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Accepted Paper:

Consultation with spirits - constructions of crisis and the problem of meaning  
Vibeke Steffen (University of Copenhagen)

Paper long abstract:

There is a long-standing anthropological tradition of studies where divination and therapeutic rituals are associated with crisis and the re-establishment of order. The risk of this approach, however, is that the intensions may be mistaken with the results, and that the role of crisis, the management of problems and the construction of meaning is overestimated. This paper demonstrates that instead of providing answers and solutions, the engagement with spirits may just as well open up for new questions and new problems. The subject of the study is spiritualism and second sight as practised in contemporary Danish society. In this context, spirits are not necessarily something extraordinary that people turn to when facing severe crisis, but rather a way of dealing with social relations in everyday life.

Second sight is provided by mediums passing on messages from deceased relatives or other spirits at platform demonstrations or in private consultations. The messages often deal with distance and proximity in social relations, and the medium may provide suggestions on how to protect your self against feelings of being drained of energy or invaded by other human or spiritual beings through spells, invocations, and other kinds of magic manipulation. This seems to be an ongoing project of diversification between good and bad influences rather than a bounded activity of establishing order and meaning. Thus, the paper aims to challenge the relevance of the concept of crisis in studies of spiritual interventions and the assumption that therapeutic rituals per definition create meaning and order.

Panel IW006
Medical knowledge, health, crises, and processes of diversification
  Session 1