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Supernatural AgentsWhy We Believe in Souls, Gods, and Buddhas$
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Ilkka Pyysiäinen

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195380026

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195380026.001.0001

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Souls, Ghosts, and Shamans

Souls, Ghosts, and Shamans

(p.57) 3 Souls, Ghosts, and Shamans
Supernatural Agents

Ilkka Pyysiäinen

Oxford University Press

Beliefs about personalized spirits do not belong to more “advanced” cultures only (contra R. R. Marett). Humans have always been capable of understanding both the idea of impersonal forces and of personal agency. Traditional beliefs about souls and spirits express the folk-psychological understanding of the liveliness of the body as well as of various cognitive-emotional functions. As pure mentality is difficult to imagine, mentality is often combined with something apparently physical: a “subtle” body resembling mist, the house where a dead agent keeps on haunting, and so forth. Spirit possession is based on the belief that agency is separable from a given biological body and can invade a new body. Like shamanism, also possession beliefs are used as a means of maintaining social order. Shamans and possession specialists make shared knowledge explicit by interpreting the will of the spirits.

Keywords:   soul, spirit, ghost, shamanism, possession, agency

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