Pilgrimage, spirit possession, ethnosemiotics, Japanese religions, enunciation, aesthesis, subjectivity.
While the anthropology of pilgrimage shifted its major paradigm from a focus on sacred sites to one on movement, investigation of sensory bodies, as moving sites for an encounter with spirits and deities, has rarely been undertaken. On the other side the anthropology of senses, although providing a contribution to an understanding of the role of perception in social life, has frequently privileged embodied experience over language and discourse. It might be argued that such an exclusion of discourse from senses has involuntarily reiterated a Modern Divide between language and body, traceable back to a Protestant ideology of separation between interiority and exteriority, belief and ritual. In this paper I will explore the role of language, body and senses in pilgrimage, trying to look beyond such a Western epistemological divide. In so doing, I will focus on a contemporary pilgrimage in Japan, on Mt Kiso Ontake (3067m), where pilgrims visit spirits’ abodes (reijinhi) in order to hear ancestors’ voices coming from the possessed body of a medium (nakaza). Through an ethnographic and semiotic analysis of somatic and oracular interactions between ancestors and pilgrims, I will show how, by opening the individual body of the medium, an intersensory, collective body of human and nonhuman members of the group is constructed. We will thus follow the body-voice of the medium by considering it as a “moving shrine” where, through language, sounds, screams and gestures occurring during the séances (oza), an aesthesic contagion is actualised among pilgrims, and new subjectivities are produced, shattering supposed divisions between sense and senses, discourse and affect.