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Dundes, A. (1963). Summoning Deity Through Ritual Fasting. Am. Imago, 20(3):213-220.

(1963). American Imago, 20(3):213-220

Summoning Deity Through Ritual Fasting

Alan Dundes

Fasting, in the sense of total abstinence from all food, is found in religious ritual among a great many peoples. Although fasting has often been confused with specific individual food taboos, it should not be, as Hocart has pointed out.(1) While fasting may be employed at various life-cycle rites of passage, e.g., as a formalized expression of mourning, or as a prescribed prelude to marriage, it is perhaps most commonly found as a means of placing the faster in a relationship with the supernatural. More particularly, fasting often serves as a ritual means of summoning deity.

In his extensive survey of fasting among the North American Indians, Blumensohn suggests that in the case of the Central Algonkian, the use of the fast as a means of putting the faster into a personal relation with the supernatural is especially prominent. In fact, Blumensohn goes so far as to contend that this use of fasting to promote a personal relation with the supernatural is peculiar to the Central Algonkian.(2) In contrast, Radin in his general discussion of North American Indian religion lists fasting as the first item under “The Methods of Bringing Spirits into Relation with Man,” not restricting it to any particular culture area or tribe.(3) It is not pertinent to the present study to ascertain just how widespread the practice of using fasting to enter into a relationship with the supernatural is. It is sufficient to note that clearly fasting is so used. The present study is an attempt to explain the psychological origin of the practice.


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