Sunday, June 05, 2005

Fox Spirits and Xiangtou: Religious Healing in the Local Culture of Village North China

and I found more... maybe we should invite Thomas DuBois onto this list:


Fox Spirits and Xiangtou: Religious Healing in the Local Culture of Village North China

Thomas DuBois, University of California, Los Angeles

This paper uses recent fieldwork conducted in the villages of Cangxian, Hebei, to discuss popular beliefs concerning the role of fox spirits in sickness and healing. Villagers recognize a difference between ordinary sickness (shi) which should be treated by a medical doctor, and those of supernatural origin (xu), which are the purview of xiangtou, specialists who act as media for the power of fox spirits. When diagnosing a xu illness, the xiangtou first determines what sort of spirit is afflicting the individual and why. Possible actors include animal spirits, who afflict humans out of spite, as punishment for a misdeed or to call the attention of the individual for a specific reason. This diagnosis dictates the cure; depending on their motivation for afflicting an individual, spirits can either be supplicated or exorcised. However, xiangtou are not masters of a body of arcane knowledge, but rather media chosen by fox spirits because of their innate ability to channel divine power. Thus, the diagnostic and healing arts themselves are well-known even to non-specialists, and a new xiangtou draws together his or her own eclectic mix of ritual arts from this body of common knowledge. Just as the ritual arts of xiangtou are part of local culture, so too is knowledge concerning the supernatural causes of sickness and sources of healing, and the motivations and character of fox spirits. Villagers learn about the complex morality of fox spirits not through texts, but through a constantly evolving and tangible culture of tales located in neighboring villages in the present day.


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