Accepted paper:

The devil and the holy water… and the archangel Michael: mediation, materiality and cosmology in Ethiopian orthodox exorcism


Diego Maria Malara (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores practices of mediation, sacred materiality and cosmological hierarchy in the context of Ethiopian Orthodox exorcism. I focus on the sensorial dimension and the material instantiation of the relationships between the different human and non-human beings taking part to the exorcism ritual.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on the anthropological literature on mediation, this paper explores exorcism ritual in contemporary Orthodox Ethiopia. In Ethiopian orthodox Christianity, access to the sacred and contact with the divine are regulated by severe ritual restrictions typically enforced by the clergy. However, there are practices and domains of religious life where the authority of the clergy is less prominent. In the healing site chosen as a case study, members of the clergy are not allowed to exorcise demons. Indeed, it is the archangel Michael who acts as the exorcist and the mediator of God's power. Crucially, this power becomes effective only through a material medium, that is, holy water. In this paper I explore Ethiopian Orthodox exorcism by shifting the analytical emphasis from deliverance per se to the processes whereby the agency and presence of different spiritual beings become manifest at the sensorial level. The purpose of exorcism, I argue, is not merely to free the demoniac, but to publically and sensationally uphold and instantiate a hierarchical, cosmological and moral order in which every being, including demons, are subordinate to divine power. This process is better grasped by focusing on: the roles, voices, and gestures of the different human and non-human actors of the exorcism ritual; their mutual relationships; and how sacred materials, such as holy water, mediate such relationships.

panel P62
Religious life and medical traditions