Presence in Tibetan landscapes: spirited agency and ritual healing in Rebgong
This thesis intends to add to the field a sense of how deities pervade ordinary life in Tibetan cultural regions and what this means for those who live there. The study thus aims to develop understandings of the types of ritual healing which take place in this environment, one wherein landscapes are inhabited and experienced as embodiments of spirited agencies. In the thesis I suggest that, for my fieldwork regions of the Rebgong valley at least, ritual healing can best be understood a process by which beings are brought into right relations, both mutually and in connection with other beings, human and deity. I suggest here that all practices, whether ritual or medical, pertaining to health and well-being in Rebgong are predicated upon this type of epistemology; a cultural matrix of healing. This matrix is one in which healing is by definition is about humans and deities maintaining right relationship. I explore what this sensibility means for those who live in the Rebgong valleys primarily through ethnographic accounts of three particular ritual practices in Rebgong villages: the renewal of the labtsé tributes to the mountain gods, the Leru harvest ritual, and the performance of a tantric ritual cham dance.\ud Forms of ritual healing I discuss in the thesis include circumambulation, medical and tantric practices, those of the trance or spirit mediums, dance and divination. I argue that all these rites and practices connected to health and well-being in a broad sense can be understood under one cultural matrix of healing in which spirited agency is focal. I argue that inherent to understanding this matrix is a focus on how deities, as embodied landscapes, appear within it, and how they are understood to exist and interact with human affairs, particularly those relating to health and well-being. In this regard, themes that I explore throughout the thesis are those of luck, purification, empowerment, embodiment and blessing. The study is intended, in a Bakhtinian sense, as a body of words which do not bring closure but rather seek to engage in a dialogical conversation that simultaneously responds to past scholarship and anticipates response.