Pitt-Rivers: The place of grace in anthropology

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Julian A. Pitt-Rivers.

The place of grace in anthropology

Julian Pitt-Rivers



In the introduction to this book we observed that the word “honor” had entered anthropology only in the 1960s and we gave some considerations to account for this, to my mind curious, lacuna. The word “grace” is today in a condition somewhat comparable to “honor” in the 1960s and it is one of the aims of this essay to endow it with the recognition it deserves. I have found only three authors who have called attention to its existence as a general anthropological concept - briefly only1 - and none who has undertaken a detailed examination of its logic and potential usage.

This, despite the enormous importance of a concept of this order in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the huge theological literature on the subject — (surely the anthropology of religion can no more ignore Western theology than the anthropology of law can ignore Western jurisprudence?) — and the fact that a large number of Christian heresies were provoked by disagreements as to the nature of grace, from the Pelagians onwards. But blindness in this matter can hardly be attributed simply to the parochialism of modem university disciplines or the social scientists’ distrust of the expertise of the theologians: no anthropologist has to my knowledge asked himself whether there is anything remotely equivalent to grace among the concepts of Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, or Taoism, though the sinologists have used it freely to translate the extensions of the wordfu (in origin a sacrificial offering, but also, the return of grace, thanks), whether the problem to which the doctrines of grace tender an answer has no echo beyond the religions of the Book, let alone the peoples without writing, or whether grace can be treated as a universal concept or only as an element of Western culture, a question which I asked with regard to “honor” in the introduction to The Fate of Shechem (Pitt-Rivers 1977).

Personal destiny, with which grace is very much concerned, looms large in the works of Evans-Pritchard, both on Zande witchcraft and on Nuer religion, [216] yet he who favored employing Catholic theological terms as the nearest equivalents to the concepts of the Azande or the Nuer, seems never to have used the word.2 But these are all petty reasons for astonishment in comparison with the immense importance of the derivatives of grace outside the realms of theology, in the notion of gratuity. (At least gratuity is an abstract, universal, and theoretical concept). Not only is “grace” said before and sometimes after every meal in an Oxford college, I doubt whether any Englishman can get through a single day of his life without saying “thank you” at least a hundred times. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Thank” is: “1) Thought (M.E.) [It comes from the same Old Teutonic root as “think”]. 2) Goodwill, graciousness, favor. 3) Grateful thought, gratitude. 4) Expression of the grateful acknowledgement of a benefit or favor.”

Is not “thank you” in the “hundred-times-a-day” sense, simply the recognition and acceptance of a gratuitous gesture? The romance languages connect the notion rather more explicitly with grace: French, merci, Spanish, gracias; Italian, grazie, etc. It may be that this notion is not evoked when saying thanks because the Old Teutonic root (thank), used in casual conversation is not recognized as having anything to do with it. The romance root (gratus), which recalls the word “grace,” is reserved for more formal occasions when gratitude may really be felt. Yet it remains an enigma that the notion of grace should have escaped the anthropologists for so long. This is only the more remarkable in view of the attention they have given, in recent decades, to the problem of reciprocity. Can one explain systems of reciprocity adequately without considering the possibility of non-reciprocity, i.e. gratuity? Reciprocity is the basis of all sociation, in the form of systems of exchange, of women and of food, of labor and services, of hospitality and of violence. Anthropologists attach importance, rightly, to the detail of personal conduct in their understanding of human relations. And are not thanks the common coinage of encounters between persons? Yet what do they imply? What is their logic? Not even Goffman nor the ethnomethodologists have told us.

This oversight might be accounted for simply by a regrettable tendency among those of a functionalist turn to mind to jump to conclusions regarding the significance of human actions on the basis of expressed intentions, without examining their mode of expression; to reduce each institution to “what it amounts to” or “what it does” in terms of practical results, ignoring its cultural roots, thinking that there is nothing more to be known about the culture of a people than what they themselves consciously recognize. Such accusations cannot be leveled at more than a minority of the profession today. That grace should have been ignored for so long is still puzzling.

It is true one does not think of theology every time one says “thank you,” or wonder why the word “grace” and its derivatives have such diverse [217] connotations in different settings: why grace is engraved on English coins (Elizabeth II REG. D.G.) as well as said before a meal, why it is used in writing to a duke as well as bestowed on the congregation at the end of Matins, why it is invoked to applaud a dancer as well as to explain the success of a politician, why it names the three pagan goddesses concerned with personal endowment as well as voluntary embellishments added to a musical score, why it is left on the café table for the waitress as well as implored of God in the hope of salvation. One is justified in wondering whether it is still the same word or has become through the wear and tear of time a virtual homonym (Pitt-Rivers 1967). Yet this semantic richness does not mean that there is no association between the different senses.

The meanings which a single word has in different contexts, or had in the forgotten past, are guides to the premises which underlie its daily conscious usage, but daily usage is indifferent to contradictions arising between its various senses, and leaves them to be sorted out at the level of action. (This is the case of honor also). Thus it is not necessary to analyze a word in order to know how to use it correctly.

Moreover, the implications of the concept differ from place to place; expressions of gratitude are wont to follow different rules of etiquette in different social milieux, as in different cultures, and it is only by reflecting on all potential differences that one comes to understand the concept as a whole, and I maintain that grace is a whole. Thanks can in some situations be interpreted as a reluctance to pay what the recipient expects as his due; in others, on the contrary, to thank is to recognize indebtedness and represents a promise to return the gift or service in the future. (Such cultures might be described as “Maussian,” for they have already understood “the necessity to return presents,” as Mauss put it in the subtitle of his great essay on the gift). But the etiquette concerning the return of gifts contains more subtleties than Mauss explained.

The only general rule that can be cited is that grace is always something extra, over and above “what counts,” what is obligatory or predictable; it belongs on the register of the extraordinary (hence its association with the sacred). Nevertheless whenever a favor has been done the return of grace is always expected, whether in the form of a material manifestation (regardless of the material value of that which is returned) or merely in verbal expression.

However, there are also conventional formulae for the acknowledgement of thanks which follow the same principle in all European languages. They consist curiously enough in denying that a favor has been done. Hence in Spanish de nada, in Italian de nulla and in French de rien (though this is considered undistinguished; it is more elegant to say c’était un plaisir or je vous en prie as in Italian prego, in German Bitte). In English “Don’t mention it,” but in American English “It was a pleasure” is the most explicit form. The [218] denial is not in fact the denial of the sentiment which inspired the act of grace but rather that any obligation has been incurred. It is a way of asserting that the grace was real, that the favor was indeed gratuitous. It is a guarantee of the purity of the motives of the gratifier, a way of saying (as we shall see below) you owe nothing for this favor, it is an act of grace. Without wishing to sound cynical, I must nevertheless point out that by, so to speak, stressing the gratuitous nature of the gesture by denying that any obligation has been incurred, it not only maintains the purity of the motives of the gratifier, it maintains his moral supremacy, which is not to be modified simply by verbal thanks but leaves him a creditor, should the occasion ever arise where a more serious return of grace is possible.

The modem tendency in England to say “thank you” when no thanks are conceivably due, almost as a pause-word when one does not know how otherwise to bring the conversation to a close, appears to me to impoverish the notion and things have gone so far that it has now become common custom in commercial aeroplanes to use the phrase to terminate an emission over the intercom system, indicating thereby that the unknown, unseen, uninvited speaker has finished what he had it in mind to announce and is switching off. He thinks perhaps that he is giving thanks for the attention that has been paid to his message. But little does he know it when there is an anthropologist in the cabin who responds to this proffered hypocritical gesture of grace by cursing the interruption of his reading or his snooze. (A curse is, of course, an expression of negative grace — like witchcraft as we shall later see — and on that account alone is worthy of attention.)

Such excessive use of the catch-phrase of thanks does not always ingratiate the thanker and among the simple folk of southern Europe to thank when no thanks are due was commonly regarded as “uncouth” behavior and raised suspicions as to the speaker’s ability to recognize when gratitude was due.3

This devaluation of thanks, encountered in British or American airliners is, no doubt, inspired by the feeling that some attempt at sociation is due between the crew and the passengers in their charge, even if one cannot determine what: a wave of the hand or a wink suffice in some contexts to establish it, but the trouble with intercom systems is that you cannot actually see your interlocutor. Reciprocity is the essence of sociation, as has been said, whether in mechanical or organic solidarity, whether in exchanging salutations or in business and whether the return be immediate or protracted; it is, as it were, the cement that holds any society together, for it establishes relations between persons; once you have exchanged something, you are related. The often meaningless salutations on the path have no other function than this (Firth 1973).

Exchange is not merely an economic fact making the division of labor possible and enabling peoples of differing ecology and cultural achievement to make their products available to each other and thus extend the potentialities of [219] their lifestyle, it is above all a social fact, for, as a principle, it governs much more than the exchange of “useful goods” and functions: one can exchange pleasures, woes, secrets, women, insults, vengeance, hospitality, conversation, stories or songs, and above all gifts, but the economic justification for exchange is, as often as not, subsidiary or lacking altogether, even in the exchange of goods, as in those Somali marriages, studied by L. M. Lewis (1961: 139), in which camels, paid as bride-price, return as part of the bride’s dowry to their original owners. Yet morally they are no longer the same camels. For something of the giver always accompanies the object exchanged, and if in the first place the camels were exchanged for the bride; in the second they testify to the rights of her kinsmen in regard to her children.

That the principle of exchange reigns over many more aspects of society than the economic has been recognized ever since Mauss’ essay on the gift, and Lévi-Strauss later applied the principle to kinship and marriage, stressing the importance of the groups between whom exchange takes place. This was the point of departure for the structural study of kinship. Yet an aspect that has attracted less attention is that which determines the ways in which, and the extent to which, reciprocity is evaluated and equivalence is established. In the elementary structures of kinship there is no problem: one woman is fair exchange for another. But in other forms of exchange the degree of specificity varies; one man’s labor is known in advance not to be as productive as another’s, even though this can rarely be admitted openly, yet when it is a matter of exchanging goods their relative values are discussed freely. This is the basis of all bargaining and indeed of commerce itself. But this is not at all: the mythology of our times assumes that agreement as to economic equivalence is the condition of all exchange, and to establish this, some kind of estimation must be made. Yet, in fact, such equivalence is necessary only if the aim is commercial, not if it is moral, for example in the field of religion, as the parable of the widow’s mite made quite explicit.

There are also reciprocal relations which do not involve a contract of any sort, nor any estimation of value, for they are between participants whose interests are solidary (in the legal sense that all responsibilities are shared and all benefits are held in common). Nothing is specified by way of a return. The nature of the relationship suffices to determine what is due and when. This is what Meyer Fortes called “kinship amity,” “where there is no mine nor thine but only ours.” The basic distinction between the parties involved, which is essential to the notion of commerce, is missing and in the field of reciprocity we must therefore differentiate between relations of equivalent exchange and relations of amity, between contract and benevolence, between precise commitments, entailing estimations of equivalence, and mutual aid whensoever needed.

Yet beyond the realms of kinship amity where all is held in common and [220] without entering the field of exchange as the law defines it (“a mutual grant of equal interests, the one in consideration of the other,” Blackstone in O.E.D.), it is possible to speak of the exchange of favors. Both favors and contracts involve reciprocity, but contractual reciprocity, the basis of trade, is not the same thing as the reciprocity of the heart. The latter escapes the attention of economists (and fiscal authorities, though they have introduced “gift tax” in the attempt to frustrate the evasion of other more onerous taxes). The ties of kinship or of friendship, the hidden incentive, the act of forbearance, the incalculable benefits of favorable decisions, the aim to please, evade the notice of both, for they cannot be evaluated, yet at the micro-level that concerns the anthropologist they are primordial, the very tissue of social relations, and in the end they bear fruit at the macro-level of society and distort the calculations of those who suppose they can be ignored.

Hence, for example, the problem of “corruption” in Latin America has received much comment, especially from foreign analysts who have tended to deplore it as a vice in the administration, if not in “the Latin-American character.” The mordida, literally “the bite” (and the word is used in syndical affairs in the United States in quite the same sense) is sometimes blamed for the various ills of the Mexican economy; it is indeed quite current that those empowered by the State to give their assent to the operations which are subject to legislative control expect to be thanked for giving it, for personal relations remain personal in Mexico regardless of the legal function of the participants. This “customary expectation of the return of favors” may be reprehensible from the viewpoint of modem Anglo-Saxon values, yet what could be more natural than the principle from which the mordida springs: that a favor requires to be returned, and all the more imperatively when the possibility is open that it may be withdrawn if reciprocity is not forthcoming. in Mexico, as in most of the non-European world, the values of the heart are rated higher than those of the law, and the confrontation between the two leads sometimes to anomalies, as in the case of that Governor of the State of Chiapas who ruined his political career by refusing to accept mordidas. Apart from the moral pretensions of his stance which were resented by those he governed, it was felt that such a man could not be trusted in personal relations. Moreover, is it not also frequently the case in Europe that the values of the heart take precedence over legal and economic considerations? The example of neighborly cooperation between small peasant farmers will be examined below. indeed, wherever the idea of gratuity appears, contracts, calculation, and legal obligations step into the back seat and the counter-principle of grace takes over. Yet the back seat is never empty and from the moment that grace reigns over the order of the day, the clever ones start calculating the odds and exploiting the situation to their advantage. Hence it comes as no surprise to learn that there are plenty of people in Mexico who strongly resent having to give a mordida to an official [221] who is already paid to do his job, yet if they are not quixotic they give it all the same. But since the servants of the state are poorly paid in Mexico it is difficult to see what advantage anyone would have in entering its service if he could not look forward to making something on the side. Thus, as things stand at present, those who require the State’s services are those who pay for them. What could appear more equitable? However, applied at a higher level, of government, rather than of petty local administration, these principles produce a rather different result: the concentration of power in the hands of a political class whose existence is not recognized by the ideology of the State. Thus, behind the facade of administrative law the personal policies of the administrators reign and the values of the heart are exploited by their calculations of how to increase their fortune or their power.

There are, then, two parallel modes of conduct, ideally, even if they are not always easily distinguished, which correspond to the old opposition between the heart and the head: that which is felt and that which is known, the subjective and the objective vision of the world, the mysterious and the rational, the sacred and the profane. They are governed, respectively, by the principle of grace and by the principle of law, that is to say, predictable regularity, as well as justice and the law which impose order in human affairs — from which pardon (grace) authorizes a departure. Under the heading of “grace” it is possible to group all the phenomena that evade the conscious reasoned control of conduct.

Etymology: theological origins and extensions

Let us look then first of all at the notion of grace in general before dealing with its different aspects. From the Greek root Χάρις (Charis), we get charity, charisma, eucharist and so forth; from the Latin, derived from it, gracious, gratitude, congratulations, etc. The origin of the word is religious; it is a theological idea which has found various spheres of extension outside the realm of theology. Benveniste (1969: 199) traces it to an Indo-Iranian root: the Sanskrit gir, a song or hymn of praise or of grace, or to give thanks. He notes also that, like all other economic notions, its economic sense derives from the totality of human relations or relations with gods rather than the contrary. Gratuity is the core of the notion, that which is undertaken not in order to obtain a return but to give pleasure.

We must certainly start with the theological concept of grace, for it appears that the structure of the religious notion is able to account for the elaboration of the popular senses, though whether popular theology is derived from the reasoning of the learned or whether the latter have based their doctrines on the popular premises which they absorbed in infancy — an argument that has raged for a century with regard to other aspects of culture — is an issue that we need not raise now, but it is worth observing that, unlike honor, grace seems never [222] to have quite forgotten its etymological roots. Without entering into the subtleties of the numerous varieties of grace and the excessively optimistic or pessimistic doctrines which have been condemned as heresy from time to time, we can give, as its starting point, the pure gratuitous gift of God.

Louis Ott (1955) defines it as “a free gift of God unmerited by men” (“un don gratuit de la part de Dieu et immérité de la part de l’homme”). According to St. Thomas Aquinas it is especially the gift of the Holy Spirit, but it is also, in the pauline view, associated particularly with christ whose death redeemed us from original sin. As pardon obtained through Him, it is the key to salvation.

It develops within us as a habitus,4 an acquired disposition to cooperate with the will of God, and this involves human will also, upon which the will of God operates, in St. Augustine’s opinion. It is a supernatural accident created in our nature in such a manner as to adapt it to divine life, in the Thomist doctrine. Ott, again, says (1955: 314): “The unfathomable mystery of the doctrine of grace is to be found in the intimate collaboration and reciprocal intervention of divine power and human freedom. All the controversies and heresies regarding grace have their point of departure in this.” (“Dans la collaboration intime et l’intervention réciproque de la puissance divine et de la liberté humaine se trouve le mystère insondable de la doctrine de la Grâce. Toutes les controverses et hérésies relatives à la grâce ont là leur point de départ.”) And (pp. 348ff.) he discusses the relations between grace and freedom.

It is clear that the discussions center upon the role of human will which is insufficient by itself to attain salvation, but which cannot be dispensed with without falling into determinism. If individual will is the essence of honor, the essence of grace is the will of God, which necessarily restricts the individual’s will in some degree, but the attainment of grace can only be achieved with the cooperation of human will since God requires his benificence to be returned; the rites of the Catholic Church require the appropriate intentions on the part of the beneficiary in order to be valid. The Catholic solution to the paradox of theodicy resides in this mysterious conjunction of the will of God and the will of man.

Grace is connected with the will in another way also, for it is associated with purity. To be “in a state of grace” is to be sinless, to be redeemed, through confession, from the state of sin into which our all too human will has led us. To be in a condition to receive grace one must be cleansed of sinfulness, not only of original sin, of which one was discharged by the grace of the Holy Spirit at baptism, but of the sins which result from a will inadequately accorded to the will of God. Yet such provisions are necessarily insufficient to assure the attainment of grace, since the will of God on which this depends is by definition arbitrary. On account of this unpredictability, grace comes in popular usage to mean good fortune, that which cannot be foreseen. [223]

Benveniste (1969), etymologist rather than theologian, discusses grace in less mystical terms, easier to grasp for one who is not versed in theology: “The Latin words show that, in origin, the procedure consists in giving service for nothing, without reimbursement; this literally gracious or gratuitous service provokes in return the manifestation that is called ‘acknowledgment’.” (“Les mots latins montrent que le procès, à l’origine, consiste à rendre un service pour rien, sans contre-partie;” ce service littéralement ‘gracieux’ provoque en retour la manifestation que nous appelons ‘reconnaissance’.”) And later:

Everything that refers to economic notions is tied to much vaster representations which bring into play the totality of human relations’ with divinities.

Over and above the normal circuit of exchanges, that which one gives in order to obtain a counterpart, there is a second circuit, that of bounty and acknowledgment which is given without any consideration of a return of that which is offered, as an act of thanks.

(Tout ce qui se rapporte à des notions économiques est lié à des représentations beaucoup plus vastes qui mettent enjeu l’ensemble des relations humaines ou des relations avec des divinités. Au-dessus du circuit normal des échanges, de ce qu’on donne pour obtenir — il y a un deuxième circuit, celui du bienfait et de la reconnaissance, ce qui est donné sans esprit de retour, de ce qui est offert pour “remercier.”)

Thus he distinguishes clearly between the two “circuits” of reciprocity, that which is properly called “exchange,” an interchange of interests, and that which is inspired by a generous impulse, good will, gratuity, which demands only a reciprocity of sentiment. The former, subject to contract, can be simultaneous or protracted over a specified time. The latter, an exchange of grace, is simultaneous only in the handshake or the act of embracing, and normally requires an initiatory gesture, followed by a response, as in hospitality, or the return of favors. On account of its gratuitous nature there is no need, as in contractual exchange, to determine in advance what the value of the return shall be, nor when it shall be made, since none is envisaged, even though it may be hopefully expected. Whether any is to come depends not upon mutual agreement but upon the wishes of the recipient. The word “boon” expresses the notion of gratuity better than any other in English, for it is both a prayer, a request for a favor and the favor granted, a blessing and an unpaid service, such as ploughing or shearing, for a neighbor.

Though grace is a free gift of God, unpredictable, arbitrary and mysterious, there are nonetheless means of obtaining it: first of all through the sacraments. This is the main function of the rites of the Church, indeed of any church. Sacrifice is always a tentative to embark upon an exchange of grace with the Deity. The offering invites a return-gift of grace, the friendship of God, as it has been called. The Eucharist, the commensality of the mass, confession, prayer, and penance, the usage of “gratiferous” substances: incense, corn, wine, oil, and salt and water too, are all employed in the enterprise of obtaining grace, [224] whether for the salvation of the souls of the faithful or their material prosperity. But the passage of grace is never guaranteed, even by the state of grace, the purity of intentions or the correct administration of the rite, because grace is a mystery which remains in the free gift of God.

If God is the source of grace, this does not mean that humans cannot generate it, and dispense it to others. The dictionaries’ lists of meanings provide an abundance of examples, which we can leave the reader to examine at his leisure. The central core remains always the notion of gratuity, on the social as on the theological plane, and the essential opposition is to that which is rational, predictable, calculated, legally or even morally obligatory, contractually binding, creating a right to reciprocity. Grace is a “free” gift, a favor, an expression of esteem, of the desire to please, a product of the arbitrary will, human or divine, an unaccountable love. Hence it is gratuitous in yet another sense: that of being not answerable to coherent reasoning, un justifiable, as when an insult is said to be gratuitous, or when a payment is made, over and above that which is due.

Thus it ranges from the tip left on the table for the waitress to the “golden handshake” of the company director who has lost his company a fortune through his bad judgment and swollen head, obstinacy or plain idleness, but who cannot be permitted to depart unrewarded for his “long and loyal service,” lest he do the company yet more damage by revealing its secrets. The tip displays the principles involved; it is called “a small gratuity” in self-consciously pompous language and this corresponds to our definition, for it is a sum paid over and above what is owed, whose amount is ‘left to the appreciation of the client’ as it used to be put on French restaurant menus, until, in blatant contempt of the very principle of grace, it became a compulsory charge of ten, and later fifteen percent. But the principle of grace is not so easily dismissed; the attempt to rationalize the system of payment and do away with the gratuity was unsuccessful, for no sooner had the clients become used to being charged more, than the custom crept in to leave a small tip extra in order to maintain their status relationship with those who served them.

George M. Foster’s essay, “The analysis of envy” (1972) attributes the tip to the need to assuage the envy which a server might be supposed to feel towards those whom he serves, rather as the envy of witches is sometimes bought off by a gesture of gratuity, and there is certainly some substance to this explanation, but as a freely chosen expression of goodwill, the tip does no more than underline the absence of a contractual obligation, the opposition between that which is owed and that which is given and hence the superior social status of the giver, sealed by this petty gesture of patronization. For, if the offer of favor between equals awaits a return of grace, between unequals if it cannot be returned it can also mean a claim to superior status, and can thus even be resented by a person who does not wish to admit this claim. [225]

In somewhat the same way a payment made under duress bears the opposite meaning in terms of honor to a payment made at the instigation only of the man who pays and who thus, provided it be accepted, accretes honor by his bounty. The economic result is identical in the two cases, but the social significance is the opposite. The man who is forced to pay is humiliated because he is shown to be inferior or dominated, the bountiful man demonstrates his superiority, his dominance, even though he may have been manipulated into giving his bounty. In each case the superior is the man who apparently imposes his will. Equally a gift may honor the recipient as an expression of sympathy and admiration or it may put him down if it can be interpreted to imply that he is in need of help. An excess of hospitality can humiliate as much as an insufficiency. For honor looks al ways up, pity, the poor relation of grace, looks down, but it is not always easy to tell which way people are looking, the same gesture can mean either homage or contempt, and it can even imply a measure of both simultaneously.

The techniques of begging illustrate this ambiguity well: they range from those who, sacrificing all shame, attempt to inspire pity by a display of their misery to those who propose a very expensive seat at a charity dinner they are professionally employed to organize. Who is helping whom? Is the donor of alms helping the beggar to stay alive, or is the recipient, of priestly caste perhaps, offering the donor the opportunity to acquire grace by becoming associated, through this act of charity, with the divinity? The ambivalence, so often encountered in the analysis of honor, as of grace, derives precisely from the possibility of giving different interpretations of the moral value attaching to an economically identical transaction. To offer a lady flowers is to pay her homage, to honor her — the donor has sacrificed to her the cost of the flowers, but she is none the richer, save in prestige — but if he offers her diamonds, she may be justified in wondering what are his intentions and whether she should accept. What exactly is the favor he hopes to receive in return?

Grace, positive and negative, in Grazalema

The connotations of grace are as varied as those of honor, the more so in Spanish than in English, it appears, for this reason, and also because I have previously examined the concept of honor in Andalusia (1977), I shall deal with grace as it operates in that part of Spain where its logic, thanks to its richness, can be seen more clearly. The variations in the daily use of grace, as of honor, distinguish different national cultures, and to some extent regions and classes as well, while the theological variants are matters of doctrine rather than usage and depend upon individual thinkers, cults and heresies — and historical periods.

Let us see then how the word gracia is used in the everyday life of a small Andalusian town, Grazalema (Pitt-Rivers 1954), starting with its role in [226] popular theology. It figures in the subjectivity of the townsmen and, above all, townswomen as a state of grace, forgiveness subsequent to confession, the achievement of atonement which makes a person eligible to receive divine grace through the sacraments, or in answer to prayers. It is the essence of redemption through baptism; the rite of baptism assures the entry of a new-born child into the religious, that is to say, the human community. It expunges the sin of Adam through the application of the water, the salt, and the chrism, the unguent vehicle of grace which figures also in the last rites. It establishes the tie of spiritual affinity between the god-child and the god-parents who give the child its name. A person’s first name is sometimes called his gracia. The godparents, padrinos, are also called padres de gracia, spiritual parents or parents of the christian name, in opposition to natural parents whose duties towards their children stand in marked contrast to those of the god-parents. The tie of spiritual affinity still exists in the popular view, with all the obligations of respect and the usage of the third person in speech between the compadres (parents and god-parents in relation to each other), despite the recent abolition of this tie in the dogma of the Roman catholic (but not the Orthodox) Church (Pitt-Rivers 1976).

The grace of God is obtained through other sacraments, and prayers are offered to God and to the saints, above all to the various manifestations of the Holy virgin, for their intercession to obtain divine favor in the form of personal advantages, cures, or miracles. Promises (promesass were made to reciprocate the favor, if the prayers were answered, by wearing a robe recalling that of the image of the saint who had obtained the miracle or by performing a penance such as bearing a wooden cross, going barefoot or on knees during the processions in the celebration of Holy Week. The relationship with the saints is similar to that in Sicily described by Maria Pia Di Bella in her contribution to this volume (chapter eight).

Grace, like honor, is not at all the same thing for both sexes. While masculine honor is a matter of precedence in the first place and the man of honor strives to establish his name in the forefront of his group, the honor of women is rather a matter of virtue and sexual purity. The distinction is clearly marked in Sicily under the titles of “Name” and “Blood.” The first is active and positive, a matter of attaining or inhering status and prestige or, in the plebeian community, the respect due to an honorable member. The second is negative and passive, a matter of avoiding any action that might stain the reputation of the family. Male honor is something to be won, increased, and defended against a rival; female honor is something to be conserved and protected from the evil tongues of the envious.

Grace is rather the reverse of masculine honor which depends upon individual will and ambition and this aligns it with female honor. In the first place women have, as it were, a prior claim to grace, not merely on religious grounds [227] (they are more active in religious practice than men), but in the attribution of it in most of its forms. Aesthetic grace is purely feminine: men are not expected to have grace of movement, though they may dance with grace, and professional dancers are commonly assumed to be effeminate.

The curanderas (curers), also called sabias (wise women), possess an individual grace which comes to them from the saint of their devotion and enables them to cure through the grace in their hand and the performance of ritual gestures (signs of the cross on various parts of the patient’s body), anointment with blessed oil, and prayers, muttered rather than declaimed because addressed to the divine powers rather than to the patient or the audience. The whole rite bears a general resemblance to baptism or to coronation, but the divinities to whom the prayers are addressed show the rite to be anything but orthodox christianity. They include, apart from Jesus christ and the virgin Mary (in the manifestation which is the particular devotion of the sabia), the holy salt, addressed as a divine personage (“Salt, Salt, they call you salt, but I call you Holy Salt … ”), the Seven Lions, venus and Astarte, and others of an equally heterodox character. Aided by the holy oil, the evil leaves the patient’s body and enters the arm of the curer who endures the pain for the next twenty four hours or so.

Were a sabia to accept a gift of money in recompense for the cure she had performed, she would immediately lose her grace, for it belongs to God and would be withdrawn if she were to use it to obtain material gain. in return for her grace she can accept only symbols of grace, blessed candles to bum in front of the virgin or holy oil, for she is operating upon that second circuit in which only grace can be returned for grace.

Given the ambivalence of magical powers, a general phenomenon in anthropology, it is not surprising that the first people to be suspected of witchcraft were the sabias. Could they not use their grace for evil ends also? Nothing appeared more plausible, for just as cursing is the reverse of blessing, so magical damage is the reverse of magic al healing. it suffices to invert the intention to produce the opposite result. Witches are commonly credited with the power to inflict damage on man or beast, to do love-magic, to foretell the future, to drive men mad, etc., in brief to operate upon the health or sentiments of their victims.

Witchcraft everywhere depends upon envy, the will to do harm. But to do harm to an enemy is quite legitimate conduct; it is part of the game to take vengeance against the man who has damaged you or your reputation in order to recuperate your honor, “restore it to a state of grace.” Witchcraft, however, is the attempt to take vengeance, not openly, but by covert dishonorable means, negative grace, invoking the aid of the Devil. For this reason the curer who enjoyed the greatest popularity in Grazalema never tired of repeating that she did “nothing but the things of God” and gave every outward sign of her piety. [228]

In brief, witchcraft can here, as anywhere else moreover, be defined as a habitus of negative grace. Just as positive grace is opposed to reasoned empirical means of doing good, so negative grace is opposed to overt vengeance and employs the supernatural. The grace of the sabias, the source of their magical power, was something inherent in their bodies, like their sex. And it must be added that the female sex produces maleficent manifestations at the time of the period. Other forms of involuntary evil attributed to certain women were the Evil Eye and that quality, called calio in Grazalema, which makes them permanently dangerous as though they were menstruating. (A similar belief is found elsewhere in the region, though under different names, which all however recall the notion of heat: Pitt-Rivers 1954, where a more complete account is given).

Witches can in fact be of either sex, though in Grazalema their techniques are totally distinct. Women cure by their grace which comes from God and if they bewitch it is, implicitly, by a misuse of that grace which has power even when perverted to nefarious ends, rather as the black mass, by inverting the symbols, uses the powers of religion to accomplish the work of the Devil.

Men have no grace in this sense; they cure and they bewitch not by the mysterious power of grace but by techniques which are supposedly rational and depend upon knowledge (though this is not general throughout Spain; men who cure by grace are to be found in the northern half of the country and as far south as the provinces of Alicante and Caceres). Thus apart from the practitioners of “scientific medicine,” doctors and chemists, all of them men, those of folk medicine were limited to bone-setters and herbalists (the latter could also be women). The techniques of witchcraft practiced by men consisted of spells, and above all of spells to invoke the aid of the Devil through reading a book of magic. Since poltergeists were the work of the Devil, they were necessarily caused by “reading” and consequently by men only, though their victims were all women. Thus the distinction established by Evans-Pritchard between witchcraft and sorcery with regard to the ethnography of the Azande was exemplified in Grazalema, with the additional rider that witches were all, and by definition, female, while sorcerers were all male. None of the sabias knew how to read. Newspapers and notices on the municipal notice board were the main reading matter, that is to say, reading concerned the male sphere of relations with the administration and news of the outside world. Hence reading was an essentially male activity. News regarding the inner sphere of the community was passed by word of mouth at the fountain whither every household had to send a member every day to wash clothing if they wished to keep up with events.

Other manifestations of grace are accorded to people on different grounds. The signs of grace are various: the seventh child of a seventh child or, according to Brenan (1957: 99), the ninth child of a woman who has only male [229] children, those born on a Friday, especially Good Friday, etc. The signs of grace are not confined to women, but they tend to reinforce its connection with the female sex: to begin with, in popular theology the source of grace was the Virgin Mary, who is announced as such in the Ave Maria. Hence all women named Maria have grace and this accounts for half the female population, for they are named after a specific manifestation of the Virgin, and are generally called, for abbreviation, only by the name of that manifestation. Hence Dolores, Carmen, Luz, Pilar, Mercedes, Milagros, Imaculada, and the place names of her appearance, Lourdes, Fatima, etc., are all in fact Maria. But in any case it is said that all women are Mary simply by virtue of their sex. Good luck is also grace, prosperity on earth as well as salvation in the hereafter, for they are all given by God. In this sense it corresponds to baraka, as in a number of others which the reader may have noted.

“To have grace” also refers to the possession of natural “gifts” for they too are given by God (in classical mythology they were given by the Three Graces). Grace in this sense is the power to operate upon others, pleasing or amusing them or compelling their admiration and assent, hence it means not only grace in movement, as in English, but charm, wit, humor, a knack for something which others may not succeed in acquiring. Thus it is located in parts of the body: in facial expression, in the tongue, in the head, or in the hand. As such it is worth more than mere beauty (though beauty also is grace in the sense of being an unaccountable favor of nature) because it is more active than beauty which is passive and therefore less compelling than charm and wit. This is made clear in an Andalusian copia (popular verse form), put into the mouth of a highly self-confident young woman (which I translate very freely):

Mi novio tiene una novia
que es mas bonita que yo
Mas bonita, si, serà
Pero mas graciosa no!

My boy-friend has a girl-friend
Who is prettier than me
Prettier, yes, she may be
But nothing like as much Fun
[literally: but more graciosa, no!]

The greater value of grace as opposed to beauty is a commonplace of the folklore, underlined in rhymes such as: “La suerte de la fea, la guapa la desea” (The luck of the plain girl, the pretty girl envies her). As charm, the power to please, it is as mysterious as religious grace, and like this it belongs to the above, as a gift of God. To lack grace in this sense is to be pesado, literally heavy, hence boring. As in the work of Simone Weil, weight is the antithesis of grace — which contravenes all laws including the law of gravity. [230]

As an unpredictable boon, “the grace of God” is used to refer to sunshine in the north of Spain and to rain in the south.

It is from this general sense of grace as the power to operate upon the will of others that Max Weber derived his conception of charisma, an extraordinary power of personal leadership. He treated it “as a property attributed to great innovating personalities who disrupt traditionally and rationally-legally legitimated systems of authority and who establish, or aspire to establish, a system of authority claiming to be legitimated by the direct experience of divine grace.” (Shils 1968: 386).

It should be noted, however, that Weber did not conceive of charisma, as popular usage does today, uniquely as a type of political power, but as a much more general principle of social and cultural organization related to individual freedom and innovation. A “distinctive moral fervor” lies at the root of the attachment to charismatic authority which contrasts with submissive attitudes to traditional authority and sober calculation with regard to it. The general opposition between the ordinary and rational, on the one hand, and charisma, which is the essence of grace, on the other, assimilates the latter to the sacred, but at the same time the rejection of formalized forms may inspire “a fear and hence an opposition to the sacred itself” (Eisenstadt 1968: xviii).

But Weber recognized that charismatic and traditional authority come together, within the framework of social life, in “the routinization of charisma.” In the same way the routinization imposed by the rules governing the rituals of the Church do not suffice to negate the charismatic power of their sacred origins. Hence the grace, inherent in the royal rituals described by Lafages, endows a very traditional form of government with the moral fervor associated with innovative forms, but, thanks to its fundamental ambiguity, it can equally well be acquired by rebels and used against sacralized royal authority, for, as Weber stressed, charisma contains destructive as well as creative tendencies. Here we have the solution to the paradox that, despite the superlative moral value of the monarch’s coronation at Reims, rebellion against the legitimized royal ruler was always possible from time to time, for no ritual can guarantee the passage of grace. This ambiguity, admirably discussed by Eisenstadt, which its opposition to rationality engenders in charisma, is all the more striking in the instance of the baraka acquired by the successor to the Sultanate of Morocco in Jamous’ essay: it is his de facto success in defeating his rivals in war that provides proof of the new Sultan’s baraka, yet his charisma becomes routinized once he has succeeded to the throne. In such circumstances “the dichotomy between the charismatic and the orderly routine of social organisation seems to be obliterated” (Eisenstadt 1968: xxi).

The routinization, not to say the abuse, of grace reaches its peak in the formulae of social etiquette. In Spain “Your Mercy” (Su Merced) was used formerly as a form of address to a person of high status, just as in English “Your [231] Grace” is the title of a Duke or Archbishop (Pitt-Rivers 1974). Those who come immediately after the sovereign, “His Gracious Majesty,” the source of all earthly grace, as of all honor (in whose gift is pardon, for he, alone, is above the law) participate, through their proximity to him, in his gracious nature. The title of Your Grace was also used formerly to royalty itself and the association was still extant in Shakespeare’s day: “to have his daughter come into grace,” i.e., marry into the Royal Family (A Winter’s Tale IV.iii).

To summarize, in the sense of benefaction, gift, demonstration of benevolence, concession, graciousness, pardon, or indulgence, grace is inspired by the notion of something over and above what is due, economically, legally, or morally; it is neither foreseeable, predictable by reasoning, nor subject to guarantee. It stands outside the system of reciprocal services. It cannot be owed or won, specified in advance or merited. Hence it can mean remission of a sin or a debt, mercy, pardon, or forgiveness and thus it is opposed to justice and the law. As gratitude it is the only return-gift that conserves the nature of the initial prestation. You cannot pay for a favor in any way or it ceases to be one, you can only thank, though on a later occasion you can demonstrate gratitude by making an equally “free” gift in return. Like hospitality, which is a manifestation of it, or like violence, its contrary, a demonstration of malevolence, it can only be exchanged against its own kind (Jamous 1981). To attempt to reply to violence by invoking the sanctions of the law is behavior not approved by the code of honor (Pitt-Rivers 1977).

Grace, then, allows of no payment, no explanation, and requires no justification. It is not just illogical, but opposed to logic, a counter-principle, unpredictable as the hand of God, “an unfathomable mystery” which stretches far beyond the confines of theology. The opposition is clear and applies in every case: grace is opposed to calculation, as chance is to the control of destiny, as the free gift is to the contract, as the heart is to the head, as the total commitment is to the limited responsibility, as thanks are to the stipulated counterpart, as the notion of community is to that of alterity, as Gemeinschaft is to Gesellschaft, as kinship amity is to political alliance, as the open cheque is to the audited account.

Of course accounts are kept in fact much more often than is admitted, even if they are no more precise than a vague tally of favors, made in recollection. A lady of the bourgeoisie of south-western France remarked to intimates that she was terribly behindhand with her invitations; she “owed” God knows how many dinners! But the peasants of the same region never admit to keeping an account of the favors they have done in lending a helping hand to their neighbors, and one cannot help wondering whether it was not once so in England also, given the expressions “boon-ploughing” and “boonshearing.” [232]

Gratuity as insurance in rural south-western France

It is well known that traditional small farmers in Europe practice a system of reciprocal service in agriculture and in general within the social life of the community. In fact there is great variety in the form this takes. The first anthropological account of such a system, in western Ireland, was given by Arensberg and Kimball (1949). “Cooring” was a relationship in which “friends” exchanged help on their farms. But the authors discovered that to be classed as a “friend” one had to have a tie of kinship. Those who had no kinsman in the community had no friend with whom to cooperate. A more recent account of another such system was provided by Sandra Ott who studied a French Basque sheep-farming village where the ties of neighborship are defined in terms not of kinship but of space. The roles of “first neighbor” and of the other “neighbors” depend upon the geographical position of their farms.

In “Magnac,” the name I gave to a village in the Quercy in south-western France, neighborly cooperation depends upon a system of undifferentiated exchange, based upon the moral principle that neighbors must help each other. When asked to lend a hand one must, if at all possible, agree to do so, and under certain conditions help may even be proposed unrequested. This helping hand is lent without payment, without any reciprocity envisaged, and if the helper is asked what he is owed, he replies “nothing at all”; he explains that he has come to lend a hand in a quite disinterested spirit, because “we must all help each other,” and he adds by way of explanation the traditional phrase, Je ne suis pas regardant, which might be translated as “i don’t keep accounts.” it is the denial that any obligation has been incurred by the recipient of the service.

But small farmers have very good memories and the less they read and write the more they depend upon them. However, to admit to keeping accounts obliterates the virtue of this good-hearted gesture, just as recognizing that the intention of a gift was to provoke a counter-gift destroys the grace conveyed by it. Accounts are for public reckoning and contractual relations only, not for the exchange of favors. Where reciprocity is governed by specific rules defining the duties of each party the equivalence of the contribution of each can easily be established, but where there are no duties, no time limit, and the partners are unspecified, they cannot. The moral imbalance remains until the helper makes a request that will balance the unmentionable debt and there is no way he can be pressured to do so. Thus prescribed exchange is opposed to unspecified and open-ended reciprocity, just as market values and immediate reciprocity are opposed to the exchange of grace. Here we have a system of exchange of favor manifested through mutual services, rather than an exchange of services, that is to say, a demonstration of community solidarity which involves the sacrifice of immediate individual interests in favor of long-term collective ones (Bloch 1974).

The technological conditions for such a system have been explained [233] elsewhere (Pitt-Rivers 1981). The harvest was traditionally the occasion for the display of neighborly relations when a considerable labor force was required to service the threshing machine. The day ended with a sumptuous meal, but the introduction of the combine harvester (which requires no work-force at all and works on contract paid by the hour) put an end to this institution. Heavy capitalization has unbalanced the system of reciprocity. The one equivalence that was implicit, if not stated, was that one man’s labor was as good as another’s. Even if this was not always true, the difference could not become apparent, since men worked in a chain forking the sheaves, which necessarily moved at the speed of the slowest man, but today, though the loan of machinery between neighbors has perhaps increased, the day of a man with a sixty horse-power tractor is no longer the same thing as the day of a man with a horse. Nevertheless the system continues to function; the solidarity of the farming community struggles to maintain itself, the ideal remains intact.

Great prestige attaches to a good reputation as a neighbor. Everyone would like to be in credit with everybody and those who show reluctance to lend a hand when they are asked to do so soon acquire a bad reputation which is commented on by innuendo. Those who fail to return the favor done to them come to be excluded from the system altogether. Those of good repute can be sure of compliance on all sides. Thus the imbalance of favors provides the basis of an incipient system of patronage. The general opinion that so-and-so has “done much” for the community is the surest ticket for election or re-election in local politics.

But there is another factor which in a sense explains all the rest. A single family farm is particularly vulnerable to situations of crisis. If the husband breaks a leg who is going to milk the cows now that women no longer learn to milk? If the wife goes into hospital who is going to look after the children? The open-endedness of the system is justified ultimately as a mode of insurance. A good name as a neighbor is the most precious form of guarantee against disaster. In times of urgent need the neighbors come to offer their services. Who knows when they may not be in need of help themselves?

Grace in Kula: paradox in friendship and the gift

Community solidarity in the face of common dangers and difficulties prohibits the calculation of mine and thine. Yet the gift of one’s time and energy is no different in moral terms from any other gift and it is therefore also subject to the paradox of the gift which descends from the theological mystery of grace — is not the doctrine of mystery theology’s answer to an insoluble paradox? It is the same paradox as that of friendship. It derives from the fact that a gift is not a gift unless it is a free gift, i.e., involving no obligation on the part of the receiver, and yet, as Mauss so well explained, it nevertheless requires to be returned. In French a gift is “offered” not “given,” just as an offering to the [234] gods is. It is an expression of esteem, an honoring gesture, and as such complete in itself, requiring only to be accepted in order to achieve its end, which is, as in sacrifice, to convert “having” into “being,” the dispossession of self in favor of another; the article or service which the donor sacrifices is transformed into becoming associated with the recipient, establishing or maintaining a particular tie with him.

It cannot be made with the intention of provoking a return-gift, for then it is not a free gift. If put to calculated ends, a gift is false charity, a manoeuvre abusing the notion of generosity. There is then no dispossession of self; the grace does not pass. But on the other hand, if it is not made in the hope of a return of the favor shown (which can itself only be shown by a reciprocatory gesture), then it is not a true gift either, but an act of largesse, a gesture of pity or a demonstration of superiority or power over the recipient. This was what Timon of Athens failed to understand. He made the mistake of humiliating his friends by an excess of generosity and he got what he deserved. Like the code of honor in which it might be taken to figure as a clause, the gift is shot through with ambivalence; any gratuitous gesture can “mean” one thing or its contrary according to circumstances. And the interpretation remains always debatable.

The gift, unrequited, implies either that it has been accepted as the receiver’s due, a repayment or a tribute to him that he deserved and which consequently requires no recompense, but only amiable thanks, or that the recipient is unable to return it because he is not up to the standard of the donor and unwilling to appear inferior through making a return of lesser value. Finally, the gift, if not actually refused, may not be recognized at all. In the first case the giver is slighted because his gift has been taken for granted; in the second case, as in the potlatch, the receiver is humiliated because he has failed to “keep his end up”; in the third case the giver is rejected, for his favor is not welcome — the receiver does not wish to correspond, to initiate or to maintain his association with the giver. Possibly the latter was suspected of false intentions or pretentiousness in making such a gift in the first place.

If a gift is not returned the donor cannot complain, for he has placed his honor in the hands of the recipient. Were he to do so he would dishonor himself still further, for he would thereby imply that he made his gift only in order to obtain a hold on the receiver, to exploit him, to oblige him to reciprocate and in that case he deserved to be slighted.

The question of how soon the return gift should be made is also open to differing interpretations. That which is made too promptly stinks of payment, that is to say, it indicates a refusal to accept the favor as a free gift, a reluctance to remain in moral debt to a person whom you mistrust. (This over-hasty reciprocity is commonly found among persons who fear patronization by their social superiors). It may equally, if returned immediately, mean the opposite: that the receiver is so grateful that he cannot wait to express his gratitude. The [235] longer the delay the greater the confidence shown. On the other hand, to delay the return of a favor for too long may be taken to indicate, not the desire to show confidence in the sentiments of the donor and remain in his due until a worthy occasion presents itself to reciprocate, but indifference. Just as vengeance is all the more effective — for being delayed — it is a dish that is to be served cold, so it is said — so gratitude is the more touching for having awaited the proper occasion to be expressed. But if the delay is too great the matter may appear to have been forgotten. In the meantime the receiver awaits his “revenge,” as jokers sometimes say, playing on the ambivalence of the notion that the recipient can also be represented as “one down” in the competition to do favor.

In every case the interpretation depends upon the relative status of the participants, in terms of honor, power, prestige, morality, the nature of their relationship, and the customs of their milieu. In attempting to explain the paradox on which the notion of the gift is founded I have several times referred to Marcel Mauss and the reader may have noticed a certain indebtedness to his ideas at different points. However, note should be taken of the differences between our two approaches. Mauss was aware of no paradox. His aim was, briefly, to explain that, though gifts are “in theory voluntary, in fact they are given and repaid under obligation,” “prestations which are in theory voluntary, disinterested and spontaneous, are in fact obligatory and interested. The form [of such exchanges] is that of the gift generously offered; but the accompanying behavior is formal pretence and social deception … ” (1966). He demonstrated this by reference to extra-European and historical materials, whereas I have dealt mainly, if not quite entirely, with Europe. He makes no mention of grace, and the gratuity of the gift is, for him, a sociological delusion. Thanks have no legal or material reality and they do not come into the question. I believe that the gratuity of the gift is no delusion; however much it may have been abused, it is still the essence not only of sacrifice but of everyday gestures of favor.

The concept of grace which lay at the basis of my explanation cannot be assumed to exist elsewhere, even if Mauss’ essay suffices to establish that the gift corresponds to a general sociological category. The basic opposition between human attempts to foresee and control the future through calculation and a law of contract, on the one hand, and the inscrutability of the will of God, who se grace is a mystery, on the other, is missing in primitive cultures. The christian concept of grace is above all concerned with individual salvation, from the religious point of view, and this I put forward as the root of the extended senses of the word. It might be thought to follow therefore that there is nothing like grace to be found where there is no salvation, that is to say, outside christianity. However we have suggested that, lacking such a fertile theological soil to grow in, a concept very similar to grace is found in Judaism [236] (hesed) and in Islam (baraka). Reciprocity of favor, like friendship,5 which is nothing more than this, is universal whether between man and God or between men. It is the other term of the opposition that is missing; legal contract is specific to societies that keep written records. The Indians of the Pacific coast of Canada have barely more of a juridical system than the Polynesians and Melanesians with whom Mauss was equally concerned, yet he seems to speak of both as though they had: he credits the Maori with a juridical mentality and he underlines the obligatory nature of the duty to return a gift, using the word “obligatory” in its pristine legal sense (binding by oath, promise or contract) and maintaining that this is defended by sanctions. (The sanctions that he mentions are uniquely warfare and witchcraft).

Mauss was interested in the evolution of the notion of contract whose history he had traced back to a religious origin in the oath. I cannot help suspecting that his interest in contract and his lack of a notion of grace have produced a slightly warped vision of the gift. The only sanctions that ensure the necessity to return a gift are magical, and social only in so far as the refusal to return grace entails automatically negative grace and the breakdown of sociation which in primitive society leads easily, if not necessarily, to hostilities. The same is true in our own world. The slight represented by the failure to return grace provokes sentiments of resentment (malevolence) which far surpass in their virulence those which the simple evasion of contractual obligations inspires. one supports with equanimity the attempt to swindle one, especially when it fails, whatever one may think of the swindler, but one’s amour propre is wounded by the refusal to respond to the offer of grace, for much more than material interests are at stake: one’s intimate self is damaged.

Mauss wrote no ethnography himself, but he was a wonderfully perceptive reader of the field reports of others. However, his readings of those which support his essay on the gift appear to be far from unquestionable. They scarcely confirm the conclusions he drew. Whether or not to reply to the challenge represented by the potlatch is surely a voluntary decision, a matter of capacities and will, rather than an obligation. It is no more obligatory than to pick up the glove of any one who chooses to challenge you. If you refuse the challenge you may, depending upon the circumstances, lose prestige, that’s all. But you do not risk losing your life. The exploitation of the principle of reciprocity in order “to fight with property,” as the Kwakiutl put it, is a style of rivalry which has been recognized in our own society. In the Kwakiutl case the grace, proffered in the hospitality of the feast, conceals a negative aspect of hostility that is always lurking beneath the surface of hospitable relations. Mauss attributed this to the obligation to return the gift, and I gave a slightly different explanation in “The Law of Hospitality” (Pitt-Rivers 1977, chapter five). in fact, as we have seen, grace is always in danger of being changed into negative grace when the sentiments in which it abides are lacking. [237]

The obligation to return a gift is set forth above all in the example on which Mauss founded his theory. The hau, “the spirit of the gift” among the Maori, demands to be returned to its initial donor, and the man who scorns this demand risks supematural sickness or even death.

Leaving aside the criticisms that have been leveled at the interpretations of hau by Mauss and by others — Sahlins (1974) examines them — I note that many of the senses of this multi-faceted concept (though by no means all) are analogous with either grace, baraka or indarra, all of which are highly varied, as we have seen. One finds in them the essence of the gift, its non-contractual nature and something like the soul of the donor contained in it. Hau, like grace and like baraka, is that which is in excess, left over or supplementary, transcending exact reciprocity. Like indarra, especially, it is good fortune, fruitfulness, the power of increase, the power of Nature that makes the plants grow. And like indarra, it is also the wind. Moreover it should be recalled that the demands of the hau are reinforced only by the sanctions of witchcraft, which it has been suggested is supernatural malevolence, negative or inverted grace. At the same time there are many senses of grace, etc., that are not given for hau which, like mana, another Maori concept (Pitt-Rivers 1974), can also reside in stones, a capacity that seems quite foreign to grace — until one considers the Stone of Scone which demanded to be returned from Westminster to Scotland a few years ago (or so some students of St. Andrews University seemed to think).

I am not pretending that hau can be translated as grace, baraka, or indarra, but only that it is a concept of the same order, with all the differences that are implied by the contrast between a monotheistic and a polytheistic mode of thought. But it is no good trying to explain hau by an analogy with our own economic (or juridicial) institutions when it is clearly closer to the religious ones that Benveniste found to be their source. One should rather take the totality of usages and search for their common qualities. Just as I have pointed to the similarity between honor and mana, so I can see that hau can be, at least in many contexts, assimilated to grace. it stands as a guardian of the second circuit, the embodiment of the abstract principle of gratuity.

I shall take for more detailed scrutiny the Kula gift-exchange of the Trobriand islanders, not only because Mauss gives it as one of his main examples, but because it is, perhaps thanks to Malinowski, the most widely known ethnographic phenomenon in anthropological literature. in this elaborate system gifts of individual, named arm-shells and necklaces, which have no practical utility and in fact are seldom worn, circulate in opposite directions round a ring of islands over a span of several years and serve as the armature of a number of other more Utilitarian exchanges and indeed of the whole system of social relations between islands.

Unlike the Nuer who, as Evans-Pritchard explained (1956: 223–4), were [238] always cheated by Arab traders because they had no understanding of money and commercial transactions and thought they were establishing personal relations through an exchange of gifts, as in sacrifice - “a relation between persons rather than between things. it is the merchant who is bought, rather than the goods” — the Trobrianders understood trading very well, were skilled in barter and bargaining, though they had no currency, but did not confuse the counter-gift that is owed in payment with the ceremonial exchange of Kula. “The Kula exchange has always to be a gift, followed by a counter-gift; it can never be a ‘barter’, a direct exchange with assessment of equivalents and with haggling” (despite Mauss 1966: 187, where it is classified as “ceremonial barter”). “There must always be in the Kula two transactions, distinct in name, in nature and in time” (ibid.: 352). “There are means of soliciting, but no pressure can be employed.” The valuable given in return is “under pressure of a certain obligation” but the only sanction is the partner’s anger (ibid.: 353). Kula is “sharply distinguished from barter, gimwali.” The equivalence of the counter-gift is never discussed, bargained about or computed (there is no standard by which this could be done anyway, ibid.: 359); it is “left to the giver and it cannot he enforced by any kind of coercion”; there is no direct means of redress, “or of putting an end to the whole transaction” (ibid.: 95, 96) nor indeed to the specific Kula-partnership. What kind of a contract is this? “Kula is never used as a medium of exchange or as measure of value,” “the equivalence of the values exchanged is essential, but it must be the result of the repayer’s own sense of what is due to custom and to his own dignity” (ibid.: 511).

Kula objects are offered to the spirits (including land-crabs) to make them benevolent, “to make their minds good” (ibid.: 512). The choice of which valuable to offer to a given partner is free, but the owner can be influenced by solicitory gifts of food or petty valuables, by “rites and spells, acting on the mind of a partner to make him soft, unsteady in mind, eager to give kula” (ibid.: 102). Resentment caused by disappointment at not receiving a given famous arm-shell or necklace cannot be expressed openly and directly, but it can be avenged by black magic; “many men died because of [such-and-such a necklace]” (ibid.: 359), i.e. by witchcraft.

When unable to find a suitable return-gift to offer to a partner one may make an “intermediate gift” in order to avoid the accusation of being “slow” or “hard” in Kula, but this is “a token of good faith,” not, as Mauss thought, interest on an outstanding debt. The definitive proof of this, if needed, is that an equivalent return is expected for the intermediate gift (ibid.: 98). In a word, the Trobriand Islanders distinguish as clearly as Benveniste between the two circuits and in Kula there is no trace of contract,’ nor of sanctions other than the spoiled grace which is sorcery and the desire for vengeance which is allowed no overt expression. The bad heart of the unsatisfactory partner can be [239] dealt with only by magical charms. The only obligation on the circuit of grace, a moral one, is the return of grace. Kula valuables are vehicles of grace like the chrism of baptism or the oil of the Holy Ampulla; they have no material utility and no value in relation to utilities. A Kula partnership is no more contractual than the relation between blood-brothers in Africa or compadres in Spain or Latin America and like them it contains no possibility of annulment. A contract, on the other hand, to be valid in English law must specify its duration.

Hence one might conclude by inverting the proposition of Mauss, saying that the gift is not in theory voluntary while in fact obligatory, but in theory according to the theory of Mauss — obligatory while in reality voluntary, for it depends uniquely upon the will of the partner; nothing is specified with regard to the return gift, what it should be or when it should he returned. The moral obligation is only to return grace and what is resented if it is not returned is not the material loss but the rejection of the donor’s self. It is always the thought look back to its etymology — that counts.

If the anthropological study of friendship was so slow to be broached it was perhaps not unconnected with the failure to recognize the importance of grace. For grace is the essence of friendship. It is defined by the theologians as “the friendship of God” and on the terrestrial plane it remains the essence of that institution, as its subsidiary vocabulary makes clear: bounty, boon, favor, gratuity, thanks, etc. Since reciprocal favor is the basis of friendship and the exchange of gifts its mark, it is no surprise that the paradox of the gift, as I have explained it, is present in friendship which, like the gift, and like honor also, possesses both a subjective aspect, that which is felt in the heart and which determines the will, the aspect that relates it to the sacred, and the objective aspect which relates it to material interests, to others and to society in general. The paradox is that, while friendship to be true should be inspired by sentiment only and disinterested, yet it must be reciprocal not only in sentiment but in material gifts and services, for sentiments must he expressed by deeds. Hence it must he disinterested in motive, but profitable all the same, since the test of a friend is that he devotes himself to your interests. Actions speak louder than words.

It is vain to attempt to split the paradox and found a typology of friendship upon its two terms, distinguishing between the “affective” and the “instrumental” types, as Eric Wolf proposed in a well-known essay, for how can the ethnographer know whose feelings are pure and whose are not? It is hard to guarantee the former in the face of the constraints of daily life, but no one admits to the latter. The distinction then rests upon a factor that is exceedingly difficult to establish. The same difficulty faces the Church in determining the validity of its rites: how to know the true intentions of the participants. But the church at least, through the court of the Rota, summons evidence and goes [240] through a judicial process before giving judgment, while each man must judge the heart of his friend for himself.

Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethic did better than anyone since at disentangling the two aspects, by distinguishing between friends who are useful, friends who are amusing, and friends who are loved, but on account of the paradox it is not normally made clear who is to be classed as which and it is always a disappointment to those who thought they were loved to discover that they were merely useful. crossed lines between the two circuits always lead to trouble (Pitt-Rivers 1984). Once more, the uncertainty of grace, one of its essential aspects in the religious sphere (and one which gives rise to the sin of presuming on the grace of God), is demonstrated in everyday social relations.

Honor and grace: their mediative function

We have tried to encompass the totality of grace and explain the coherence of the whole concept and the relation between its different meanings. In defining a notion of such variety, it is not enough to study only the concept by itself, one must place it within sets of wider range and look for its connections with others. The one of particular interest for this book is that which forms, with grace, its title, honor, for it seems to deal with problems in the same field: the destiny of a man and his relations with other people and with God. It shares with honor the same tendency to be evanescent and self-contradictory. Sometimes the two words are almost interchangeable: you pay honor in offering grace, for it is an expression of sentiment freely willed. You expose your honor in doing so, precisely because there is no obligation to return grace unless it comes from the heart — and you are dishonored if you get a “brush-off,” in which case you are justified in being offended. Hence it can be seen that exchanges of honor are very similar to exchanges of grace. To be favored or privileged is to be honored, exalted above those who are not favored. Rituals of honor are continually marking distinctions of this sort.

Grace, as a verb, underscores the similarity (O.E.D.): “To confer honour or dignity upon, do honour or credit. ”

Grace, like honor, is associated with power and with royalty, as we have seen. To lose power is “to fall from grace,” “to be put down,” “to go out of favor,” “to be disgraced.”

Moreover, physical contact is all important in the conveyance of both: one is dubbed a knight by a touch on the shoulder with the sovereign’s sword; one ingests the host; one is “touched” by grace; the transmission of grace at baptism involves the application of blessed substances to the body of the initiate. Anointing, whether of kings or neophytes, is a ritual technique for according grace. The affront to honor is expressed by a slap on the face. The rituals of dishonor involve the physical person also: the stocks, the stripping of honorific symbols, the defilement of the head, cutting the hair, marking the [241] body in castigation; honorific status is inscribed upon the body. All these rites relate to the person-in-himself where the will is centered.

In other contexts grace’ appears not similar to but complementary to honor, as in the coronation ritual analyzed by Lafages in chapter two: the king is inducted simultaneously as knight and bishop, temporal and spiritual leader, fount of honor, whose legitimacy is guaranteed by grace.

They can also be seen as alternative bases for renown as in Di Bella’s account of the relation between Name and Blood: titles to honor, on the one hand, and miracles, manifestations of divine grace, on the other. Miracles step outside the worldly hierarchy and by appealing to the principle of anti-honor achieve more than can be won in the competition for precedence.

Finally there are those contexts in which honor is frankly opposed to grace, as for example in the sense that honor depends only upon the individual will to win, while grace depends upon the will of God and cannot be won.

Grace (O.E.D.) is “hap, luck or fortune,” while honor can be saved when all else is lost by fortitude and determination; each man is guardian of his own honor, for it depends upon his will, his worth as a person, or his rank. Grace ignores moral and social qualities. It is arbitrary as the divine whim. Honor implies combat, rivalry, and triumph, while grace means peace.

The unverifiability of intentions and the state of the heart, which are necessary to both honor and grace, the paradoxes which assail both and the uncertainty of divine judgment which refuses to submit to mundane reasoning, have encouraged societies with writing to replace the reciprocity of the heart by the law of contract and provide sanctions for its enforcement. Taking reciprocity out of the field of grace detaches it from the sentiments and objectifies it, making it abstract and depersonalized. As soon as the monarchy was strong enough, it suppressed the judicial combat and took justice out of the unpredictable hands of fate, curtailing the problem of theodicy. Yet the affective side of life cannot be obliterated. Despite their contrary aspects grace and honor remain and contribute each to the composition of the other.

When the conquistador went to America “to win honor with my lance in my hand” and at the same time to get the gold needed to support such pretensions to honor, he depended upon his own ambition, courage, toughness, and wiles, but once he had risen to eminence, power, and wealth, he had the means of dispensing grace. Only those with power can favor or pardon; you must possess a thing before you can give it away; the beggar can return grace only in the form of a blessing and the hope that God may reciprocate the gesture of charity.

But grace is closer to God than the ambition to succeed, and for that reason he who has renounced all pretension to honor by demanding (and exploiting) pity enjoys a privileged relationship with the Almighty. Grace, not honor, is the ideal enjoined by the Beatitudes. indeed the contradiction is spectacular, the lesson clear: one must renounce one’s claim to honor as precedence if one is to [242] attain the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, or more precisely one must invert it, adopt the counter-principle represented by the honor of women, whose sex excludes them in theory from the agonistic sphere. (The resemblance between feminine honor and grace has already been noted.) in somewhat similar vein the sacred status of priests imposes upon them the renunciation of violence and worldly ambition as well as the right to play the male role in relation to women.

One might be tempted to jump to the conclusion that this opposition between masculine honor and grace is a product of the moral revolution imposed by Christianity — this was what Nietsche thought — yet grace is much older than Christianity and Mauss (1966: 15) had already noted the generic connection between the gods and the poor through whom they can be approached; we also know from classical Greece that Zeus was accustomed to adopt the disguise of the beggar who enjoyed his special protection. The opposition is therefore more general than its connection with Christianity. The sacred status of beggars can be found in india also.

Moreover, this apparent anomaly is not without solution. To begin with, in the logic of agon, rivalry is wedded to equality, for one must feel one self to be the equal of one’s antagonist in order to compete, yet the test of strength aims always to destroy this equality and establish hierarchy: a victor and a vanquished (Pitt-Rivers 1960). The latter can demand revenge “when all is lost save honor,” but, theoretically at least, they can no longer issue or accept a challenge if they are not conceived as equal. The institution of the handicap is the means of enabling them to do so, by making them equal.

However, once the hierarchy is established, the competition is over, and from that moment the man who has achieved power, preeminence, the dominant position, wishes only to legitimize it in the public consensus. His honor changes its nature and from striving to achieve precedence it becomes honor validated in the view of others, honor as virtue, recognized by his subordinates and dependants, whom he protects. This simplistic paradigm of power would have no interest if it did not correspond to a transition from agonistic honor to grace which we can detect in other circumstances. it would appear that there are in Western civilization two opposed — and ultimately complementary registers: the first associated with honor, competition, triumph, the male sex, possession, and the profane world, and the other with peace, amity, grace, purity, renunciation, the female sex, dispossession in favor of others, and the sacred.

The ambitious man, when he has succeeded, won honor, and achieved dominance, requires that the qualities by which he has done so he confirmed and consecrated, that what he has achieved be conserved for the future. Thus he must then show qualities that are the contrary: generosity and moderation (which cannot now be taken for weakness), forbearance (his status entitles him to ignore what would once have constituted a slight), wisdom and, in order to [243] represent the collectivity, a regard for the feelings and opinions of others. We have given examples: those old Cypriot sophrons, described by Peristiany, whose ideal is to end up with nothing, having distributed all their possessions among their children, or the builder of the hospital described by caro Baroja, or the Sultan of Morocco who, having fought and slaughtered to win the succession, becomes a sacred figure, a man of peace, able to settle the quarrels of others in accordance with the norms of Islam, for feud and vendetta can be ended only by an appeal to the sacred which such persons represent. The shorfa, peace-makers of the Rif, do not enter the struggle for precedence, for they belong to sacred lineages, the guardians of the shrine which is a sanctuary.

The man of honor must in a sense convert his honor into grace and thus render himself impregnable, because legitimate, be loved by those he has defeated, make peace where once he made war, trade his de facto power for right, his dominance for status, his business acumen for magnanimity. He must struggle to achieve honor, but the proof that he has achieved it is that he no longer needs to struggle.

Hence that which appears at first as an anomaly if not a contradiction becomes, once viewed in the perspective of the life cycle, a relation of complementarity and in the end concordance, for, since grace is the will of God, it is by His grace that the triumphant hero received his endowment in the first place, was predestined to win. If one ends up dishonored, it was for lack of grace in the first place. Honor stands before the event; his honorable qualities produce the victor. Grace stands behind it; the will of God is revealed in the outcome. Each is therefore a precondition of the other. If you lack grace you will not attain honor, in which case you will lack the means to he gracious.

However, there are those who do not have to achieve honor and convert it into grace, for they are born with both. Louis XIV became king at the age of six and he had so much grace that he thought himself entitled to elevate his bastards over the heads of those whose kinship with him was more distant, if more conventionally respectable. As Leroy Ladurie makes clear, the Little Duke was not of that opinion! Their difference was understandable, for the royal bastard is always of ambiguous status: he has the honor attaching to his recognized descent, he was conceived by personal will, not for reasons of state, a “love-child,” and he is usually his father’s favorite, but he bears the stigma of illegitimacy. (Though let us remember that grace is opposed to and above the law). Therefore royal bastards are superior in a covert, mystical sense, while being at the same time inferior, socially, to their legitimate kinsmen.

There are those also whose honor and grace is consecrated by less obvious rituals than a coronation. The administrators of modern France, former students of the Grandes Ecoles, win their honor by triumph over rivals in the entrance [244] examination — personal excellence has replaced genealogical descent or wealth as the criterion of the elect — and thereafter, their intelligence and competence certified by their status as normaliens, politechniciens, etc., they remain, whatever they do or say, as Bourdieu explains in chapter four, with a kind of grace, the living embodiment of the will, not of God but of the French Republic.

Both honor and grace are mediative concepts; they interpret events in accordance with the prevailing values of society, putting the seal of legitimacy on to the established order. Together they constitute the frame of reference by which people and situations are to be judged. They are indistinguishably blended in the Basque concept of indarra, in which natural, cultural, and social forces come together; the life force of men, plants and the wine, the grace of the Holy virgin, and the legitimacy of property rights in houses. Elements of both honor and grace are found in Polynesian mana, and other “legitimizing concepts” can be found in the ethnographies of other parts of the world.6 They supply the point of junction between the ideal and the real world, the sacred and the profane, culture and society.


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Publisher’s note: This is a reprint of J. A. Pitt-Rivers, “Postscript: the place of grace in anthropology.” In Honor and Grace in Anthropology, edited by J. G. Peristiany and J. Pitt-Rivers, 215–246. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Published with authorization by Cambridge University Press (P 117–37). ISBN 390559 9780521390552. We remind the reader that we retain the style of the original, and indicate in the text the original page number in square brackets.


1. Hertz 1960: 72; Mauss 1968: 201, 206; Lévi-Strauss 1962: 298: “Le scheme du sacrifice consiste en une opération irréversible (la destruction de la victime) afin de déclencher, sur un autre plan, une opération également irréversible (l’octroi de la grâce divine), dont la nécessité résulte de la mise en communication préalable de deux ‘récipients’ qui ne sont pas au même niveau.” Gilsenan also uses the word when explaining what baraka is (1973: 33, 35, 76), as do many other Islamists since Westermarck (e.g., Gellner 1973: 40): “it can mean simply ‘enough’, but it also means plenitude, and above all blessedness manifested among other things in prosperity”; Rabinow 1975: 2: “the central symbol of vitality in Moroccan culture”, “source of charismatic authority and cornerstone of legitimacy, ” “the manifestation of God’s grace on earth” (ibid.: 25).

2. In fact, however, the Nuer word mue which he translates as “God’s free gift in return for a sacrifice” (1956: 331) appears to correspond exactly to the sense of “divine grace” as Lévi-Strauss used it in the passage quoted in note 1, which was largely based on Evans-Pritchard’s ethnography.

3. An anthropologist’s wife was reproved by her friends in the village where he worked for saying “thank you” too often. Did she not realize, they asked, that you don’t thank friends for petty services; for to do so destroys the confianza which exists between friends. You should take such minor services for granted to show confianza (William Kavanagh, personal communication).

4. The term has been borrowed by the philosophers and, finally, by the social sciences. For its utilization in the latter, see Bourdieu 1987: 23: “a system of acquired schemas functioning practically as categories of perception and assessment or as classificatory principles as well as the organising principles of action.”

5. Any reader who might be tempted to follow those authors who have maintained that there is no friendship, only kinship, in primitive society is referred to Firth 1936.

6. For example, the concept of mahano (Beattie 1960) has much in common with mana, as noted by Balandier (1967: 119–30), who compares it with other African concepts. See also the Bouriate concept of xeseg, translated into Russian as “grace” in Hamayon (1987: 606–10,620–5).