Page 72

61 “[A] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” On the basis of this definition it can be argued that the locus of San religion and cosmology concerns the nexus between the natural and the supernatural realms. Ritual or medicine specialists (i.e., healers, rainmakers, game controllers, sorcerers or, collectively shamans, see Lewis-Williams 1981a, 1992; Guenther 1999: 7) are the principal mediators of the enmeshed San cosmos. In this intermediary role, altered states of consciousness, in particular trance (Lee 1967; Guenther 1986, 1999), play a significant part, hence the argument that San religion is shamanic (Lewis-Williams 1981a, 1992, 1994). The San believe that their ritual specialists are able to transcend these inseparable realities. Their cosmological accounts “do not distinguish explicitly between ‘real’ experiences and trance experiences” (Lewis-Williams 1992: 57), since they “see both worlds as equally ‘real’” (Lewis-Williams 1986a: 32). Their mediation is achieved mainly through communal trance dances; these are seldom formalised or scheduled rituals. Dances are spontaneous, often initiated for play and amusement by children and adolescents, then joined later by adults (Walker 1996: 66; Marshall 1999: 66), after nightfall (Barnard 1979: 73-74). My interpretation of formlings, tree and plant motifs draws on this significance of supernatural potency, its activation during trance dances and the spirit world experiences. This approach focuses on the multi-faceted San cosmology and a range of associated beliefs. Current writers, as I have shown, associate formlings and trees with potency. Indeed, potency appears to be the unifying concept in

Continuity and change in San belief and ritual  

A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand,Johannesburg, for the degree of Master of Arts. 2002, by Siyakha...