it is apparent that mediumship is a complex phenomenon, one deserving of further investigation by anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists interestedin human consciousness, in indigenous health care, and in the psychophysiologyof practitioners who claim to work under the direction of spirit entities.
mediumship, African-Brazilian religions, dissociation, absorption,psychophysiology
In Brazil, mediumship is a central component within the ritual practice of whatcan be termed its ‘‘spiritistic religions.’’ Mediumship involves the belief in thebodily incorporation of spiritual agents and/or the channeling of informationfrom the ‘‘divine world’’ to the ‘‘material world,’’ often for therapeutic purposes.In the United States, ‘‘mediums’’ are conceptualized somewhat differently from‘‘channelers’’: the former group focuses on communication with the dead andthe latter with a broader scope of ‘‘entities’’ or purported ‘‘sources’’ of informa-tion. Mediums and channelers both purport to be able to receive informationthat supposedly does not originate from consensual reality (e.g., from livingpersons, media, their own memory). Some writers in the United States (e.g.,Hastings 1991; Klimo 1998) use the term
to refer to practitioners whopurportedly obtain this information from deceased persons, and
topractitioners who claim to obtain information from other ‘‘spiritual entities’’(e.g., deities, ‘‘nature spirits,’’ inhabitants of ‘‘other dimensions’’) as well.Mediumship is typically induced during so-called altered states of con-sciousness (perhaps better described as ‘‘patterns of phenomenologicalproperties,’’ Rock and Krippner 2007). These ‘‘states’’ (or ‘‘patterns’’) play animportant role in the rituals of spiritistic religions, that is, those African-Brazil-ian religions in which ‘‘spirits’’ (most of whom ‘‘accompanied’’ slaves to Brazilduring the diaspora) occupy a central role, for example, Batuque, Caboclo,Candomble´, Kardecismo, Macumba, Tambor de Minas, Umbanda, Xango.Permeating these religions’ mythologies are stories about a ‘‘Sky God’’ and hisintermediaries, the
), who symbolize the primordialforcesof nature.These orixa´s are believed to be powerful and terrifying, butalsosimilar to humans in that they can be talked to and pleaded with, as well ascajoled through special offerings. The orixa´s and less powerful entities (e.g.,
who are ‘‘lower’’ spirits;
or Brazilians of mixedIndian, European, and African heritage;
or spirits of babies or youngchildren;
or spirits of elderly slaves, or even of one’s ancestors orformer ‘‘incarnations’’) can take hold of the mind and body of a human throughacts of voluntary ‘‘spirit incorporation,’’ which were central features in Africanritual practice.
2 anthropology of consciousness 19.1