Accepted Papers:

Materiality, cosmogony and presence in Cuban espiritismo  


Diana Espirito Santo (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper will seek to conceptualize the role of materiality in the production of spirits in the Afro-Cuban practice of espiritismo cruzado, a popular spirit-mediumship cult in Havana, namely, through an examination of specific notions of knowledge and self.

Paper long abstract:

In contrast to propositional models of 'knowledge' as a transactable commodity independent of knower, where 'belief' stands as its ontological antithesis, in Cuban espiritismo knowledge is a direct function of the 'coming closer' of one's spirits, achieved mostly through material offerings and spirit representations. 'To have knowledge' is not about internalizing information, but about becoming, where one's self-awareness and ability to 'know' are tied to the development and visibility of one's spirit guides, the 'knowers'. Cuban spiritists cultivate a pragmatic project of belief-as-action - enabled by the use of material objects and consumables - in order to activate the agency of a spiritual world that would otherwise lay dormant. Producing 'things' here is tantamount to producing spirits - making of the spirit medium the creator of a cosmology, rather than just a voice for it. Through matter, then, spirits become. But further, through matter the medium herself comes into being, for such entities are also constitutive of her 'self'.

In this paper I will explore the possibility of collapsing the distinction between 'concept' and 'thing' in two ways: first, by underlining the ways in which objects domesticate but also create spirit presence by materializing it; and second, by suggesting that the spirit medium's self - as experienced through the materiality of her body - be understood as constituted on knowledge, and not as its mere vehicle. The ontological leap is thus one of achieving presence from an initial state of non-presence - form from formlessness, knowledge from matter.

panel P01
Thinking, acting and knowing through religious 'things': artefacts in the making of cosmology