Abstract

As a technology for the production of historicized spirit forms, espiritismo continually forges its own cosmology from the raw materials of a Cuban syncretistic imagination, with permutations of figures such as the “Congo” and the “Indio” bringing its more visible agencies to the forefront. These yield extensive material forms—dolls, statues, photographs, altars, vessels, and consumables. In this article I ask whether understandings of the “substance” of spirits are tied to, or yield, concepts of the self, and vice-versa. Are selves “deeper,” more connected to the “beyond,” if the spirits are anonymous? Are they “flatter” and more material, the more aesthetically personalized they become? In order to answer these questions I explore two ethnographic contexts divided by ontological assumptions as well as by practitioners. The first is a “scientific” spiritist society, and the second is made up of individuals who worship Chinese spirits from their extended families. Each context exemplifies an extreme of personalization and distance.

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