8; possessed, 8r, :oo; identity politics, 8, , r8
ideology, , , 8, r representations of, r:oo, :o, :oo;
status of, :r:; as writers of Yiddish lit- idioms, 8, , ;
illusion, , r: erature, :ro; and Yiddish, :o8
Jews, r, ro, :o; immanence, o, ;, r:;
imperialism. See colonialism Judaism, and gendered aspects of posses-
sion, :oo, :oo Inden, R., ;;
Index
Kachru, Y., ::n tions in, r8, rr8; possessions at work-
sites, r:, rorr, rr, rr:r; reli- Kagubi, ro, r;
Kant, I., 8 gious life, rrr; unstable people,
roo, rror; Karo, J., :oo
King, R., o Malay women: possession of, ro;rr;
susceptibility of, rr;r8, r:o; as un- Kjrholm, L., r
Klepsz, I., r;, :r:r, :r, :rro derclass, rr8
male possession, :8, :, r, r, r; knowledge v. beliefs, r, , o, ;
Korekore, r:, r, r Hasidic tradition, 8r, :oo, :or, :oo; in
India, o8; as mhondoro, r Kraemer, R., r;;
malevolent/benevolent beings, o8
March, J., r;8 Lacan, J., or; theory of the mirror,
8, o marriage, in Shona society, r;
masculinity, Western, :8, : lack, 8, r, :
Laderman, C., r: materialistic perspective, ;o, ro, rr
Matsuzawa, T., :8n Lako, G., ooo;
Lan, D., r, r:, r, r, matter/mattering, 88, , o, ;8
Mauss, M., ::n r
land: governance of, ro, roo; ownership Mayes, E. A., o
McClintock, A., of, r:;; protection of by spirit ances-
tors, r McCormick, M., :n
McDaniel, J., :;n Lee, M., :ro
Lefkowitz, M. R., r; medical approaches, or
mediums, in Shona culture, ro, r; lesbians, :r8
Levi-Strauss, C., r; agreement with guerrillas, r; duty to
protect land, r; and ritual, r; Lewis, I. M., ro, r;, :oon; Ecstatic
Religion, 8 white government and, r:
men: Greek, r;o;;, r;; in Hasidism, linguistic cases, ;o;;
Lipsedge, M., rr; r8, :oo; as mediums, r, r,
ro; permeability of, rr8; and sha- literary studies, o
Littlewood, R., rr; manism, ; in Shona society, r. See
also male possession locusts, in Rhodesia, r
Long, C., r, 8, :o, :n, :n; and Mendelssohn, M., ro, :o8
menopause, and womens status, ro, signication, rr, r:, :
Lurianic Kabbalah, r8 r;;
mental health/illness, , , , r::;
and shamanism, 8; women and, r, maenadism, r;, r;;, r8;
maenads, r;, ro, ro8, r;8, r8o8r, :ro, :r;
Mezzich, J., :on r8o8;; power of, r8r, r8:8, r8
Malaysia: Chinese in, rr, rro; coloniza- mhondoro, ro, ro, r:, ror; men as, r;
resistance against colonialism, ro;, tion, rrro; free-trade zones, rooro;
geography, rr:; oppressive labor condi- r:. See also Nehanda mhondoro
Index
mind/body dichotomy, oo, 88, r Ong, A., r;, ro, rooro, rr;, rr8,
r:o:r MLimo superstition, ro, :r:n
Mobius strip, r: oppression, , r8, , , ; creative
agency, oro; of Greek women, r;, modernity, possession in, o
moral development, ;o, r:o r;o;;; matter/form dichotomy and,
o; power and, o Morrison, T., 8
Mozambique warriors, r8 oracles, Greek women as, r;r, r;:;
Orang Asli, rr:r, rr Mugabe, R., r
multiple personality disorder, o, : Oranje, H., r88
Orientalism, roo, rror; Mumtaz, K., 8
Mutasa, D., r; Oyewumi, O., r
Mutswairo, S., r;
Mutunhu, T., r Padel, R., r;o, r;8
Pale of Settlement, r Mwari (Shona deity), r:8, r:
mystics, Jewish, r8, :oo pathology of possessions, :8, , r, rrr,
r; myth, r:, :o
Peretz, I. L., :o, :r
performance theories, r, :, ::r Nair, J., or, ;
naming, r:, : performativity of possession, r, o, ro:,
::o:: Nao, Daguchi, 8o8r
nationalism, ro, r Pericles, ro
permeability, , :8, :o; in ancient nationness, roo
Ndebele, r:8:, r; Rhodes and, r; Greece, r;o; in Hasidic theology, :oo;
lesbians and, :r8; of Malay people, Shona and, r, r8
Nehanda, ro, r;, ro, rooor; of rr;, rr8
phantasm, 8, o Karoi, r;, r8, r8; known by Zim-
babweans, r8; and nationhood, r8; piety, :o
Pioneer Column, r representations of, r;, r8
Nehanda mhondoro, r8r, r:;, r:, place: placeness, ;8o; power of, r:r;
religious body and, rrr, rrr r8, ror, ::
Nehanda of Dande, ro, r:, r, placetaking of spirits, rr:o
plays, representations of possessed r, r8, ror
Nehanda of Mazoe, r, ro, ror; women in, rr, r. See also Bacchae,
The; Dybbuk, The death of, r, r8
Nietzsche, F., ; politics and religion, o, ;8, rr, rr,
ro; in Zimbabwe, r, rr Norich, A., :o8
nostalgia, androcentric, :r, :r politics of translation, rrr:, r, ::;
politics/religion dichotomy, r:, roo nuns, r, :8
Portefaix, L., r;
Portuguese, in Zimbabwe, r: objectication, r:, :
Oesterreich, T. K., r, :o, ;; Possession: possessed bodies, ;, ;, 8:; anachronis-
tic, :;, ro; as utes, ;o; as hammers, Demoniacal and Other, :o:
OHanlon, R., :rn ;, ;o; place for remembering tradi-
Index
tion, ;8; as tempered body, ;o; work Ranger, T. O., r, r;, r;, roo
reality, o, ;o, ::r; alternate, , of, ;o
possessing agency, ;:, ;;, ;8, o, :, reason, o, 8
receptivity, , :, ;o, rr8, r:o; gender ro8
possession, , , rr:; denitions of, analysis, 8r, 8:, rrr; of maenads, r8o,
r8r, r8, r8, r8;; of women, o, :oo, ; eventual extinction, :8; reasons
for, o; religious traditions of, :; :r:
reexive methodology, , scholarship and, 8r;
possession studies, , , ro, :, 8o; re- Reformation, o;
regressiveness, 8, , r; ligionist, ::o, o; second-wave,
:, o, or, ;o; social scientic, : relationality, ro, r;, , r:, , oo, 8o,
:::o :, :o
postcolonial theory, ro, :, , ; and religion: as anachronistic space, 8; in
ancient Greece, ro;o, r;r;, r;; agency, o, ;8;; theology and,
88; belief and (see belief); historians of, :
:o, o; as ideology, ; power and, potters, :
power: Butler and, 8; dierentials in, r:, o, ;, , r8o, r8r, r8; in Western
history, o; ::, ::; embodiment of, , o;o, ;,
r:r; negotiations with, ;, , ;o, 8, religious bodies, ::, 8o, 8, rooror,
r:o, ::8:; mens and womens, ro; 8o, r:o, r:;, ro; places of, r:r; of pos-
sessed women, , , 8, r;o, r8o, and sexual bodies, :ro; as soldiers bod-
ies, r:, r8or; symbolic power of, r8r, r8:, r8, ::o; real, rr, :, , ;;
of religious bodies, r;, o, ;, , ::; r:, r8, r, roo. See also possessed
bodies and ritualization, o, ;o; symbolic, :,
:, ;, o, 8, , ;; of women, or, religiousness, o, ;, :; postcolonial per-
spectives on, 88; 8r, rr8, r;8, r8o, r8r, r8
pregnancy, metaphor of, 8r religious symbolism, r
religious traditions, ;; in Malaysia, rr primitivism, , :r, :;, :8, r:
Prince, R., : r, r:o; women in, , ;o, 8, ,
rooror projection, :;, r:, r:
psyche, possessions located in, :;, r repentance, :o
repetition, o;o8, o psychological response, ror, r:
psychology, , , o, ; reterritorialization, rr, r:o
Rhodes, C., r:, r, ro, r8 psychopathology, r, r:
psychosis, o, rr, :, r: Rhodesia, r; natural disasters in, r.
See also Zimbabwe psychotherapeutic perspective, ro, rr,
r:: Richartz, Rev. F., r
ritual, , o, oo, rr;; in Malay religion,
rrr, r:o; as practices, oo, o;o8, quest, Torrance and, o, r
o; Shona mediums and, r; as
symbolic behavior, o rabbis, :o;, :r:; use of possession stories,
:or: ritualization, o8;:, :o, :rr, ::r, ::8;
in African traditional religions, r:o, Rajasthani performance theory, ::r
Index
ritualization (continued) social scientic approaches, ::,
:o; second-wave, :, o r:;, r:, ror; ancient Greece, ro,
r;o; eastern European Jews and, r;; Socrates, ro, r;
South America, , r::; shamans in, gendered, :rrr:; ritualized agent, ;o,
;r;: 8
South Asia, possessions in, : Rogers, S. C., or
Rosenthal, J., or spectrality, 8, roo
speech of possessed women, , ;8, ro;8 Roskies, D. G., r, :ro
Rudd Concession, :orn spirits, :, rr; existence of, o; placetak-
ing of, rr:o; propitiation of, rr, Rudie, I., :on
rr, r:o; veneration of, rr, r:o.
See also ancestors sacred, :, ;o; hierophany, r; irreducibil-
ity, ;8; sacred space, 8:, rr, :o, Spivak, G., ::
spontaneity, : :o
Said, E., :on Sri Lanka, r:
stigmata, :, Samupindi, C., r;
Schi, E., :o;n, :on Stoller, P., ::r, :::, :n
subjectivity, o, 8, r:; agency and, ; Schmidt, E., r, rr, r, r;
Schoembucher, E., : 8, ;8, oo, ;r, ;, ::r; Chris-
tian, o; construction of, 8; feminist Schulner, D., :ro
Schwartz, H., :oo theory and, 88roo; Greek, r;o, r;;
;8; as illusion, r:; Malay, rr;, Segal, C., :n
self-constituting subject, :rn rr8, rr; male, 8r; nonautonomous,
rr:; placeness and, ;; of possessed Serdatzky, Y., r;8
Sered, S. S., o, :, people, o, :, ;o, rr:; of pos-
sessed women, 8r, ro, ro, r: shamanism, ;, o
Shona people, r:;:8; dryness and, ;o, ; psychological models, o, :o; and
quest, o, r; religious, ;, 8, rr, r, o, ro; land and, ror; Ndebele and,
r, r8 oo, ;r, r:o; of shamans, ;, 8; Shona,
r:, r, r; as social body, ;o; Shona women, rr:, r; power of,
r;8 and social practices, ooo;; Western
model, o, o, o, or, ro, rro, ::o signication, rrr:, :, , o, 8, rr;
and containment, :; problem of, : Sullivan, L., 8,
superstition, , ro , ::o
skepticism, o, r, rr susceptibility, :;, :8, o, rr;r8, r:o
Sweetman, D., :on Skinner, M., r
Sluhovsky, M., :o8n symbolism, oo, oo, ::o
Smith, Ian, r:, r:
Smith, J. Z., ::n Tara Devi, transformation of,
Taussig, M., r:r: social body, ;o, 8o, :o, :r:; Bell and,
ooo;, ;o; of Hasidic women, :rr, teleology, 8
theater: Jewish attitude to, r; Yiddish, :r:; of Malay women, rr8, rr
social practices, oo, o;o8 :o;, :oro, :rr
Index
theology, 8, o;, roo, :o, :rr, ::;; White, J., ::n
Wife of Abraham, The, r:oo discursive space, 88;
third-world women, ro, o, o; as vic- will, ;r; of God, o, ;, roo; of spirits,
;r, ;, r:o tims, or, o:
Tobias, H., ro willing, 8
Winkler, E. H., ro;o8 Torrance, R., o:
tradition, 8o; remembering, ;8, r:r Winnington-Ingram, R. P., r8:
Winquist, C., 8o trance, :, 8, rr;
transformation, r, o, ror, r8r; of wom- Winzeler, R. L., rror;
wisdom, in Bacchae, r8o8r ens lives, ,
transgressive dimension, ror, :r:, witchcraft, ro;, :o
witnesses, r, ::o; accounts of posses- :r;, :r8
Trinh T. Min-ha, ro sion, ro;8, ro, rro, r:o; in dybbuk
stories, :o Tsing, A. L., :;n
Wolf, M., ::, :::
women, r, r, r;8; and national identity, uncertainty, o
universal human experience, ;8, o 8, ; in peripheral cults, ;; predomi-
nance of, in possession accounts, :,
:, ; in religious traditions, , Vambe, L., :rn
Vanvild, M., r ;o, 8, , rooror; and shamanism,
; susceptibility of, :;, :8, rr;r8, Vera, Y., r;, :n
victim/agent dichotomy, o, or r:o; as victims, ooor. See also Greek
women; Jewish women; Malay women; vigilance, :, ;, ro, rr, r:o, r:r
Vital, R. H., :or Shona women
work, and religion, in Malaysia, rr, rr, voice, ro;8, r:o, :or. See also speech of
possessed women r:r
volatility of possessed women, :;, ,
ro, r, ro:, :r, ::o Xenophon, r;o
voluntary/involuntary possession, :, r,
, ror Yasif, E., :rr
Yiddish, :o;, :r:r; women and, :r:,
:r Wadley, S. S., o8
Walker, D. P., :o Yoruba, r
war, r:, r8, roo; involvement of
women, rr: Zeitlin, F., r;;;8, r8, :oon
Zezuru, witchcraft in, r; Ward, C., r
Waxler, N., r:, ::8 Zimbabwe: possessed women in, r:or;
redistribution of land, ::; revolution- Weiss, R., ro, rr, r:, r;8
West: and otherness, ; possession in, o, ary wars, r8r, r, ro, ro; ru-
ral women in, ro:. See also Rho- ;; psychosis in, r:; and superstitious
beliefs, r8 desia