Revisiting “Magical Fright”



In 1948, John Gillin published the first sustained account of a ritual healing ceremony for soul loss as performed in the highlands of Guatemala. Reprinted in Lessa and Vogt's Reader in Comparative Religion (1958, 1965), this article played a foundational role for later work in ethnomedicine and the anthropology of religion. Gillin's analysis centered on the way relations between Indian and ladino populations were renegotiated within the ritual imaginary. Newly available archival materials show that Gillin underestimated the fear and animosity dividing these groups, misconstrued the political situation of the curandero (traditional healer), and effaced the extent to which gender and domestic violence were at issue in both illness and healing. These materials also afford glimpses into the system of power and knowledge in which Gillin participated and that helped shape his research agenda. An epilogue extends this discussion into the Cold War context, [ritual, susto, curanderismo, Mesoamerica, John Gillin, history of anthropology, Cold War]