Accepted Paper:

Impersonating the human  

Author:

Ella Johansson (Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper concerns a ritual on the day of a childs baptism. The godmother’s behaviour followed a corpus of prescriptions of magic measures that had to be observed in order to shape the child as social being and was at the same time a physical impersonification of what a good human being should be.

Paper long abstract:

Folklore material collected in the first years of the 20th century representing a memory material of the second half of the 19th century display a "belief" that a baptised child would be like its carrier. The godmother's behaviour during the day of baptism followed a corpus of prescriptions of magic measures that had to be observed in order to shape the child as social being. The records can be read as sources of conceptions of personhood, the good human being, good social relations and the role of gender in these norms.

The material addresses classic questions such as the relation between structure and agency in social theory or between ritual, myth and belief in religion. It allows a study of ritual as action; as choreography and its physical interpretation performed by the body, a cultural transmission of core values, not necessarily mediated through language. The godmother's representation of the good human could be described in terms of mimesis, imitation and performativity, concepts that are important in present gender- and queer theory. How and when was gender relevant for the human being impersonated or imitated by the baby´s carrier? Why was a woman appropriate to impersonate good personhood and how could she e.g. stand as a prototype for a baby boy?

Panel P61
Feast and ritual in the regeneration of society