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Healing EEs/EHEs/Healing Process
Record Type: Review   ID: 144

Firewalking and Religious Healing: The Anastenaria of Greece and the American Firewalking Movement

Danforth, Loring M.

 Anthropologist Danforth provides an excellent summary of what he attempts here: "to offer an interpretation of the Anastenaria, a northern Greek ritual involving firewalking and spirit possession which is performed by a group of refugees from eastern Thrace, known as Kostilides, who settled in Greek Macedonia in the early 1920s. The ritual cycle of the Anastenaria in the village of Ayia Eleni, where the largest group of Kostilides settled, reaches its climax on May 21, the day the Orthodox Church celebrates the festival of Saints Constantine and Helen. The Anastenarides believe that Saint Constantine has the power both to cause and to heal a wide variety of illnesses. They also believe that it is Saint Constantine who possesses them when they dance and protects them from getting burned when they perform their spectacular acts of firewalking. Drawing on recent work in medical and psychiatric anthropology as well as more established anthropological approaches to the study of religion, I present an interpretive approach to the study of religious healing. I argue that illnesses and their symptoms may be understood as somatic symbols that express the social and psychological problems that people encounter in their daily lives. Spirit possession is a particularly powerful religious idiom or language that enables people to articulate and often resolve these problems by redefining their relationship with the possessing spirit so that they acquire the supernatural power they need in order to be healed. Ritual therapy is, therefore, a process of transformation and empowerment through which people are metaphorically moved from a state of illness to a state of health....I have tried to meet the challenge of presenting an informative account of another culture while at the same time offering a critique of our own through a juxtaposition of the Anastenaria and the American Firewalking movement....By presenting an analysis of two therapeutic systems that are paradoxically so similar and yet so different, I have tried to achieve "a distinctly anthropological cultural critique" by using "the juxtaposition of cases (derived from ethnography’s built-in Janus-faced perspective) to generate critical questions from one society to probe the other" (Marcus & Fischer 1986: 117)" (pp. 4-5, 6-7). - DT
Publisher Information:Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989. xv + 333p. Bibl: 306-325; Ind: 327-333; 20 photos
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