Dreams and the Fear of the Dead

Neuroanthropology has an excellent piece riffing on my recent article on grief hallucinations where I wondered about cultural differences in re-experiencing the dead.

The post discusses work by the evocatively-named anthropologist Donald Tuzin who studied the Ilahita Arapesh of northeastern Papua New Guinea and how they mesh their beliefs and practices of death and afterlife with everyday experience.

Some of Tuzin’s work in this area is published in a wonderful article entitled ‘The Breath of a Ghost: Dreams and the Fear of the Dead’.

It gets a bit spuriously psychoanalytic in places but has some wonderful descriptions of how funeral practices are linked to beliefs about ghosts and their influences. Crucially he argues that it is the demands of everyday life that shape these beliefs, and not vice versa.

At Neuroanthropology Daniel discusses it in light of more up-to-date work and the wider perspective from Tuzin’s long career.

It’s certainly an interesting area, but although re-experiencing of the dead is so common, I didn’t realise quite what a touchy subject it could be. All hell broke loose (excuse the pun) in the comments to the original article.

This is my favourite:

Mr. Vaughn [sic] Bell might find himself in court for libel after accusing everyone who has seen or felt a presence of being a drug addict, alcoholic or ill in some way. His one-sided argument could be the result of stupidity or perhaps some mental defect that prevents him from being intelligent enough to know the difference between a hallucination and an actual ghost/spirit/spectre/haunt. Next he will tell us that the earth is flat, and anyone who thinks it is round is a heretic, and that big yellow thing we call the sun is just an illusion.

Sir, I grew up in Britain. We know the sun is an illusion.

Link to Neuroanthropology on ‘Donald Tuzin and the Breath of a Ghost’.

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