By John Middleton
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Extra info for Gods and rituals : readings in religious beliefs and practices
When a woman comes into contact with a god she usually becomes ill. The major symptoms of this illness are fainting or feelings of dizziness. In some cases, visions and trance states occur. In other cases the woman undergoes no such experience, but the god manifests itself by causing the illness of one of the woman's children or perhaps her husband. Gods are said to seize people in order to enter homes where they will receive sacrifices. The disturbances which they create are merely the means by which they announce their desire.
It is always a particular ancestor who is held responsible. Ancestors also appear to people in their dreams and, in this way influence people's actual behaviour. The Amba say that an ancestor may appear to any member of the lineage or to any woman who is married to a member of the lineage. But the only cases which have come to my attention have been those in which fathers and mothers have appeared to their sons, daughters and daughtersin-law. As an example of a dream in which a parent appears, the following may be given.
At dawn on the morning of the fourth day all the men and women of the residential group, plus the men who are in the house Amba R eligion 27 of the buffalo, take a bath at the place at which water is normally obtained for the residential group. After bathing these people shave their heads. This is also the occasion upon which widows don their mourning garb, which should consist of dried plantain leaves, bound around the waist. They should also smear the entire body with castor oil. Today, however, most women limit themselves to the plantain leaf and omit to cover their bodies with oil.