"The Spirit Catches you, and you Fall Down" Final Paper


The Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and


T h i r d E d i t i o n

Rebecca L. Stein Los Angeles Valley College

Philip L. Stein Los Angeles Pierce College

Routledge Taylor & Francis Group






Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Stein, Rebecca L. The anthropology of religion, magic, and witchcraft / Rebecca L. Stein, Philip L. Stein.—3rd ed.

p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-205-71811-5 (alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-205-71811-6 (alk. paper) 1. Religion. 2. Anthropology of religion. 3. Religion and culture. I. Stein, Philip L. II. Title.

GN470.S73 2011 306.6—dc22


Published 2016 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10017, USA

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ISBN: 97802 ( k)

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First published 2011, 2008, 2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.

Copyright © 2011, 2008, 2005 Taylor & Francis. All rights reserved

Bruce Kenselaar




For Elijah







I n u i t


Aztecs Maya

Zuni Navaho






0 1500 3000 Kilometers

1500 3000 Miles


Fon Beng



San Swazi







Tana Toraja


Asmat Dani

Fore Trobriand Islands









Preface xiii

Chapter 1 THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL STUDY OF RELIGION 1 The Anthropological Perspective 1

The Holistic Approach 2

The Study of Human Societies 3

The Fore of New Guinea: An Ethnographic Example 6

Two Ways of Viewing Culture 9

Cultural Relativism 10 � Box 1.1: Karen McCarthy Brown and Vodou 11

The Concept of Culture 13

The Study of Religion 14

Attempts at Defining Religion 14

The Domain of Religion 16

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Religion 17 � Box 1.2: Malinowski and the Trobriand Islands 19 � Box 1.3: Evans-Pritchard and the Azande 21

The Biological Basis of Religious Behavior 22

Conclusion 25 Summary 25 • Suggested Readings 26 • Suggested Websites 27 • Study Questions 27 • Endnotes 27

Chapter 2 MYTHOLOGY 29 The Nature of Myths 29

Worldview 29

Stories of the Supernatural 30

The Nature of Oral Texts 32 � Box 2.1: Genesis 34 � Box 2.2: The Gender-Neutral Christian Bible 37

Understanding Myths 38

Approaches to Analysis of Myths 38 � Box 2.3: The Gururumba Creation Story 42

Common Themes in Myths 43 � Box 2.4: The Navaho Creation Story: Diné Bahanè 45 � Box 2.5: The Raven Steals the Light 49 � Box 2.6: Joseph Campbell 51


Contents vii

Conclusion 52 Summary 53 • Suggested Readings 54 • Suggested Websites 54 • Study Questions 55 • Endnotes 55

Chapter 3 RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS 56 What Is a Symbol? 56

Religious Symbols 57 � Box 3.1: Religious Toys and Games 61

Sacred Art 62

The Sarcophagus of Lord Pakal 62

The Meaning of Color 64

Sacred Time and Sacred Space 65

The Meaning of Time 65 � Box 3.2: The End of Time 67

Sacred Time and Space in Australia 68

The Symbolism of Music and Dance 70

The Symbolism of Music 70

The Symbolism of Dance 72

Conclusion 73 Summary 75 • Suggested Readings 75 • Suggested Websites 76 • Study Questions 76 • Endnotes 76

Chapter 4 RITUAL 77 The Basics of Ritual Performance 77

Prescriptive and Situational Rituals 78

Periodic and Occasional Rituals 78

A Classification of Rituals 79

A Survey of Rituals 80

Technological Rituals 80

Social Rites of Intensification 82

Therapy Rituals and Healing 84

Salvation Rituals 86

Revitalization Rituals 86

Rites of Passage 87

Alterations of the Human Body 91

Pilgrimages 94 � Box 4.1: The Hajj 96

The Huichol Pilgrimage 96

viii Contents

Religious Obligations 97

Tabu 97

Jewish Food Laws 98 � Box 4.2: Menstrual Tabus 99

Conclusion 100 Summary 100 • Suggested Readings 101 • Suggested Websites 101 • Study Questions 101 • Endnotes 102

Chapter 5 ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS 103 The Nature of Altered States of Consciousness 103

Entering an Altered State of Consciousness 104

The Biological Basis of Altered States of Consciousness 108 � Box 5.1: Altered States in Upper Paleolithic Art 109

Drug-Induced Altered States 110 � Box 5.2: The Native American Church 111

Ethnographic Examples of Altered States of Consciousness 111

The Holiness Churches 112

San Healing Rituals 112

The Sun Dance of the Cheyenne 113

Religious Use of Drugs in South America 114

Rastafarians 115

Conclusion 116 Summary 117 • Suggested Readings 117 • Suggested Websites 117 • Study Questions 118 • Endnotes 118

Chapter 6 RELIGIOUS SPECIALISTS 119 Shamans 120

Defining Shamanism 120

Siberian Shamanism 122

Korean Shamanism 123

Pentecostal Healers as Shamans 124

Neoshamanism 124 � Box 6.1: Clown Doctors as Shamans 125

Priests 126

Zuni Priests 128

Okinawan Priestesses 128

Eastern Orthodox Priests 130

Other Specialists 130

Healers and Diviners 130 � Box 6.2: African Healers Meet Western Medicine 131

Prophets 132

Conclusion 133 Summary 134 • Suggested Readings 134 • Suggested Websites 134 • Study Questions 135 • Endnotes 135

Chapter 7 MAGIC AND DIVINATION 136 The World of Magic 136

Magic and Religion 136

Magic and Science 137

Rules of Magic 138

The Function of Magic 140

Why Magic Works 140

Magic in Society 142

Magic in the Trobriand Islands 142 � Box 7.1: Trobriand Island Magic 144

Magic among the Azande 145

Sorcery among the Fore 146

Wiccan Magic 147

Divination 147

Forms of Divination 148

Divination Techniques 149 � Box 7.2: I Ching: The Book of Changes 152

Fore Divination 153

Oracles of the Azande 154

Divination in Ancient Greece: The Oracle at Delphi 155

Astrology 156

Conclusion 157 Summary 158 • Suggested Readings 159 • Suggested Websites 159 • Study Questions 159 • Endnotes 160

Chapter 8 SOULS, GHOSTS, AND DEATH 161 Souls and Ancestors 161

Variation in the Concept of the Soul 162

Souls, Death, and the Afterlife 163

Examples of Concepts of the Soul 163 � Box 8.1: How Do You Get to Heaven? 164

Ancestors 168 � Box 8.2: Determining Death 170

Bodies and Souls 172

Ghosts 172

The Living Dead: Vampires and Zombies 174

Contents ix

x Contents

Death Rituals 177

Funeral Rituals 177

Disposal of the Body 178

U.S. Death Rituals in the Nineteenth Century 181

U.S. Funeral Rituals Today 182

Days of Death 183 � Box 8.3: Roadside Memorials 184

Conclusion 185 Summary 186 • Suggested Readings 187 • Suggested Websites 187 • Study Questions 188 • Endnotes 188

Chapter 9 GODS AND SPIRITS 189 Spirits 189

The Dani View of the Supernatural 190

Guardian Spirits and the Native American Vision Quest 191

Jinn 192

Christian Angels and Demons 193

Gods 194 � Box 9.1: Christian Demonic Exorcism in the United States 194

Types of Gods 196

Gods and Society 198 � Box 9.2: Games and Gods 199

The Gods of the Yoruba 200

The Gods of the Ifugao 200

Goddesses 202

Monotheism: Conceptions of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam 206

Atheism 209

Conclusion 210 Summary 210 • Suggested Readings 211 • Suggested Websites 211 • Study Questions 212 • Endnotes 212

Chapter 10 WITCHCRAFT 213 The Concept of Witchcraft in Small-Scale Societies 214

Witchcraft among the Azande 214

Witchcraft among the Navaho 217

Witchcraft Reflects Human Culture 217

Sorcery, Witchcraft, and AIDS 218

Euro-American Witchcraft Beliefs 219

The Connection with Pagan Religions 219

The Witchcraze in Europe 220

The Witchcraze in England and the United States 222 � Box 10.1: The Evil Eye 224

Modern-Day Witch Hunts 225 � Box 10.2: Satanism 226

Conclusion 227 Summary 228 • Suggested Readings 228 • Suggested Websites 229 • Study Questions 229 • Endnotes 229

Chapter 11 THE SEARCH FOR NEW MEANING 230 Adaptation and Change 230

Mechanisms of Culture Change 231

Haitian Vodou 232

Santeria 235

Revitalization Movements 235

The Origins of Revitalization Movements 236

Types of Revitalization Movements 237

Cargo Cults 237 � Box 11.1: The John Frum Cult 239

The Ghost Dance of 1890 239

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism) 240

Neo-Paganism and Revival 241

The Wiccan Movement 241

New Religious Movements 244

The “Cult” Question 244

Characteristics of High Demand Religions 245

Examples of New Religious Movements 246

UFO Religions 249

Fundamentalism 251

Characteristics of Fundamentalist Groups 251 � Box 11.2: Religious Violence and Terrorism 252

Conclusion 255 Summary 256 • Suggested Readings 256 • Suggested Websites 257 • Study Questions 257 • Endnotes 258

Glossary 259

Index 266

Credits 270

Contents xi


Although courses in the anthropology of religion are usually upper-division courses taught at four-year institutions to anthropology majors, the course is increasingly being taught at the lower-division level, especially at community colleges. Here the emphasis is not on the training of majors, of whom there are few, but on meeting a general education requirement in the social sciences or humanities. Most significantly, this course is probably the only anthropology course that such students will take. Therefore the instructor has the obligation not only to discuss the topics of religion, but also to teach the student about the nature of anthropology and to present its basic principles.

We had great difficulty in finding a textbook that is appropriate for this type of course. Three types of books exist. First is the reader, which often includes articles that are too advanced for the introductory student. A major problem is the inconsistency of terminology and concepts as the student moves from article to article. The second is the general textbook on the anthropol- ogy of religion; but these appear to be written for upper-division students who have already been introduced to the field and often heavily emphasize theory. Third, there are abundant books on the more familiar world religions but few that discuss religions in small-scale societies, where much of the anthropological studies have been conducted. Our goal in writing this text has been to introduce the beginning student to the basic concepts involved in the anthropological study of religion, including an introduction to ethnographical information from a wide range of societies and a basic introduction to the field of anthropology.

One of the most difficult decisions we have had to make in writing this text is the organization and order of presentation of topics. The range of topics is large, and they overlap in myriad ways— everyone has his or her own approach. We have attempted to present the material beginning with basic concepts and proceeding to the more complex. For example, we begin with myth, symbolism, and ritual before moving on to magic and witchcraft later in the text.

We have attempted to include a number of ethnographic examples with a good geo- graphical distribution. Societies discussed in the text are included in Table 1.1, “Culture Areas of the World,” and the locations of many of these are shown on the maps that are new to this edition. Of course, many topics are associated with classic ethnographic studies, which have been included. We have also attempted to balance the presentation of a wide variety of cultures with the inclusion of certain key societies that reappear as examples of several topics through- out the text, to give students some continuity and a deeper understanding of a small group of societies. These societies include the Navaho of North America, the Yanomamö of South America, the Azande and Yoruba of Africa, the Murngin of Australia, and the Trobriand Islanders off the coast of New Guinea.

The writing of a manuscript is a major and complex undertaking. It is a thrill to see the book in print, but when reading it in book form and using it in class, the authors often see things that could have been done a little differently, as well as having ideas for new avenues to explore. We have continued to make a number of changes in this third edition. Some of these changes are minor: a little reorganization, an expansion or contraction of a particular topic, the introduction of a new example or elimination of an old one, and a little rewording to make the point a little clearer. Other changes are more substantial. We have added new and expanded sections on “The Biological Basis of Religious Behavior,” “Sorcery, Witchcraft, and AIDS,” “Modern-Day Witch Hunts,” and “The Living Dead: Vampires and Zombies,” including sections on “The Viking


Draugar” and “Zombies in Modern American Culture”; added four new boxes on “Religious Toys and Games,” “Menstrual Tabus,” “How Do You Get to Heaven?” and “The John Frum Cult”; and have created two new maps showing the locations of many of the societies that are discussed in this text.

To assist the student in learning the material, we have divided each chapter into several sections with different levels of headings. Terms that appear in the Glossary have been set in bold. Each chapter concludes with Summary, Suggested Readings, Suggested Websites, and Study Questions. Additional material and suggested exam questions are presented in the Instructor’s Manual.


We want to take this opportunity to thank the many faculty members who have aided us in the writing of this text by reviewing the manuscript and offering advice and suggestions.

Katherine Bradford, Los Angeles Mission College

Nicola Denzey, Bowdoin College

Charles O. Ellenbaum, College of DuPage

Karen Fjelstad, Cabrillo College

Wendy Fonarow, Glendale College

Arthur Gribben, Los Angeles Mission College

Amy Harper, Central Oregon Community College

Barbara Hornum, Drexel University

William Jankowiak, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Theresa Kintz, Wilkes University

Debra L. Klein, Gavilan College

Christopher Kovats-Bernat, Muhlenberg College

Lilly M. Langer, Florida International University

Phillip Naftaly, Adirondack Community College

Lesley Northup, Florida International University

Robin O’Brian, Elmira College

Lisa Raskind, Los Angeles Valley College

Cheryle Ross, Rio Hondo College

Terry N. Simmons, Paradise Valley Community College

We would like to thank everyone at Prentice Hall for their assistance and support in the writing of this book. We also want to thank our students for their assistance. After all, this book was written for them. The text was originally based on our lecture notes for an anthropology of religion course which developed over many years with student dialogue. The manuscript was then used as a textbook, which provided an opportunity for student feedback.

Finally, we wish to thank our respective spouses, Robert Frankle and Carol Stein, for their patience and support, and assistance.

xiv Preface



The Anthropological Study of Religion

H uman beings pose questions about nearly everything in the world, including themselves. The most fundamental of these questions are answered by a people’s religious beliefs and practices, which is the subject of this book. We will examine the religious lives of a

broad range of human communities from an anthropological perspective. The term anthropological perspective means many things. It is a theoretical orientation that

will be discussed later in the chapter. It is also an approach that compares human societies through- out the world—contemporary and historical, industrial and tribal. Many college courses and textbooks focus on the best-known religions, those that are practiced by millions upon millions of people and are often referred to as the “world’s great religions”—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, among others. This book will expand the subject matter to include and focus on lesser-known religious systems, especially those that are found in small-scale, traditional communities. As we do this, we want to look for commonalities as well as to celebrate diversity.

This book will not simply describe a series of religious systems. We will approach the study of religion by looking at particular topics that are usually included in the anthropological definition of religion and providing examples to illustrate these topics from the anthropological literature. We obviously are unable to present the thousands of religious systems that exist or have existed in the world, but we can provide a sample.


The subject of this book is religion as seen from an anthropological perspective. What does this mean? The term anthropology refers to the study of humanity. However, anthropology shares this subject matter with many other disciplines—sociology, psychology, history, and political science, to name a few. So how is anthropology different from these other disciplines?

One way in which anthropology differs from other subjects is that anthropology is an inte- grated study of humanity. Anthropologists study human societies as systematic sums of their parts, as integrated wholes. We call this approach holism. For example, many disciplines study marriage. The anthropologist believes that a true understanding of marriage requires an understanding of all


2 Chapter 1 • The Anthropological Study of Religion

aspects of the society. Marriage is profoundly influenced by politics and law, economics, ethics, and theology; in turn, marriage influences history, literature, art, and music. The same is true of religious practices and beliefs.

The holistic nature of anthropology is seen in the various divisions of the field. Traditional an- thropologists speak of four-fields anthropology. These four fields are physical anthropology, archaeol- ogy, linguistic anthropology, and cultural anthropology. Today, with the rapid increase and complexi- ty of anthropological studies, anthropologists are becoming more and more specialized and focused on particular topics. The often-simplistic concept of anthropology as being composed of the integrat- ed study of these four fields is rapidly breaking down, but a review of these four fields will acquaint those who are studying anthropology for the first time with the essential nature of the discipline.

Physical anthropology is the study of human biology and evolution. Physical anthropolo- gists are interested in genetics; evolutionary theory; the biology and behavior of the primates, the group of animals that includes monkeys, apes, and humans; and paleontology, the study of the fossil record. Anthropologists with a biological orientation discuss the evolutionary origins and the neurobiology of religious experience.

Archaeology is the study of people who are known only from their physical and cultural remains; it gives us insight into the lives of now extinct societies. Evidence of religious expres- sion can be seen in the ruins of ancient temples and in the art and writings of people who lived in societies that have faded into history.

The field of linguistic anthropology is devoted to the study of language, which, according to many anthropologists, is a unique feature of humans. Much of religious practice is linguistic in nature, involving the recitation of words, and the religious beliefs of a people are expressed in their myths and literature.

Cultural anthropology is the study of contemporary human societies and makes up the largest area of anthropological study. Cultural anthropologists study a people’s social organiza- tion, economics and technology, political organization, marriage and family life, child-rearing practices, and so forth. The study of religion is a subject within the general field of cultural anthropology. However, we will be drawing on all four subfields in our examination of religion.

The Holistic Approach

Studying a society holistically is a very daunting task. It requires a great deal of time—time to observe human behavior and time to interview members of a society. Because of the necessity of having to limit the scope of a research project, anthropologists are noted for their long-term stud- ies of small, remote communities. However, as isolated small communities become increasingly incorporated into larger political units, anthropologists are turning more and more to the study of larger, more complex societies. Yet even within a more complex society, anthropologists maintain a limited focus. For example, within an urban setting, anthropologists study specific companies, hospitals, neighborhoods, gangs, clubs, and churches. Anthropological studies take place over long periods of time and usually require the anthropologist to live within the community and to participate to a degree in the lives of the people under study, while at the same time making objec- tive observations. This technique of study is referred to as participant observation.

Students of anthropology are initially introduced to small communities such as foraging bands, small horticultural villages, and groups of pastoral nomads. They become familiar with the lives of the Trobriand Islanders off the coast of New Guinea, the Navaho of the American Southwest, the Yanomamö of northern South America, the Murngin of northern Australia, and the San of southern Africa. Some people refer to these societies as being “primitive,” but primitive is

Chapter 1 • The Anthropological Study of Religion 3

a pejorative term, one laden with negative connotations such as inferior and “less than.” A better term is small-scale. When we say small-scale, we refer to relatively small communities, villages, and bands that practice foraging, herding, or technologically simple horticulture.

We will also be examining aspects of what are often referred to as the “world’s great religions.” Like the term primitive, the term great involves a value judgment. These familiar religions include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. They are similar in that the origins of these religions are based on the lives of a particular individual or founder, such as Moses, Christ, Mohammad, and the Buddha. These religions have spread into thousands of different societies, and their adherents number in the millions. The small-scale societies that are more traditionally studied by anthropologists, by contrast, are usually not based on the lives of particular prophets or founders. They tend to be limited to one or a few societies, and their adherents might number only a few hundred or a few thousand.

If they involve only a very small number of people, then why study these smaller religions? Among the many questions that anthropologists ask about humanity are the following: Are there characteristics that are found in all human societies, what we might call human universals? And when we look at universals, or at least at very widespread features, what are the ranges of variation? Returning to the example of marriage, we could ask the following questions: Is marriage found in all human societies? And what are the various forms that marriage takes? We might ask similar questions about religion. To answer these questions, anthropologists go out into the field, study particular communities, and write reports describing these communities. Questions of universality and variability can be answered on the basis of descriptions of hundreds of human societies.

In addition, the goal of anthropology is to study the broad range of human beliefs and behaviors, to discover what it means to be human. This is best accomplished by examining reli- gious and other cultural phenomena in a wide variety of cultures of different sizes and structures, including our own. It is often said that the aim of anthropology is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Only through cross-cultural comparisons is this possible.

The Study of Human Societies

Ethnography is the descriptive study of human societies. People who study human societies and write ethnographies about them are cultural anthropologists; they are sometimes referred to as ethnographers.

However, not all descriptions of human societies are written by ethnographers. For exam- ple, an archaeologist is someone who studies the physical and cultural remains of societies that existed in the past and are known today only from their ruins, burials, and garbage. Yet archaeol- ogists can, to a limited degree, reconstruct the lives of people who lived in ancient societies. Sometimes the only descriptions we have of people’s lives are those written in diaries and reports by explorers and colonial administrators. Although these descriptions are far from complete and objective, they do provide us with some information.

Although we will visit a few societies that are known solely from their archaeological remains, most of the examples in this book are from societies that exist today or have existed in the recent past. Many of the societies we will discuss were first visited and described by anthro- pologists in the early to mid-1900s. Although these societies have changed over time, as all groups do, and although many of these societies have passed out of existence, anthropologists speak of them in the ethnographic present; that is, we discuss these groups in the present tense as they were first described by ethnographers.

Throughout this book we will be presenting examples from the ethnographic literature. These communities are found throughout the world, including some very remote areas. To better

4 Chapter 1 • The Anthropological Study of Religion

understand their nature and distribution, we can organize these societies into culture areas. A cul- ture area is a geographical area in which societies tend to share many cultural traits. This happens because these groups face similar challenges from the environment and often come up with similar solutions and because cultural traits that develop in one group easily spread to other nearby groups.

Each human society—and even subgroups within the society—exhibits unique characteris- tics. The common traits that define a culture area tend to lie in the realm of subsistence activities and technology, a common response to the challenges from the environment, although some simi- larity in other facets of the society, including religion, may also be found. For example, the California culture area, whose boundaries are somewhat different from the present-day political unit, includes a group of communities that exploit acorns. Acorns require processing that involves many steps and much equipment, but they provide a food resource that is plentiful and nutritious and that can be stored. These features permit the development of permanent and semipermanent communities, unlike those developed by most foragers.1 Table 1.1 lists the major culture areas of the world along with the names of representative groups. All of the groups used as examples in this book are included. Many are located on the maps located in the front of the book.

TABLE 1.1 Culture Areas of the World

North America

Arctic Coast (Inuit, Yup’ik) Hunting of sea mammals and caribou, fishing; shelters made of snow blocks, semisubterranean sod houses, summer tents made of skins; dog-drawn sledges, tailored skin clothing; settlement in small family groups.

Northern Subarctic (Chipewyan, Winnebago) Hunting caribou, fishing; conical skin tents, bark or skin canoes, snowshoes, toboggans; highly nomadic bands with chiefs.

Great Basin-Plateau (Paiute, Shoshoni) Acorn collecting, fishing, hunting of small game; small brush windbreaks, elaborate basketry; band organization.

California (Cahuilla, Chumash, Pomo) Acorn collecting, fishing, hunting of small game; simple brush dwellings, semisubterranean lodges; basketry; multiplicity of small contrasting tribes, semipermanent villages.

Northwest Coast (Haida, Kwakwaka'wakw, Tlingit) Salmon and deep-sea fishing, hunting and collecting; large rectangular plank dwellings with gabled roofs, large canoes, lack pottery, elaborate development of decorative art; permanent villages, chiefs, elaborate system of rank.

Plains (Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, Lakota, Ojibwa, Sioux) Hunting of bison, some horticulture; tipi dwellings; transport by dog, later horse; absence of basketry and pottery, hide utensils; large bands, competitive military and social societies, warfare important.

Eastern Woodland (Iroquois, Seneca) Horticulture, hunting; multiple-family dwellings of bark (longhouses); matrilineal clans, village chiefs.

Southeast (Cherokee, Natchez) Similar to Eastern Woodland with Mesoamerican influence.