Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
During an ethnographic research conducted within a tribal community in North Kerala, South India, we studied possession rituals and processes of deification in a cult of the ancestors, the continuity of those practices and the new meanings that are given to them in a context of social changes. While the ritual roles linked to possession are still held by men, we noted a ritual where a woman was being possessed. During her possession, she shared the words of the spirit in a controlled way, as do possession specialists, thus playing a very unusual role, as there are strict rules surrounding the possession rituals. The performance of the ritual by a woman, despite being unusual, complied, however, with several established cultural principles regarding possession which might have contributed to its acceptance. In addition, one must take into account the fact that the spirit was from a deceased that was a respected authority figure in his community. This case raises questions regarding the attribution of agency and authority to performers, ancestors and gods, as well as regarding the conditions that are required for the acceptance of changes in rituals in a context where orthopraxy is required. Who are, in this context, the real actors in the expansion of the possibilities of this ritual tradition? A precedent has clearly taken place, but to which extent does it have the potential to generate other similar situations? What would be the obstacles to such changes? And what would be the favorable vectors?