Fluid Divination: Movement, Chaos, and the Generation of “Noise” in Afro-Cuban Spiritist Oracular Production

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Abstract

An examination of oracles in popular forms of Cuban espiritismo invites a rethinking of the role of “randomness” and “context” in the anthropology of divination. Through an analysis of the ways by which spirit mediums develop as persons, and their implications for the mechanics of divination, I argue that among espiritistas the meaning of particular configurations cannot be separated from the event that brings them about. Relatively simple in their properties (e.g. water), spiritist oracles function to provide impulse to a perceived metaphysical universe that requires the generation of movement in order to achieve instantiation. The argument is that this movement provides a background of chaos essential to the purpose of divination. To demonstrate this, I forward an analogy to the language of electronic voice phenomena in parapsychology, in particular with its concept of “noise.” In both EVP and espiritismo, “noise” is the substance that allows spirits to communicate.

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