Miraculous Voices: The Auditory Experience of Numinous Objects [and Comments and Replies]

Submitted by James Miller on Mon, 05/25/2009 - 12:46
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TitleMiraculous Voices: The Auditory Experience of Numinous Objects [and Comments and Replies]
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1984
AuthorsTuzin, D., Blacking J., Gewertz D., Carvalho J., Kaplinski J., Kingsbury H., Pradhan M., Salzberger R., Samuel G., & Young M.
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Date PublishedDec

Ritual sounds produced by the secret men's cult of the Ilahita Arapesh (East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea) evoke feelings which, even to the operators, are mysterious in perceptual origin and therefore iconically apposite to, and validating of, the mysterious "spirit voices" these sounds are claimed literally to be. This paper examines the proposition that certain sounds affect the central nervous system in a manner that arouses feelings of the uncanny or dreadedly obscure and other prearticulate anxiety manifestations which invite religious interpretation. Evidence from psychomotor epileptic symptomatology supports the hypothesis that these pseudoperceptual sensations are processes of the temporal lobe, a region of the cortex which contains the central auditory system. It is argued that these processes may be triggered by infrasonic-wave exposure, which presents to the subject an "object" that lies beyond the limits of its normal perceptual capabilities, and that this experiential mystery is interpreted by the Arapesh as proof that the ritual sounds are embodiments of preternatural agencies. Finally, it is proposed that the behavioral effects of the infrasonic elements of Arapesh ritual sound are augmented by the coincidence of distant, unheard thunder.