Masters of Psalmody (bimo)

Scriptural Shamanism in Southwestern China


In Masters of Psalmody (bimo ) Aurélie Névot analyses the religious, political and theoretical issues of a scriptural shamanism observed in southwestern China among the Yi-Sani. Her focus is on blood sacrifices and chants based on a secret and labile writing handled only by ritualists called bimo.

Through ethnographic data, the author presents the still little known bimo metaphysics and unravels the complexity of the local text-based ritual system in which the continuity of each bimo lineage relies on the transmission of manuscripts whose writing relates to lineage blood. While illuminating the usages of this shamanistic tradition that is characterized by scriptural variability between patrilineages, Aurélie Névot highlights the radical changes it is undergoing by becoming a Chinese state tradition.

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Aurélie Névot, HDR (2017), EHESS (Paris), Ph. D (2003), Paris-Nanterre University, is researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) - Research Center on Modern and Contemporary China. She has published monographs and articles on Yi-Sani and China.
Illustrations and Tables
Notes to the Reader


1 Countercurrent Writing: Myths and Blood Lineages in Question
 Introduction: Yi-centrism versus Han-centrism
 1 A Direction of Writing Contrary to Chinese Writing
 2 Writing as a Mirrored Avatar and/or as an Expression of a Distinction of Identity?
 3 “The Language of the Eyes”
 4 Apparent Anarchy, Lineage Lability
 Conclusion: a Lineage Shamanistic Tradition

2 The Textual Chants of Bimo: Voicing the Written Space
 Introduction: Graphical Melodies
 1 To Meow, to Screech like a Falcon, to Quack like a Wild Duck, to Utter the Chant of the Snake/Dead
 2 To Write Then to Psalmodize: Becoming Bimo
 3 Invisible Characters, Voice in Completion, Subtle Speech
 4 Writing as a Psalmodic Chimera
 5 The Written Reflexivity of Bimo Speech
 Conclusion: the Acoustic Life of Bimo Writing

3 The Physicality of Bimo Books: the Manuscript as a Psalmodic Mask
 Introduction: Manuscript as a Persona
 1 The Space of the Book
 2 A Canvas of Writing-Blood
 3 Mountain-book, Hillside-pages
 4 Facing “Two Cheeks”
 Conclusion: the Feminine of Writing

4 The Bimo’s Bookish Journey: to Walk through Chanted Lines of Writing
 Introduction: Bimo Transhumances and Shamanistic Spatialities
 1 To Ride, to Walk on Four Hands, to Whirl, to Flow
 2 Parallelisms
 3 A Concatenation of Textual Chant
 Conclusion: the Writing, Visible, as Access to the Vocalized Invisible Space

5 Bimo Ritual, nyi: Sacrificial Transsubstantiality
 Introduction: Blood Sacrifices
 1 Setting Up the Ritual Framework
 2 “To Build the Center”
 3 To Become a mo (Sacrificial Animal)
 4 “The Sacrificial Animal’s Speech”
 Conclusion: Bloods

6 Achema: the Yi-Sani Apologue for the Art of Speaking
 Introduction: Vocal Co-Dehiscence and Social Reconfiguration
 1 The Primacy of Speech
 2 Chema: from Snake-Woman to Dead-Woman
 3 The Mastery of Speech as a Social Issue, the Art of Speaking as Performance
 4 To Imitate Nature’s Babble
 Conclusion: Voices Echo

7 Bimo Religion as Intangible Cultural Heritage: the Process of Standardizing Writings and Chants
 Introduction: “Bimo Religion” bìmó jiào 毕摩教
 1 Bimo Qualification Certificate
 2 From “Blood” to “Image”
 3 Current Policies as Rooted in the 19th Century
 4 To Rewrite: to Restructure the Writing Pages
 5 From Lineage Writings to the Yi Writing of the Stone Forest County
 6 From the Secrets of Initiated Men to State Secrets?
 7 Bimo Music and Chants as Institutions of the Chinese State
 Conclusion: Se in the Process of Becoming wén? An Ongoing Shamanistic Schism

All interested in anthropology of China, Chinese minorities and religions, and anyone concerned with shamanism, writing, metaphysics, the Chinese state and cultural policies.