chapter  6
34 Pages

The Ancestral Spirits

WithBrian Morris

The key religious idea in Malawi is not that of ‘reincarnation’ or metempsychosis, which implies a dualistic metaphysic, a radical demarcation between the material and spiritual worlds, but that of ‘transformation’, or metamorphosis. The spirits are seen as ‘immortal’, not subject to death, the spiritual expression of the ongoing continuity of life, rather than as ‘eternal’ - beyond time and space, and thus having an identity with the deity - as in the mystical traditions. The good spirits, the prototypical spirits of the matrilineal kin group, are conceived as beings created by God, as being immaterial or like the wind, as having life and as being essentially supportive and protective of their kin folk or the community. Importantly of course, as in many other cultures, there is a liminal period between when a person dies, and when the mizimu becomes incorporated into the collectivity of ancestral spirits-which occurs about a year after burial.