Accepted Paper:

Oracular speech and the efficacy of the body: towards a semiotics of intimacy in the Japanese possession rituals of Ontake  
Tatsuma Padoan (University College Cork)

Paper short abstract:

My paper will try to discuss the semiotic dimensions of intimacy in spirit possession, both as a process of subjectivation and of group-making, through an ethnographic analysis of ritual interactions in the Japanese pilgrimage of Ontake.

Paper long abstract:

This paper stems from a fieldwork conducted in 2009 within a devotional community devoted to the cult of Mount Ontake (3067m), a semi-active volcano located in central Japan, between Gifu and Nagano prefectures. This mountain enshrines numerous Shinto and Buddhist deities, and stages several pilgrimages and ritual activities performed by groups of followers organised in confraternities (kō). The groups are guided by one or more religious leaders who repeatedly enter a state of trance during the pilgrimage, acting as abode for the deities of the sacred mountain, and giving oracles to the believers. Through an ethnographic analysis of ritual interactions between leader, ascetics, pilgrims and deities, I shall try to trace the connections between human and nonhuman actors (Latour 2013), set along the climb by specific mechanisms of bodily enunciation and memory. Investigation of these processes will give me the possibility to explore semiotic and communicative dimensions of intimacy under a double perspective: (1) intimacy within spirit possession, concerning different subjectivations experienced by the medium; and (2) intimacy within the collective, concerning processes of group-making. More specifically, I shall explain how the body-voice of the medium enunciates an oracular discourse which, by triggering affective and intersensorial mechanisms of cohesion (Landowski 2004), has the effect of producing a heterogeneous social body, namely a collective of people, divinities, natural elements, artefacts. Finally, I shall try to demonstrate how, paradoxically, the production of intimacy can also give rise to controversies concerning the survival of the pilgrimage itself.

Panel P073
Religious intimacy: collaboration, collusion and collision in ritual communication