An Eliadean Interpretation of Frank G. Speck’s Account of the Cherokee Booger Dance

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This study considers the Cherokee Booger Dance as a purely religious phenomenon by reinterpreting anthropologist Frank G. Speck’s observations through the lens of Mircea Eliade’s theory of religion. This investigation presents the ritual as a means of acquiring spiritual transcendence, held by Eliade to be a universal human longing. This perspective differs from the assertion posited by Speck that the Booger Dance is little more than a manifestation of sociological or psychological conditions exasperated by historical Cherokee-white relations.


“. . . Powers bring to his work an awareness of that scope and interconnectedness of disciplines, for he is both a gifted scholar and artist. His theatre background includes playwriting, dramaturgy, directing, and professional acting, as well as solid research and publication in dramatic literature and in musical and theatre history.He respects the scholarship of Frank G. Speck even as he acknowledges its shortcomings. Speck’s eyewitness reportes of a performance of the Booger Dance by the Eastern Band of Cherokee in January 1936 provides the raw data for Powers’s penetration of that dance’s religious foundations. To achieve his understanding of the Cherokee performance ritual on its own terms, Powers employs Mircea Eliade’s theory of religion and examines the Cherokee cosmogony and myth of the fall from grace. . . . an important contribution to our knowledge.” – Felicia Hardison Londré, Curators’ Professor of Theatre, University of Missouri-Kansas City

“This book provides the reader with a clear, concise approach that will engage scholars and non-scholars alike. Dr. Powers paints a picture of the Cherokee people seldom heard in today’s context. Within the text, the reader experiences the history of the Cherokee nations. Not only is this history lesson vital, but it illustrates the richness of the Cherokee culture. One of the highlights of the book is the rich, intriguing tales of the Cherokee nation’s cosmogonic belief system. Powers believes that the Booger Dance is a cleansing ritual to restore the balance between the three worlds to the Cherokee people. This theory is supported by the work of the religious theorist, Mircea Eliade. Powers’s sound understanding of Eliade’s theory and his own understanding of the Cherokee Religion makes a very persuasive argument.” – Andrew D. Rich

“Most importantly it allows readers to perceive and appreciate the explanatory power and experiential inclusiveness of traditional Cherokee religion. His discovery of the presence of other archetypes common both to Cherokee religion and to Jewish and Christian religion adds further power to his argument that the Booger Dance can best be seen in a context wherein the autonomy of Cherokee culture is recognized and celebrated. [The author's] grounding of that interpretation not only in an understanding of Cherokee religion but also in a grasp of the horrendous facts of Cherokee history, especially the Cherokee removal, makes his book a necessary addition to research libraries, public libraries, and private ones as well.” – Prof. Weldon B. Durham, University of Missouri-Columbia

Table of Contents

Preface by Felicia Hardison Londré
Part I: Religion, Ritual, and Anthropology
Ritual and Religion: Brief overview of Eliade’s Theory Anthropology and Religion: Frank Gouldsmith Speck
Part II: The Booger Dance of the Cherokee in a Religious Perspective
The Cherokee: White-Cherokee Relations; Cherokee Cosmogony and Belief System
The Booger Dance: Origins; First, Second, Third, and Fourth “Acts”
The Booger Dance Today

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