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  • Akiko

Creation: Ritual of Spirit Possession

This article is totally not about Japanese religious events but about the creation of new rituals.

This year I got the luck to teach a course entitled "Music and Ritual". I have 11 sessions during the Fall semester, and the 10th session was an oral exam: Creation of new ritual of spirit possession. This was group work and students had 1 month to prepare for the exam.

At the beginning of this semester, I heard that students had spent almost 1 year in distance learning. From my experience, college friends are the most special because they are people with whom we can share our interests. This is why I wanted to give them group work.

27 students are divided into 5 groups which are a mixture of various majors. One-third are ethnomusicologists. They had time to discuss between them, during classes. However, apparently, they seemed to continue to talk outside of my class. One week before the presentation, we got a short rehearsal just for checking in and out of the stage.

This is the creation and they must not be influenced by me. This is why I have been for a long time wondering if I should give them the precise scale of evaluation. Finally, I only gave them three conditions as follows;

1) Their ritual must include a possession that brings us an oracle or divination.

2) Their ritual must guaranty its efficacity (It must bring us an or several benefits).

3) The music or the sound must manifest the status change of the person possessed.

During their discussion, I explained to them the difference between trance and possession. During this course, they have seen different examples of spirit possession and trance (Candomble, Korean mudan, also Japanese officiant). They were also analyzed different vocal expressions during a given ritual and instruments.

The result was much more than I expected.

We got 5 new rituals. They have very well understood that music is not only one factor that works so that ritual functions. They organized very well each element so that worshippers (public) can see, hear, and smell the divine presence. They managed to the lightening, the screen displaying a picture of the temple, changing their make-up according to the officiants' inner hierarchy, the incense to purify participants, also different types of sounds from music to the possessed shaman's screaming.

They made their own religion, the place of ritual, named their own deity, even their new language!

What is the most amazing was foreign students or older students have well integrated into their classmates. They brought us a new point of view, they could share their culture which is totally different from the French one. Also, a student shows us the instruments of his country. These instruments are very rare and this session was finally well successful.

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