Agatha Tesmer: “A Site of Blessings, Dreams and Wonders: An Egyptian Saint’s Shrine as Crucible of Christianization by David Frankfurter”

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On February 2, 2017 I had the pleasure of attending Professor David Frankfurter’s seminar on syncretism of local Egyptian ritual with Christianity as observed in ancient Saint shrines. Professor Frankfurter emphasizes the study of this religious transition solely within the context of practice highlighting the importance of habitus in the worship of these Saints. Professor Frankfurter argues that these shrines served as a social hub essential to the deployment of traditions and a key site for syncretistic expression including festival activity, votive offerings, divination (particularly in the form of ticket oracles and incubation), and spirit possession. Additionally, he highlights the importance of these shrines to the development of community and communal identity along with providing a context for devotion and encountering Saints.

According to Freudian thought, the Saint, as described by Professor Frankfurter, serves as a totemic representation of the father figure which is worshiped and admired by its people. This pagan ritual in the worship of a Christian Saint stems from the ambiguity of inherent fear, guilt, and admiration towards a paternal authority as originally expressed by early humanity during the first totemic sacrifice. In addition, the worshiper seeks the healing and blessing of a Saint in an effort to escape life’s challenges and inconsistencies. Essentially, this illusion (as defined by Freud) of a protective spirit results from the childhood regression and longing towards a caring father figure. This Freudian approach to Professor Frankfurter’s findings concludes that this syncretized religious practice is an expression of neurosis.

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