Death at your heels: When ethnographic writing propagates the force of witchcraft

Jeanne Favret-Saada


Since the publication (in 1977) of her book on witchcraft in the Bocage of western France, the author has received numerous requests to help dewitch people. These requests came from readers convinced, despite the fact that they were raised in a cultural context devoid of witchcraft, they had been bewitched in the same way as Bocage peasants. How could they rid themselves of the series of incomprehensible misfortunes they faced? In this article, the author analyzes three dimensions of "belief": 1) the propositional content of a subject‘s belief, 2) the range of different possible attitudes towards this content, and 3) a given subject‘s shifting attachment to a particular attitude. Beyond the potential cultural differences between bewitched Bocage peasants and readers of an ethnography (who may, of course, overlap), a common, transcultural ground exists, without which the transfer of witchcraft from one world to another would seem incomprehensible. Witchcraft thought‘s common core allows us to infer the figure of the dewitcher, the structures of dewitching, and understand why urban readers, convinced they have death on their heels, turn to an ethnographer of witchcraft to save them.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau2.1.004