April 18, 1997
In humanity’s search for knowledge there are three areas in which we have yet to agree within the anthropological field of study. These areas being the concepts of religion, magic, and myth. There are so many different fields of discussion within these areas that leave little in way of connections between them. Each of the topics presented do have some continuity in that they are all pieces to the greater question of where our existence comes from, why things occur the way they do, and how we as individuals see fit to interpret the conclusions, drawn from religion, magic and myth, and integrate them into our culture. We humans create religion and magic to answer questions of the unknown. For example, religion and magic answers where we come from and why things happen the way they do. Myths and folklore are created in order to invoke truths about what it means to be human, and further the possible existence of spirits and god/s.
A strong predominate theme of religion, magic and myth is the idea of power. What it is, how it is seen by different cultures, and how a society reacts to the notions of power are three main questions this branch of anthropology addresses. Power is defined in these contexts as having the authority and means to exercise control over a society or Nature. It also relates to one’s natural ability to control spirit realms, as is the case with some culture’s beliefs in magic; or it can relate to the effectiveness a priest has in spreading what is believed to be the “holy word.” However, who has the control and to what extent the power is controllable differs for each culture. The notion of power also relates to the social status one receives when having knowledge thought to come directly from another realm or higher authority figure (God). It is important to discuss the notion of power, as it relates to the discussion of religion, magic and myth, because power is a fundamental aspect of how a society’s religious and magic beliefs are influenced.
Working Definitions of Religion and Magic
There are many different viewpoints of what the definitions of religion and magic are, and their relationship to one another. It sometimes is generally assumed that religion contains both individual and social (group) denotations and connotations. Some of these views includes religion being centered around a higher being/s as the source of all unexplainable events, has some sort of world view , and that religion is heavily composed of a set of goals and doctrines. However, religion deals more specifically with supernatural events thought to have some connection to a deity. It also promotes some ideal of living and creates a doctrine for the followers of that belief to follow.
Magic deals more with the supernatural. Supernatural is defined to mean any psychic, natural, or mythic phenomena that cannot be explained by conventional or “religious” methods. Magic is said to be an attempt to control his surroundings rather than accept them and it has an effect on immediate solutions rather than some ultimate goal like religion focuses on. Both, magic and religion are said to invoke feelings, either good or harmful, and both deal with the issue of “power” and its control (who has it, and how much of it affects people).
Geertz’s article, “Religion as a Cultural system,” relies heavily on religious symbols and their connotative meaning. In his definition of religion, Geertz explains that religion is made up of symbols that combine to form a system that “acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men… clothing them in such a way that they seem uniquely realistic.” I believe that in a sense this is true. Religions do put a lot into their doctrines and symbols but I think that religion attempts to fulfill a deeper sense than the whats and hows of symbolism and what their impacts are upon men. This impact is inter-related to the fundamental beliefs that a society has. So, it really doesn’t matter what the physical representation of a symbol is, just as long as it represents a connection between some high authority and the common man.
However, Geertz’s attempt to explain the religious connotations of religious symbols is flawed. Geertz fails to recognize the ethnocentricity that is involved in the attempt to look at religions from a non-western standpoint. Our traditional views of religious truth always get in the way. This is something that Asad mentions briefly in his critique of Geertz. Asad’s article points out several flaws in the way that Geertz attempts to define religion in a generic manner. In it Asad suggests that religion cannot be universally defined and that religions must be defined and examined in the cultural context in which they fall into. Asad also mentions that Geertz looks to the more analytical and tangible sources of information rather than incorporating it with the beliefs and ideals of the people who participate in the religious practice, to base his definition of religion on.
Part of Asad’s critique on Geertz is that to Asad, Geertz leaves out the social impacts that religion has on individuals and the society in which the rituals and symbols have meaning; which are in turn a fundamental aspect of looking at religion from an anthropological view. Asad states that Geertz fails to recognize that the “religious experience relates to something in the social world,” therefore tying religion into social culture.(Asad 249) Asad also believes religion must be joined (along with the ritual and social practices) “to discourse which affirms something.”(245) Then these discourses must have particular meanings outside of the context in which they are found.(246) Geertz, to him, never asks questions as to the origins of power and how is it that discourses and symbolism connect (draw) so many to believe, or how the manifestations of such power reflect their impact on the society.
A definition should serve as a basis for comparison. Definitions should represent an overall grouping of the fundamental similarities (or differences) between what all cultures believe to be the truth. Quite honestly, I agree with Asad’s belief that there cannot really be a universal definition of religion or magic. Each culture’s world view tends to be different and people’s ethnocentricity towards other cultures hold them back from being able to define anything too generically. It is seen in Geertz’s article that the western view (scientific and analytical) predominates his thinking. Therefore it is important to him that a generic definition of religion and magic be made to clarify what the role of each is to humanity. This creates more problems because it doesn’t separate each religion according to their beliefs, and rituals practiced, nor does Geertz take magic into account in his discussions.
However grand the notion may seem, we do not live in a black and white world and to attempt to place cultural and social beliefs and practices (religion and magic) into a generic category would create more paradoxes and confusion about what the two terms mean to begin with. Asad takes the argument further by stating that the world no longer can be comprised of black and white definitions, and that the anthropologist must interpret each and every aspect of the studied society’s culture and religion to grasp an accurate idea of what they define religion as. Thus, it is important to also understand one culture’s definition of reality and their world view to grasp a better idea of what the definitions for religion and magic are and how they and myths function in that particular society, and how this can be related to our own cultural definitions of religion, magic and myth.
How Reality Shapes a Culture’s Religious Notions
For most societies, reality and the concepts of space and time are defined by ancient myths created by people in order to better grasp the world around themselves. These myths dictate a system of belief in how one perceives outsiders and the boundaries of their world. Anything outside of these definitions is considered “supernatural” and/or considered harmful. The myths encompass both the physical realities and spiritual realities that a culture believes to be true. In some cases, non-western cultures give qualitative meanings to space and time. In Ulysses’ Sail, Helms gives an interesting account of Lugbara’s perceptions of people that live geographically close or far from their central family’s homestead. Physically and socially, family and friends who live closest to a central family group are seen as being human. Those further out appear human but are associated with qualities that might not seem normal. However, people who live the farthest from a central group, or outsiders, are viewed as spirits or weird abnormal humans who don’t resemble the central group.(Helms 23)
Another factor related to how one views space is how outsiders are viewed in terms of spatial derivations. Most indigenous cultures believe that people outside of their cultural system are powerful spirits, Gods or demons. In first meetings with the Western culture, europeans are defined as being ancestors, or Gods of various alignments. The Iraqw of Africa believe that the world is divided into four corners in which four types of peoples exist. In the North are the Masai who are seen in terms of “future events in which the Iraqw hope to expand into their lands.” The South represents past events and herein lie Tatoga, a group that has taken land from the Iraqw and are not favored. The East peoples, Bantu-of-the East, are considered dangerous since the east is associated with witches and devils. While the Western peoples are viewed as good and tend to initiate favorable economic developments with the Iraqw. (Helms 36)
It is easier for Europeans and Americans to grasp the concepts of time and space in tangible, physical representations. Western societies tend to divide everything in terms of their physical contents. Continents, countries and houses are all examples of these physical divisions of space. In most cases, religious space is broken into geographical locations specified by historical context and identifiable places of worship. Mentioned in Helms’ article, Buddhist pilgrimage centers around traveling to various temples of defined religion. Only those who are Lao Buddhas can visit sacred temples of Lao worship, likewise those who follow Yuan teachings can visit Yuan temples only. Outside of these two realms are temples dedicated to visitations of all Buddha’s followers.(31) Western religious beliefs, also, regard sacred space as churches and graveyards; just like many Native American cultures place the Earth in their religious sacred space.
Nowadays, the quantitative aspects of space hold precedence over qualitative ideals, in our culture. But, we Americans still have some qualitative assumptions about cultures that lie outside our geographical space. We seem to hold fast to the belief that all cultures are similar to ours in the belief that all people are created equal, and don’t think of outsiders in terms of spirits and demons. This idea is unique to the American ideology of life, where religious freedom was one of the reasons this nation was founded for.
In terms of American edges, the question of whether we have them or not has to be addressed. I think that in allowing social freedom, our society has torn down most of the cultural edges of defined space. First there is the issue of the definition between edges and borders. To me the edges of one’s society is related in the tolerance of one’s views and opinions toward another person. edges can also be defined in terms of a person’s ability to tolerate new or challenging ideals and beliefs. Borders, then, represent the tangible, physical limitations of our world and everything in it. In the incorporation of other cultural ideas we have broadened our ideals of space and time that other than “outer space”, it seems as if we don’t have definable spatial borders anymore.
We do qualify everything that falls into our perception of personal space. If something belongs to a person it is defined as being a part of one’s personal space. The importance of ownership correlates to the amount of personal space one desires and in many cases has.The notion of personal space also affects how close, physically, another person can come to you. In European societies people talk real close to one another so that their bodies are very close to one another. However, here in America, personal space reaches out to two feet in “proper” distance for contact with another person. That is until a person is invited closer into this space by the owner.
We project qualities onto things that ascertain some personal and emotional importance on every object or person we are in contact with. Each member of society identifies physical places with a particular quality so that these places hold special meanings, both negative and positive. Work and places of work, for example, are given negative meaning because they imply hardships or being yelled at. Whereas, beaches and parks imply a vacation or freedom from “work.”.
Storytelling in Religious Context
Folklore in the Hindu religion is an important facet of bringing to life the morals and beliefs of its deities. Swamiji is a sadhu, a Hindu holy man who tells folklore and stories to further the “good” in his followers. Sadhus renounce all worldly possessions and ideals of the society. In effect they become dead to the world. This allows them to become disconnected to the worldly problems and issues more commonly faced by people, and to concentrate on the questions that have plagued the human mind since the beginning of creation. It also allows a sadhu to focus on the problems and concerns of his listeners, to give them the right advice or knowledge. In addition to having renounced the world and its possessions, the sadhu also renounces any sexual desires he has, which allows for the retention of sperm. It is believed that this retention of sperm, turns into knowledge formed in the head, which leads to some of the sadhu’s power. A sadhu’s life is then spent wandering the countryside talking to people and storytelling.
The stories told by Swamiji and other sadhus are a reflection of historical fact and folklore designed to relate morals to a sadhu’s disciples and other listeners. A sadhu’s teachings have an important effect on the listeners lives, for the community is shaped by the morals they draw upon from the stories.(Narayan 233) This relationship, between sadhu and the community, is very symbiotic. The sadhu relies on the community for material support (food and bare necessities of life) and the community relies on the sadhu for his wealth of knowledge and advice that he presents in the stories and teachings learned from gurus and Bhagavan (Hindu God).
Religion, in any society, is a human creation. It is used to give meaning and purpose to people’s daily lives. In using stories as a form of religious insight, Swamiji “sees Bhagavan as a system of rules that help people live together harmoniously, yet as a human creation based on inspiration from the divine Inner Self. To allow the human mind to grasp this concept, it is symbolically projected in terms of attributes.”(227-228) Swamiji speaks as a servant of Bhagavan and he tells his listeners stories and parables that Bhagavan has given to him as a means of teaching lessons. The stories gathered by Swamiji and other sadhus “give form to the formless (Bhagavan),” and in turn these act as definitions for Bhagavan and the origins to humanity’s creation. He believes the stories are also used to bring out the qualities that Bhagavan represents in a way that we humans can interpret and grasp and incorporate these into our own lives. (227)
Swamiji instructs his followers during darshan, when people obtain audience with a higher authority. During these times are when Swamiji tells his stories. In many ways Swamiji’s stories are a reflection of the truths, or morals of how Bhagavan desires his people to live. Swamiji, then interprets what Bhagavan “says,” and gives his listeners purpose and direction in their lives, by attempting to answer the fundamental questions of why things happen for the reasons they do. “Religion aims for nothing less than complete exclamations, ultimate truths.” (243) Here, religion is defined as the means to answer the questions of the unknown. Narayan suggests that people who listen to Swamiji desire to seek these truths and whys behind everyday activities and more importantly- ultimate answers to the questions of creation and the existence of a greater authority.
There are two different techniques that Swamiji uses to create believable worlds for his readers to draw their meanings from. The first technique he uses is to draw elements, images and people, from this world into the story. Each story’s setting is filled with similar surroundings, combined with notions of alternative realities and “spirit realms .” Sometimes Swamiji places particular disciples or listeners into the stories. This creates a realm of believability and helps to draw the listeners into what is being said. It gives particular listeners a reason to heed what is being said, for it might have some importance on their lives. The second technique used by the sadhu’s is to create open-ended stories in which there are no single morals or meanings behind what the story is getting across to the audience.”To begin with, narrative is the broadest sense a means of organizing experience and endowing it with meaning.”(243) Each story has many different morals and meanings to it- depending on the context and particular stress Swamiji gives to the characters and situations within the narrative. By creating stories rich in meaning Swamiji is able to recycle his selection of stories to be used on different occasions.
The stories, themselves, are a “easy way to relate principles: to lessons, to learning. It’s not confrontative, it isn’t direct, it doesn’t hurt you or put you off. It touches a place inside of you where personally you can relate.'”(107) Part of Swamiji’s role is allowing the listener to grasp meaning from what is being said. In doing so the storyteller admits to his authority and power as
being built around his followers- the extent of their ability to believe and incorporate the truths that are being presented to them.
Discussion of Witchcraft
Magic, usually seen opposite to religion, and it can either be presented in good terms or bad terms. This means either magic works in promoting an desirable outcome to a situation, like shamanism attempts to do, or it can be promoted as harmful or threatening to mankind, as witchcraft is seen to do. In many cultures, witchcraft attempts to explain the inner workings of the world surrounding them. It explains why illness and misfortunes occur. Why various cultures such as the Azande, and the Bocage of Western France believe in witchcraft still remains a mystery to those schooled in “western” ideals. By placing unknown events and things into a more rational context, this allows cultures to understand the world about themselves. By rational I mean, these cultures base their notions from logic defined by socially accepted views of the world around them. Their methods of reasoning are usually inherit qualities. Most witchcraft is done through psychic abilities and only through words (spells) and elaborate rituals can one defend against it. Witchcraft is seen separate from magic and sorcery in that witchcraft and sorcery is done to harm another person, whereas magic leads to more”desirable” outcomes. Witchcraft also deals more with psychic phenomena whereas sorcery tends to vocalize and ritualize the attacks.
The Bocage of France believe that witchcraft is carried out in vocalized spells, and everyday words- in which harm is done to others. They believe that words contain strong powers that can be forced upon one another. “In witchcraft words wage war.”(Favret-Saada 10) What one says to another os carefully constructed so that the words are seen as not bewitching another. To them, there are distinct differences in which words are seen as bewitching and those used in commonplace conversation. When one talks, one is opposing one’s power over another. This is illustrated by Favret-Saada’s article where she states that, “it is unthinkable that people can talk for the sake of talking.”(10)
Witchcraft attempts to explain daily mishaps, illness and continued strings of “bad luck”. This is true, also, for the Azande. The Azande are constantly bombarded by notions of witchcraft in their daily life. “They believe that it is the sole cause of phenomena.”(Evans-Prichard 443) For every mishap, illness and chronic failure a Zande person can run into and if it cannot be explained by logic, it is to have been caused by witchcraft. To them, there is a distinguishing trait between those events caused by witchcraft and those that were not caused by it. Evans-Prichard attributes this as that, “Witchcraft explains the coincidence of two happenings.”(444) That two things can happen to one another at the same time and cause an undesired outcome is their basis for witchcraft.
What is done when one suspects the involvement of witchcraft? In the Azande culture there is a prescribed method. First, a person has to establish whether or not witchcraft was involved. Once the link has been established, then can a person have the authority to take action. In most cases, the Zande use oracles to determine the cause and appropriate action to take against the bewitcher. In this aspect, witchcraft gives them a method in finding solutions to deal with their misfortunes. For them there is nothing more important than dealing with witchcraft . The most important oracle of deciphering witchcraft is benge, the poison oracle, and it’s used as a fail-safe method for discovering witchcraft and how to deal with it.
On the other hand, when the Bocage of France suspect that they are being bewitched they don’t consult oracles to decipher who and why they are being bewitched. Rather, they consult a unwitcher who extracts information into the causes and possible witches trying to cause the victim harm. Once the bewitcher is unmasked they are then confronted and asked to call off the attack. The Zande, also, consult witch doctors but only in specific cases of illness. The main difference in how these two cultures deal with witchcraft is apparent in the ways they see witchcraft. For the Azande, witchcraft is always suspected to occur. They attribute no special fear or mystifying force behind it. They use physical tools, the oracles, to diagnosis the truth behind an event. Whereas the Bocage talk to a person who is trained in the ability to decipher what the messages are behind the witching. The Azande also see witchcraft as a part of their everyday lives unlike the Bocage who see each individual episode of witchcraft as unique to the persons involved.
What happens when the ritual to undo the witchcraft attack doesn’t work? For the most part, the culture attributes the undesired outcome to secondary elaboration. In most cases it is the operator of the oracle who is fault. For example maybe he didn’t perform the ritual correctly or broke certain taboo that were supposed to be performed. The failure can also be attributed to counteracting powers that are outside the control of either the oracle or the operator involved. Such cases of this occur when the bewitcher’s “magic” is stronger than the oracle’s.
In our society, we have fewer notions of witchcraft than other societies. If we cannot explain the whys of some strange occurrence we pass it off under the categories of “bad luck,” the will of God or karma and forget that it ever occurred. Our notions of witchcraft are more eclectic in style. This is because our society is more tolerant towards personal opinions and ideals than other culture’s. In our society there isn’t a major authority telling the masses how to think or react to certain situations. We are always told to think for ourselves, and come up with our own conclusions. With the introduction of the “western rational” way of thinking we are taught that witchcraft doesn’t exist and that this way of answering unexplainable events is irrational.
We do find why questions intriguing, however. But these questions don’t plague us like the Azande. Normally we ask the why when our realities and sense of order are challenged. When we’re under stress or in extra-difficult situations we also tend to ask why things occur . But, when we do attempt to answer these questions it’s usually in a how format. There also seems to be a great comfort in the answer, “I don’t know,” than in finding out what possible truths may be. What we may believe another cultures notions of witchcraft may also be equivalent to another aspect of our society. For example, our use of the polygraph machines may be equivalent to the Azande use of the benge oracle.
However, in a sense witchcraft does still exist in our modern culture. We are constantly bombarded by information about the concept of witchcraft, witches and the evil deeds done under witchcraft. Horror movies play on our inability to understand the whys of reality, and subject us to situations of irrational what ifs. Only in literature can one be accused of witchcraft and having the ability to bewitch others. We also use oracles so that when we have the desire to understand the cosmic whys of an event they are at our disposal. Tarot cards, the I Ching, and astral readings are all methods we use to decipher the whys. However, these aren’t always taken seriously because through commercialism they are passed off as being for “entertainment value and use only.”
Shamanism and Connection to Magic
A shaman is one who interacts with the spirit realm to cure people’s physical illnesses. It is usually a part-time role assumed by someone who has the ability to see into these realms. Many cultures’ shamans use magic, words or spells, artistic performance, and herbal medicines to heal their patients. This is also true for the Wana shamans in Indonesia. Wana shamans use many different powers and methods to achieve the goal of healing. They use powerful spells that call upon spirit familiars who direct and assist the shaman in healing a patient. They use herbs to administer physical cures to the sick. The shaman, in his rituals and spells, answers the whys behind the causes for human sickness and misfortunes, questions the western ways of medicine have yet to answer. In the Wana ritual, mabalong, many shamans come together to heal many people while inviting the whole community to watch and participate. The mabalong provides an arena in which the shaman, his community and the spirit realms, as represented by the familiars, can once again work together in harmony.
The mabalong is a ritual that not only heals the sick but it also promotes community fellowship and is used to strengthen ties between family and friends. “People enlist the services of a shaman to serve as their advocate in the spirit realms. They host him in the hopes that he will in turn will host his spirit allies and that together they will work on the patient’s behalf.”(Atkinson 226) The community participates by placing offers comprised of the spirits favorite foods to please them, and they dance and play drums for the shamans.Sometimes the audience of a mabalong is drawn into the “drama” of a shamanic performance by having one of their spirit parts returned unannounced.(125) During this ritual the shaman sings, chants, dances, and plays host to the myriad of spirits summoned to help cure and heal their patients.
A shaman’s ability to cure patients is mostly attributed to his spirit familiars. Since words carry special powers in shamanic magic, the spirits are called to the ritual by nicknames given to them by their shaman familiars.(30) During a mabalong the shaman and his acting familiars become fused. “A shaman and their spirits retain their independence, yet the magical knowledge they hold in common forges a link between them.”(100) Once fused the shaman begins his task of healing his patients by retrieving lost parts or removing obtrusive items.
The Wana differentiate between two different types of body parts, spiritual and physical. The important spiritual Wana parts are the tanuana, or dream agent, two types of “soul”: koro (the spiritual side of a person) and lemba (physical shell of a person). A Wana’s lifespan is kept in nosa, or “breath, that is given to each individual when they are born by Pue.(109) In contrast, there are three important physical organs of the body: the liver, brain and scalp. These organs are the most desired physical body parts of those living in the spirit world and are frequently subjected to attacks from spirit demons. Such attacks and the leaving of the spirit body parts is what causes a Wana to become ill.
In some cases, a Wana shaman undertakes a perilous journey into the spirit world to meet the Owner (Pue), a godhead spirit associated in the creation of all life and distributor of the breath- the Wana source of life. During this journey a shaman elicits the aid of personal spirit familiars as well as spirits who are commonly known to be associated with journeying to the Owner. The spirit familiars guide the shaman down the correct paths, so that the shaman doesn’t lose his way. However, even the gift of breath from the Owner himself still won’t reassure the patient’s survival. Sometimes the power to survive and to be healed lies in the will of the patient. A shaman cannot heal a patient who doesn’t believe in the power of the spirit world and their connection to Wana reality.
Success isn’t always attributed to the shaman’s abilities to heal his patient. The main cause behind holding a mabalong (aside from healing patients) is to validate a shaman’s powers and connections to the spirit world.(260) Part of this success lies in bringing the community together- in strengthening their beliefs in the kindness of the spirit world and in his performance during the ritual. “Through his magical knowledge he absorbs power, not only from beyond his person, but from his community as well.”(76) One of the shaman’s main focuses during the ritual is based on upholding the community’s beliefs of the spirit world and who his familiars are. Since he is the only one who is able to communicate with the spirit realm, he is able to reaffirm what his audience believes is true about the other realms of the world. Therefore, as Atkinson states, a shaman’s power combining with success brings the community closer to understanding the two different worlds.
A successful mabalong also enhances his powers by giving the shaman the community’s support behind all his efforts to heal and cure. “A mabalong not only offers reassurance to patients and their immediate kin that powerful shamans are working on their behalf but it also provides an arena for performers to create, augment, and sustain reputations as people with spirit familiars.'” (218) He gains the community’s respect and the possible chance to heal more members of a particular community in the future, and to attend more mabalongs. To offend a shaman is to sever the ties of his spirit familiars from the community. Usually Wana tribes discourage this behavior because only a few people are able to see into the spirit realms and to lose the respect of a powerful shaman may mean losing an ally in that realm.
A mabalong sets the stage for a Wana shaman’s performance. It dictates how the shaman heals patients as well as confirming the community’s beliefs in higher powers, magic, and the human spirit. In a egalitarian society, such as the Wana’s, the shaman is dependent upon his community, just as the community is dependent on the shaman. The mabalong is one of the ways that humans demonstrate “kasintuwu” or the value of living together in harmony and mutual support.(2270 Magic, then, is a system of belief that is carefully scrutinized by all members of the community.
In discussing witchcraft and shamanism, power is amongst the key elements in one’s ability to conjuror up proof of the spiritual realm and a higher deity’s existence. Shamans in a community are given great amounts of responsibility, and therefore, require great amounts of power- in the form of talent and authority to create the illusion of this existence. A shaman receives much of his power from his connections to spirit realms and the familiars he knows. Witchcraft is the explanation for power that is being abused by those who know how to use magic or it is the result of those who do not know how to use the spiritual realms properly and end up hurting others. Power is then carefully regulated by those possessing the talent to wield magic and the community so that cases of witchcraft can be avoided. The community’s role in this regulation is designed to make sure that the shaman or magic user doesn’t abuse his rights and privileges given to him because of his talent and connections with the spirit realms.
As illustrated in the examples above, power is an integral part of religion, magic and myth. Not only does it describe the function to exercise authority and physical control over society and Nature but it is used as a means of attaining knowledge given only from a higher authority or spirit familiar. Power, in turn can be related on a personal level for the knowledge gained in working with spirits and the social statuses and rights a shaman or priest gains. The spiritual power one can possess in itself has good or bad connotations, over the community. It invokes awe and in the case of witchcraft- fear , to those who don’t comprehend the rituals or beliefs involved.
Power is also related on a community based level. A person wielding spiritual and religious power is always considered a benefit to the society. As in the Hindu society, a sadhu is beneficial in spreading the holy word of Bhagavan and his beliefs. A sadhu’s power is attained through the knowledge of religious texts and how adaptable the sadhu is at relating their meaning to a given situation. Power is also received through cultural practices as in the renunciation of sexual practices, as well as the material and social aspects that life offers. In shamanism, a shaman’s ability to enact rituals approved by the community creates his reputation and power in a society. In the case of Wana shamans, this allows for the greater opportunity to participate in more rituals where the shaman can assert his power, attained by the spirit familiars. Witchcraft is an exception to the rule. Here, power is based highly around what intentions the bewitcher has, either good or harmful, towards the intended “bewitched.” As in shamanism words carry power that is used to conjure and combat magical effects sent by a bewitcher.
This discussion of power is important to cultural anthropology for many reasons. It has always been part of our nature to explore and define our concepts of reality and to question the unknown. In understanding the relationship between our beliefs and how we use them, we in turn understand what it means to be human and why we need religion, magic and mythology to satisfy as the answers to the questions of the unknown. Therefore, we are constantly redefining our definitions of religion, magic and myth in order to get at the answers to our questions of the unexplainable.
The idea of power and the functions of myths in society act as links in the ways humans see themselves and define the qualities of good and evil. Power, then, is used as a method of regulating the overall beliefs of a culture. How power is regulated by the culture dictates the ways in which a society structures their political and daily lives. Power allows for the combination of individual and collective notions of religion and magic and ritualizes it, to ensure the continued survival of a mainstream belief. Over time, new ideas and beliefs are integrated but the basis will always remain the same- to seek out answers to our questions about the unknown. For, no matter what culture is studied, there will always be myths, religion and magic that propose similar themes and morals, suggesting that there is a pattern in how humans see themselves and define the qualities of good and evil.