Performance and the Manifestation of Spirits in Spirit Possession Practices

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Numinous Conversations: Performance and the Manifestation of Spirits in Spirit Possession Practices

Jack Hunter

Quote:Spirit possession is an extremely complex phenomenon, with social, cultural, psychological and, potentially, parapsychological components. All of these different aspects interact and coalesce to produce something that is very difficult to reduce into a simple explanatory scheme.

In this chapter, however, I am going to focus only on the behavioural aspects of this unusual phenomenon, in particular those aspects that might be referred to as ‘performance,’ and the way that performance is utilised in the manifestation of spirits. This is not because I consider this perspective to be the best for interpreting and understanding spirit possession, but rather because it illuminates interesting issues, which in turn highlight other components of the phenomenon. This chapter will examine spirit possession practices from a cross-cultural perspective, drawing on the anthropological and ethnographic literature on spirit possession, as well as on my own field research with trance mediums in Bristol. My research takes the form of participant observation at the Bristol Spirit Lodge, a group devoted to the development of trance and physical mediumship. The Lodge was established in 2005 by Christine, the circle leader, after she was ‘made aware’ of the reality of spirit mediumship during a seance she attended with a friend.

 I have  been conducting field research with the group since 2009.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell

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