‘Listening with eyes and seeing with ears’: Pilgrimage and spirit possession on Mt Kiso Ontake

It is interesting that while anthropology of pilgrimage shifted its major paradigm from a focus on sacred sites (Turner&Turner 1978; Sallnow&Eade 1992) to a focus on movement (Eade&Coleman 2004), investigation of sensory bodies, as moving sites for an encounter with the sacred, has rarely been undertaken. On the other side anthropology of senses, although providing a remarkable contribution to an understanding of the role of perception in social life, has frequently privileged embodied experience over semiotic textuality (Howes 2003; Stoller 1997). It might even be argued (Ingold 2000) that such an exclusion of discourse from senses has involuntarily reiterated a Modern Divide between language and materiality (Latour 1993), traceable back to a Protestant ideology of separation between interiority and exteriority, belief and ritual (Keane 2007). In this paper I will explore the role of body and senses in pilgrimage, trying to look beyond such a Western epistemological divide, by analysing a case of contemporary devotional practice in Japan, on Mt Kiso Ontake (3067m), where pilgrims visit spirits’ abodes (reijinhi) located on a sacred mountain, in order to hear ancestors’ voices coming from the possessed body of a medium (nakaza). Through an ethnographic and semiotic analysis of the somatic and oracular interaction between ancestors and pilgrims, I will show how an intersensory, collective body of human and nonhuman members of the group is constructed by breaking the individual body of the medium, and realising an affective and aesthesic contagion (Landowski 2004) by means of language, sounds, screams and gestures, which shatters every division between identity and alterity, sense and senses, in very unpredictable ways.

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