Spiritist Mediumship as Historical Mediation: African-American Pasts, Black Ancestral Presence, and Afro-Cuban Religions

In: Journal of Religion in Africa
Elizabeth Pérez Dartmouth College, Department of Religion 305 Thornton Hall, Hanover, NH 03755 USA

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The scholarship on Afro-Atlantic religions has tended to downplay the importance of Kardecist Espiritismo. In this article I explore the performance of Spiritist rituals among Black North American practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions, and examine its vital role in the development of their religious subjectivity. Drawing on several years of ethnographic research in a Chicago-based Lucumí community, I argue that through Spiritist ceremonies, African-American participants engaged in memory work and other transformative modes of collective historiographical praxis. I contend that by inserting gospel songs, church hymns, and spirituals into the musical repertoire of misas espirituales, my interlocutors introduced a new group of beings into an existing category of ethnically differentiated ‘spirit guides’. Whether embodied in ritual contexts or cultivated privately through household altars, these spirits not only personify the ancestral dead; I demonstrate that they also mediate between African-American historical experience and the contemporary practice of Yorùbá- and Kongo-inspired religions.

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