Divination’s Grasp

Divination’s Grasp

African Encounters with the Almost Said
Richard Werbner
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/15/2015
Format: Hardback 21 b&w illus., 3 tables
ISBN: 978-0-253-01881-6
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Honorable Mention, 2016 Elliott P. Skinner Award

Richard Werbner takes readers on a journey though contemporary charismatic wisdom divination in southern Africa. Beginning with the silent language of the divinatory lots, Werbner deciphers the everyday, metaphorical, and poetic language that is used to reveal their meaning. Through Werbner's skillful interpretations of the language of divination, a picture of Tswapong moral imagination is revealed. Concerns about dignity and personal illumination, witchcraft, pollution, the anger of dead ancestors, as well as the nature of life, truth, cosmic harmony, being, and becoming emerge in this charged African setting.

Author Bio

Richard Werbner is Professor Emeritus in African Anthropology at the University of Manchester. He is author of Reasonable Radicals and Citizenship in Botswana (IUP).


“Richard Werbner's superb account of moral imagination and the poetics of divination grasps the density of its subject, matching the insights of the diviner with those of the ethnographer. The book takes its place among the very best works of Africanist anthropology as a new classic in the tradition of ethnographic divination and a necessary reminder of live and deep traditions of African wisdom.”
 — Michael Lambek, University of Toronto Scarborough

“Richard Werbner has produced a work of rare depth and profound insight that is destined to become a classic in African Studies and the anthropology of religion. In Divinations’ Grasp, we come to know Werbner’s divinatory mentors, men of profound intelligence who are masters of the poetically contoured 'almost said.' Readers will feel the comfort and inspiration that comes from an encounter with mastery, deep dialogue, and longstanding witness of Tswapong divining séances.”
 — Paul Stoller, author of Yaya’s Story: The Quest for Well-Being in the World

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Table of Contents

Part I. Socio-linguistics and poetics
1. Deep Dialogue with Evans-Pritchard
2. In Praise of the Moral Imagination
3. Acrobatic Stylistics, Agonistic Vision
Part II. From Tablet Archive to Wisdom Séances
4. Poetics and Archives
5. Family Séances: Rhetoric, Deliberations and Decisions
6. Cosmic and Personal Understandings: Diviners, Headmen, Strangers
Part III. From Hooved Archive to Charismatic Séances
7. A Charismatic Diviner’s Archive: Hooved Divination
8. The Cross-Over: Originality, Hybridity and Metamorphosis
9. The Charismatic Séance: Arguments, Intimacy and Intimations
Conclusion: In Comparison