Gods and Monsters: Insatiate Divinities and Insufficient Sacrifices in Rural Tamil Nadu
What is the nature of gods? How do the subtleties of ‘good’, ‘bad’ and ‘indifferent’ constitute sacred potency? In a village in Tamil Nadu, a lineage sacrificed fifty-four goats and countless roosters to their tutelary deity, Muniswarar. The next day however, a young woman suddenly and inexplicably died – which was attributed to the Minis. Despite the sacrificial placation, the Minis remained hungry and continued to hunt. Rather than being given, they preferred to take lives for themselves. This paper is about the vital and often violent impetus of divinities which evade, exceed and eschew human signification, preferring to thrust themselves directly into the world. The oscillations between Minis, capricious fertility spirits and Muniswarar, the ethical deity who controls them, manifest the tensions between the land’s vital forces and the socio-political endeavours to govern them. Divine subjectivity is fundamentally premised upon their being a-rational, amoral and ultimately oblique – eschewing ritual proprieties, transactional reciprocities, ethical conventions and human expectations. These divinities’ power is contingent upon their devotees’ incapacity to fully grasp them. Their monstrosity is what underlines their awe-inspiring sacrality. Focusing on the incapacity of ontologies to contain wilful divinities, this paper interrogates the enigmatic correlations between divinity and monstrosity to understand the vicissitudes, vitality and efficacy of sacred power.
Territorial Terror in Monsoon Asia
Territory cults, often centered on a stone and featuring sacrifice and feasting, are found throughout Monsoon Asia (Mus 1933). These cults are concerned with the fertility of the soil, domestic animals and people. Mus also suggested that they amount to a “spiritual land survey,” because membership of a cult is also an assertion of ownership over that territory. This paper investigates why it is that these occult powers, which have so often been glossed as “guardian spirits,” in fact often evoke fear amongst the very people who maintain the cult. We need to drop any fuzzy notions about fairy godmothers, beneficent local deities or guardian angels that the common gloss – “guardian spirit” – might suggest. Although there is definite pride in how these entities are said to protect insiders from outsiders and other dangers, almost all the ritual action in these cults actually concerns the prevention of vengeance by these entities among local populations. Typically, such vengeance takes the form of epidemics or other collective misfortune amongst the group. Why are the spirits of the place understood as protective but also terrifying? I suggest the answer can be found by understanding the territory cults as part of a larger configuration found throughout the region regarding the generation of life.
The strange (judicial) case of Mr. Maliqueo
On August 17th, 2013, in the south of Chile, Mapuche farmer Moisés Maliqueo was sentenced to ten years in prison after being found guilty of killing his wife a year earlier. According to the expert report presented at the court, the woman received 15 stab wounds in her back. Even if the case would have been treated like other femicides in the country, the testimony of a “Machi” (Mapuche shaman) – who explained that Moisés had a ‘Mapu-kutxan’ – made it a strange case.
‘Mapu-kutxan’ is an illness which affects exclusively to Mapuche people and consists in an abnormal state of consciousness resulting by a spiritual possession because of a ‘Ngen’, who are invisible entities that manage, govern, take care and protect different features of nature. Also “Ngen” are owners of various ecosystems and grant power to the Mapuche people if they behave correctly but if they don’t, ‘Ngen’ capture and possess people’s spirit and punish them with illness. In Mapuche culture people must ask permission to enter to Ngen’s realm and if they fail they must live with the consequences (Bacigalupo 2007).
This paper will present the implications of the relationship between the notions of personhood, non-personhood and other entities in the Mapuche context, and simultaneously it intends to expose the problems to describe this particular socio-cultural reality in the actual Chilean juridical context.