Hindu Devotional Ordeals and Their Shamanic Parallels

  • Francesco Brighenti (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


"The English term “ordeal,” deriving from Proto-Germanic *uz-dailjam (lit. ‘that which is dealt out [by the gods]’, namely, ‘God’s judgment’), originated in the early Middle Ages (Old English ordēl) to designate an ancient Germanic mode of trial consisting of some arduous and/or injurious tests, which a person charged with guilt might be occasionally forced to undergo and whose result was believed to determine that person’s guilt or innocence by immediate judgment of the deity. Ordeals performed by divination, physical test, or combat were regarded by many traditional societies of the past as valid substitutes for judicial activity when human justice was, for some reason, unable to settle a case. At the root of all types of judicial ordeals is the belief that the result of the trial undergone by the person(s) accused will reflect the final verdict of some divine or supernatural being(s) believed to preside over law and truth. In this particular meaning of the term an ordeal, despite its pertaining by definition to the numinous sphere, is conceived as a sacred judicial practice that pursues worldly aims alien to the mystic experience. (...)"