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Alcohol has been the means to induce altered states of consciousness in many religious contexts. This book is the first to examine how alcohol-based trance states can be a feature of ancestor veneration practices. Two cases are explored in detail. In the first, alcohol is established as the trigger which induced a state of spirit mediumship in the Zhou dynasty Chinese Personator of the Dead. In the second case, the Ugaritic and Iron Age Palestinian marzeah is revealed as a descent to the dead induced by alcohol consumption. Principal sources are Chinese odes, histories and ritual texts, Ugaritic Texts and Biblical prophetic literature. Archaeological evidence also contributes to understanding these two rituals in their cultural contexts.


"Armstrong's unique cross-cultural methodology in his comparison of the role played by alcohol in the ancestor rituals of Zhou Dynasty China and Iron Age Palestine yields a novel approach to the topic rarely found in the field of comparative religion. Armstrong employs an unusual multi-disciplinary blend of anthropology, ethnography, sociology, archaeology, theology, philosophy, psychology, physiology, chemistry, and history, which results in a rich, complex, and thought-provoking narrative whose hypotheses and conclusions may well generate lively discussions and additional research on this topic by other scholars in the future. . . . His treatment of myth and ritual in the Ancient Near East, especially the extended discussion of the marzeah, and the use of various Ugaritic texts, is of particular interest." - Dr. Eric H. Cline

"Determined to listen to the voices of the texts themselves, and to believe what they say is happening in the rituals they describe, the author places himself and his readers within a community of experience, rather than attempting to combat, disprove or discredit those accounts of ritual by those for whom they constitute authentic religious practice. While fully conversant with the conventions and techniques of the study of religion, Armstrong intends to give full weight to the statements of the faithful of a religious tradition about the meaning of their practices, rather than jumping immediately to the interpretive position of hearing those statements as metaphorical. . . . provocatively fascinating reading. . . . Armstrong's text consistently satisfies the expectations it raises. . . . Thorough, informed, insightful and wide-ranging, Armstrong's book displays the characteristic virtues of good scholarship. Beyond these, it is also deftly written, modest and engaging." - Gail McGrew Eifrig

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
1. Alcohol and Religion: Towards a Working Definition of Religion; Ancestor Veneration - a Comparative Framework for Study; Trance and Altered States of Consciousness; Alcohol - the Pharmacological Perspective; Alcohol in Sociocultural Context
2. Alcohol in Religious Ritual: Alcohol and the Gods; Alcohol in Magic, Mysticism and Myth; Sacrifice and Offerings to Gods, Varieties of Ritual Experience; Alcohol Rituals, Ancestor Veneration and Altered States of Consciousness
3. The Descent of the Dead in Elite Zhou Chinese Religious Ritual: Elite Religious Practice in the Feudal Period; Afterlife and Corporate Family Ideology in Zhou China; Divination as a Prelude to Elite Ritual; The Shi - 'Personator of the Dead'; The Status of the Personator; Cultural Expectations - Normative and Ritual Uses of Alcohol; Trance and Spirit Possession in the role of the Personator; Conclusion
4. Ancestor Veneration in the Ancient Near East: Introduction to a Problem; A Comparative framework to investigate the Cult of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Judah; Afterlife in the Ancient Near East; Iron Age Palestinian Notions of the Family as a Corporate Entity which Includes the Dead and the Living; An Understanding that these Ancestral Spirits Require or Desire Certain Activities or Benefits which can be Provided by the Living; Understanding that the Living Need Something from the Dead; The Existence of a Mode of Communication that can Link the Living and the Dead; Conclusion
5. Descent to the Dead: Alcohol and the Ancestors in Ancient Palestine: Family Ideology at Ugarit; The Marzeah in Ugarit; Altered States of Consciousness and the Marzeah; El's Intoxication; El's Incontinence; The hby; The Rephaim and Descent to the Underworld; The Marzeah as Ancestor Veneration Ritual; The Marzeah in Iron Age Palestine; Marzeah as Family Commitment; An Indirect Reference to Marzeah in the Hebrew Bible? - The Baal of Peor; The Excremental Vision - Isaiah 28; Descent to the Dead in IA Palestine; Conclusion
6. Summary and Conclusions
Appendix A: Estimating the volumes of gu and zhi vessels
Appendix B: Music in Zhou Ancestor Veneration Ritual
Bibliography and Index

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