Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Parallel Patterns of the Diviner in Ritual and Detective Fiction: Agatha's African Hercule Poirots

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Parallel Patterns of the Diviner in Ritual and Detective Fiction: Agatha's African Hercule Poirots

Article excerpt

Abstract: There are archetypal parallels between the shamanic African, and 'diviner detectives' like Hercule Poirot, when it comes to tracking down homicidal sorcerers, and witches, on the one hand, and direct Western-style murderers on the other. The Ndembu diviner uses the fall of symbolic figurines or images, and the canny questioning of his clients and suspects to pierce the veil of deceit and reveal the sorcerer or witch. Hercule Poirot uses chance clues, questioning, and his intuition to identify the murderer. Both processes culminate in the binding up of an evil, or at least the yearned for revelation of its source. As such they supply a form of purgation or cure to their respective congregations or guilds of readers. When the practices of diviner and detective are compared at an archetypal level, a universal dramatic pattern or model emerges which reveals that the adventitious clues commonly powering the modern detective narrative along, could have developed from what was, or still is in Africa, the old axiomatic belief that an African god is manipulating the images of divination.

Key Words: shamanic African, diviner detectives, archetype, magician, ritual, Hercule Poirots, Agatha Christie

V. W. Turner aptly describes the North Zambian, Ndembu diviners or magicians, and the manner in which they work at an archetypal level. This work can be seen to resemble that of their Western counterparts: the 'diviner detectives' as I shall call them in this paper. The latter are the prestigious detectives of fictional texts who show seemingly clairvoyant powers when running down their killers. I refer, quite arbitrarily, to figures like Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes; to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, and P.D. James' Inspector Dalgliesh, among what are scores of others. Of the three, I shall concentrate solely on Hercule Poirot, in what will be a micro-focussing on the eccentric little man as he conducts his investigation into the deaths which take place in Christie's thriller: Taken at the Flood. (Henceforth referred to as TF: a fictional text which poses the key poetic and mythic entities for my comparative analysis. The latter, I hope, will ultimately support the legitimacy of my theory that the detective novel: its typical plot as exemplified by our chosen text, might well have had its origins in shamanic myths.

Initially, I would like set my analysis in the compass of myth and ritual by reference to Christine A Jackson's Myth and Ritual in Woman's Detective Fiction. This work introduces a wide spectrum of opinion as to what myth is, and the more pertinent of these, I would briefly cite. As Jackson, herself, observes: 'Most people consider myths to be a collection of stories from ancient cultures...Because many myths involve magical events impossible in the real world...people often consider myths to be 'untrue' or 'mistaken concepts. However, these same untrue and impossible magical events were believed in by the cultures that created them.1 Is it not possible, then, that today's ever more popular detective text- duly retransformed into a profane form- is just another part and parcel of present day 'healing 'fiction' like Carlo Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, described by Andrei Znamenski. This genre of literature, he notes, typically portrays the narrator: 'overcivilized', or individuals shattered by misfortune, meeting 'an indigenous spiritual teacher who immerses them in the ocean of spiritual wisdom. This involves an 'initiation' for the narrator: a spiritual quest involving physical and moral tests which the candidate usually passes. 'The end result is usually a total transformation of the apprentice's conscience. Eventually the shaman/spiritual teacher tells the candidate that he has become a chosen one endowed with esoteric wisdon'.2 In other words, after the 'meeting' or 'separation' of what appears to be a passage rite; after the ordeal of the 'middle' or 'threshold', the novice, or 'initiand' will rejoin or be 'reincorporated' into society with his status enhanced. …

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