Accepted paper:

The re-enchantment of the purgatory souls: embodying uncertainty


Pedro Antunes (CRIA-ISCTE - University Institute of Lisbon)

Paper short abstract:

The restoration of the religious 'folk' ritual of the Commendation of Souls, in Penha Garcia, will be here thought as a 'traditional' death cult whose 'effectiveness' has been locally 're-enchanted', becoming a cultural asset for local heritage-making and a tool to establish relational ontologies.

Paper long abstract:

During Lent, groups of people, mainly women, gather to sing and pray to/for the souls of the dead, so they can get their indulgences in Purgatory and ascend to Heaven. This practice will be here understood as religious technology, in line with the maussian 'techniques du corps', — a 'traditional' and 'efficacious' act (1968). A 'tradition' which in Penha Garcia, rather than being 'invented' and/or 'revitalized' (Hobsbawm & Rangers 1988; Boissevain 1992), is an expression of a cumulative 'genealogy' of knowledge, of 'cosmological authentication' (Weiner 1982), restored by the local tracing of a 'chain of memory' (Hervieu-Leger 2000). The Commendation of Souls is also part of a heritage-making project, envisioned by the local council of Idanha-a-Nova, who present it as an 'intangible' experience of a pristine and medieval rurality. Besides its institutional usages, commending souls is, in itself, a fully 'socially effective' heritage toll, by reference to what Alfred Gell comprehends as a 'technology of enchantment' (1998; 1999). Beyond the 'past presencing' phenomena (MacDonald 2013), the ritual is experienced as a trans-temporal dialectical action: the past (knowledge) is recalled, extended and projected into the future (uncertainty), through an action that is substantialized in the present . Base on my, ongoing, historic and ethnographic informed research, this paper intends to question: How the ritualization of death has become a privileged technology for a re-production of 'locality' (Appadurai 1996)? Which conflicting and strategic uses arise from its 'heritagization'? How its re-enchantment induces an 'effect' into local conceptions of death and 'personhood'?

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Re-enchantment, ritualisation, heritage-making: processes of tradition reconfiguration in Europe: historical and ethnographic examples