Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Brazilian witchcraft

Greenfield is an academic anthropologist with extensive fieldwork in Brazil. Here's an example of syncretistic witchcraft:

What takes place between a patent and a supernatural provider in Brazil’s alternative health care system incorporates elements from the still vibrant transaction between a petitioner in the pre‐Reformation folk variant of Roman Catholicism brought to Brazil by its first settlers and a saint or the Virgin Mary. According to the assumptions of Roman Catholicism, a saint is a special individual who, after death, has been reborn “and elevated to everlasting life in heaven by an all‐powerful creator God believed to have control over all aspects of the universe, including the destinies of those on earth....” Saints “are considered ‘friends of God,’ able to act as intermediaries with him on behalf of supplicants on earth” (Greenfield and Cavalcante 2005:7).

I had observed and filmed other Spiritist healer‐mediums previously (see Greenfield 2008) and thought I knew what to expect. I had seen people sliced into with knives and scalpels. I had witnessed pieces of flesh, said to be tumors, removed. The patients reported experiencing little if any pain when cut. The instruments were not treated with antisepsis and no visible anesthesia was given. 
As Carlos lay nervously waiting, not knowing what to expect, his brother joined him. Pedro spoke words of reassurance. A few minutes later Antonio, dressed in a white coat, walked rapidly out of the building onto the porch pushing a cart laden with “surgical” instruments. Without saying a word he reached across the cart and picked up an electric saw with a serrated circular blade. Rapidly he attached the tool to an extension cord handed to him through a window from inside the building. Carlos, wide‐awake, continued his conversation with Pedro and seemed to pay little attention to the approaching man with the saw in his hand. Antonio methodically turned on the tool and still not addressing or interacting with Carlos, drove the spinning blade into the left side of the patient’s chest. As it spun, the skin parted and blood spurted out. The onlookers gasped. The patient did not cry out or move, but he did continue his conversation with his brother. After withdrawing and reinserting the blade several times, Antonio removed it and, with his fingers, picked up a strip of flesh from near the patient’s heart, the same piece Carlos showed me the next day in the airport. The procedure took but a few minutes. The saw blade had not been cleaned before it was used and no effort was made to sterilize it afterwards when the healer turned it on his next patient. Carlos did not received any anesthesia and was wide‐awake as the blade severed his flesh and the healer removed the tissue. Without uttering a word to the man whose body he had violated in this extreme manner, Antonio unplugged the saw and walked away, pushing the cart in the direction of his next patient. A few minutes later a woman, also dressed in white, holding what looked like an ordinary sewing needle and thread, closed and bandaged Carlos’ wound. She then helped the patient from the cot and escorted him back into the building where he was given a glass of “specially prepared water.” After drinking the liquid, he was chaperoned to yet another room where he was told to rest quietly.
In the airport I asked Carlos if he could tell me what he experienced. Perhaps still in shock, he said that he did not remember when the blade entered his flesh because he had perceived no pain. There was no distress when the wound was closed or as he rested on the bed. Even now, although the left side of his chest felt “numb,” the discomfort was minimum. 
I asked if he understood and could explain to me what had happened to him the previous day. He replied that he could not but added that he wanted to learn about the beliefs that informed the treatment he had received. 
I asked if I might telephone to learn about Carlos’ progress. Pedro gave me his card and offered to provide me with reports. I called several months later and was told that Carlos had gone to a nearby Kardecist‐Spiritist center the day after he returned home. He said he was feeling better and stronger and walked the six short blocks to the center. Intrigued by what he learned, he returned frequently; and, after attending several lectures and beginning a class on the basic beliefs, he explained to Pedro that it had not been Antonio who had operated on him. Antonio, the bricklayer with a first grade education, was a medium whose body at the time of the surgery was inhabited by a spirit, the spirit of a Dr. Ricardo Stans, a German national who received his medical education in Italy during the 19th century. Sometime after his death he is reported to have returned to “our world” to treat living patients using the bodies of mediums like Antonio. When operating, Carlos informed his brother, Dr. Stans was assisted by a number of other spirits who had been trained in various aspects of medicine, or in other healing traditions, in previous lives. He was told that they brought with them “advanced” medical techniques from the spirit world. It was these spirits who had cleaned the instruments and provided the anesthesia for Carlos and the other patients.

1 comment:

  1. Didn't they make a bunch of horror movies about that saw guy?