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Shamanism and Related Studies

Shamanism and Related Studies

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Published by: JOSEPH on Dec 06, 2009
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Shamanism and relatedstudies
A shaman is a medicine man or woman.Shaman are spiritual beings with the ability to heal, work with energies and 'see' visions. The essentialcharacteristics of shaman are mastery of energy and fire as a medium of transformation.
Shamanism is a range of traditional beliefs and practices that involve the ability to diagnose, cure, andsometimes cause human suffering by traversing the axis mundi and forming a special relationship with, or gaining control over, spirits. Shamans have been credited with the ability to control the weather, divination,the interpretation of dreams, astral projection, and traveling to upper and lower worlds. Shamanistictraditions have existed throughout the world since prehistoric times.Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits thataffect the lives of the living. In contrast to animism and animatism, which any and usually all members of asociety practice, shamanism requires specialized knowledge or abilities. Shamans are not, however,organized into full-time ritual or spiritual associations, as are priests.
 The word shaman originated among the Siberian Tungus (Evenks) and literally means he (or she) whoknows; the belief that the word may be derived from Sanskrit is perhaps due to a confusion of the words'shamanism' and 'shramanism', from the sanskrit shramana, Pali and Prakrit samana; but the samanas wereascetics, not shamans.It has replaced the older English language term witch doctor, a term which unites the two stereotypicalfunctions of the shaman: knowledge of magical and other lore, and the ability to cure a person and mend asituation. However, at the present time this term is generally considered to be pejorative andanthropologically inaccurate. Medicine man is preferred, especially as not all traditional peoples approve of the use of shaman as a generic term, given that the word comes from a specific place and people.
 Shamanistic practices are thought to predate all organized religions, and certainly date back to the neolithic period. Aspects of shamanism are encountered in later, organized religions, generally in their mystic andsymbolic practices. Greek paganism was influenced by shamanism, as reflected in the stories of Tantalus,Prometheus, Medea, Calypso among others, as well as in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and other mysteries.Some of the shamanic practices of the Greek religion were later adopted into the Roman religion.There is a strong shamanistic influence in the Bön religion of central Asia, and in Tibetan Buddhism.Buddhism became popular with shamanic peoples such as the Tibetans, Mongols and Manchu beginningwith the eighth century. Forms of shamanistic ritual combined with Tibetan Buddhism becameinstitutionalized as the state religion under the Chinese Yuan dynasty and Qing dynasty. One commonelement of shamanism and Buddhism is the attainment of spiritual realization, at times mediated byentheogenic (psychedelic) substances.The shamanic practices of many cultures were virtually wiped out with the spread of Christianity. InEurope, starting around 400 CE, the Christian church was instrumental in the collapse of the Greek andRoman religions. Temples were systematically destroyed and key ceremonies were outlawed. Beginningwith the middle ages and continuing into the Renaissance, remnants of European shamanism were wipedout by campaigns against witches. These campaigns were often orchestrated by the Catholic Inquisition.The repression of shamanism continued as Christian influence spread with Spanish colonization. In theCaribbean, and Central and South America, Catholic priests followed in the footsteps of the Conquistadorsand were instrumental in the destruction of the local traditions, denouncing practitioners as "devilworshippers" and having them executed. In North America, the English Puritans conducted periodiccampaigns against individuals perceived as witches. More recently, attacks on shamanic practitioners have been carried out at the hands of Christian missionaries to third world countries. As recently as the nineteenseventies, historic petroglyphs were being defaced by missionaries in the Amazon.
It has been postulated that modern state campaigns against the use of psychedelic substances are theoffshoot of previous religious campaigns against shamanism.Today, shamanism, once universal, survives primarily among indigenous peoples. Shamanic practice continues today in the tundras, jungles, deserts,and other rural areas, and also in cities, towns, suburbs and shantytowns all over the world. This isespecially widespread in Africa as well as South America, where "mestizo shamanism" is widespread.Many recent efforts have been made trying to link shamanic practice and knowledge with Western,scientific beliefs. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby has proposed that shamans take their consciousness downto the molecular level, working with DNA and viruses that they see as the twin serpents or malicious"darts". The holomovement theory proposed by David Bohm is often seen as an approach to create ascientific foundation for concepts such as parallel worlds and alternative ways to traverse time and space.
Aspects of the Practice
Different forms of shamanism are found around the world, and practitioners are also known as medicinemen or women, as well as witch doctors.
Initiation and Learning
 In Shamanic cultures, the shaman plays a priest like role; however, there is an essential difference betweenthe two, as Joseph Campbell describes:The priest is the socially initiated, ceremonially inducted member of a recognized religiousorganization, where he holds a certain rank and functions as the tenant of an office that was held by others before him, while the shaman is one who, as a consequence of a personal psychologicalcrisis, has gained a certain power of his own.A shaman may be initiated via a serious illness, by being struck by lightning, or by a near-death experience(e.g. the shaman Black Elk), and there usually is a set of cultural imagery expected to be experiencedduring shamanic initiation regardless of method.According to Mircea Eliade, such imagery often includes being transported to the spirit world andinteracting with beings inhabiting it, meeting a spiritual guide, being devoured by some being and emergingtransformed, and/or being "dismantled" and "reassembled" again, often with implanted amulets such asmagical crystals. The imagery of initiation generally speaks of transformation and granting powers, andoften entails themes of death and rebirth.In some societies shamanic powers are considered to be inherited whereas in others shamans are consideredto have been "called" - Among the Siberian Chukchis one may behave in ways that Western clinicianswould characterize as psychotic, but which Siberian culture interprets as possession by a spirit whodemands that one assume the shamanic vocation. Among the South American Tapirape shamans are calledin their dreams. In other societies shamans choose their career: First Nations would seek communion withspirits through a "vision quest"; South American Shuar, seeking the power to defend their family againstenemies, apprentice themselves to accomplished shamans.
Practice and method
 The shaman plays the role of healer in shamanic societies; shamans gain knowledge and power bytraversing the axis mundi and bringing back knowledge from the heavens. Even in western society, thisancient practice of healing is referenced by the use of the caduceus as the symbol of medicine.Oftentimes the shaman has, or acquires, one or more familiar helping entities in the spirit world; these areoften spirits in animal form, spirits of healing plants, or (sometimes) those of departed shamans. In many

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