Medusa's Hair An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience

ISBN-10: 0226616010

ISBN-13: 9780226616018

Edition: 1984

Authors: Gananath Obeyesekere

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The great pilgrimage center of southeastern Sri Lanka, Kataragama, has become in recent years the spiritual home of a new class of Hindu-Buddhist religious devotees. These ecstatic priests and priestesses invariably display long locks of matted hair, and they express their devotion to the gods through fire walking, tongue-piercing, hanging on hooks, and trance-induced prophesying. The increasing popularity of these ecstatics poses a challenge not only to orthodox Sinhala Buddhism (the official religion of Sri Lanka) but also, as Gananath Obeyesekere shows, to the traditional anthropological and psychoanalytic theories of symbolism. Focusing initially on one symbol, matted hair, Obeyesekere demonstrates that the conventional distinction between personal and cultural symbols is inadequate and naive. His detailed case studies of ecstatics show that there is always a reciprocity between the personal-psychological dimension of the symbol and its public, culturally sanctioned role. Medusa's Hair thus makes an important theoretical contribution both to the anthropology of individual experience and to the psychoanalytic understanding of culture. In its analyses of the symbolism of guilt, the adaptational and integrative significance of belief in spirits, and a host of related issues concerning possession states and religiosity, this book marks a provocative advance in psychological anthropology.
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Book details

List price: $26.00
Copyright year: 1984
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 9/15/1984
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 232
Size: 5.75" wide x 8.75" long x 0.50" tall
Weight: 0.990
Language: English

Introduction Private and Public Symbols
The Problem Female Ascetics and Matted Hair Three Female Ascetic-Ecstatics
Karunavati Maniyo
Nandavati Maniyo
Manci Nona The Meaning of Hair
The Yogi and the Monk: Siva and the Buddha: Matted Hair and Shaven Head Social Institutions and the Unconscious Matted Hair and Shaven Head: Two Kinds of Pscyhological Symbolism Conventionalization of Personal Symbols
The Dark Night of the Soul: Illustration and Psychocultural Exegesis
Pemavati Vitarana Juliet's Dilemma: Buddhist Asceticism or Hindu Devotionalism
Juliet Nona The Symbolization of Guilt The Symbolic Integration of Personality
Introduction Interpersonal Interaction and Personal Symbols
Munasinha Beauty Silva Myth Models Communication and Estrangement Networks of Meaning Ghosts, Demons, and Deep Motivation
Introduction Descent into the Grave
Sirima Hettiaracci Subjective Imagery
An Interpretation of Sirima's Case History Tryst with the Black Prince
Incubus and Fire Walker A Hook Hanger at Kataragama
Tuan Sahid Abdin Comment on Abdin's Ritual Activities Abdin's Descent into the Grave A Ritual for Kali Abdin's Tongue
An Interpretation Fantasy and Symbolism in the Integration of Personality with Culture Fantasy, Personal Symbols, and Subjective Imagery
A Metapsychological Excursus
Introduction Subjective Imagery and the Invention of Culture Culture and the Unconscious
The Case of Contemporary Iconography The Model for the Myth
Epilogue: The End of the Beginning
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