Curious Excerpts

July 26, 2010

posted by caroline picard

Taken From E.E. Evans-Pritchard, “Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande”

The existence of witchcraft-substance in a living person is known by oracular verdicts. In the dead it is discovered by opening up the belly, and it is this second method of identification that interests us in our account of the physical basis of witchcraft. I have already suggested the organ in which witchcraft-substance is found is the small intestine.

An autopsy is performed in public at the edge of the grave. Those who attend are relatives of the dead, his relatives-in-law, his friends, his blood-brothers, and old men of standing in the neighborhood who commonly attend funerals and sit watching the grave-diggers at their labour and other preparations for burial. Many of these old men have been present on similar occasions in the past, and it is they who will decide upon the presence or absence of witchcraft-substance. They can tell its presence by the way the intestines come out of the belly.

As soon as a youth has eaten medicine he begins to dance, so that I often saw one or two novices dancing at the sceance, though they made no attempt to divine. They were not sufficiently experienced, for they had only eaten a small quantity of medicine, had not yet been initiated, and had not learnt the roots from which the medicines are extracted. Every novice hopes sooner or later to reach a position in the corporation when he will be able to initiate pupils of his own, and he can only acquire this status when he has learnt the proper herbs and trees.

Magic must be bought like any other property, and the really significant part of initiation is the slow transference of knowledge about plants from teacher to pupil in exchange for a long string of fees. A teacher may show them casually to his pupil at any time when they are both out in the bush together, as on a hunting trip, or he may specially take him out for the purpose. Unless the medicines are bought with adequate fees there is a danger they will lose their potency, for the recipient bears the purchaser ill-will. Also, it is always possible for a teacher, if he does not think that he has received sufficient payment for his medicines, to make magic to cancel them so they will no longer function in the body of their purchaser.

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