Trance Mediums and New Media: Spirit Possession in the Age of Technical Reproduction

Trance Mediums and New Media: Spirit Possession in the Age of Technical Reproduction

Heike Behrend
Anja Dreschke
Martin Zillinger
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Trance Mediums and New Media: Spirit Possession in the Age of Technical Reproduction
    Book Description:

    Ongoing debates about the "return of religion" have paid little attention to the orgiastic and enthusiastic qualities of religiosity, despite a significant increase in the use of techniques of trance and possession around the globe. Likewise, research on religion and media has neglected the fact that historically the rise of mediumship and spirit possession was closely linked to the development of new media of communication. This innovative volume brings together a wide range of ethnographic studies on local spiritual and media practices. Recognizing that processes of globalization are shaped by mass mediation, the volume raises questions such as: How are media like photography, cinema, video, the telephone, or television integrated in seances and healing rituals? How do spirit mediums connect with these media? Why are certain technical media shunned in these contexts?

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5384-5
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction: Trance Mediums and New Media
    (pp. 1-24)
    Heike Behrend and Martin Zillinger

    For more than two decades, scholars have discussed the “return of the religious,” a development that has taken place on a global level and that deeply questions the narratives of modernity and its disenchantment (De Vries and Weber 2001). Responding to the forces of globalization, the neoliberal elimination of restraints on market forces, the decline of states, and the rise of new media, political theologies have emerged that intensely counter the Western idea of the separation of church and state and the concept of religion as a private individual matter.

    The return of the religious opened up an intense debate...

  6. On the Subject of Spirit Mediumship in the Age of New Media
    (pp. 25-55)
    Rosalind C. Morris

    Across the world, traversing myriad social and historical traditions, in nationally recognized or socially marginalized cults, from the mountains of Venezuela to the backstreets of Bangkok, from Central Africa to New Orleans, spirit mediumship offers a potent dramaturgy of representation—at once enigmatic and carnal. Emerging from the shadow and sound of ethnography’s archives, it appears to us as a theater of nearly primordial dimensions, yet one relentlessly transformed by the material and symbolic technologies of contemporaneity. The ambivalence of the practice is perhaps best attested by the fact that anthropologists have been as likely to find in it allegories...

  7. Trance Mediums and New Media: The Heritage of a European Term
    (pp. 56-76)
    Erhard Schüttpelz

    In 1872, Edward Tylor, one of the founding figures in social and cultural anthropology, traveled to London to spend several weeks meeting Spiritualists and investigating Spiritualism, following out the premises developed in his chief work of cultural anthropology,Primitive Culture, published the previous year (Pels 2000). “In November 1872, I went up to London to look into the alleged manifestations. My previous connexion with the subject had been mostly by way of tracing its ethnology, & I had commented somewhat severely on the absurdities shown by examining the published evidence” (Tylor [1872] 1971, 92). It remains striking how open the...

  8. Absence and the Mediation of the Audiovisual Unconscious
    (pp. 77-99)
    Martin Zillinger

    Part of the basic inventory of most concepts of media is that media overcome time and space. In the context of religion, this is true in two ways: first, the ritual shaping of agency is restructured (see Stolow 2005); and second, religion, as mediation (De Vries 2001), ties the use of technological media back to existing cultural, ritual, and body techniques. Technical media are integrated into established chains of media and media practices (Behrend 2003a). Many scholars note that in this process, media seem to move into the background. Although constitutive of the conveyed experience, they are nevertheless perceived as...

  9. New Media and Traveling Spirits: Pentecostals in the Vietnamese Diaspora and the Disaster of the Titanic
    (pp. 100-115)
    Gertrud Hüwelmeier

    In many countries today, new migration flows are changing the religious landscape. The revitalization of religion is one aspect of these changes, including the global explosion of Pentecostal Christianity, transnational Islam, Hindu nationalism, and spirit-possession cults. Globalization provides fluid transnational networks that help transport religious messages across geographical spaces. Media and new media technologies play a prominent role in the ways in which words and spirits travel and circulate among local and global audiences and are thus an intrinsic part of new religious movements. Religion and religious practitioners are not merely reacting to global processes, but generate global interconnectedness, not...

  10. Numinous Dress / Iconic Costume: Korean Shamans Dressed for the Gods and for the Camera
    (pp. 116-136)
    Laurel Kendall

    “Korean shamans in their colorful costumes,” “Korean shamans in their bright robes,” “a shaman in a peaked white hood,” “a shaman in a high-crowned red hat”—in photographs, the robes are iconic, or in Rosalind Morris’ sense, “emblematic” (Morris 2009), intrinsic to the thing itself, rather than merely representational. The robes make the icon, inform the viewer that this is a Korean shaman performing akut—a shaman manifesting a god in antique fancy dress. But a Korean shaman’s robeis, and is more than a costume, and within the frame of a ritual, rather than the frame of a...

  11. Rites of Reception: Mass-Mediated Trance and Public Order in Morocco
    (pp. 137-155)
    Emilio Spadola

    In contemporary Morocco, the business and professional classes often discuss the local Sufi veneration of saints and spirits, including ritual forms of trance, in positive terms, associating them with the nation’s distinctly modern Islamic society, culture, and economy.¹ Although hardly unanimous, many middle-class and underclass Moroccans do so, as well. As Hassane Zerrouky noted during the 2007 parliamentary elections, the Moroccan monarchy and elites reinforce the nation-state’s Sufi character during perceived political challenges to the national order (Zerrouky 2007) The association of Sufism with Morocco’s “moderate” national character was made explicit, for example, during the politically tense summer of 2003,...

  12. Media and Manifestation: The Aesthetics and Politics of Plenitude in Central India
    (pp. 156-170)
    Christopher Pinney

    I started to develop an intimate acquaintance with Ambaram’s shamanic persona after I bought my first video camera. Ambaram, about whom we will shortly hear more, is a former industrial worker and ticket collector at a village railway station in central India and is now a shaman who incarnates the goddess Chamunda. I bought the video camera in 2004, the date of the most recentsimhastha melaat Ujjain, part of the twelve yearly cycles of the huge festival thekumbh mela, which alternates with Nasik, Haridwar and Allahabad. I had attended the previous festival in 1992 and had found...

  13. Media Transformations: Music, Goddess Embodiment, and Politics in Western Orissa/India
    (pp. 171-182)
    Lidia Guzy

    As a medium of religious, social, and political messages, the music of theganda bajavillage orchestras of India’s Bora Sambar region of western Orissa functions as both agent and object in processes of individual, social, religious, and political transformation. The music of theganda bajavillage orchestras represents local notions of the utterances of different goddesses and plays a central role in traditional rituals of goddess worship and healing. At the same time,ganda bajamusical performances are deeply interrelated with the sociocultural hierarchy of the Indian caste system, andganda bajamusic also plays a central role in...

  14. Transmitting Divine Grace: On the Materiality of Charismatic Mediation in Mali
    (pp. 183-200)
    Dorothea E. Schulz

    In July 1998, soon after I had started doing research on the Islamic moral reform movement in urban Mali, I was pointed to a prominent representative of the movement, the charismatic Muslim preacher Shaykh Sharif Haidara, whose radio broadcast and audiotaped sermons in Bamanakan, the lingua franca of southern Mali, had gained him an ever-growing following in the urban centers of Mali’s south.¹ As I started to collect audio recordings of Sharif Haidara’s sermons and to frequent meetings of his followers in the southeastern town of San and in the capital, Bamako, my curiosity was piqued by the procedures with...

  15. Spaces of Refusal: Photophobic Spirits and the Technical Medium of Photography
    (pp. 201-220)
    Heike Behrend

    In an article published in 1893, E. F. Im Thurn, a traveling anthropologist who had struggled and experimented in various ways with the photographic camera “in the field,” suggested that the bodies of primitive folk “might indeed be more accurately measured and photographed for such purposes dead than alive, could they be conveniently obtained when in this state” (Im Thurn 1893, 184). Although Im Thurn favored photographing “these folk regarded as living” and documenting them in social activities in their surroundings, he named one of the predicaments of early photography: the necessity to fix and immobilize the photographed subject in...

  16. “Look with Your Own Eyes!”: Visualizations of Spirit Mediums and Their Viewing Techniques in Tanzanian Video Films
    (pp. 221-240)
    Claudia Böhme

    From the beginning of my fieldwork on the Tanzanian video film industry, I was fascinated by the portrayal of themganga, a figure that features in most movies. Between 2006 and 2009, while I was participating in several video film productions, talking to actors and realwaganga, I came to learn more about themganga’s role in real life, as well as in fictional representations (Figure 13).

    On the night of a full moon, September 26, 2006, at about 8:00 P.M., the White Elephant film team is on the way to shoot a scene of their new horror movie,Chite...

  17. Possession Play: On Cinema, Reenactment, and Trance in the Cologne Tribes
    (pp. 241-263)
    Anja Dreschke

    A kind of origin myth circulates among the Cologne Tribes, the Kölner Stämme, an association of around eighty clubs from Cologne, Germany, that reenact the historical lifeworlds of “foreign” cultures—notably, the Huns and Mongolians—as a leisure-time activity: In the mid-1950s, a local painter of cinema billboards went to the movies to watch Douglas Sirk’s historical dramaSign of the Pagan(1954) starring Jack Palance as Attila the Hun. He was so fascinated by the film that he became obsessed with the idea of impersonating the famous Hun ruler. Thus, he decided to dress up as Attila for Carnival...

  18. Trance Techniques, Cinema, and Cybernetics
    (pp. 264-282)
    Ute Holl

    The field trips of writers such as Michel Leiris and Antonin Artaud and the ethnographic expeditions of anthropologists in the 1930s and 1940s such as those of Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead to Bali, Maya Deren to Haiti, and Jean Rouch’s many travels to Mali and Niger have not only resulted in reports on foreign cultures, but have also led to a series of fundamental epistemic crises regarding the researchers’ own cultures and identities. In the cases mentioned, unforeseen effects of cultural and media techniques intervened between those ethnographic filmmakers and their anthropological studies: instruments of field recordings such as...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 283-316)
    (pp. 317-352)
  21. List of Contributors
    (pp. 353-356)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 357-380)