Cosmology II: Witchcraft, Shamanism and Syncretism

  • Joy Hendry


In this chapter we will turn to examine in detail some important categories which have interested anthropologists over the years, and in which they have sometimes engaged in interesting dialogue with European historians. The first subjects are witchcraft and sorcery, which are not without intriguing meaning in the English language, but we will turn for our initial definitions to an African people studied by one of the better known British anthropologists introduced in the last chapter, namely Edward Evans-Pritchard. The people are the Azande, a tribe of the Southern Sudan, for whom the word mangu, translated as ‘witchcraft’, was perhaps the most commonly used in their language when Evans-Pritchard lived among them. It was a matter of daily discussion, irritating rather than frightening, and, as an ethnographer, he could hardly ignore it.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Brown, Peter (1970) ‘Sorcery, Demons and the Rise of Christianity from Late Antiquity into the Middle Ages’, in Mary Douglas (ed.), Witchcraft, Confessions and Accusations (London: Tavistock), pp. 17–45.Google Scholar
  2. Douglas, Mary (1966) Purity and Danger (Harmondsworth: Penguin).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Douglas, Mary (ed.) (1970) Witchcraft: Confessions and Accusations (London: Tavistock).Google Scholar
  4. Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1976) Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (Oxford: Clarendon).Google Scholar
  5. Gellner, David (1997) ‘For syncretism. The position of Buddhism in Nepal and Japan compared’, Social Anthropology, 5(3): 277–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hardman, Charlotte (1996) ‘Introduction’, in Graham Harvey and Charlotte Hardman (eds), Paganism Today: Wiccans, Druids, the Goddess and Ancient Earth Traditions for the Twenty-First Century (London: Thorsons).Google Scholar
  7. Hendry, J. (1981) Marriage in Changing Japan: Community and Society, (London: Croom Helm; Tokyo: Tuttle, 1986).Google Scholar
  8. Lewis, I. M. (1970) ‘A Structural Approach to Witchcraft and Spirit Possession’, in Mary Douglas (ed.), Witchcraft, Confessions and Accusations (London: Tavistock), pp. 293–309.Google Scholar
  9. Middleton, John and E. H. Winter (eds.) (1963) Witchcraft and Sorcery in East Africa (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).Google Scholar
  10. Rivière, Peter (1970) ‘Factions and Exclusions in Two South American Village Systems’, in Mary Douglas (ed.), Witchcraft, Confessions and Accusations (London: Tavistock), pp. 245–55.Google Scholar
  11. Stewart, Charles & Rosalind Shaw (eds) (1995) Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis (London: Routledge).Google Scholar
  12. Thomas, Keith (1970) The Relevance of Social Anthropology to the Historical Study of English Witchcraft’ in Mary Douglas (ed.), Witchcraft, Confessions and Accusations (London: Tavistock), pp. 47–79.Google Scholar
  13. Wavell, Stewart, Audrey Colson and Nina Epton (1966) Trances (London: Allen & Unwin).Google Scholar

Further Reading

  1. Beattie, John and John Middleton (1969) Spirit Mediumship and Society in Africa (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).Google Scholar
  2. Blacker, Carmen (1975) The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan (London: Allen & Unwin).Google Scholar
  3. Eliade, Mircea (1964) Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy (Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  4. Gellner, David (1992) Monk, Householder and Tantric Priest (Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  5. Gellner, David (1994) ‘Priests, healers, mediums and witches: the context of possession in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal’, Man, 29: 27–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Jencson, L. (1989) ‘Neo-paganism and the great mother-goddess: anthropology as the midwife to a new religion’, Anthropology Today, 5(2): 2–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. LaFleur, William R. (1992)Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan (Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  8. Lewis, I. M. (1971) Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism (Harmondsworth: Penguin).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Luhrmann, Tanya (1989) Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (Oxford: Blackwell).Google Scholar
  10. Marwick, Max (ed.) (1982) Penguin Readings on Witchcraft, 2nd edn (Harmondsworth: Penguin).Google Scholar
  11. Riches, David (1994) ‘Shamanism: the key to religion’,Man, 29: 381–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Novels & Play

  1. Lowry, Malcolm, Under the Volcano (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962) is a novel about a disillusioned and alcoholic British consul living in Mexico, but it is of interest here because much of the action takes place on the Day of the Dead.Google Scholar
  2. Miller, Arthur, The Crucible (London: Methuen, 1996), is concerned with the Salem witchcraft trials in the United States.Google Scholar
  3. Okri, Ben, The Famished Road (London: Cape, 1991) is a novel full of African spirits and mysticism.Google Scholar


  1. Disappearing World: The Azande (André Singer and John Ryle, 1982) depicts the world of Azande witchcraft within the new context of widespread conversion to Christianity.Google Scholar
  2. Kataragama, A God for All Seasons (Charlie Nairn and Gananath Obeyesekere, 1973) is another ‘Disappearing World’ film set in Sri Lanka (then, Ceylon) which, at least at first, illustrates the variety of ways a people may seek to understand the misfortune of losing an 11-year-old son.Google Scholar
  3. The Strangers Abroad film about Evans-Pritchard, entitled Strange Beliefs (see p. 33 above) includes an examination of Zande material too.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Joy Hendry 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joy Hendry

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations