Anthropology and Psychology Shed Light on Perceptions of Cultural Practices

From the impressions of class discussions in the last couple of weeks, it appears we are in the thick of popular religion and taking an entirely different approach from previous investigations. It is being described through the lens of the people living in those cultures (specifically in Morocco) as opposed to just general contexts. In order to understand these cultural lenses its important to not only incorporate Western perspectives into our interpretations, but to pay particular attention to the cultural beliefs. Although this type of of thinking is highlighted more in Crapanzano’s Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan, aspects of it surface in Bilu’s Without Bounds: The Life and Death of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana, but more along the lines of seeing how Moroccan cultural practices impact contemporary Western thought. Through identification of the authors’ emphasis on the combined approach for understanding Moroccan culture, people will have a more open-minded perspective of popular religion. The key to reaching the combined approach is to dive into the anthropological and psychological interpretations of culture, but not let these ideas overtake one’s entire perspective of why people in the culture behave in this way.

When looking back on the Crapanzano text, it was evident that the text was not written as a typical ethnography. Crapanzano attempted to bridge the gap between Western and Moroccan cultures, since he is interviewing a Moroccan native, Tuhami and not trying to impose his own beliefs onto Tuhami’s practices. One could argue that Crapanzano did intentionally change Tuhami’s coping methods with jnun by giving him a hunting knife to prevent demon disturbance (Crapanzano, p. 172). However, it is unclear whether this action should be attributed more to Crapanzano’s anthropological role or his close relationship with Tuhami. A majority of anthropologists are able to detach from the culture when departing; Crapanzano was the exception. He developed a personal connection with the culture and one of his underlying messages is that his reading audiences would feel the connection. However, in order to reach the audiences, he had retell Tuhami’s stories through Western understanding without removing Moroccan beliefs, thus encompassing both cultures.

Differently from Crapanzano, are Bilu’s intentions in bridging the gap between the two cultures. He switches to indirect methods of learning about Moroccan culture meaning he cannot consult the source, Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana, to find out his take on the life as a Moroccan Jew living in Morocco. He must rely on contemporaries of the rabbi to gain the story. Despite the information obtained, Bilu will not gain a complete accurate assessment of Rabbi Wazana’s entire success story of how he became recognized as living Jewish saint. However, audiences do grasp how Moroccan culture has changed over time from Rabbi Wazana’s time period to afterwards. More importantly, contemporary moral lessons are derived from these stories and legends. For instance, in Judaism, if an individual violates a sacred  religious principle such re-exposing a body after it has been buried, this is considered a sin, and the individual may face severe consequences (Bilu, p. 114). This is understood not just in a religious context. The majority of cultures make the connection that breaking the rules will lead to consequences. However, not all the Wazana stories had a direct Western association, thus Bilu stresses that it is important to respect the ideals within a culture, particularly in the circumstances of anthropologists conducting their fieldwork (Bilu, p. 153).

Both works strive to figure out links between Western and Moroccan cultures, but are not fully aware of the complications that could arise in the process. Overall, they successfully communicate alternate perspectives for understanding popular religion that would not be able to be deciphered in previous readings.


Good Ol’ Tuhami

So this week broke the shock value meter for me. I mean, Crapanzano’s experience in Morocco and meeting Tuhami and witnessing his life with A’isha, I mean you can’t make this stuff up!

Sure there was the fact that Tuhami and Crapanzano don’t share a common language and thus needed a translator, there is obviously still an overall understanding that Tuhami is indeed married to a dominating jnun. There’s also a huge build up to when Tuhami finally explains when and how he met A’isha for the first time. Before that all we knew is that men who refused A’isha’s love they were tied up and given no water until they finally gave in (Crapanzano 98). When Tuhami does get around explaining his encounter with A’isha over a period of a few years, I found it astounding that A’isha didn’t torture Tuhami too for refusing her. Being a psychologist at heart reading this and hearing Tuhami sort of reason for himself that all of this was not because he did something wrong and it was really because of his lack of male role models and bad communication with the females in his life that caused this connection to build with A’isha.

When we talked about Tuhami’s encounters with A’isha as a small class before heading to Spring Break it became an easier topic to understand. Since Crapanzano’s quotes Tuhami thinking logically about his history it links up almost perfectly with why A’isha is in his life now. The loss of his friend in the river (the friend was dragged into the water for cursing a jnun and not fearing their power). Being this close to danger and almost being dragged along into the river is a huge indication that A’isha is in his life and thus sacrificed him from dying so that she could have him later. Though they don’t seem to have a good relationship since Tuhami is slowly being driven insane by A’isha’s demands and also the other demons that tend to take over his body and torture him at night (Crapanzano 116), it’s still a very interesting relationship to say the least that is very real.

Crapanzano concludes Part Two writing that Tuhami is “a victim of this shattered mode of social life,” (Crapanzano 82). Saints and demons used to represent a coherent world view – but in modern context it’s not a coherent world view anymore and Tuhami’s caught between the old and modern views. This was the only time Crapanzano brings this up because usually the demon world does answer life questions in Tuhami’s life (though it’s not a definitive answer, it’s a definite question – how does this material relate to modern life?)

A Bridge Between Worlds

The role that Crapanzano plays in Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan is very interesting.  He is the one who is meeting with and talking with Tuhami, and recording their interactions.  He is the author of this book.  His role, aside from author, is also to serve as a sort of intermediary between the West and Tuhami.  He consistently refers to himself as “neutral” yet it is always in quotes when he is talking about himself as objective in the matter.  I find this interesting because he realizes that there is no true “objective” opinion it seems, as we are all influenced by our cultures and upbringings.

This affects the interactions between Crapanzano and Tuhami.  Tuhami and Crapanzano have an interesting relationship.  This is in large part due to the fact that at the time it was highly uncommon for westerners and Moroccans to interact in such a manner.  There is also the whole part where Crapanzano talks about how he associated “truth” with “reality” not realizing that for Moroccans, things such as the jinn were reality for them.  Despite him not believing in it, Crapanzano had to accept that these stories were true in a sense because they were real to Tuhami.

The fact also remains that it is impossible for Crapanzano to remain truly objective or neutral.  Simply by interacting with Tuhami, he is playing a part in all of this.  He is interfering.  We see this both with driving Tuhami to the saint’s tomb and when he gives Tuhami the knife.  It is impossible not to get Crapanzano’s world view just as it is impossible for him to remain truly objective throughout this whole process.  It isn’t possible for anyone to be truly objective in life.  Everyone is shaped by their experiences, cultures, religions, and families.  The important thing is to understand that and to recognize that this is true for others as well.  Even though something might not be true for us it does not make it not real for someone else.  Crapanzano serves as a bridge between Tuhami and the west.  This works because throughout his time with Tuhami, Crapanzano gains something of an understanding of Tuhami’s world.

The Importance of Marriage

I continue to be floored at the communal acceptance of marriage to demons by both Jews and Muslims. Before this course, I never would have believed someone if they told me that it is a somewhat common place of two of the world’s major monotheistic religions for their male believers to marry she-demons.  I would have thought that only polytheistic belief systems would allow this kind of practice, or that is was something people used to believe, or that it only occurred at the very fringes of society.  But I have been faced with two texts that show me that it is just the opposite state of things.

Tuhami is at the fringe of his society for several reasons, one of them being his involuntary marriage to the she-demon Lalla ‘A’isha Qandisha.  But his belief that he has been married to the demon is not what marginalizes him – that is accepted by those around him as entirely normal, and she has many other husbands, so his situation is not unique.  He is placed on the edge of the community because he is not allowed to have an ‘above the ground’ marriage and carry on his family name through human children. ‘A’isha demands faithfulness from all of her husbands, on pain of terrible suffering and death.

Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana was a uniting force between the Jews in his region of Morocco.  He was an amazingly powerful healer who used both Jewish and Muslim sources of power, and he performed great miracles for which he is still venerated by Jews who immigrated to Israel after his death.  But a large portion of his great power came from his control over the jnun.  He possessed this control as long as he met three conditions: keeping himself clean, saying Muslim prayers every morning, and marrying one who is under the ground.  Even though he was Jewish, he did all of these things, the most controversial of which was likely saying the prayers of another faith, not his voluntary marriage to a she-demon.

These marriages where accepted – the men would have intercourse with their demon wives and could have children by them, it was nearly a normal relationship.  I am not sure that I would have been able to believe that human/demon marriages take place if I had learned about them through something other than books like Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan and Without Bounds: The Life and Death of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana.  These accounts of real people speaking about the marriages as fact were able to convince me that the people of these cultures believe in what they are saying. Because of that, even though I do not believe that it is truly possible for a human to marry a demon, I am able to accept their belief in the marriages and what implications they hold for their society.

The Psychology Behind Tuhami and Wazana’s Jinn/Saint Relationships

In reading “Tuhami” and Without Bounds”, what struck me most was Crapanzano’s and Bilu’s psychological analyses of Tuhami and Wazana’s relationships with their parents and how these relationships affected their interactions with the jnun. While extremely different, both Tuhami and Wazana’s connections with the jinn world emerged partly as coping mechanisms to deal with their troubling past experiences.

Tuhami, for example, had a very bad relationship with his mother and his father died when Tuhami was young. Moreover, the man Tuhami’s mother remarried “never accepted” Tuhami (Crapanzano, 39). This pattern of constantly lacking male role models meant Tuhami had to “seek his manhood elsewhere: among the saints”, as Crapanzano puts it (39). Furthermore, Tuhami’s hostile relationship with his mother leads him to form a relationship with the she-demon Aisha Quandisha. Tuhami’s involvement with both the saint (male) and jinn (female) worlds suggests that these two worlds fulfill his needs for male role models and female affection, which he was deprived of as a child (Crapanzano, 75).

Rabbi Ya’aqouv Wazana grew up with a much different familial experience than Tuhami. While Wazana also had a father die at a young age, he, unlike Tuhami, had a very close, loving relationship with his mother. Nevertheless, the unbearable pain caused by the death of his parents played an important role in Wazana’s future interactions with the demon world. As Bilu points out, the fact that Wazana missed the death of both his mother and his father was a significant factor in Wazana’s future defiance of the demons. For example, Wazana decides to heal a Muslim girl even after being warned by the demons that he would die in her place (Bilu, 110). This reveals Wazana’s yearning to compensate for the death of his parents; by defying the demon’s restrictions and by healing the girl anyway, Wazana, in a way, healed his parents (Bilu, 132). Similar to Tuhami, Wazana is unable to escape the memories of his parents and uses the jinn and saint world as a means of coping with the past.

Social Order Amongst Saints and Demons

Rabbi Wazana’s life and work had much to do with the social norms of the society in which he lived, as well as the social norms of the world of demons. Wazana was constantly on the edge of what was deemed socially acceptable and what were not, whether it was his religion, Judaism or Islam, and his allegiances to the world around him, either humans or demons.

As a Rabbi, Wazana is obviously deeply imbedded in Jewish culture and practices. However, throughout his training in the art of controlling demons, he became very Islamized. He was tasked with reciting Muslim prayers three times a day, a practice unheard of for any Jew, especially a Rabbi. In addition, much of the healing Wazana did was on Muslims, another questionable action that bordered the social barriers. Finally, in the Jewish religion, saints were all dead and rabbis couldn’t perform a saint’s miracles. Wazana was both alive and performing miracles during the time of his sainthood. This further emphasizes how much he teetered on the edge of the religions of this area.

In Wazana’s work in the spirit world, the relationships he formed with these demons, even in marriage, had a tendency to be pushed to their limits. In the case of the young Muslim girl who had killed the offspring of demons and in turn was being punished, Wazana received many warnings as to not cross the demons and heal the girl. When possessed, the girl (through the demons) told Wazana to stay away for if he intervened, one of the two would die. Despite this warning, Wazana proceeded to heal the girl and cross the demons’ line, which eventually lead to his sudden and brutal death.

The social and spiritual boundaries of the material world and the supernatural world both act as a means of preserving social order amongst those living in it. No one man or woman was to break these social norms unless they wanted to face the wrath of the demons and humans alike. However, Wazana’s character naturally incited him into pushing these limits until he could not push them anymore.

Trapped by Facticity

Before our class on Tuhami, the idea of facticity was familiar to me from Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried. O’Brien presented various stories of soldiers and himself while in the Vietnam War. He discussed the idea that these were not necessarily factual, but that they were a way in which the soldiers came to terms with what actually happened. Additionally, the stories that were told were full of drama and gore because that was the only way the soldiers could convey to someone back home the way that the experiences truly felt. I understood the need for these stories in a war setting, but failed to comprehend the meaning of the stories about Wazana and Aisha. She-demons who forced men to marry them and saints who cure barrenness after they’re dead through a dream were too ridiculous to believe.

When facticity came up first with Tuhami and his idea of Aisha Q’andisha, Crapanzano firmly established that people believed these spirits were 100% real. After we grappled with that idea as a class, we also found that the belief in these spirits was both therapeutic for Tuhami and that the factuality of the presence of Aisha was not the point. Rather, the reality of the event for those who believe in it is what should be focused on. Similarly, Yorma Bilu claims that the stories told about Wazana had greater importance from a “cultural-symbolic analysis” rather than the psychological. (Bilu, pg. 136)

Both authors claim that the reality to the believers the most important and it is this parallel between factual reality and the reality to believers was the main connection I saw between Wazana and Tuhami. However, if Tuhami is only mentally and emotionally trapped by a figment of the imagination and the miracles Wazana performed were only glorified rumors, one cannot help but do what Crapanzano warns against—focus on our reality. It would be considered lunatic in our society to blame the rising of the river to a demon spirit who was angered by a little boys’ rude comment just as it would be considered a scam if someone were to claim to have cured someone on their death bed with charms and amulets and affliction transference. The ideas are simply ludicrous to us as well as Crapanzano and Bilu before their research.

What both authors discovered was the need to psychologically analyze both of their subjects to understand their close relationship spirits. What both authors found was that the relationships with the family have significant roles in establishing the connection between the human and demonic world. For Wazana, the traumatic death of his father at a young age and his unnaturally close relationship with his mother were what spawned a powerful connection to the demonic world and eventually his death. For Tuhami, it was the absence of his father and the poor relationship he had with his mother that led to his inability to interact with women and therefore his marriage to Aisha. These key turning points in both Wazana and Tuhami’s lives are incredibly important in explaining their unusual relationship with demons and the special place they hold outside of normal society. However, both authors still stress the understanding of the spirit-believing society’s perspective of Tuhami and Wazana as Bilu claims, “interpretations are shaped by shared cultural assumptions and moral standpoints to no less an extent than by the matrix of a particular informant’s unique psychological background and life circumstances.” (pg. 137)

With that, I am somewhat lost as how to take the information given by both Bilu and Crapanzano. I still find myself doubting the facticity of the events and therefore am unable to fully understand the standpoint of these societies. Perhaps I should accept that there will always be a disparage between my perspective and take the knowledge that Bilu’s interviews offer that belief in Wazana and his powers were just how the societies were raised. Just as belief in demons and demons provided social order and understanding across all monotheistic religions in the Middle East, belief in the existence of Aisha and Wazana’s power offer peace and hope and an explanation for the inexplicable. These factors explain the power of these beliefs and the reason why these stories, although outlandish, are prevalent throughout these communities. Just as Tim O’Brien’s stories provided healing and comfort and an attempt to understand a series of events, the stories of Aisha and Wazana and spirits in general do the same for those who believe. Perhaps this idea of facticity isn’t so crazy and radical after all.

Rabbi Ya’aqov and Death in the Wazana Family

The death of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana and the subsequent conjectures on its meaning in Without Bounds by Yoram Bilu is fascinating.  Similar to the the legends around his lineage the events leading up to his death focus on the extraordinary power and ability of Wazana instead of a more scientific explanation for his death.  The continuation of the legend and mythos surrounding the Wazana family, exemplified in the accounts of Rabbi Ya’aqov, show just how deeply rooted the place of a saintly family might be in modern day Morocco.

First the majority of the accounts frame Wazana as the hero who sacrificed himself to save the sheikh’s daughter (Bilu 110).  Then after healing the near death girl the Rabbi heard a disembodied voice calling his name from the Muslim graveyard.  Bilu commented that Moroccan popular belief often stated that the voices coming from cemeteries actually belonged to demons (112).  Finally, the Rabbi dies in an epic and bloodthirsty manner after a series of attempts to heal himself.  One informant described his screams as like those of “an animal being slaughtered” (Bilu 114).

The death stories of his two ancestors named Rabbi Avraham, Wazana’s father and great-grandfather, follow a similar pattern of larger than life events.  The first Rabbi Avraham’s body appeared ready for burial in the distant village of Ait Budel instantaneously after his death (Bilu 39).  The second Rabbi Avraham, Wazana’s father, predicted his own death and his body was so light that the trip to his burial took almost no time (Bilu 50).  In both scenarios informants recounted tales of the dead Rabbis informing people in dreams of their death.  Their saintly power stayed with them from beyond the grave and allowed them to continue to converse with their followers.

The creation of this death mythology around the Wazana family related to the greater tradition around tsaddiqim in Morocco.  All of the nuance and description included in the accounts of the death of these saints evidences the extent to which the members of the Jewish Moroccan community accepted these stories as truth.

The Breaking of Boundaries

In Without Bounds I noticed and became interested in the idea of boundaries and their reoccurrence throughout the book. Some of these boundaries in the book are: the line between Judaism and Islam, the line between the demon world and our world, and a line distinguishing how far is too far with magic. Wazana is often found straddling the line between all of these.

Though Wazana is a Jewish rabbi, he dips his toe into Islamic folk religion practices. For example, as part of his ability to control the demon world he must say the Muslim prayers each morning. This use of both religions is one way in which Wazana distinguishes himself from other healers but it also gives him more power than other healers.

When it comes to the demon world and our own Wazana can also be found at it’s border. He has this rare ability to control the jnun. By following his 3 conditions he is able to communicate to the demon world and therefore fix problems in the real world. He also married to a female demon and has several demon children with her.

Wazana is often found on the edge of what is too far when it comes to his communication with demons and his use of magic. He often goes farther than other healers will. For example, he was one of the only holy men to employ istinzal, a ritual the involved having children communicate to demons with a drop of oil or ink placed in his or her hand. Others saw this practice as difficult, complicated and dangerous. Wazana thought otherwise and the ritual became his “trademark”. In the end Wazana crosses the border of power and ends up exchanging his life for it.

Overall Wazana’s habit of living on borders was what made him special and powerful, but also what caused his demise.

What does it mean to become sick?

Throughout the works that we have read so far, the way that the various communities interpret disease has been what i find to be both the most interesting and the most different from modern Western culture. In Crapanzano’s work (Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan) he presents the idea of the Jinniyat, and their ability to cause serious harm to humans. They can inflict physical harm that manifests itself through various symptoms, including paralysis, mental disorders, infertility, and simply pain, in revenge for humans breaking a promise or neglecting them. Tuhami specifically “returns again and again to illness in his recitations. Illness is not simply an event in the course of his life” (87) and that would have been a common view when people came down with various illness or injury.

Tuhami comes from a world entirely centered upon religion. In the western world, disease is also considered a consequence, however it is based upon either personal decisions or choices made by our parents and passed down through genetics. Our sphere of disease is constructed from both internal and external risk factors, however in this other world disease comes from a completely external locus of control and responsibility. This entirely shifts the way it would be treated. In the Western world, if you become ill you go to the doctor and get a medication or a surgery and things ought to improve. In Morocco during this time if you became ill you would follow steps to find a cure from what the Jnun have bestowed upon you by first going to someone with a connection to the holy world. If that did not work, there were various, often expensive, steps that could be taken.

Disease is something that affects people universally, and it can be difficult to step back from the views we are raised with in the modern Western world in order to understand why someone who go to a religious brotherhood over a doctors office. In “Without bounds” by Yoram Bilu, when Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana passes away through a very gruesome death, all the explanations for his demise center around the demon world and not simply an illness that he may have developed by caring for ill people who may have passed it on to him.  The way that both the Jews and the Muslims explain disease as being a mistake made by the patient in terms of the spiritual world instead of existing in this physical world is a uniting belief between two religions.

Disease occurs world-wide, and in the western world it is assumed that in germ theory the virus or bacteria does not care about religion when searching for a host. However in these cultures disease could theoretically be prevented by living a life centered upon successfully appeasing the Jnun and God.