Robin M. Wright
This article is an in-depth study of the cosmology and practices of assault sorcerers. While it concentrates mostly on indigenous Amazonian societies, comparisons are drawn from other ethnographic areas of the world. It shows that assault sorcery is an integral part of a nexus of religious knowledge and power, in which primordial spirits of sickness and sorcery are embodied in all manner of assault sorcery. The world of humanity today, according to indigenous cosmogonies examined here, is imbued with violent death through sorcery, the legacy of the primordial world. Prophet movements have often been associated with sorcery among indigenous societies throughout the world. Their principal objectives include the control of assault sorcerers, although the prophets themselves have often succumbed to their violent attacks or even deployed sorcery as a mode of defense against enemies. This world has been corrupted by the incessant violence of sorcerers, which the community elders, shamanic healers, and prophets have all sought to manage and control. What the future holds with the drastic decline of shamanic healers is cause for grave concern among traditional communities.
Since 2009, 141 Tibetans have engaged in self-immolation, setting their bodies alight, in protest against China’s rule of their homeland. This article asks why. How has this previously unknown form of protest become the primary symbol of political opposition in Tibet today? Noting the lack of a tradition of self-immolation in Tibetan Buddhist culture, this article finds the origins of this seemingly incomprehensible act within the current sociopolitical context, wherein this fundamentally new phenomenon has taken on significant symbolic meaning in just a few years. This article further analyzes political, somatic, and religious meanings employed in Tibetan communities in interpreting this act, demonstrating how communities make sense of this phenomenon’s intertwined power and horror. Finally, beyond the Tibetan community, this article reviews various parties’ responses to these acts of sacrifice to begin envisioning new directions on the Tibetan plateau: a challenge demanded by the act of self-immolation.