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Divination by Dropping Shells (wad‘) in Ṣan‘ā’, Yemen

From: Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft
Volume 8, Number 2, Winter 2013
pp. 171-193 | 10.1353/mrw.2013.0022

Abstract

Abstract:

In this article, divination using seashells, especially cowrie-shell divination, is examined via a female practitioner in Ṣan‘ā’ (Yemen). A detailed description of the séances and the analysis of several casts shows the extent of the knowledge displayed by the practitioners, generally women. Their interpretation uses a vocabulary and syntax based on rhetorical figures and social conventions. Other skills, more social ones, such as knowledge of their clients’ cultural group of origin and psychology, are crucial to steering the course of the consultation. Other forms of divination and magic can come into play as well. As far as details of interpretation of the casts could be reconstructed –always a posteriori– it is argued that there is something else at work beyond these skills that could be referred to as ‘inspiration.’