Worldwide Investigation of Indigenous Beliefs and Shamanism
"The Reindeer People," covers the history and biology of reindeer, nomadism, Shamanism, community in its various political forms, the breakup of the Soviet Union and its consequences for those who live at the margins.
Always on the move, the Eveny use their reindeer not only as pack animals; they ride them. Another reindeer-herding people, the Sami, are Europe's last remaining indigenous population. Although many Sami traditions are based on nomadism, only about 10 percent of the Sami now engage in reindeer husbandry.
Shamanism sometimes also called animism, is a global phenomenon and the problem is the poverty of English, and probably most European languages, in describing it. For example Chinese still has well-defined terms for various kinds of soul or spirit within humans: the shen, zhi, hun, po, yi, etc). Uralic archaeology is rich in shamanic art centered around the Mistress or Mother of Nature, plus stone altars/censers which turn up in Kazakhstan, and so on.
As an introduction I should mention that in English there are also still major problems with this field of research in part due to the reliance on the faulty theories of Mirceau Eliade and his followers. In fact that even ‘Traditionalism’ might have been an influence also on Eliade’s later work was indicated by N. J. Girardot. Now a professor of religion, he read the proofs of a book Eliade had written and remarked: "Every other paragraph seemed to use the word `primordial' or some classic Eliadean variant. I went through the proofs in a frenzy to purge myself once and for all of the contamination of primordiality!" (N.J. Girardot, "Smiles and Whispers," in Changing Religious Worlds, ed. Rennie, p. 157). The Traditionalist movement (a religion) as a whole has never been systematically surveyed before, but a good introduction can be found in the biography of René Guénon by Mark Sedgwick: “Against The Modern World”, 2004.
There are also a number of other problems for example that Eliade worked from secondary sources, thus never even met a living shaman. But especially there is his attitude towards women.
For example in spite of the written historical record of women shamans in Siberia, he almost leaves these entirely out of his sweeping synthesis nevertheless considered a major source for the study of Shamanism in academia today.
Some of the sources Eliade relied on then again where like Geza Rbheim, in his discussion of the Hungarian shaman, or tdltos, a term he translated as "male sorcerer," Rbheim actually mentioned two women tdltoses, but he covered this apparent contradiction by saying that they were "witches" who were "just pretending to be healers" (in "Hungarian shamanism," Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences 3,1951: 131-169). The approving quotation of Roheim can be found in Eliade, Shamanism, 224-225.
But earlier published observation of Hungarian shamans indicated that tdltoses were both men and women. And according to local oral tradition, the original shaman, named Rasdi, was a woman. Moreover, archaeologists have found many early female burials with shamanic materials in present-day Hungary. For example in Tekla Dömötör, "The problem of the Hungarian female tdltos," in Shamanism in Eurasia, ed. Mihâly Hoppâl (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiad6, 1984); Mihâly Hoppâl, "The role of shamanism in Hungarian ethnic identity," Danubian Historical Studies 1 (1987): 34-43; Izabella Horvâth, "A comparative study of the shamanistic motifs in Hungarian and Turkic folk tales," in Shamanism in Performing Arts, eds. Tae-gon Kim and Mihâly Hoppâl (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiad6, 1995), 159-170; Lâszlo Kürti, "Eroticism, sexuality, and gender reversal in Hungarian culture," in Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures, ed. S. P Ramet (London: Routledge, 1996).
But those facts do not fit comfortably with Rôheim's Freudian theory about the phallic nature of shamanic "ecstatic soul flight." To quote him: "A flying dream is an erection dream, and in these dreams the body represents the penis. Our hypothetical conclusion would be that the flying dream is the nucleus of shamanism, italics in the original.
Following Rôheim's lead, Eliade limited shamanism to "soul flight"-which he regarded as not only transcendent but also phallic.
Most students of shamanism have followed Mircea Eliade in focusing their attention on masculine shamanic paths-dismemberment, evisceration, and symbolic death leading to rebirth-as necessary to shamanic initiation. Thus the anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, claimed that the only path to "rebirth" as a shaman was a single enormous ejaculation, followed by a symbolic death, dismemberment, and skeletalization-the masculine tradition.
Eliade also separated Shamanism from "possession," which he considered immanent and assigned to women, whom he felt were not really shamans( Eliade, Shamanism, 4-6). Some studies suggested that mediums and shamans are found in different types of societies; Erika Bourguignon, Religion, Altered States of Consciousness, and Social Change, 1973, and Michael Winkelman, Shamans, Priests, and Witches: A Cross-Cultural Study of Magico-Religious Practitioners, 1992.
The gendering of this difference began in the 1940s when ethnographers began to discuss the idea that ritualized possession states were a way for women to achieve social prestige. See Raymond Prince, "Foreword," in Case Studies in Spirit Possession, eds. Vincent Crapanzano and Vivian Garrison (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1977), xi. The British anthropologist loan Lewis in his influential book Ecstatic Religion (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1971) described what he saw as a worldwide pattern of possession cults as a form of indirect social and religious protest by women.
As Wolfgang Jilek has remarked, "the possession state has been reserved for non-Western cultures and for cases not approved by Christian authorities" which is "an arbitrary convention indicative of Euro-centric bias." See his Indian Healing: Shamanic Ceremonialism in the Pacific Northwest Today (Surry, BC: Hancock House, 1982).
Thus Eliade went out of his way to deny shamanic status to women. He glibly referred to the Mapuche women shamans of Chile as "sorceresses," saying they were evil persons who viciously attacked others by projecting injurious objects into their bodies. The predominance of female shamans in Korea he considered as "deterioration in traditional shamanism." And he said that ancient Chinese women shamans were "possessed persons of a rudimentary type" ( Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Technique of Ecstasy , 1964, 4, 124, 301, 363, 453, 455, 465).
A Korean scholar has noted that Eliade's mistaken impression of Korean shamanism was partly due to his reliance on a single work by C. Hentze (Hungyoun Cho, "An archetypal myth and its reality in Korean shamanism," in Re-Discovery of Shamanic Heritage, eds. Mihâly Hoppâl and Gâbor Kosa, 2002), 255-263).
Early sources on Chinese shamanism include Jan Jacob Marie de Groot, The Religious System of China (Leiden, 1939), 6:1203; Han-yi Feng and John Schryock, "The black magic in China known as ku," Journal of the American Oriental Society 5 (1935): 1-30; Eduard Erkes, "Der Schamanistische Ursprung des Chinesischen Ahnenkultis," Sinologica 2 (1950): 258-262. An early Chinese book, Yijing, links the word for shaman, wu, with a feminine trigram meaning "dui, the fertile marsh, the youngest daughter, the shamaness." From this and other sources it is clear that beginning as early as 1500
BCE, the shamans, called wu regardless of sex, were mostly women.
One of the authors he cited was Jan Jacob Marie de Groot. But de Groot, perhaps the most authoritative source on ancient Chinese religion at the time, had actually noted that women shamans predominated in early Chinese shamanism and that they were considered great healers. See Early sources on Chinese shamanism include Jan Jacob Marie de Groot, The Religious System of China (Leiden, 1939), 6:1203; Han-yi Feng and John Schryock, "The black magic in China known as ku," Journal of the American Oriental Society 5 (1935): 1-30; Eduard Erkes, "Der Schamanistische Ursprung des Chinesischen Ahnenkultis," Sinologica 2 (1950): 258-262. An early Chinese book, Yijing, links the word for shaman, wu, with a feminine trigram meaning "dui, the fertile marsh, the youngest daughter, the shamaness.” From this and other sources it is clear that beginning as early as 1500 BCE, the shamans, called wu regardless of sex, were mostly women.
Eliade's dismissal of women shamans extended to Japan where he described the rituals practiced by women as merely "techniques of possession by ghosts," making the shamans sound like spiritualists(Eliade, "Recent works on shamanism: A review article," History ofReligions 1 ,1961).
Yet again, the primary sources he used, together with more recent information, reveal that the earliest and most powerful shamans in Japan were women. Great women shamans (miko) who were possessed by heavenly deities had pivotal ritual and political roles in society from the fourth through the tenth century. Only later, under Buddhist influence, did the miko lose their political status and be nfluence, did the miko lose their political status and become relegated to the "folk" tradition.
Eliade's work on shamanism was so persuasive, even though it was not accurate, because of the times in which he lived and wrote. However his erasure of women from important religious roles was not even remarked upon for forty years. See Carol Christ, "Mircea Eliade and the feminist paradigm shift," Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 7 (1991): 75-94; Rosalind Shaw, "Feminist anthropology and the gendering of religious studies," in Religion and Gender, ed. Ursula King (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995).
According to Eliade, possession involves a lack of control over the spirits, and shamanism requires control, so possession could not possibly be a legitimate part of shamanism. The lack of control was subsequently described as "feminine in character"-a device women use to gain attention and achieve social prestige. The American anthropologist Michael Harner elaborated on Eliade's ideas when he stated that trance mediumship, or what is now dubbed "channeling," involves a lack of control over the spirits that enter one's body.
Ironically, even some feminist authors have embraced the idea that male shamans engage in ecstatic out-of-body soul flights and female mediums are possessed by alien spirits. Susan Sered, in her otherwise excellent book Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women (1994), described soul flight as a masculine adventure. She argued that religious specialists in what she called "female-dominated religions" consistently chose possession rather than ecstatic soul flight. Her ideas presuppose a sexual separation of the ways in which ecstasy is experienced by men and women. According to her essentialist scheme, there is a purely masculine pole that involves leaving one's body, and a purely feminine pole that involves sharing one's body. See Susan Sered, Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 186-187.
This dichotomy between transcendence, as beyond experience, outside oneself, and thereby unknowable, and its opposite, immanence, that which is experiential, present, or indwelling in form, is from the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Sered does not include shamanism in her category of "religions dominated by women." The ethnographic literature is studded with mantras to the prominence of women worldwide in so-called "possession cults." See Ian Hogbin, Law and Order in Polynesia (London: Christopher's, 1934), who notes how women are mediums consulted for diseases ascribed to possession by the spirits of ancestors. Reo Fortune, Manus Religion (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1953), 95, asserted that among the Manus of New Guinea, while women may be spiritually disenfranchised with the paternal Sir Ghost cult, they are spiritually enfranchised in possession cults.
The actual situation is far more complex. In Southeast Asia there are traditions in which out-of-body soul flight is considered a feminine action, while possession is considered masculine. In Sumatra, among the Rejang, young fertile women make soul journeys to the spirit world of their ancestors, while young men serve as mediums possessed by spirits. Mature women and men are able to combine soul journeying with spirit possession; over the years of their practice they, eventually learn how to imaginatively shape-shift between genders.
Eliade's trivializing approach to women shamans unfortunately influenced many other scholars who, unlike him, actually met living practitioners. Among them was Ake Hultkrantz, a Swedish historian of religion who conducted field research with the Shoshoni during the late 1950s and early 1960s. In reporting on the "medicine men" he met in Wyoming, he remarked casually, "There are also medicine women who have passed the menopause, but they are few, and their powers are not as great as the powers of their male colleagues.”
He then went on to generalize the statement to other tribes. He wrote that "in Puget Sound (and perhaps elsewhere) female shamans are rare, and their powers are inferior to those of male shamans." And he asserted that "among the Eskimos some women occasionally perform as shamans, but it is testified that only with difficulty do they achieve the same magical effects as their male colleagues." In each of these cases he offered no convincing evidence but only his preconceived opinion.(See Ake Hultkrantz, Shamanic Healing and Ritual Drama, 1992, 65).
This statement about the lack of women shamans among Great Basin peoples is contradicted by the ethnographic work of Willard Park among the Northern Paiutes, Shamanism in Western North America: A Study in Cultural Relationships (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1938). Park spent three summers gathering data on shamanism. One of his key informants was the famous shaman Rosie Plummer and her daughter, Daisy Lopez, who was undergoing shamanic apprenticeship at the time. Park also stated, "The shaman's calling is open to both sexes among nearly all of the tribes west of the Rocky Mountains" (p. 88). For a sensitive discussion of the possible reasons for male bias in describing aboriginal healing in Canada see James Waldram, 'D. 'Ann Herring, and T Kue Young, Aboriginal Health in Canada: Historical, Cultural, and Epidemiological Perspectives (Toronto: University of Torontô Press, 1995).
In fact other ethnographers working in these areas had discovered an equal proportion of female and male healing shamans: a missionary who lived with indigenous Puget Sound people for many years noted that there were prominent women shamans among the Klallams. He added that all along the Northwest Coast, visionary power is given at birth to women rather than to men.See Donald Callaway, Joel Janetski, and Omer Stewart, "Ute," in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 11: Great Basin, ed. Warren L. D'Azevedo (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1986); Robert Ruby and John Brown, Myron Eells and the Puget Sound Indians (Seattle: Superior Publishing, 1976); Pamela Amoss, Coast Salish Spirit Dancing: The Survival of an Ancestral Religion (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978); Sam Gill and Irene Sullivan, Dictionary of Native American Mythology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
There are in fact material records of Haida women shamans dating all the way back to the seventeenth century. It consists of dozens of shale carvings of women dressed in shamanic clothing and performing in séances. An illustration shows front and back views of a woman wearing a shaman's outfit. She has feathers tattooed on her right cheek and a labret, worn by members of important clans, inserted in her lower lip. Her apron and long mantle are painted with the stylized faces of her clan's power animals. In each hand she holds a type of rattle that is filled with pebbles and produces clacking noises when shaken.
Icelandic Arctic explorer and ethnographer Vilhjalmur Stefansson reported that some of the greatest Inuit shamans he knew were women. Other scholars have noted that women shamans performed differently than men but nonetheless enjoyed similar social status, prestige, and power. Danish scholar Therkel Mathiassen observed that all senior Inuit men and women were shamans.
Yet then in 1994 again, the historian of religion Robert Torrance ignored early studies of women shamans in northern California. He simply decreed that these women's shamanic practices were less important and powerful than those of men. Without carefully reading biographies and ethnographic sketches of women shamans, or undertaking any new field research, he belittled and trivialized this feminine tradition by labeling it "passive shamanism" (Robert Torrance asserted that among the Eskimo in Siberia, "The female shaman was the exception." See Torrance, The Spiritual Quest (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994, 173).
And he described it as "a static, closed, or repetitive religion" in which a transcendent quest was not even possible. See Alfred Kroeber, "The Yurok religion," in Handbook of the Indians of California, ed. Alfred Kroeber (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1925), 53-75.
Thus Eliade's ideas and attitudes continue to linger on.
Enter the World of Indigenous Beliefs and
CHINA AND SINO-ASIA
The more traditional Taiwanese shamans have a broad range of functions, ranging from exorcism to providing counseling on fengshui.In Singapore, the determination of who will become a shaman by the year, month, day, and hour of birth is important in both Nong shamanism and in the practice of spirit mediumship. Although shamans, called bi in the Qiang language (duangong in Mandarin), may be either male or female, female shamans are rare.
KOREA AND JAPAN
Shamans on Cheju Island contrast sharply with this type; there the office of a shaman, a shimban, is inherited within certain lineages and is not a matter of divine election. A similar type of hereditary shaman, known as a tangol, is encountered in the southern regions of the peninsula. Hereditary shamans, especially the shimban of Cheju Island, cater to a particular village and its shrine, whereas a mudang gathers a group of personal followers.Among the Ainu of the far north of Japan, both the way of becoming a shaman and the terms used are so different from the rest of Japan that some have seen the elements of Eurasian shamanism as most significant here, as well as in Tsugaru.
AUSTRALASIA AND OCEANIA
Most of the languages of mainland Southeast Asia belong to several large families or groupings, including Tibeto-Burmese, Mon-Khmer, Tai-Kadai, and Vietnamese-Muong. The languages of insular Southeast Asia (along with some of those of the mainland) all belong to the great Austronesian family. The deities worshipped by the Maori are found among other Polynesian tribal groups, and in contrast to Australian Aboriginals, their traditional religion was polytheistic, not totemic. Membership in the Maori tribe is by tradition based on common ancestry, and this basis is reflected in the Maori worldview, which connects everything through ancestors. On Taiwan when Puyuma shamanism was shaped by hunting, it shared features with Siberian shamanism as observed in the nineteenth century; the current form is closer to the possession cult that characterizes Korean shamanism.
Among the Hausa, Muslim and non-Muslim practices sometimes intermingle and are sometimes in opposition. In the Gungawa section of the Hausa region, shamanic mediums, often benign or trickster figures, are held in high repute, while at the same time displays of power by any of them are frowned upon.Among the Asante, the okomfo or priest is possessed by spirits of nature who impart the knowledge for the okomfo to cure illnesses and assist people in other ways. Similarly, in Cape Nguni, the healer-diviners are called to their professions by the ancestors. More women than men become mediums in this region of Africa.
SOUTH ASIA, THE
HIMALAYAS, AND TIBET
Most of the languages of mainland Southeast Asia belong to several large families or groupings, including Tibeto-Burmese, Mon-Khmer, Tai-Kadai, and Vietnamese-Muong. The languages of insular Southeast Asia (along with some of those of the mainland) all belong to the great Austronesian family, which, though spread throughout most of the Pacific Islands, is also of Asian origin.
Update: Case Study: After
Castaneda, Huechol Alias Wixarika Shamanism
Around the time the last book by Carlos Castaneda appeared during his lifetime, several others had started to produce similar items like for example Taisha Abelar, Florinda Donner, Victor Sanchez The Toltec Path pictured above to the right of Castaneda’s book published that year 2001, or three years earlier already The Mists of Dragon Lore! Yet although Carlos Castaneda as sis known invented Don Juan, and his research on the Yaqui Indian Shamanism was bogus. It did however move some to do real field research during the 1980-90’s of which the following is a conclusive overview:
The Malaysian government has sought to promote the Islamicization of indigenous minorities, although this effort has generally been resisted by the Orang Asli in the Malay Peninsular and by the various Dayak and other indigenous non-Muslim groups in Malaysian Borneo. Malaysian Borneo however has also seen many conversions to Christianity.