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Hegemony or Rationality? The Position of the Supernatural in Modern Greece Charles Stewart This paper presents an account of certain changes in the role of the supernatural in Greece over the past one hundred years. I use the term "supernatural" to refer to the body of powers, sometimes conceived as animate, which are not explicable in terms of scientific views of natural cause and effect. Examples would be demons, fairies and other of the so-called exotika (εξωτικά, cf. Stewart 1985b). Included as well are the spirit world and the realm of the stars which sorcerers and astrologers appeal to in occult practices. Such a simple definition furnishes no more than a starting point which helps broadly to identify the subject matter here under investigation. The real question is a sociological one: Whose concept of the "natural" is being asserted to label whose body of knowledge "supernatural"? This circumscribed study of the supernatural will leave Orthodox Christianity aside and concentrate exclusively on representations and practices which are non-standard from the Church's point of view. It should be noted, however, that the mystical and miraculous have been prominent and perennial components of Orthodoxy. In the estimation of the great 19th century theologian, Harnack (1901: 238ff), this acceptance of the mystical and miraculous in everyday practice clearly differentiates Orthodoxy from both Catholicism and Protestantism (cf. Hann 1988: 9). On the Cycladic island of Naxos, for example, virtually every village possesses lively traditions regarding people who were illuminated by God, or accounts of icons which washed up from the sea and then moved mysteriously to the spot where a church was to be constructed. This close experience of theophany within Orthodoxy is relevant in that it may contribute to a more general predisposition on the part of the Greek populace to embrace explanations in terms of supernatural agents. The problematic of the "position" of the supernatural may be outlined as follows. The bulk of folklore collected in the 19th and Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 7, 1989. 77 78 Charles Stewart early 20th centuries came from rural if not extremely isolated regions of Greece. This reflected the conviction, held by both Greek and foreign scholars, that the countryside was the best place to find the legends, fairytales, ballads and superstitions which comprised their idea of folklore. Similar material was also available for collection in Athens as is evident from Kambouroglou's study of folk traditions in the capital (1883), but after her work few pursued specifically urban research projects. Even in the 20th century, as urban centres began to grow in size and importance, the predominant emphasis of folklore research remained rural. This orientation reflected certain conceptions held by the urban middle class which, through the agency of its intellectuals, constructed a model for Greek identity which depended on the rural peasantry as a pole of reference (Tziovas 1986: 23 Iff; Herzfeld 1987: 10). Rogers (1987) has recently argued that in 20th century France the peasantry, indeed the very concept of "peasant," has similarly been manipulated by intellectuals depending on the political exigencies of the moment. Today traditional accounts of the supernatural as well as more recent and obviously imported mystical systems (i.e., zen, yoga, tarot) are, in my experience, elicited more easily in the city. This has been the case over the course of two years of sporadic visits to Athens while I was conducting field research on Naxos in 1983-84. I also found that while accounts of the supernatural could still be collected in the countryside, they were no longer prominent there. People had apparently ceased encountering and experiencing the supernatural in daily life; at the very least their open discussion of such phenomena was greatly restrained. The educated and professional segment of society which is largely, but not exclusively concentrated in cities, exhibited a greater interest in, and a participatory involvement with, various forms of the supernatural. This paper describes and tries to account for this shift. A number of explanatory suggestions will be proposed at the end of this study, but one particular viewpoint is stressed. It is argued that the shift in group identification with the supernatural should be viewed as part of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 77-104
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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