Religious Beliefs. Sora religion has aroused keen interest because of its wide variety of spirits and their importance in daily life. Creator spirits called kintung account for the origin of the world and of human society but have little direct effect on the living. The dead discuss their moods and motives with the living through the mouths of shamans in trance.
Religious Practitioners. The most important shamans are women, who achieve their powers through marriage in the Underworld with a high-caste (Kshatriya) Hindu spirit. This husband is the spirit child of the previous shaman. Since this predecessor is usually a patrilineal relative, the spirit husband is therefore a cross cousin and the marriage incestuous. A shaman marries in the Underworld very young. When she subsequently marries a living husband, he often persuades her to give up shamanism and she will not take it up again until middle age.
Ceremonies. Shortly after a death, the deceased is commemorated by planting an upright memorial stone and sacrificing buffalo. Further variants of this are repeated as part of a harvest festival for three years. Some years later, a ceremony celebrates the transmission of the name of the dead person to a new baby. Every time the deceased causes illness among his or her descendants, the living stage a rite to cure the patient. At every stage of existence, the dead person's state of mind is revealed through dialogue with the living.
Arts. The greatest Sora arts are verbal play and improvised song. In addition, the drama of the shaman's trance itself, if one does not believe that the spirits themselves are talking, must be seen as a subtle form of theater. Most ceremonies are accompanied by dancing. Wall paintings are made for spirits. Gold and silver jewelry is obtained from specialist castes in the plains.
Medicine. All illnesses and deaths are believed to be caused by the dead, who thereby repeat the form of their own suffering in another person. In doing this, they attack and eat the soul of their victim. Cure consists in offering the attacker the soul of a sacrificial animal as a substitute. If the spirit accepts this, the patient recovers. But spirits often cheat the living, and patients die. Sora use many amulets and rather fewer herbal remedies. Hospital medicine is used as a backup where available.
Death and Afterlife. Sora do not see "medicine" and the regulation of bodily states as separate from their relations with dead persons. As "spirits" ( sonum), the dead endure emotional and material deprivation, but at the same time they are powerful causal agents among the living. Elwin portrays the dead as largely jealous and oppressive, but Vitebsky draws attention to their complementary role in granting fertility and social continuity. He distinguishes two aspects of the dead: their role as transmitters of suffering and their role as protective ancestors. He suggests that the drama of dialogues with the dead acts out the complex interplay between these aspects and that the dead may be understood as an objectification of living people's ambivalent memories of those whom they have known. The form in which a dead person affects a living person reflects how that living person remembers him. The sequence of funeral rites modifies the nature of this memory over time.