Friday, 22 May 2009

Sandy's Mediumship & Spirit Houses...

I attended a seance yesterday, at the Bristol Spirit Lodge, with a medium called Sandy. Unlike Jon's mediumship (which is characterised by the medium remaining perfectly still throughout the course of the seance), Sandy's trance communications are much more physical; with individual communicators presenting not only through an alteration of the voice, but also through particular body postures and movements.

Sandy's mediumship is interesting in that there appear to be occassions when more than one individual spirit entity is occupying her physical body. This plurality of presences is expressed through the posturing of her body during trance, often with individual limbs operating independently of others. For example, yesterday the spirit of a deceased soldier incorporated itself within Sandy's right leg, which was moving indepdently of her other limbs; being under the control of other incorporating members of her spirit team.

Teotihuacano "host figurines"

Observing this strange phenomenon again reminded me of, what are called, "host figurines" found at the pre-columbian American site of Teotihuacan in Mexico. Teotihuacan was one of America's great civilizations, flourishing between 250 AD and 750 AD (Saunders, 2006, 51), whose culture contained elements of pan-American cosmological understanding (e.g. belief in the existence of multiple worlds, deities and spirits) and shamanistic belief systems. These belief structures consititute the Teotihuacan world-view, which can be inferred from material culture remains uncovered at the site; for example fundamental beliefs about the nature and structure of the universe, as conceived at Teotihuacan, can be found in artefacts, architecture, and even encoded within the layout of the city on a broader scale (Sugiyama, 1993).

Teotihuacano "host figurines"

Warren Barbour (as cited by Pasztory, 1993, 133) has suggested that these so-called “host figures” “may represent the totality of the body politic at Teotihuacán. The hosts may be deities, while the figurines are the male and female inhabitants and functionaries”. In other words they are representative of the social structure of Teotihuacán. I think, however, that it might be best to interpret these artefacts a little more literally and with reference to contemporary Amerindian practice. When looking at the host figures we see an individual inhabited by multiple smaller individuals. A contemporary analogue to this belief might be the Yanomamo conception of “spirit houses” within the body of a shapori or shaman (Jokic, 2008, 41). The shapori initiation rituals of the Yanomamo involve the incorporation of numerous individual spirits, called hekura, who inhabit a “spirit house” believed to be embodied in the shaman’s chest. To my mind these Teotihuacáno sculptures provide a clear reference to a similar, if not identical, structure of belief in supernatural or spiritual entities, as well as the notion that these beings can be incorporated within the bodies of certain specialised individuals; shamans or mediums.

The similarities, at least in terms of imagery, between these intriguing statuettes and the apparent multiplicity of spirits incarnating within a single human body during certain mediumship practices, as in Sandy's case, are fascinating. They are perhaps indicative of cross-cultural, and cross-temporal, similarities in what might be called the "channeling experience", whereby an individual acts as a vessel for containing discarnate intelligence, perhaps implying that similar processes are in operation when indivudals across the world allow their bodies to be occupied by external agents, even if the cultural contexts of these incorporation events are entirely different (e.g. different interpretations of what is happening, different mythological contexts, different methods for inducing the required trance for incorporation to take place, etc.).



Jokic, Z. 2008. Yanomami Shamanic Initiation: The Meaning of Death and Postmortem Consciousness in Transformation. Anthropology of Consciousness, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 33-59.

Pasztory, E. 1993. An Image is Worth a Thousand Words: Teotihuacán and the Meaning of Style in Classic Mesoamerica. In D.S. Rice (ed.) Latin American Horizons. United States: Dumbarton Oaks.

Saunders, N.J. 2006. Ancient Americas: Maya, Aztec, Inka & Beyond. United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing Limited.

Sugiyama, S. 1993. Worldview Materialized at Teotihuacán, Mexico. Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 103-129.

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