« Establishing mutual misunderstanding »
This article discusses a strange case of shamanic ritual performed for a Buryat family in Mongolia's capital city Ulaanbaatar. This performance not only differs from those described in the regional literature, but it also seems to challenge some of the models used to account for ritual efficacy. Indeed, while the cathartic use of Buryat traumatic history to deal with a patient's misfortune in shamanic rituals is quite well documented, this performance stands out for the uncompassionate hopelessness with which spirits spoke of the family's fate as exiles in Mongolia. Meanwhile, the ever-growing tension between participants, which culminated in an open crisis, would be a sure sign of a ritual failure had it not been the clear result of the shaman's own efforts to establish mutual misunderstanding between the spirits, the patients, and herself. Drawing on a pragmatic approach to ritual efficacy, this article ponders on the specific purpose of a performance which seems to be aimed at creating a context of miscommunication between participants.