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The Shamanic Paradigm: Evidence from Ethnology, Neuropsychology and Ethology, Michael Winkelman

The Shamanic Paradigm: Evidence from Ethnology, Neuropsychology and Ethology, Michael Winkelman

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Published by Žarko Almuli
Time and Mind:
The Journal of
and Culture
Volume 3—Issue 2
July 2010
Time and Mind:
The Journal of
and Culture
Volume 3—Issue 2
July 2010

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Published by: Žarko Almuli on Feb 08, 2011
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Time and Mind 
Volume 3—Issue 2—July 2010, pp. 159–182
Time and Mind:The Journal of  Archaeology,Consciousnessand Culture
 Volume 3—Issue 2July 2010pp. 159–182
Reprints available directly from the publishersPhotocopying permitted by licence only © Berg 2010
The ShamanicParadigm: Evidencefrom Ethnology, Neuropsychology andEthology 
Michael Winkelman
Michael Winkelman, Ph.D. (University of California-Irvine), M.P.H. (University of Arizona) recently retiredfrom the School of Human Evolution and Social Changeat Arizona State University where he served as Head of Sociocultural Anthropology. He has served as President of  the Anthropology of Consciousness
section of the AmericanAnthropological Association, and was the founding Presidentof its Anthropology of Religion section. Winkelman hasengaged in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research onshamanism for the past 30 years, focusing principally on the cross-cultural patterns of shamanism and identifying the associated biological bases of shamanic universals andaltered states of consciousness. His principal publicationson shamanism include
Shamans, Priests and Witches
Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing 
 (2000), and (with John Baker)
Supernatural as Natural: ABiocultural Theory of Religion
Cross-cultural findings establish the empirical evidence fora common form of worldwide hunter-gatherer shamanism,as well as differentiating these shamans from othertypes of shamanistic healers
These diverse practitionershave contributed to a confusion regarding the natureof shamanism because they share similarities in theircommon biogenetic foundations. These involve a culturaluniversal involving community ritual in which the inductionof altered states of consciousness (ASC) is seen as a toolfor engaging in interaction with spirits for the purposesof divination and healing. The relationship of varioustypes of shamanistic healers to subsistence, social, and
The Shamanic Paradigm Michael Winkelman
Time and Mind 
Volume 3—Issue 2—July 2010, pp. 159–182
political characteristics provides evidenceof the evolutionary transformation of ahunter-gatherer shamanism into othertypes of religious practitioners. The deepevolutionary origins of shamanism areillustrated through biogenetic approachesthat identify the biological bases of shamanic universals and their deeperphylogenetic origins. The homologies of shamanic rituals with the displays of thegreat apes provide a basis for identifyingthe ancient foundations of homininritual. These ritual commonalities aredescribed by reference to the maximaldisplays of chimpanzees (
Pan troglodytes
 The homologies implicate hominin ritualactivities as involving similar individualand group activities involving vigorousbipedal displays by alpha males whichincluded drumming with hands, feet, andsticks and emotional vocalizations. Theiradaptive foundations are illustrated by themany functions of these threat displays inchimpanzee society: greetings, hierarchymaintenance, group integration, intergroupboundary maintenance, and releaseof tension and frustration. Biogeneticapproaches to the origins of humanritual provide an additional empirical andtheoretical foundation for understandingthe nature and origins of shamanism in thehuman and hominid past.
shamanism, evolution, hominidreligiosity
Eliade’s Concept of the Shaman
The concept of shamanism entered into Western academic discourse in theseventeenth century (Flaherty 1992) andbecame a standard feature of comparativereligious analysis with the work of Eliade(1964). Based on a reading of materialsfrom around the world and across time,Eliade proposed that the shaman wasa cross-cultural phenomenon. Eliadecharacterized the shamanic ritual as anunparalleled activity in the lives of thecommunity, with the entire local residentialgroup expected to attend. Shamans arecharismatic social leaders who engage inspirit-mediated healing and divination for  the local community. The shaman wascore to all aspects of life—divining themeaning of the universe, prophesying thefuture, healing, helping hunters find animals,communicating psychically about lost family members, directing the group’s movement,funerals, and virtually all major activities of  the community. Shamans also led raidingparties, organized communal hunts, anddirected group movement. Shamans engagedin activities on behalf of a client, but generally with the entire local community (the band)participating.The shamanic ritual was typically anocturnal event in which the entire localcommunity congregated around a fire,clapping and singing while the shamandanced for hours while drumming or rattling.The shaman’s vocalizations also engaged adialogue with the spirits, exhorting them through ancient songs and chants. Theshaman would call for spirit allies or exhortevil spirits to leave and cease their afflictions.The shamanic ritual involved imitating power animals and acting out struggles with thespirits, and the enacting of the journey  through the spirit realms.A core aspect of shamanism identifiedby Eliade was “ecstasy,” an altered stateof consciousness (ASC) that was used
Michael Winkelman The Shamanic Paradigm
Time and Mind 
Volume 3—Issue 2—July 2010, pp. 159–182
 to enter the spirit world. The ASC wasinduced through the effects of drumming,singing, chanting, dancing, and a variety of other procedures, including in some cases the use of psychoactive substances. TheseASC are thought to enable them to enter  the spirit world and acquire supernaturalpowers through a vision quest experience.Other procedures used to induce theseexperiences included fasting and water deprivation, exposure to temperatureextremes, extensive exercise and painfulausterities, sleep deprivation, sleep anddreams, and social and sensory deprivation.A central aspect of the shaman’s ASCinvolved a “soul journey” in which somepersonal mental aspect of the shamandeparts the body and travels to other places.Other shamanic ASC involved journeys to the underworld, and/or transformationinto animals. Shamans were not normally possessed by spirits; rather, they controlledspirits and were believed to accomplish their feats through the actions of their spirit allies.Shamans generally are identified asdescending from “shaman families” whoseancestors provided spirit powers. In mostcultures, shamans are predominantly males;however, most cultures also allow females to become shamans, but typically limit their practice to before or after child-bearingyears. Shamans’ selection may result from thedesires of a deceased shaman relative whoprovides spirit allies, but in most shamaniccultures anyone may become a shaman if heor she is selected by the spirits, undergoes training, and is successful in practice.Shamans are selected through a variety of procedures, including involuntary visions,receiving signs from spirits, and seriousillness. Shamans’ developmental experiencesincluded being attacked by the spirits,producing a death-and-rebirth experience.This dismemberment and reconstructionby the spirits embues shamans with powers,especially animal allies that provide assistancein healing, divination, hunting, and the ability  to use sorcery to harm others.A characteristic feature of shamans’development involved visionary experiencesduring which they contacted the spiritworld, particularly in the form of theanimal spirits that were central to shamans’powers. Animals were often thought toprovide the shaman with skills specific to the animals’ own strengths. They werealso the vehicles through which shamansaccomplished a variety of actions, includingacquiring information, healing, and killing.Shamans’ therapeutic processes involved theremoval of objects or spirits sent by other shamans through sorcery and soul journeys to recover lost souls and power animals,aspects of the patient’s personal essence andpowers. Shamanic soul recovery involves asoul journey to do battle with the spirits torescue the patient’s lost soul. Therapeuticprocesses involve community participation,healing through enhancing social bondingprocesses, restoring a sense of identity andemotional well-being, and restoring and transforming self.Eliade’s use of the concept of the shamanand his explanations were appealing to many.The concept began to gain currency in useand eventually became applied to virtually any kind of spiritual or religious practice or ASC. For decades the literature has used the term “shaman” to refer to many differentmagico-religious practitioners. Generally thewriter makes the unspoken presumption thatin spite of apparent diversity of the practices

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