Accepted paper:

"Don't look at a spirit's eyes!". Filming rituals of possession in afro-american religions.

Authors:

Roger Canals (University of Barcelona)

Paper short abstract:

In afro-american religions, the act of looking at someone has a complex symbolic meaning and plays a key role in possession and healing rituals as well as in popular arts and crafts. What happens, then, when we introduce a camera into an afroamerican possession ritual? Which is the role of vision in these sorts of rituals?

Paper long abstract:

In afro-american religions, the act of looking at someone has a complex symbolic meaning and plays a key role in possession and healing rituals as well as in popular arts and crafts. Indeed, in these beliefs, seeing consists not only in receiving external input but also in expelling internal subjective energies through the eyes. Spirits, therefore, are described as incorporeal beings that have a supernatural power; they may be capable of conveying this power through the act of looking. Despite being invisible, gods may at times be seen in dreams or as apparitions. Statues representing images are also attributed the power of seeing. Many ritual rules are linked with the act of looking, and the most important of these rules is the forbiddance of looking directly into the possessed' eyes during the ritual. We must consider that the act of filming is precisely about seeing through a camera and capturing what cannot be seen otherwise. What happens, then, when we introduce a camera into an afroamerican possession ritual? How can cinema help us to understand the role of vision in these sorts of rituals? Based on several fieldwork experiences and ethnographic films, this paper explores, on the one hand, the relationship between material, corporeal and mental images in afro-american context, and on the other hand, the potential of ethnographic cinema to be a methodological, analytical and representational means to get in contact with - and even make visible - that which cannot.

panel V07
Representing the non-representable: visual representations of extraordinary beings in ethnographic films