Systems of North American Witchcraft and Sorcery

Systems of North American Witchcraft and Sorcery

Systems of North American Witchcraft and Sorcery

Systems of North American Witchcraft and Sorcery

Excerpt

Like certain other studies (Mair 1969) this collection must be primarily exploratory because of limited published data and lack of past comparative analyses. Although valuable as pioneering efforts, studies of single groups such as Evans-Pritchard (1937) on the Azande, Fortune (1932) on the Dobu Islanders, or Kluckhohn (1944) on the Navaho do not provide a valid basis for generalized cross-cultural conclusions. Even regional comparisons such as Middleton and Winter (1963) conducted for East Africa enable us to generalize for little more than the region in question. Obviously, North American patterns do not necessarily represent world patterns either, but the groups selected for this collection are sufficiently diverse to insure that the following comparative conclusions will apply widely. When coupled with the growing number of comparative studies in other parts of the world it will provide a means of ultimately developing a general theory of the forms and functions of systems of witchcraft and sorcery.

Many general definitions of witchcraft and sorcery have been suggested such as the aggressive use of magic or the immoral use of supernatural techniques. Dualistic refinements that distinguish between innate and acquired ability to harm others supernaturally also have been advanced in the work of Evans-Pritchard (1937) and perpetuated by Middleton and Winter (1963) and others. Serious objections to unwarranted extension of the witch/sorcerer distinction beyond the Azande have been presented by Turner (1964) and Douglas (1967). Nevertheless, because the two terms are widely used in the literature (although inconsistently) they will be employed here; obviously the original Azande distinction is of dubious universality, but in some cases, as we shall see below, it is necessary to distinguish two or more varieties.

The following studies indicate that no universal, emic definition applies to all groups in North America. This, of course, stems from differences among the cultures and, possibly, the anthropologists who study them. For example, there are obvious differences in the Nez Perce, Skokomish, and Black Carib conceptions of witchcraft and sorcery. In fact, Elmendorf presents strong evidence below that there is no aboriginal Skokomish category comprehending all that anthropologists typically describe as witchcraft and sorcery. Alternatively and following most Caribbeanists, Gonzalez includes virtually all uses of the supernatural, whereas Basso and Saler carefully distinguish several specific types of witchcraft and sorcery. Catch-all terms like wizardry only beg the issue. Even if anthropologists were able to agree on a cross-cultural etic definition (which seems unlikely in the near future), the following studies convince me that a universal emic definition is out of the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.