* This paper was delivered as the inaugural lecture at the third meeting of the European Association of Social Anthropologists in Oslo, June 1994.
As I have wanted for a long time to compare the idea of God with the idea of the self numerous acknowledgements are due. The first draft was prepared for the 1989 Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh, called ‘Claims on God', but as the editing of those lectures progressed the chapter on the Cloud did not fit into the subsequent publication, In the wilderness (1993). I tried it again in the University of Frankfurt in 1990, and in Honolulu at the ISISS in 1992. I thank those who have helped to develop the theme by discussing it with me, particularly Ronald Hendel, Anita Jacobson-Widding, Robert Littman, Emmanuel Sivan and Werner Schiffauer.