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Archeology of Ecstasy: Shamans and Neo-shamans

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Shamanism and neo-shamanism: abstract of The Beauty of the Primitive in the form of powerpoints


Page 1: What is shamanism

Archeology of Ecstasy: Shamans and Neo-shamans

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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

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Enlightenment explorers and shamans

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Ake Ohlmarks (1939): Mapping “Classical” Shamanism

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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

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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)

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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).

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Shamanism Goes Global: Mircea Eliade’s “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy”


• 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

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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)

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Carlos Castaneda (1968): Literary Fiction as a Spearhead of Shamanism

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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

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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

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Sandra Ingerman, shamanic soul journey expert and one of Harner’s students

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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

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Heavy presence of Native Americana in neo-shamanism New Age/nature spirituality, 1960s-


• The American Indian as The American Indian as an antidote to modernity an antidote to modernity and Western Civilizationand Western Civilization

• Joseph Campbell: American Indians are “the most spiritual people on earth”

• Native Americans as the archetype of the ancient, ecological and spiritual

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From the United States to Europe

• United States is the motherland of United States is the motherland of the New Age/neo-shamanismthe New Age/neo-shamanism• Dominant position of English Dominant position of English languagelanguage• American “flood of printed American “flood of printed matter” and “Native American” matter” and “Native American” traveling “shamans” as inspirations traveling “shamans” as inspirations for European spiritual seekersfor European spiritual seekers

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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)

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Neo-shamanism Print Culture: Castaneda’s Don Juan to Bates’ Anglo-Saxon sorcerer

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Some new cultural and spiritual Blueprints

MerlinMerlin OdinOdin

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The Shamanism idiom became popular with the Wicca religion

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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

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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

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• 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.

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