Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft
Volume 13, Number 2, Summer 2018
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Shrines and Altars that Happen, Do, and Cease
pp. 155 - 163
This introduces a special issue looks at shrines and altar-rooms simultaneously as places that manifest and generate spiritual power, and as places to access, negotiate, and garner that power. Contributors explore how shrines and altar-rooms, more than being spaces that contain and display an assemblage of objects with symbolic and esthetic value, "live" and "work" in transforming the significance of the things and people that interact with them. As such, altars and shrines are dynamic points of spatial and temporal convergence and conversion, a feature that facilitates spirit manifestation and transformation.
This article discusses the development of a sacred sense of place in an American sectarian religion and the complementary creation of a provocative twentieth-century religious "shrine" within that space. This "shrine" can be found near the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The edifice is the tomb holding the body of the African American minister and religious innovator named the Reverend M. J. Divine, better known as Father Divine, the founder of the International Peace Mission Movement. The creation of a North American indigenous religion, the tomb and shrine it represents a union of devotionalism and creativity, of tradition and innovation. This essay is centered on the birth of the shrine, as well as the memorial building, and the forces that gave birth to it within a religion whose doctrine generally resisted "shrinified" spaces.
This article re-examines the nature of ghosts in Taiwan from the perspective of materialization, as an aspect of material religion in general. I start by tracing the spatial separation between people and ghosts in the village of Wannian and then go on to discuss how people conceptualize ghosts in terms of the tripartite souls of the deceased, thus elucidating the way in which ghosts are considered not only as descendant-less, but also as displaced souls. I proceed with a detailed analysis of the ghost shrine, a type of religious architecture that helps to establish both separation and commerce between ghosts and living humans. By analyzing the material composition, name, and rites of ghost shrines, I show how ghosts are conceptualized as asocial and individual beings. This helps to illuminate stories about ghosts in which, motivated by greed, humans cross the spatial boundary to coerce ghosts for selfish reasons.
This article is focused a shrine of the Virgin Mary in the village of Alcala de los Gazules in the Southern Spanish region of Andalusia, a region known for its Marian devotion. Many villages contain their own shrines dedicated to a local Virgin in which the universal Mary is present in a localized, vernacular statue form. As a powerful instantiation of Mary, the Virgin of Alcala has received attention from outside the immediate area due to her many miracles; she is known to be especially helpful when curing infertility. The whole of the shrine complex, its presence, status, and role as sanctuary for devotees and pilgrims, is significant to understanding how shrines work. By analysing the shrine as an "architectural body" comparable in some ways to the Maori wharenui, and by looking at the working familial relationships that surround and emerge from it, I illuminate the shrine as a zone pregnant with ontological possibilities in which human and non-human persons engage with each other in real space and time.
The Everyday Life of Shrines in Cachoeira, Brazil
pp. 231 - 249
In the city of Cachoeira, in Bahia, Brazil, one can find shrines in many different places, including domestic spaces. These shrines may belong to different religions: Catholic or Afro-Brazilian Candomblй. Rather than comparing both kinds of shrines in terms of what they represent or contain, this article looks at the "life" of the shrines, how people relate to them, and how they work. The "life" is of a different kind in each case, but it is also grounded in similar processes: devotion in both cases is marked by a continual, everyday exchange of gifts. Both Catholic altars and Candomblé shrines are built on a relationship of exchange with superior and invisible beings. Both are a part of the distributed person of the devotee and the saint or Orixá.
This photographic essay brings evidence of the visible material and invisible spectral changes altar-homes, altar-rooms, and altars undergo, as interactions with them are experienced by ritual participants. Focusing on the visual documentation I gathered while working at the altar-home of Haydée, a Puerto Rican espiritista bruja, I explore the matter-of-fact, almost banal technologies by means of which healers may initiate transformational processes that sacralize their altar-homes, creating spatial proxies of distant sacred places in order to summon and cajole spirits to intervene in human affairs. In sum, this is an exploration of the ritual labor that enters in constituting the ritual life of altars, or how altars "do."
This article looks through the metaphoric lens of a motor run by electricity at the dynamics of ritual activity surrounding the shrine of a Korean shaman, or mansin. In the mansin's worldview, her own body acts as both a conduit—bringing power back to the shrine—and as a motorized vehicle when she performs a major ritual kut. This intentionally playful metaphorical reimagining of the mansin's shrine as something very like a motor, driven by something very like an electrical connection, opens a conversation about otherwise largely imperceptible connections between people, objects, and things, and how they work in practice Some power flows are stronger than others and some shrines are understood to be more efficacious than others. The Korean mansin's shrine, like any material presence, is a mobile and mutable place, as this metaphoric exercise makes evident.