Social Life of Spirits, 7



Spirit-Materialities in Afro-Cuban Religion

Kristina Wirtz


pp. 126-7 omnipraesent

p. 126

"Evidence of nonmaterial entities -- spirits -- is everywhere".

"these spiritual entities are benevolent ...; some come unbidden, but most must be coaxed ... .

p. 127

... All are imbued with powers exceeding and saturating the mundane plane of everyday human existence, powers enacted through the immanence of

nonmaterial entities in the material world."

p. 127 fragmentary, mysterious

"spirit biographies are perhaps necessarily fragmentary, mysterious, and even obfuscating rather than fully revealing or coherent."

{Typically, a divinity will at any instant be aware only of whatever may be its duty to know in connection with its work in a particular project of a committee of deities (functioning within a network of such committees of divinities). The divinity's self-identification may be shiftable in accord with such duties : little wondre, then, that any divinity's autobiography will naturally be "fragmentary, mysterious". [written Jan 13, 2015]}

{Because a divinity's self-identity is fully shiftable, it is quite possible for a divinity [who can never incarnate (by rebirth; though agency in spirit-possesstion may be very feasible) in the material plane] neverthess to believe (temporarily, or on occasions) to have been born in and lived in the material plane. Such a divinity is likely to have served as guardian-angel or as spirit-guide to the mortal being identified withal. Because mortals are not all quite versatile enough to shift self-identities by intaking (retrieved from past-lives memory-storages in the Akas`ik Records) various shifting memories belonging to past lifetimes of persons since defunct, they are not all candidates for incarnations as various subtle-bodied subtle-plane denizens enacting praeternaturalities. [written Jan 13, 2015]}

p. 129 talk about spirits

"Talk about (and with) spirits is constitutive of Cuban popular religious practice precisely because relationships with the spirit world are of primary concern. Many forms of talk among practitioners focus on spirits, in ritual genres and in everyday interactions, whether addressing them directly, pointing out their actions, discussing their messages, or telling stories about them."

p. 129 Elegba

Notice, for example, ... information about Eleggua {Elegba} ... : he controls the domain of openings and closings, ... as a sign of his cooperative presence in "keeping the way open" ... .

{WP-WLwt 'Opener of Ways' is the aequivalent Kemetic god.}

... Eleggua's cooperation ... she had properly called upon ... while shaking a maraca (rattle) and singing several invocations to Eleggua in ... esoteric ritual register, Lucumi`. ... These communications were directed at

the small cone ... with cowry shell eyes ... -- Eleggua himself , as materially represented by this ritually prepared icon".

{Cone is variant of pyramid, shewn on the U.S. dollar bill.} {Cowry serveth (like unto dentalia in North America) in Africa as money : cowry-eyen would see only money. Openings and closings are controlled by (Matthaios 16:19) the "key" of hagios Petros, aequivalent to the "key" which is (Ys^a<yah 22:22) laid upon the shoulder (to denote dubbing into knighthood). Likewise was Hai:des wounded (according to the Iliad-) on the shoulder; indicating a relationship with Ploutos god of money.}

Matthaios 16:19

Ys^a<yah 22:22

pp. 129-30 conduits of praeternatural power from subtle worlds into the material world

p. 129

Worship is conducted "always with the understanding that such material representations {as idols} are no more than conduits to interact with nonmaterial entities not bounded by the edges of the physical world.

Statues, shells, and stones can be infused with spiritual energy,

{The power is infused from a subtle (immaterial divine) world into the material world by the agency of deities acting upon prayer-requaests by mortals.}

much as people's bodies can be possessed by spiritual presence. Such objects and bodies can, in santeros'

p. 130

idiom, have the deity permanently "seated" in them ... . ...

And spiritual entities, unlike physical substances, are limitless :

{Divinities and deities are, indeed, limited in number, but much less limited than is the number of souls of mortal beings : so that for each mortal, there are vast hordes of immortals.}

there is no end to the number of possible "Elegguas" ... in the world.

{There would be some theoretical limit, but it would be higher than practicable to be reached.}

In most other cases, even including plaster saint statues or cloth dolls that durably represent particular entities, the spirit's residence is more temporary."

pp. 130-1 praesence of spirits

p. 130

"Generally speaking, spirits are understood to be fleeting presences infusing everyday objects and ritually treated substances alike, or causing bodily sensations, or even possessions, as temporary changes of state, albeit with the potential to leave traces.

Ritual interventions ... are

p. 131

necessary conditions for spirit materializations of all kinds that practitioners, in turn, perceive and comment on. ... As Cubans understand it then, spirits act in the world

through materializations ...,

{through putting in quasi-material appearances}

and ritual practitioners seek to capture the attention and power of spirits through complex manipulations of the material world."

pp. 249-50, n. 7:2 disposal of ruined ritual objects

p. 249, n. 7:2

"A broken plaster saint statue or threadbare "chichereku`" doll ... may ... be specifically tossed away in a place thought to spiritually denature it, like ... a crossroads."

p. 250, n. 7:2

"For a deeper analysis of spiritual contamination of ritual materials, see Wirtz (2009)."

Wirtz 2009 = Kristina Wirtz : "Semiotics of Ritual Hygiene in Cuban Popular Religion". J OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE 15:476-501.

p. 133 her cabildo

"a "cabildo," religious cofratermity of the sort organized by and for Africans in Cuba ... (see Brandon 1993; Howard 1998). ... .

... her cabildo originated with cimarrones ["maroons"] who had formed a palenque ["maroon settlement"]

located right under where her building currently is located,

{temples of Mithra were usually located underground}

and ... her spirits of these Africans were ... who originated her cabildo."

[remarks by another santera] "she ... described her as blanca [white], having a cabildo below her house. ... . ... she explained that a group of people had once lived on that site -- Africans ... -- and that she had sensed the energy of the place from their presence."

Brandon 1993= George Brandon : Santeri`a from Africa to the New World. Bloomington : In Univ Pr.

Howard 1998 = Philip A. Howard : Changing History : Afro-Cuban Cabildos ... in the Nineteenth Century. Baton Rouge : LA State Univ Pr.

pp. 135, 250 potential : beneficial intervention by transgressive divinities at moments of crisis; solace

p. 135

"it is the divergences and contrasts between people's lived experiences and the biographies of spirits ... that open a virtual space of imaginative potential for what might otherwise be unspeakable, ... unattainable ... possibilities in the practitioner's own life.

Cardoso gives examples in her chapter of the transgressive povo da rua dramatically intervening in the lives of their devotees at moments of crisis (and ... these interventions as signs of potency)."

p. 250, n. 7:4

"I take inspiration from the empathetic portrayals of marginalized ... people finding solace in spirit possession in Crapanzano and Garrison (1977)."

Crapanzano & Garrison 1977 = Vincent Crapanzano & Vivian Garrison : Case Studies in Spirit Possession. NY : John Wiley & Sons.

pp. 136-7 spirits solve practical problems; divinities construct social world

p. 136

"Most folk religious practitioners I have worked with openly enlist their spirits in their projects of material advancement ... . Cuban folk religious practices have a decidedly this-worldly focus : practitioners expect their relationships with spiritual entities to help them solve practical problems and advance materially as a result of advancing spiritually."

p. 137

"Abundant scholarship on narrative constructions ... has shown how the figures and characters that populate the stories people tell do not simply reflect the categories of the social world but serve to actively construct them (e.g., ... Bauman 1986; Hymes 1996; Ochs 1994 ...)."

Bauman 1986 = Richard Bauman : Story, Performance, and Event. Cambridge Univ Pr.

Hymes 1996 = Dell Hymes : Ethnography, Linguistics, Narrative Inequality. London : Taylor & Francis.

Ochs 1994 = Elinor Ochs : "Stories That Step Into the Future". In :- Douglas Biber & Edward Finegan (edd.) : Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Register. Oxford Univ Pr. pp. 106-35.

{A most effective way for enlisting divinities in projects for "material advancement" would be to confine such "projects" to the goal of eliminating capitalism's oppression of the working class -- namely by replacing capitalism's greed-driven war-promoting atheistic madness with societal communism's paradise and good will and of piety. This would be a truly efficacious way to "advance materially as a result of advancing spiritually."}

pp. 137-8 instance of espiritismo cruzado ['spiritism crossed (with other cults)']

p. 137

"Her [autobiographical] stories authorize her access to esoteric African spiritual knowledge by describing her lifelong spiritual sensitivities and her ... joining the ritual lineage ... in the Havana suburb of Guanabacoa, a location recognized throughout Cuba as a center of black {Afro-}Cuban culture and religiosity. ... [Her] religious practice is primarily based in a form of Spiritism crossed with ... the Reglas de Palo, or what scholar taxonomize

p. 138

as espiritismo cruzado (Argu:elles Mederos and Hodge Limonta 1991; Espi`ritu Santo 2009, 2010; James Figarola 1999; Roma`n 2007)."

Argu:elles Mederos & Hodge Limonta 1991 = Los llamados cultos sincreticos y el espiriritismo. Havana.

Espi`ritu Santo 2009 = Diana Espi`ritu Santo : "Making Dreams : Spirits ... of Dream Knowledge in Cuba Espiritismo". SUOMEN ANTROPOLOGI 34.3:6-24.

Espi`ritu Santo 2010 = Diana Espi`ritu Santo : "Spiritist Boundary-Work ... in Afro-Cuban Religion". J OF MATERIAL CULTURE 15.1:64-82.

James Figarola 1999 = Los Sistemas Ma`gico-religiosos Cubanos. Caracas.

Roma`n 2007 = Reinaldo Roma`n : Governing Spirits : Religion, Miracles, and Spectacles in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898-1956. Chapel Hill : Univ of NC Pr.

p. 138 Spiritist collectives of spirits

"Spiritists ... call upon the spiritual aid of anonymous collectives of spirits, which they refer to as comisiones (commissions) ... . Sometimes spirit commissions share some common characteristic, as in the various commissions of maroons, Gypsies, and doctors".

p. 139 annual caerimonies

"When ... initiated ..., she was confirmed as a "daughter" of the oricha Yemaya`, female deity of ... the litoral ocean ... . ... In addition to celebrating the annual ... day of ... Yemaya`, she also dedicates annual ceremonies to the twin orichas known as the Ibeyi and often pictured as children ... (as it happens, she has two children of opposite genders, just like the Ibeyi)".

pp. 143-4 her tutelary spirits

p. 143

"the spirit she describes as her cabildo's president (by which she means its presiding spirit and her spirit protector) is el Doctor Negrito Fino y Precioso, the Fine and Precious Little Black Doctor."

p. 144

"an African woman spirit named Gai`fa who was the Doctor Negrito's mother ..., ... closes each ceremony when she possesses [J.], grabbing a broom and sweeping the bad influences out of the house."

pp. 146-8 bozal spoken by spirits; weak voices

p. 146

"When they manifest by possessing someone or speaking though

p. 147

a medium, sometimes their voices take on distinctive qualities, ... speaking ... the "broken Spanish" of the Bozal sociolect associated with African slaves (Castellanos 1990; Wirtz 2007a)."

p. 148

"Those recently deceased may manifest themselves by ... speaking only in weak voices, because they have not yet ... begun to gain spiritual force."

Castellanos 1990 = Isabel Castellanos : "Grammatical Structure, Historical Development, and Religious Usage of Afro Cuban Bozal Speech". FOLKLORE FORUM 23.1/2:57-84.

Wirtz 2007a = Kristina Wirtz : "Enregistered Memory and Afro-Cuban Historicity in Santeri`a's Ritual Speech". LANGUAGE & COMMUNICATION 27:245-57.

p. 151 romanticized mysticism

"in Cuban literature, ... the tropes of Afro-Cuban mysticism are romanticized to the point of cliche'."

[p. 250, n. 7:9 : "A list of examples would have to start with novelist Alejo Carpentier and folklorist Lydia Cabrera, and the tropes are also evident in Cuban feature films".]

p. 152 are "materializations" of spirits necessary for their effects to "be discernable?

"I have suggested that the agency of spirits (of all sorts) requires materialization to become manifest, and thereby to impact the possibilities for human agency."

{To be plainly discerned by mortals, deities need not visit the material universe at all. Instead, deities may affect mortals who are visiting deities in the deities' own universes -- the dream-universe, the trance-universe, etc. etc.}

"shivers can signal spiritual energy, ... interactions with spirit presences, ... receiving their messages in the form of inspired words issued ... in the voice of the spirits she channeled as a medium. The shivers and the messages, both, are ... materializations of spirit agency".

{The shivers and the messages are effects transmitted by the divinity (which remaineth immaterial) to the mortal's soul (which is immaterial by nature) : only thereupon can the mortal's soul transmit such shivers and messages into the material world. What is the basis of such facilities is the steadfast immateriality of the soul (atman), which due its non-material nature (subtlety, suks.matva) is able to sense effects from other immaterial (subtle, entities.}

{"Dematerialization" of a mortal (viz., by exiting out of the material universe into, e.g., the dream-universe) is by far the most commonplace mode of interaction between mortal and immortal. In this commonest of spiritual processes, the material body functioneth as no more than a hindrance to be evaded : which is why in the the main contemplation advocated is to regard materiality as illusory (maya), for such a contemplation will muchly assist the soul to evade the material plane.}

p. 250, n. 7:11 anthropology of religion

"Understanding the semiotic and experiential basis of different ontological orientations has (re)emerged as a concern in contemporary anthropology, especially of religion. See, for example Duranti (2009), Espi`rito Santo (2009), and Holbraad (2008)."

Duranti 2009 = Alessandro Duranti : "Relevance of Husserl's Theory to Language Socialization". J OF LINGUISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY 19.2:205-26.

Espi`rito Santo 2009 = Diana Espi`rito Santo : "Spirits, Vision and the Ontological Effects of Dream Knowledge in Cuban Espiritismo". SUOMEN ANTROPOLOGI 34.3:6-24.

Holbraad 2008 = Martin Holbraad : "Definitive Evidence, from Cuban Gods". J OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE 14:S93-S109.

p. 153 praeparations for rites

"I planned our preparations for a spiritual mass she was to hold for my deceased father ... . ... She then discussed her preparations for the ceremonies, implying that the spirits and saints intercede for her because she knows how to take care for them. She described the extensive purchases and detailed preparations necessary to hold a festive ceremony for the saints and spirits, ... setting out offerings for the saints and for her family's "fundamentals," or ritual power objects in Palo Monte (usually called "prendas" ... in the Reglas de Palo).

She paused to tell me that her family were all "rayados como paleros," or initiated into Palo Monte, and knew how to prepare their prendas".

p. 155 sensible praesence of spirits, feeling spirit-praesence

"Our appeal to nomic truth in reciting a proverb

{Such aphorisms are commonplaces to ritual diction in As^anti, Yoruba, etc.}

triggered the sensible presence of spirits, charging ... with spiritual currents ... .

Her description of prickling currents across her body, culminated in her siren-like cry, "!Aaaaa! (construed as a natural index of feeling spirit presence), mark a confirmation of her spirit sensitivities and religious expertise."


Ruy Blanes & Diana Espi`rito Santo (edd.) : The Social Life of Spirits. Univ of Chicago Pr, 2014.