Accepted Paper:

Bodies for the gods: trance possession and the role of the body in ritual  


Fabian Graham (Max Planck Institute)

Paper short abstract:

The paper first presents a case for paranthropology as an underlying principle for ethnographic research methodology, and then illustrates the value of the methodology through conversations with mediums in trance.

Paper long abstract:

In the study of Taoist spirit mediumship in Taiwan and Singapore, anthropologists have often detailed the functions of spirit mediums in society, the related material and temple culture, the beliefs and practices, ritual violence and healing. However, there is an absence of literature on the actual physiological experience of trance possession from either mediums in trance who invariably have little if any memory of events during trance possession, or from the mouths of the mediums whose bodies are possessed by deities. This paper will argue in support of a research methodology, which, unlike other ethnographic research paradigms, focusses on the actual phenomena of trance possession rather than on the social groups and material culture that surrounds it. The paper will include discussions with deities tranced through their mediums conducted over an eighteen month period in 2010 and 2011 in Taiwan and Singapore. The subjects reported on will include the physiological sensations during trance states from the perspective of the entranced medium including body awareness, sense awareness, and soul awareness, and interactions between the spiritual body of the possessing deity and their devotees and clients through ritual power objects.

Panel P059
Anthropology through the experience of the physical body