Inquiries raised by the dead

Vinciane DESPRET


Many people continue to maintain links with deceased relatives or friends, often in surprisingly inventive ways: doing things the deceased used to do while alive; finding some way to continue what the deceased had begun and which death interrupted; at times asking the deceased for help; dreaming of loved ones or sensing their presence after death; remembering their existence through gestures or photographs; commemorating them with rituals; and the like. The narratives of people who enact such experiences reveal two interrelated concerns: on the one hand, to maintain the perplexity and indeterminacy that accompanies their experience and, on the other, to preserve the vitality of their relationships with the deceased and render them alive and present in some way. Beginning with a statement made by a spirit medium in Belgium, “The dead are people like everybody else,” I explore the ways in which spiritist circles are able to create veritable therapeutic devices for those who attend seances when the deceased are summoned.


death, mourning, spiritism, mediums, rituals of summoning the dead, therapeutic devices, narratives

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/705734