Seeking Voices and Finding Meaning: An Analysis of Portuguese Verbal Divination

Pp. 155-169

  • Vieira Leitão
Keywords: absorption hypothesis, cognitive science of religion, divination, domination magic, manipulation magic, J. Leite de Vasconcelos, love magic


Among the numerous charms and incantations collected by late 19th and early 20th-century Portuguese folklorists and ethnographers, there are a small number which are intended to be used in verbal divination. These procedures, at times referred to as andar às vozes (seeking voices), while being words of power in themselves, are effectively meant to attribute power and significance to whatever random words or sounds are heard immediately after being recited. Being divination procedures, they present a question and answer structure between a performer and a supernatural entity. In these processes, certain cues or ‘manifestation avenues’ are offered for the called upon supernatural entity to manifest and provide an answer to the performer. As such, the analysis of these (and other) divination procedures can help map the relationships between performers and supernatural entities. Particularly, these can help discern what the accepted manifestations of spirits are during any such divination for a performer, and what implications this may have for other aspects of folk magic.