Accepted Paper:

has pdf download Be(com)ing a cult member or spirit medium: the malopo cult in South Africa revisited  


Johann Kriel (University of Pretoria)

Paper short abstract:

This paper revisits the malopo spirit possession cult in South Africa by examining the way in which membership is attained through an intense emotional journey from afflicted individual to a fully cured spirit medium, involving intense training and major cognitive adjustments.

Paper long abstract:

The spirit possession cult known as malopo in South Africa apparently has it roots in East and Central Africa. Ever since its introduction to the inhabitants of the Limpopo Province in the early twentieth century, the cult has evoked ambivalent views among local people. Although some are not interested at all and others merely participate in the often spectacular possession dances, some have indeed become active cult members and spirit mediums.

Becoming cult members or spirit mediums implies altering existing views about the relationship between the 'living' and the 'living dead' and accepting new ideas about the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of illness and disease. The core question that this paper aims to answer is how this process of adjustment is managed by the individual. How does the individual reconcile the 'old' belief that the ancestral spirits should be confined to their ancestral abode to preclude illness and misfortune with the 'new' belief that such spirits should be enticed to actually leave their abode and enter the body of a living person to facilitate a cure? What are the successive steps that a person has to take in order to progress from an afflicted individual to a fully cured spirit medium or cult member? Is it possible for an individual to feign an affliction in order to become a cult member?

This paper explores the processes of becoming a malopo spirit medium or cult member by focusing on the emotional struggle to submit to the 'call' of the ancestral spirits.

Panel W094
Rethinking spirit possession