What is shamanism

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Shamanism and Neo-shamanism: The digest of Andrei Znamensky's book The Beauty of the Primitive (Oxford University Press, 2007) in a power point format

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  • I became interested in the topic in 1998 when I was doing research in Alaska. I was going to board a hydroplane to fly to a remote Athabaskan Indian community in south-central Alaska. I was approached by two persons, who found out from my friend that I would be going there. One was a real estate agent, another one was a health worker from the University of Alaska Health Center. During the conversation the real estate egent told me that he healed himself with the shamanic therapy. They several times alerted me that they would be very interested that I retrieve information on shamanism. When I informed them that I was going to study the Native American community that long time ago came to consider Russian Orthodox Church their indigenous church, they seemed to be disappointed. The woman lamented that Western civilization made such powerful inroads in native society that they forgot their native traditions. At the end of the talk, the woman invited me to a local Unitarian church where they had a shamanic drumming session. Since at that day I was to take that plane, I could not use her invitation. Next year, during my trip to the Altai in southwestern Siberia, I was sitting and waiting for my train at a small railroad station. Suddenly my eye caught a toilet water called “Shaman” that was on sale in a local kiosk. The water turned out to be a Chinese remake of the French brand name. The list of examples can be continued. I can name the recent album of Sansana “Shaman.” To make the long story short, I became interested in exploring why and how the idiom of shamanism became so popular in Western culture. Concluded the contract with a publisher, and now I am writing a book on the same topic.

    First, let me to briefly give you a generic description what in literature they mead by shamans and shamanism. At first, the phenomenon was applied only to indigenous spiritual practitioners in Siberia and northwest coast of North America. Then it became expanded to other tribal people (South America, Africa, Australia, and even to pre-Christian Europe). Now the word is frequently used to replace such old expressions as “medicine man” or “medicine woman,” “sorcerer,” “witch,” “seer,” “prophet.”
  • To show the students a replica of a Siberian drum.
  • The shamans as “creative madman,” “wounded healer.” To mention Africa (I. Lewis, shamanism and possession). “We forgot about Africa.” The attractiveness of the shamanism concept – the shaman is not a slave possessed by spirits, but the master of these spirits.
    The books became adopt more often than not the titles “shaman” Examples: M. McDonald “Witchdoctor” (1959) into “Shaman” (1972). A 1929 book titled as “Medicine Men” was reissued as “Shamans” and so forth. It seems that the expression allowed to avoid the negative value and gender connotations. Although some radical feminists say prefer to use the word “shamanka” to avoid as they think the “shaman” although in the Tungus language the root has nothing to do with the word “man.”
  • What is shamanism

    1. 1. Archeology of Ecstasy: Shamans and Neo- shamans
    2. 2. What is Shamanism? • The word “shamanism” was introduced by eighteenth- century German Explorers of Siberia to describe tribal spiritual practitioners in Siberia who worked in state of a trance (ecstasy) • “Classical” areas of shamanism: northern Asia and Northwestern North America; the shaman enters the state of trance (altered state, trance) and seeks spirits’ help to resolve various problems in his or her community • The word “shaman” is now used loosely to describe all spiritual practitioners (medicine men/women) in all tribal societies from Siberia to Africa
    3. 3. Enlightenment explorers and shamans
    4. 4. Ake Ohlmarks (1939): Mapping “Classical” Shamanism
    5. 5. The major tools shamans use to enter a trance • A prolonged drum beats and chanting • Hallucinogens: – cactus peyote – cactus San Pedro – fly mushrooms – psylocibe mushrooms – tobacco
    6. 6. Western Science About Shamanism: Hysteria Cum Demonomania • “The shaman is abnormal, neurotic, and epileptic; his functions are based on his abnormal qualities and aggravate these in turn” Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1920)
    7. 7. Why hysterics and neurotics? “Arctic Hysteria” into Shamanism • Severe northern environment perpetuates neurotic behavior (geographical determinism) • Polar societies are haunted by hysteria (generalization on the basis of limited facts) • Females are especially prone to hysteria (a tribute to Victorian psychology/medical science) • Shamans manifest hysteria in its extreme (to a superficial view, “hysterics” and shamans show the same “bizarre” behavior; therefore they are linked to each other).
    8. 8. Shamanism Goes Global: Mircea Eliade’s “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy” (1951) • Shamanism as primal mysticism, longing for paradise • Shamans are not neurotics • Economic, social and cultural contexts are “parasites of religious phenomena” • Extended the expression of shamanism to South America, Australia, pre-Christian Europe
    9. 9. The Rise of Interest in Shamanism • Until the 1960s, except anthropologists and psychiatrists, shamanism was of little interest to people • Shamans had been viewed either as a fraud or as mentally unstable people (see next slide) • The 1960s: Western civilization with its technology and reason loses its appeal in the eyes of people • counterculture, interests in non-western cultures and religions, drugs and altered states; interest in shamanism grows in academia and beyond • Since the end of the 1960s to the present: shamans are viewed as people of incredible ecological and spiritual wisdom, will help to heal Western society (1960s to present)
    10. 10. Carlos Castaneda (1968): Literary Fiction as a Spearhead of Shamanism
    11. 11. Michael Harner: from Anthropologist to Shamanism Teacher • Field work among the Conibo Indians in South America • Ayahuasca (mind-altering herb drink) experience • The Way of the Shaman (1980), an attempt to digest various tribal shamanisms into the healing “core” technique for Western audiences. • Neo-shamanism: spiritual but not religious
    12. 12. Harner: Shamanism as Spiritual Therapy • He argues that drum beats have healing effect on the mind and body • Shamanic journeying for resolution of various problems • Each person can learn quickly and safely enter altered states (expansion of personal consciousness) • Power animal as a virtual confidant
    13. 13. Sandra Ingerman, shamanic soul journey expert and one of Harner’s students
    14. 14. Now: to learn from the “tribal” and “ancient ones” • away from the Western Civilization • shamanism as philosophy of nature • shamanism as flexible and democratic spirituality • shamanism as primal feminism • Neo-shamanism is part of modern New Age/nature spirituality
    15. 15. Heavy presence of Native Americana in neo- shamanism New Age/nature spirituality, 1960s-1990s • The American Indian as an antidote to modernity and Western Civilization • Joseph Campbell: American Indians are “the most spiritual people on earth” • Native Americans as the archetype of the ancient, ecological and spiritual
    16. 16. From the United States to Europe • • United States is the motherland of the New Age/neo-shamanism • Dominant position of English language • American “flood of printed matter” and “Native American” traveling “shamans” as inspirations for European spiritual seekers
    17. 17. Merlin’s call: from Native Americana to ancient European folklore • Many New Age/nature communities are sensitive to Native American criticism • A growing realization that Native Americana cannot make Western seekers more indigenous • A current movement toward European pre- Christian folklore (Nordic and Celtic spiritualities)
    18. 18. Neo-shamanism Print Culture: Castaneda’s Don Juan to Bates’ Anglo-Saxon sorcerer
    19. 19. Some new cultural and spiritual Blueprints Merlin Odin
    20. 20. The Shamanism idiom became popular with the Wicca religion
    21. 21. Why is the word “shaman” popular? • Old expressions used to describe tribal and ancient spiritual practitioners (wizard, witch doctor, sorcerer, and magician) are viewed as offensive, culturally biased and Eurocentric • Words “medicine man/women” are too gender specific • Gender neutral “shaman” is devoid of all those characteristics • Additional attraction: the word shaman comes from native Siberia, which means it is non-Western
    22. 22. Is neo-shamanism “genuine” or “flaky”? Things to remember • Imagined neo-shamanism communities are not necessarily imaginary communities • If a religious path is a new, invented from books, or replicated from another culture, it does not mean that this path is less valid than “traditional” religions • Religion is not less valid even if it contains elements of deceit
    23. 23. Conclusions • neo-shamanism became an integral part of Western landscape of new religious movements • As such, neo-shamanism is authentic and “traditional” • In matters of religion/spirituality, such verdicts as “authentic” and “non-authentic,” “traditional” and “non-traditional” do not make sense.
    24. 24. • Go to Andrei Znamenski web page that includes a link to The Beauty of the Primitive web page • Go to Andrei Znamenski amazon web author’s page

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