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Healing Dramas

Healing Dramas

Copyright Date: 2009
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  • Book Info
    Healing Dramas
    Book Description:

    In this intimate ethnography, Raquel Romberg seeks to illuminate the performative significance of healing rituals and magic works, their embodied nature, and their effectiveness in transforming the states of participants by focusing on the visible, albeit mostly obscure, ways in which healing and magic rituals proceed. The questions posed by Romberg emerge directly from the particular pragmatics of Puerto Rican brujería (witch-healing), shaped by the eclecticism of its rituals, the heterogeneous character of its participants, and the heterodoxy of its moral economy.

    What, if any, is the role of belief in magic and healing rituals? How do past discourses on possession enter into the performative experience of ritual in the here and now? Where does belief stop, and where do memories of the flesh begin? While these are questions that philosophers and anthropologists of religion ponder, they acquire a different meaning when asked from an ethnographic perspective.

    Written in an evocative, empathetic style, with theoretical ruminations about performance, the senses, and imagination woven into stories that highlight the drama and humanity of consultations, this book is an important contribution to the cross-cultural understanding of our capacity to experience the transcendental in corporeal ways.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79365-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction HEALING DRAMAS
    (pp. 1-13)

    Close-up, intimate experiences of divination, healing, and magic rituals, along with my own experiences during fieldwork encounters with brujos and their clients in urban Puerto Rico (1995–1996), organize this project. It encompasses both the formal and phenomenological side of ritual experiences, personal stories, dreams, and my own reflections as an ethnographer and participant.¹ Paradoxically, now that the temporal distance from my own personal reflections during fieldwork has grown to be ten years, I find myself finally more comfortable sharing the more personal and intimate aspects of my ethnographic materials, those that fieldworkers usually note separately in their fieldwork diaries...

  6. Chapter One A FLIGHT PERFECTED AT DEATH: Mimetic Memories of a Brujo
    (pp. 14-41)

    The first time I saw Tonio, in July 1995 , he was sitting in his wheelchair watching television, dressed in a worn-out robe, his short-cut hair in a net fashioned from a piece of what looked like a woman’s dark-skin colored panty hose. He was about ninety years old at the time. Someone at the library of Loíza had told me that he was one of the most renowned brujos of Puerto Rico.

    His house was only a few minutes away from the local library. When I arrived, a man in his sixties—his son—opened quite hesitantly the outside...

  7. Chapter Two DREAMS
    (pp. 42-85)

    While dreaming is common to all human beings, not everyone makes the recording, telling, interpreting, and circulating of them an important part of the everyday experience of dreaming. As soon as I arrived in Puerto Rico in the summer of 1995 to conduct an exploratory research on the circulation of spiritual practices between the island and the U.S. mainland, I realized that describing one’s dreams and asking others to interpret them is a common practice, even among quasi-strangers, as I was for many. In various situations since my first days in Puerto Rico—at the university, in stores, and obviously...

  8. Chapter Three DRAMA
    (pp. 86-121)

    Miriam, a young woman in her late teens walks into Haydée’s altar with some difficulty; one of her legs is in a cast from her toes to her thigh. The obvious heaviness of her pace is matched by the chubbiness of her physique and overall clumsiness of her clothes, as well as by her dull, inexpressive visage. Before opening the cards for her, Haydée makes a few unexpected general comments about this young, sad-looking client.

    You fell down; your leg is swollen beneath that cast. When do you have it removed? Where’s your mother?

    At home.

    Where’s your boyfriend? You’re...

  9. Chapter Four SPIRITUAL TIME
    (pp. 122-168)

    The word “sense,” as any thesaurus shows, is synonymous with (a) meaning, significance, logic; (b) intelligence, wisdom, common sense; and (c) feeling, sensation, awareness. It is the same word, yet it carries very different, even opposing, meanings. Characterizing the history of anthropological theory as a quest for finding the sense of the behaviors of fellow human beings, Michael Herzfeld argues (2001) that theories were engaged first in “making sense” of the behaviors of “exotic others”; then in studying the “common sense” or taken-for-granted realities of different groups within a society (including those of the anthropologist); and now are focusing on...

  10. Chapter Five THE SENTIENT BODY
    (pp. 169-216)

    As planned, I arrive at Mauro’s at one in the afternoon. We are going to atoque de tambor(alsotoque de santo), a Santería drumming celebration in honor of the orishas. But we leave at two-thirty in the afternoon because we need to wait until Ronny (the other Cuban babalawo) arrives as well. While we wait Mauro tells me about his plans to start a spiritual spa in Miami with the help of some of his influential godchildren. He talks about his relationship and spiritual work with his wife, Lorena her demands, the fact that she is in charge of everything...

  11. Chapter Six SPACE
    (pp. 217-252)

    Basi, the botánica owner and espiritista with whom I lived for several months, insisted I meet Ken and Mora, a married couple working together as healers. Basi and her teenage granddaughter who lived with her had participated in a series of workshops on the beach that Ken and Mora conducted about healing, cleansing, and meditation techniques. The flyer she gave me with the address and phone number read as follows: “Ken [his last name]: Magnified Healing Master Teacher” (in forty-eight-point italics) and on the next line “Reiki Treatment: Balancing of Inner Self.” I called him and met with him and...

    (pp. 253-254)

    Before leaving Puerto Rico in December 1996, I asked Haydée if she would address a letter to my dissertation committee granting me permission to publish any or all of the photographs, tape recordings, and videos I had compiled while working with her. She happily agreed to my request but, in keeping with her usual spiritual entrepreneurship, suggested that we combine the writing of the letter with the fashioning of a protective and propitiatory amulet for me, the two thus becoming a kind of farewell trabajo. Notably, I had never asked her, out of concern for my work with her mixed...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 255-268)
  14. References
    (pp. 269-284)
  15. Index
    (pp. 285-296)