One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Need something to read? Witchcraft!

One of my favorite topics of anthropology is magic and witchcraft. As an undergraduate, I took a class on the Anthropology of Witchcraft. It is interesting to see how similar the myth, rituals, and symbols of witchcraft are in different cultures like Africa, Native Americans, and Europe. The following book are the ones that were required for that class, as well as the book I chose to do my final paper on.

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Navaho Witchcraft by Clyde Kluckhohn

This is an ethnography of Clyde Kluckhohn of witchcraft of Navaho. As an anthropologist, Kluckhohn was interested in understanding the misunderstanding within cultures to possibly avoid conflicts because he was horrified of the violence and destruction of humans has done during the World Wars. He wanted to give contributions to humans, thus analyzing cultural differences before they could become conflicts. With this in mind, he did extensive studies of the Navajo (over 37 years). (Navajo is the modern spelling, Navaho was the way it was spelled in 1944). Navaho Witchcraft, is a analysis of the ideas and behaviors that define witchcraft as well as the causes and reactions of witchcraft within the culture.

Not a huge fan of some of his ethnographic methods of speaking with informants – i.e. picking up drunk Navajo off the side of the road – but it in 1944 there were not the ethical issues that have are strictly enforced today. Nevertheless, it is a great read and again, it is interesting to see how these ideas of witchcraft from the Navajo are very similar to that of Western beliefs of witchcraft.

Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande by E.E. Evans-Pritchard9780198740292_p0_v1_s260x420

Published in 1937, this is an ethnography of the research done in the Southern Sudan during the 1920’s. Evans-Pritchard studied the Azande and their beliefs and ideas of Witchcraft among this culture. Like the Nuer, this is an excellently written ethnography! (If you haven’t read the Nuer, shame on you! It is an anthropology classic which must be read by ALL anthropologists). Like much of his other work, I love Evans-Pritchard’s almost pompous attitude about the way he describes other cultures. Regardless of that fact, this book is about a culture that is pretty much extinct today. During the time of his research, the Azande was already being absorbed into colonialism.

This is another great ethnography about the ideas and beliefs of witchcraft in another cultural point of view. After reading this, the same ideas once again are present among the Azande as they are in European ideas of witchcraft. It makes you wonder where these ideas originated or if they are universal patterns that are present in every cultural idea of witchcraft and magic?

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Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England by T.M. Luhrmann

This ethnography is of contemporary England witch cults that describe why people are drawn to bizarre practices of magic and witchcraft. It is hard to image sometimes that there are still groups in the world that actively practice the ideas of magic and witchcraft, and individuals who believe that they can produce magic and witchcraft. This book is a bit disturbing at times. But the focus is on middle-class, educated people who are involved in secret practices of witchcraft within the modern urban culture.

This is a very different perspective of witchcraft than what many have been exposed to. When we hear about witchcraft, it is in Harry Potter or within studies in histories, fictions, or primitive cultures. We usually don’t think that there are people who exist today that still practice rituals that have not changed through time.

Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath by Carlos Ginzburg

This is by far one of my favorite books and I still refer to it in my research. This book is an ethnohistory of the beliefs a978-0-226-29693-7-frontcovernd practices of the early accounts of witchcraft throughout Europe and England from the time of the Inquisition . He goes through trial records, folklore, and popular iconography that  form patterns and is evidence of a hidden witchcraft cultures that have been present for thousands of years.

Great, great, great book! Again another percepective of witchcraft, but this time through the eyes of those being accused. The trial records that Ginzburg presents are the written accounts of what was said by those being accused, accounts of those who were prosecuting, and what became of those accused from the time they were arrested to when they were sentenced. These accounts were patterns that Ginzburg traces throughout Europe.

wizard-of-oz-bookThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz 

For the final of this course, we had to choose a book that contained witchcraft and present how the same pattern and concepts that we had read about through the semester were present in the book. One of the main themes we traced through all these accounts of witchcraft, was the concept of Dual Sovereignty (power vs. authority).

I was able to trace all the concepts and patterns in this book, and I have been able to in every book I have read that consists of magic and witchcraft.

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Flash back to Anthropology 101

As I am building my summer thesis reading list, I was going through my books that I haven’t seen or read since my first anthropology class at University of Mary Washington in 2009. This brought back some memories of being exposed to anthropology the first time and Dr. Eric Gable. Before that class, I was interested in archaeology but the only thing that UMW offered was a major in Historic Preservation that included archaeology courses, but when I took Anthropology 101 I fell in love with the cultural subdiscipline.

Professor Gable made it interesting and at the same time exposed many students to a new world. I do have to say this is one of my most memorable classes. But as I was saying before, the books that were required for that class were:

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These three books really opened my eyes to the world of anthropology and what anthropologists could study.

Return to Laughter is an anthropological novel that is based upon one anthropologist’s study and first year in the field with a remote African  tribe, the Tiv, and the exploration of witchcraft within the culture. This fictional approach to anthropology, portrays human dimension,  recounting an anthropologist’s failures and triumphs in the field, and how she has to adapt to this new environment. Although it is fiction, it relates very well to the challenges that many anthropologists must face and undergo through their own research.

Fraternity Gang Rape – is an analysis of how all-male groups like fraternities create a rape culture. This is very powerful, but chilling book that goes into rape culture and how it is formed, but this book shed light upon how this problem continues today. We have all seen it in the new with university athletic groups gang raping women. As I stated before this is a chilling book and can make/has made some people feel uncomfortable., but it is one of those many truths that exist within our society.

The Sambia: Ritual, Sexuality, and Change in Papua New Guinea – This book caused many people to drop out of a class (many males) and I was surprised that this was assigned to an intro to anthropology class. Regardless of that fact, I enjoyed this book like I did the others. This book goes into the initiation rites and rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, boys to men through ritual. As the title suggests, the rituals within this culture defines the change from a boy’s childhood to adulthood as well as defines his sexuality. It is important to keep in mind, that in many cultures sexuality is defined within the cultural construct. In many cultures boys, even though are born the sex male, are considered a gendered female until they go through an initiation ritual that allows him to be considered a gendered male. Without going too much into this books because it is worth the read, this book allows the readers to see how different other cultures are compared to our own and the subject of gender vs sex.

These books were really intense for an introduction level, but the idea of that class was to weed out anyone who was not serious about being an anthropology major. I see that now and it worked. I haven’t read these in a while, so if I have time I will be reading these again. But please check these out, they are great anthropology works!

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