Entities in the land of echoes
I recently finished reading an interesting novel, Land of echoes by Daniel Hecht. It is a kind of ghost story, based on beliefs of the Navajo people in the south-western USA.
One thing I found strange and rather off-putting, however, was that the author kept referring to the ghost as an “entity”. It seemed an odd sort of word to use in the context of the story. Apart from its use by database fundis, I’ve only seen “entity” used with such frequency in American atheist polemics. I wonder if “entity” has a meaning in American English that it doesn’t have elsewhere.
One of the things I found interesting about the book, however, was that the plot revolves around possession by an ancestral spirit, the Navajo term for which is chindi.
At the moment I’m busy editing a book that deals with similar phenomena in Zimbabwe, where Shona-speaking people are often troubled by ngozi spirits. These are angry or vengeful spirits with a grudge, and could include the spirit of a murdered person, the spirit of a servant who was not paid, or the spirit of a relative who had been wronged, such as a mother who had been wronged by her children or a husband or wife who died unhappy.
This is not confined to Zimbabwe, however. A few months ago a woman I know told me of her half-sister and her daughter who were murdered by burglars who broke into their house. A few weeks later one of the murderers confessed to her, saying he could not sleep because the spirit of the murdered woman was haunting him, and she went to the police and the four murderers were arrested.
The parallels go even further, however. The book is a study of Christian healing ministries in Zimbabwe. One Christian healer in particular uses methods very similar to those of traditional (pagan) healers, and also very similar to those described in Land of echoes. This is the method of reverse possession, where the healer allows herself to become possessed by the spirit that is afflicting the victim, and the victim’s family then engage in dialogue with the spirit (now inhabiting the healer). When the healer “returns” from this state, she offers prayers, but has to be told what happened while she was under the influence of the ngozi spirit.
While many Christian healers, especially those in African independent churches, have ways of dealing with the various kinds of evil spirits that people in local cultures believe in, very few seem to adopt this method of dealing with them.
I won’t say too much about Hecht’s novel, as I don’t want to include spoilers for those who haven’t read it. I found it improved towards the end. At the beginning, apart from the strange and frequent use of “entity”, I was also put off by something that had annoyed me about The da Vinci code — supposed experts who seemed remarkably ignorant of their own supposed field of expertise. In this case it was a parapsychologist who seemed to be ignorant of the phenomenon of “possession”. But once those hurdles were over, it was quite an interesting story.
I’d be interested in knowing of any other instances of Christian healing ministries dealing with the same phenomenon, and how they deal with it.