Chicane: Double-thinking and Divination amongst the Witch-Doctors by Geoffrey Cornelius

Reprinted by permission of the Publishers from Divination – Perspectives for a New Millennium ed. Patrick Curry (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010) Copyright © 2010.

Most practices of the people we name as shamans, witch-doctors and medicine-men present our modern rational understanding with an impasse. The logic of much that is done defeats us, it is absurd and often disgusting. Treatments are offered that can have no empirical value, yet the simple primitives seem to believe in them. Primitive healing and divinatory practices are particularly obscure; yet there is in them something elusive and important that the educated modern should seek to accommodate if there is to be any hope of arriving at some understanding of non-modern and pre-scientific mind and the knowing of divination that is integral with it.

We readily acknowledge an implicit ambiguity in divination when this is treated as an apparently faulty mode of logic. Its trickiness is then interpreted as arising from its mere contingency, and the consequent instability and irregularity of its production. Most participants in its production are presumed not to properly understand these objective facts. Some diviners simply deceive themselves as well as their clients; others who do grasp the empirical facts are presumed to knowingly dissemble to overcome their deficiency. The choice is between divination as ignorance or stupidity and divination as cheating and lying.

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