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

In: Journal of Religion in Africa

Abstract

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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  • 1.

    February 28, 2004. Most subsequent ethnographic references to Ilé Laroye are based on four years of IRB-approved fieldwork, 2005-2009 (Perez 2010). I have changed the name of this community and all my interlocutors for reasons of confidentiality.

  • 6

    . 1978, 28-29.

  • 9.

    Personal communication, September 22, 2006.

  • 23.

    Personal communication, April 15, 2005.

  • 30.

    Personal communication, October 8, 2005.

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    Personal communication, February 4, 2006. This statement was made long before Barack Obama’s famous speech on race in Philadelphia in which he mentioned his white grandmother.

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