The following account is a well documented testimony (1) from a report chronicled in the Journal of Anthropological Research in 1983 by anthropologist and Professor Bruce Grindal (2). Grindal was an atheist who taught at Florida State University. He was also the co-founder of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology and founding editor of Anthropology and Humanism.
For over the period of a year, Grindal lived among the Sisala people of northern Ghana. It was during his research when Grindal says he witnessed a man being raised from the dead. The person raised, by the name of Ali, was a highly respected drummer in the tribe. A few days after Ali’s death, Grindal was invited to witness the burial ritual. He traveled five miles to the village and entered the compound where the corpse was prepared. According to Grindal, “the corpse was already putrid and oozing juices. An old woman was sitting next to the dead man with a fan even though the corpse had been washed about three hours earlier. The stench in the room was horrible” (3).
The burial ritual began the following day near midnight. Ali had been dead for three to four days and his corpse was seated upright against the wall where a group of singers began to dance around it. Grindal explains that he,
“saw the corpse jolt, and occasionally pulsating. The corpse, shaken by spasms, then rose to its feet spinning and dancing in a frenzy. As I watched, convulsions in the pit of my stomach tied not only my eyes but my whole being into this vortex of power. The corpse picked up the drumsticks and began to play. After a while the corpse was once again sitting against the left wall of the compound. In conclusion, I can say with intuitive certainty, that on the night of 23 October 1967 I witnessed the raising of the dead. This experience was real and was seen as such by those who sat to my right in the divination place. It was although everybody present simultaneously touched a live wire. No words were said, indeed, what could be said?” (4)
Grindal rejected his atheism after he witnessed this event. It was an event that had an impact on him throughout his life. Historian and scholar Mike Licona explains the significance of Grindal’s experience,
“Grindal was an atheist. He wasn’t after this experience. I have spoken with his widow, he died in 2012, I’ve [also] spoken with one of his former students, and they both say that this experience disturbed him for the rest of his life… he never wanted to talk about this experience after getting it put in writing.”
Given the significance of Grindal being an atheist at the time of his experience, some critics of his testimony have attempted to explain it away by claiming he was hallucinating due to a lack of eating food that day (5). The claim is that Grindal had not eaten for the past day and that this resulted in his mind producing hallucinations, one of which was this deceased man getting up from the dead.
But one can respond to this criticism. First, one can credit the criticism because it takes Grindal’s testimony seriously, especially when some critics of the supernatural are prone to dismissing testimonies out of hand. This criticism at least attempts to grapple with the significance of Grindal’s testimony.
But, furthermore, explaining away Grindal’s testimony as a hallucination struggles to account for other details in the story such as Grindal not being the only one to witness Ali being raised from the dead. According to Grindal, others who had attended the funeral had witnessed the event too (As he states: “This experience was real and was seen as such by those who sat to my right in the divination place. It was although everybody present simultaneously touched a live wire”). But we know that hallucinations are subjective projections generated from within one’s own mind and thus cannot, or is extremely unlikely to, be experienced by other people, and especially by groups of persons.
Grindal’s experience thus stands in as a striking testimony that could very well challenge the assumptions of many, especially the anti-supernaturalism that many take for granted.
1. See, Hellweg, J. Englehardt, J. & Miller, J. 2015. Raising the Dead: Altered States, Anthropology, and the Heart of Sisala Experience. Magliocco, S. 2010. Witching Culture. p. 13. MacLean, H. 2012. The Shaman’s Mirror. p. 11.
2. Dr. Bruce T. Grindal. Available.
3. Grindal, B. 1983. “Into the Heart of Sisala Experience” in the Journal of Anthropological Research. p. 68.
4. YouTube. Jesus: History or Mistake? at CSU Sacramento [14:40 – 15:10]. Available.
5. Covington, N. 2015. Anthropologist Sees Dead Man Raised. Available.