Oracular Speech, Collective Consciousness, and the Ideology of Absence

ISA International Guest Lecture

In many parts of the world, including India, possession by gods and spirits is accompanied by an 'ideology of absence' according to which persons who are possessed have no memory of what they experienced or said during their trance. Yet many aspects of possession events seem to contradict this. How can we analyze oracular speech from a rational point of view, while still respecting local beliefs? In this essay, I attempt to answer this answer based on ethnographic material from the Rawain region of the Central Himalayas. In this region there is a well-developed system of 'divine kingship' in which local gods rule small territories and solve disputes, partly by speaking through their oracles. Based on a number of case studies from this area, I argue that in many cases, these divine oracles are in fact articulating the collective consciousness of the communities that they represent.

 Programm [PDF]