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A Nepalese Shamanism and the Classic Inner Asian Tradition

A Nepalese Shamanism and the Classic Inner Asian Tradition

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Published by: Dilara Ararat on Jun 09, 2010
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A Nepalese Shamanism and the Classic Inner Asian TraditionAuthor(s): John T. HitchcockSource:
History of Religions,
Vol. 7, No. 2 (Nov., 1967), pp. 149-158Published by: The University of Chicago PressStable URL:
Accessed: 26/05/2009 14:31
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John T. Hitchcock A NEPALESESHAMANISM ANDTHECLASSIC INNERASIANTRADITIONAlthoughshamanismis awidespreadphenomenon,thelocusclassicusisCentral and NorthAsia,a resultboth ofitsdramaticnature,reportedindetailbyRussianethnographers,and of itsreligiouscentralityinsuch an immense area.1For non-Russianscholars,theopportunitytostudytheshamanism ofCentralandNorthAsiadisappeared,orwasseverelycurtailed,followingWorldWarIand,insubsequentyears,thereligionhas beenmuch affectedby policiesoftheSoviet state.2InTibet,there havebeennostudiesofshamanismcomparabletothose made further to thenorthand,even ifTibetsoonwere tobeopenedtointernationalscholarlyre-search,itisdoubtful thatshamanism would be found tohavesurvivedthere initsearlier form. Theresultofcontemporarypoliticaldevelopments,insum,has beentoremove InnerAsianshamanismas asubjectforfieldinvestigation, exceptfor afewscholars withpropernationalcredentials,andtochangeitmar-kedlyor insomeplacesperhapseven toeliminateit.Ifaversion ofthisreligionwereviable andsociallyimportanttodayin aregion
Thispaperisbased onfieldworkcarriedoutinNepalin1960-62andsupportedbytheNationalScienceFoundation. IamgratefultotheWenner-GrenFounda-tion forAnthropologicalResearch,Inc.,forprovidingsupportduringthetimethepaperwaswritten.1MirceaEliade,Shamanism:ArchaicTechniquesofEcstasy(NewYork:BollingenFoundation,1963),p.4.
2
HenryN.Michael(ed.),Studies inSiberianShamanism(Toronto:UniversityofTorontoPress).149
 
NepaleseShamanism andClassicInner AsianTraditionaccessibletointernationalscholarship,itwouldbea factofsigni-ficance. Withthispossibilityinmind,it isworthraisingtheques-tion of whether or not atypeof shamanismfoundinNepalresemblesthetypethat existedduringthe latenineteenth andearlytwentiethcenturiesinCentraland NorthAsia.InnerAsian shamanism is acomplexreligiousphenomenon,andduringthelongcourseof itshistoryit haspickedup manyele-ments anddroppedothers.Inhisanalysisofthereligion,Eliadedescribes variouspatternshe refersto as "classicshamanism,"3with"greatshamans"4or"masters"5asitspractitioners.Thevariouslocal manifestationsof Inner Asianshamanism,those thatappearin theethnographicdescriptions,alwaysweretosomedegreedecadenteither inthesensethat variouselementsof theclassicpatternwere absentorinthe sensethatextraneouselementswerepresent.Classicshamanismthus isaconstruct,thoughonealsoheldbyvarious InnerAsianpeopleswho believedit existedin thepastand wasexemplified bypractitionerstheysometimesreferredto as "old shamans."6 Whetherthereligionin thispureformactuallyever was realizedis aquestionthatneednot concernus. Itsutilityasananalyticaltoolremainsunaffected.Theclassicpractitionerperformedwithinatraditionofbeliefinthemigratorysouland,havinginducedatrancebymeansofmagico-religiousmusic,he releasedhissoul tojourneyuptotheskyordown to theunderworld. Whilehis soultraveledintheotherworld,hewould enact itsadventures,mimingdramaticallyitsencounterswithgoodandevilspirits.Suchflightsenabledhimtodivinethefuture,eitherbecause hetraveledin a worldwherethefuturewasopento hissoul'seyeor becausethesoul coulduseclairvoyantspiritsas informants.In histrance,healsoconductedsoulsofthedeadtotheafterworldor soulsofsacrificedanimalstothespiritforwhomtheywere intended.It washistechniqueofmagic flight,moreover,that enabledtheold shamantoperformoneof hisprimaryfunctions,thatofhealing.Sincesomeillnesseswerea resultof thesoul'sstrayingawayfrom thebodyorbeingstolen,itwas the shamanwho couldeffectacure;for oncehavingascertainedthe whereaboutsofthelost soulduringhisseance,hecouldbravetheperilsoftheotherworldtobringit back.Psycho-pompismofthiskind andsouljourneysto theheavensandtheunderworldareamplydocumentedthroughoutInnerAsia.7
3
Eliade,op.cit.,p.256.4Ibid.,p.227.5Ibid.,p.228.6Ibid.,pp.219,237,257.7Ibid.,pp.38, 76,190-214,220,225, 232-33,237, 247,254.150

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