Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Oral Presentation Session
Comparing two spirit mediums manifesting village deities in two different locations, this paper interrogates the effects of urban change (and migration) on how the sacred makes itself manifest. One medium was unexpectedly and unwillingly possessed by fertility spirits at a tutelary shrine in rural Tamil Nadu, India and been nearly killed in the process. The other was an orthodox priest who invited and made himself available to the mother goddess to possess him in a diasporic temple in urban and multi-cultural Singapore where Tamil Hindus are a minority. How do different types of sacralities utilize different ritual media to assert themselves in the world? How has the shift in settings – ecological, socio-cultural and ritual – shaped the ways in which deities wrought of a specific landscape and particular peoples are brought into being? Key to this scrutiny is agency – the capacity of actors to impose themselves onto and act in a given environment – and not simply that of the spirit medium. From being immanent in their autochthonous landscapes, manifesting themselves directly and insistent upon their own will, the sacred has now become more dependent on human mediums to represent them. Urbanization has blunted a once vital agentive force. Sacralities who had been defined by their refusal to be confined within shrines, icons and mediums and had freely roamed over their territories have now become more reliant on human architecture, iconography and rituals to realize them. By reinforcing human mediation, urban change I suggest, has undermined divine agency.