Evans-Pritchard: Witchcraft, Oracles & Magic Among The Azande Quotes

Part Of: Witchcraft, Oracles & Magic Among The Azande sequence
See AlsoSummary of the Azande book

On Mysticism And Its Insulation From Falsification Through Attention:
Azande act very much as we would in like circumstances and they make the same kind of observations as we would make.  But Azande are dominated by an overwhelming faith which prevents them from making experiments, from generalizing contradictions between tests, between verdicts of different oracles, and between all the oracles and experience.  To understand why it is that Azande do not draw from their observations the conclusions we would draw from the same evidence, we must realize that their attention is fixed on the mystical properties of the poison oracle and that its natural properties are of so little interest to them that they simply do not bother to consider them.  If a Zande’s mind were not fixed on the mystical qualities of poison and entirely absorbed by them he would perceive the significance of the knowledge he already possesses.  But in real life these bits of knowledge do not form part of an indivisible concept.
(Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic, Chapter 9, page 149).

It is evident that the oracle system would be pointless if the possibility of [poison being natural], as an educate European would regard it, were not excluded.  When I used at one time to question Zande faith in their poison oracle I was met sometimes by point-blank assertions, sometimes by one of the evasive secondary elaborations of belief that provide for any particular situation provoking skepticism, sometimes by polite pity, but always by an entanglement of linguistic obstacles, for one cannot well express in its language objections not formulated by a culture. 
(Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic, Chapter 9, page 150)

[Azande] are not surprised at contradictions [of the poison oracle]; they expect them.  Paradox though it be, the errors as well as valid judgments of the oracle prove to them its infallibility.  The fact that the oracle is wrong when it is interfered with by some mystical power shows how accurate are its judgments when these powers are excluded.  The secondary elaborations of belief that explain the failure of the oracle attribute its failure to (1) the wrong variety of poison having been gathered, (2) breach of a taboo, (3) witchcraft, (4) anger of the owners of the forest where the creeper grows, (5) age of the poison, (6) anger of the ghosts, (7) sorcery, (8) use.  
(Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic, Chapter 9, page 155).

Zande behavior, though mystical, is consistent, and the reasons they give for their behavior, though mystical, are intellectually coherent.  If their mystical notions allowed them to generalize their observations they would perceive, as we do, that their faith is without foundations.  They themselves provide all the proof necessary.  They say that they sometimes test new poison or old poison which they fear has been corrupted by asking it silly questions.  At full moon they administer the poison to a fowl and address it thus: ‘Poison oracle, tell the chicken about those two spears over there.  As I am about to go up to the sky, if I will spear the moon today with my spears, kill the fowl.  If I will not spear the moon today, poison oracle spare the fowl.’  If the oracle kills the fowl they know it is corrupt.  And yet Azande do not see that their oracles tell them nothing! Their blindness is not due to stupidity: they reason excellently in the idiom of their beliefs, but they cannot reason outside, or against, their beliefs because they have no other idiom in which to express their thoughts.  
(Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic, Chapter 9, page 159)

The contradiction between experience and one mystical notion is explained by reference to other mystical notions… Indeed, as a rule Azande do not ask questions to which answers are easily tested by experience, and they ask only those questions which embrace contingencies.  The answers either cannot be tested, or if proved by subsequent events to be erroneous permit an explanation of the error.  In the last resort errors can always be explained by attributing them to mystical interference. 
(Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic, Chapter 9, page 160-161).

On Mysticism And Explanation:
You ask [the Azande] how they know [the oracle] works and they reply, ‘It has a soul.’  If you were to ask them how they know it has a ‘soul’, they would reply that they know because it works.  They are explaining mystical action by naming it.
(Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic, Chapter 9, page 151).

On Mysticism And Time-Models:
It would appear from [Azande] behavior that the present and future overlap in some way so that the present partakes of the future as it were.  Hence a man’s future health and happiness depend on future conditions that are already in existence and can be exposed by the oracles and altered.  The future depends on the disposition of mystical forces that can be tackled here and now.  Moreover, when the oracles announce that a man will fall sick… his ‘condition’ is therefore already bad, his future is already part of him.
(Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic, Chapter 9, page 162)

See AlsoSummary of the Azande book


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