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Definition of Shaman?

topic posted Tue, February 24, 2009 - 4:43 PM by  Lizard
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Some of the threads have mentioned this topic, and I have been confused how exactly shamans are defined, and how they relate to the animist worldview. I have read up on the subject but never met a shaman personally, so maybe some others here would know more firsthand how to define the subject. The closest I have come to shamanism in the flesh is briefly meeting some Shoshone medicine men who were quite involved in healing the damage done to how people relate to the land from bad 20th century practices. I certainly do not want to be one (seems way to difficult a path), but I'm interested in finding evidence of past European pagan-age shamanism.

I was reading the critique by Timothy White, past editor of Shaman's Drum magazine (#75), of Ronald Hutton's book 'Shamans,' where they both point out that some of the functions of shamans are healing, divination, prophecy, hunting magic, etc, and the complexity and diversity is great. Hutton discusses one supposed hallmark of shamans being their ability to summon and expel spirits at will. Others argue that the defining character is the ability to enter alternative worlds, realities, and states of consciousness. This could be in the form of journeys to the spiritworld, spirit incorporations into one's body, possessions, and dialogues. White mentions from a more experiential view how shamans are able to connect with "transpersonal energies that infuse them with extraordinary powers" that allow them to heal, be inspired, dance, sing, etc.

Reading Holger Kalweit's 'Shamans, Healers, and Medicine Men,' it seems like he is saying a shaman is one who brings health, holiness, and wholeness, all forms of the same thing. "Healing means healing culture first, then people, and finally sickness." He says shamans manipulate energies of a higher dimension, and that healing is a change in the level of consciousness.

This reminds me of G. Reichel-Dolmatoff talking of the Tukano of the Colombian Amazon: the shaman is a healer of illness not so much at the individual level, but at the level of "supra-individual structures that have been disturbed by the person. To be effective, he has to apply his treatment to the disturbed part of the ecosystem. It might be said then that a Tukano shaman does not have individual patients ; his task is to cure a social malfunctioning. The diseased organism of the patient is secondary in importance and will be treated eventually, both empirically and ritually, but what really counts is the re-establishment of the rules that will avoid overhunting, the depletion of certain plant resources, and unchecked population increase." This is exactly what the little I saw of Shoshone spiritual leaders involved, adding dealing pollution to the environment and indigenous land rights among other things.

Lastly, Rane Willerslev in 'Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animsim, and Personhood Among the Siberian Yukaghirs' came to the opinion that shamanism there was just a matter of degree of what everyone did. It was part of a broad-based activity practiced by hunters, for example, and not a form of "mysticism" under control of a religious elite. Everyone summoned spirits and interacted with them, and everyone entered altered states of consciousness in dreams to interact with the spiritworld or journey. He says before Communism every clan had a family-shaman who did healing and helped in hunting when needed. Professional shamans who specialized only in this field may have originated because of the mass of epidemics that broke out during the last several centuries from European contact. Willerslev talked with Yukaghir who kept telling him, "Virtually everyone can shamanize, it is just that some are better at it than others." Shamans simply specialize in what any member of society is capable of doing, that is, "techniques for manipulating the environment," as Willerslev put it. The shamans were just the tip of the iceberg of a more pervasive set of everyday shamanic practices.

I do not have the experience to say what is valid or not in these arguments, just trying to figure it out gradually. I'm just wondering what other people think? What is shamanism? Is it a specialty that only a few can practice, or a matter of degree of a broad-based animist practice?
posted by:
Lizard
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  • Re: Definition of Shaman?

    Tue, February 24, 2009 - 5:44 PM
    "It might be said then that a Tukano shaman does not have individual patients ; his task is to cure a social malfunctioning. The diseased organism of the patient is secondary in importance and will be treated eventually, both empirically and ritually, but what really counts is the re-establishment of the rules that will avoid overhunting, the depletion of certain plant resources, and unchecked population increase." This is exactly what the little I saw of Shoshone spiritual leaders involved, adding dealing pollution to the environment and indigenous land rights among other things. "

    I really like this perspective of a shaman and recenates well with me. I think there is linke between communication and healing.

    Studing shamans, shamanry, shamanism, can leave one incredibly confused. Part of the problem is the experts really can't agree on what it is. The other problem is often times shamanism is approached by westers from the outside looking in and trying to make sence of something they do not have the knowldge and worldview to fully understand and appreciate. We see this hapening in ancent times with Roman and Greeks writing about the barbarian races of the 'celts' 'slaves' baltics' and tuetones'.

    I have always relied on the basic definition of a practisioner of trance for communication and healinig of the community (in the animist sence the community consists of human and other-then-human persons). LLB, once said a shaman in the animist context is "one who embodies the whole". I admire those in our community who have the power to reclaim the meaning and role of the shaman in the context of animism . . . and be BioRegional Animism Shamans - but I still get fogy on some of the details of it all.
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      Re: Definition of Shaman?

      Tue, February 24, 2009 - 10:47 PM
      oooooo... i love you guys and your damn thoughts and questions!
      im at work now so I cant put much time into this... but damn lizard your reading the right books...
      to me the shaman is like the messanger, like a daemon, one who communicates between bounderies, between species, they are those that exist in liminal space. for periods of time to accomplish transpersonal goals for the community, pragmatic needs, both human and other than human, they are a mediator, but first and formost they embody the whole. this seems to be the single most identifing factor on what a shaman is or is not. that are healers, divinors, power people, preists and curers and all manner of different sub roles that academics seem to identify as shamans... but i think that the term shaman is over labled and inaccurate most of the time because not all animist people have individuals that embody the whole during ceremonies or trances states ( they dont embody the whole conciously at all times that to me is the definition of enlightenment.) so in that sense they are those that work in synergy with all that is and specificly with particular allies to aid others...
      I was initiated by the land, by spirits as a shaman ten years ago and have been practicing ever since this is how it is for me in my experience. the role and definition has been ambiguous and vague from the start... because its mostly been labeled by academics with a ettic perspective. when you look at animism its a relational ontology that means its based on relationships... relationships carry many simular qualities but are allways unique to the indivudals involved. defining it often times seems like trying to cross the same river twice so to speak... because relationships are dynamic and changing, living beings in their own right...
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        Re: Definition of Shaman?

        Tue, February 24, 2009 - 11:52 PM
        I dont usually discuss this topic, because it is foreign to me and i don't know much about the dynamics of shamanry....but in reading the post, I felt compelled to just add my little 2 cents....

        I feel as though shamans are gifted people, not necessarily holy people or medicine men or witch doctors, but indeed gifted. They navigate between the worlds of reality and spirit, they are messengers and conduits for ancestors and other than human persons who have gone before us. They are shape shifters and skin walkers who are imbued with ancient wisdom/knowledge in their travels between the worlds. It is through the wisdom and knowledge that they are able to bring insight, answers, and healing to those who are in need of it, whether that be individually or communally.
        • Re: Definition of Shaman?

          Wed, February 25, 2009 - 12:04 AM
          "the role and definition has been ambiguous and vague from the start... because its mostly been labeled by academics with a ettic perspective. when you look at animism its a relational ontology that means its based on relationships... relationships carry many simular qualities but are allways unique to the indivudals involved. defining it often times seems like trying to cross the same river twice so to speak... because relationships are dynamic and changing, living beings in their own right..."

          In some ways i think this is where it drawn its powers from - its ambiguity. On that line of thought, I wonder at the need to give it a label at all, or rather more allow the land to guide these roles and possible titles. I like the idea of the land initiating us into our paths whatever they may be. I have experienced this myself, and found I need to be initated in to each life-place I have lived. For the past two years, I am working on an initiatory path in my new life-place, and the deeper my roots go the more embodies I feel by the land and committed to what it is teaching. The longer I stay, the less wounder-lust I feel and even when I need the escape I am comforted knowing I will return which Is a new feeling for me. It scares the hell out of me, but I love it.
        • Re: Definition of Shaman?

          Wed, February 25, 2009 - 12:11 AM
          "They navigate between the worlds of reality and spirit, they are messengers and conduits for ancestors and other than human persons who have gone before us. They are shape shifters and skin walkers who are imbued with ancient wisdom/knowledge in their travels between the worlds."

          Nanci, I love this definition. In my studies and interactions with Native American culture, I have encountered an uneasiness with the word "Shaman" . I have even encountered strong reactions against equating Medicine Men with Shamans. . . . and has lead me to look at the word shaman differently and even avoid it at times. I know it is not your expertise but do you have any thoughts about this? I think part of the problem is the way shaman has been appropriated into the new-ager trend of 'going Indian'. It also seems to be more associated with south America. Either way it can be a touchy subject at times.
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            Re: Definition of Shaman?

            Wed, February 25, 2009 - 12:27 AM
            >I have even encountered strong reactions against equating Medicine Men with Shamans. . . . and has lead me to look at the word shaman differently and even avoid it at times<


            I hear what you are saying here..and yes there are those strong reactions, usually based on the new age dogma and it's mostly associated with cultural appropriation. I have the same reaction to "medicine man" as well for the same reasons....I find that to be a hollywood term. Alot of people use that term, for lack of a better one, but that just makes me bristle too, but is more acceptable than the term shaman. We have alot of "plastic medicine men" and Instant shamans ( as we call them) out this way ... sometimes we sing "Instant Shaman's gonna get you.." to the tune of John Lennon's "Instant Karma" : P They are a joke out this way, we have so many. ( All new agers)

            I am unsure of in the west..but here in the east...."medicine men"...are usually referred to as wise ones or holy man. We call ours David.
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              Re: Definition of Shaman?

              Wed, February 25, 2009 - 12:35 AM
              WE DO NOT HAVE SHAMANS
              By Joseph RiverWind (Boriken Taino)

              Thanks to the New Age craze that has spread around the world, there are many self-proclaimed "medicine men" and "shamans"—people who claim to follow our spiritual ways, having "learned" everything they know from books bought at the local book store. After the book Black Elk Speaks was published, people thought they could become instant medicine men and women. Little do they know that Black Elk did not tell the whole truth to the book's writer.

              Some people go so far as to charge for vision quests or sweat lodge ceremonies. Never get taken in by someone like this, much less by self-proclaimed spiritual leaders who cannot tell you truthfully where they received the permission and training to perform these ceremonies. It is dangerous when these people attempt to perform these ceremonies and involve others who do not know any better. We do not tolerate these people within our Native communities, and lately many of our medicine people have traveled off the reservation to put a stop to these charlatans.



              SHAMANISM: IT AIN'T NATIVE AMERICAN RELIGION!
              Tori McElroy, October 23, 2000

              When you hear the word "shamanism," what images jiffy-pop into your mind's eye? Most folks picture feather head-dresses, buffalo hides, medicine wheels and dream-catchers - all images associated with Native American cultures. But contrary to popular opinion, a "shaman" is not an Indian medicine man, and "shamanism" is not a Native American religion. In fact, many Native Americans find the terms "shaman" and "shamanism" offensive.

              The word "shaman" actually originates among the natives of Siberia, where it describes a specialized type of holy person. The shamans of Siberia interact with deities and spirits not only with prayer, ritual and offerings, but through direct contact with the spirits themselves. With the aid of rhythmic drumming and chanting, the shaman enters a very deep or "ecstatic" trance. (In discussions of shamanism, the word "ecstasy" is used in its original sense, from the Greek roots ex and histanai meaning "out of place" or "out of the physical" - in other words an out-of-body mystical state) This trance frees the shaman's consciousness from the body, allowing it to "fly" into the realms the spirits inhabit, and to experience these "Otherworlds" with all the senses of the ordinary physical realm.



              THE CONFUSION BETWEEN SHAMANISM AND THE NATIVE AMERICAN MAGICO-RELIGIOUS PRACTICES
              Lothar Tuppan, September 29, 2001

              One of the most common misunderstandings is the belief that the term 'shaman' is indigenous to Native American culture, usually assumed to be North American. This leads to confusing 'shamanism' with the various religious practices of the North American Indian tribes. Some indigenous Americans did incorporate shamanism as defined above, but many did not soul journey. Subsequently their healing methodologies were very different than those utilized by a shaman.

              Even within North American tribal societies some shamans were also medicine men and women but, again, being a medicine person doesn't mean that you are also a shaman.



              SHAMANISM NEW AND OLD
              Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, Professor, Native American Studies, UC Davis

              At least until recently, the word "shaman" was one of those terms which would lead most indigenous people to figuratively "reach for their shields" and assume a defensive posture. "Shaman" has been pretty much of a dividing line word: those who use it are non-Native and/or anthropological, or are ignorant of Native Americans' feelings. Indigenous people refer to their own holy people and curers by other terms such as doctor, medicine person, spiritual leader, elder, herbalist or diagnostician, recognizing a wide variety of callings and skills. Of course, before "shaman" became popular in the anthropological literature, indigenous healers and religious persons were often referred to as "witch doctors," "sorcerers" or other derogatory terms, words still used reportedly in right-wing Christian missionary propaganda. But "shaman" is not an innocent term either, because it rises out of a clear misunderstanding of, and denigration of, non-European cultures.

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                Re: Definition of Shaman?

                Wed, February 25, 2009 - 12:38 AM
                Sorry forgot the link....

                www.angelfire.com/electroni...amans.html
                • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                  Wed, February 25, 2009 - 1:01 AM
                  thank nanci - I think this is a very good issue to keep in our minds when we discuss shamans in any cultural context, if nothing else then to be mindful of the context we are speaking in. With that said . . . I liked this quote from the website.

                  "SHAMANS, MEDICINE MEN, AND PRIESTS
                  Robert Schmidt, March 8, 2000

                  "I was under the impression that "medicine man" was a word that was only used by a small percentage of NA tribes, and did not make a good generic term . . ."

                  This statement is true enough. The point is that "shaman" isn't the best term to use if you need one.

                  My dictionary gives two definitions of "shamanism": 1. The religious practices of certain native peoples of Northern Asia. 2. Any similar form of primitive spiritualism, such as that practiced among certain North American Indian tribes.

                  The first definition is the official, correct one. The second definition is a bastardized version of the first one. Anthropologists, ethnographers, and other Western interlopers thought all "primitive" religions were the same, so they lumped them under one umbrella term.

                  As someone said, it's like calling any carbonated cola drink a "Coke." It may get the point across in casual conversation, but it's not accurate. Same with "Xerox" for photocopy, "Kleenex" for tissue, etc.

                  What's so bad about using "shamanism" as a general term for Native religions? As the dictionary goes on to state, shamans are priests who can communicate with or even summon the spirits of the world. I believe most practitioners of Native religions wouldn't claim this power. They may worship or pray to various spirits, but they don't enter into direct talks with them. Or summon them to perform magic.


                  "
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                    Re: Definition of Shaman?

                    Wed, February 25, 2009 - 1:09 AM
                    Also from the same site nanci linked to, I find this of importance to point out, and with some relevancy.

                    "Shamanism In Europe can be traced most recently through Celtic and Germanic cultures rising out of the


                    EARLY EUROPEAN TRIBES


                    but unfortunately, any remnent remains of Shamanism that was not eliminated by the annihilation of the early tribes was successfully stamped out many years later by the inquisition. Traditional Shamans disappeared but many Shamanic fragments remained in the belief of the common folk and their cultural folklore. Cultural anthropologists have in the past defined Shamanism as an initial stage of the institutionalized religious systems. That is a false analysis. In reality Shamanism was/is actually the beginning steps toward human spiritual development."

                    But - id do feel the 'european shaman' can be revitalized in a new skin for a new postcolonial society, however will not resemble or function in the same capacity of the ancient european counterparts. I believe there are people who do this, few of who might even consider themselves a shaman.
                    • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                      Wed, February 25, 2009 - 1:11 AM
                      This is such a wealth of information. I also want to point out the last quote on the page as being very significant.

                      "Unlike the medicine man, the Shaman's adoption of his profession is in many cases not voluntary. The future Shaman's experience of being called seems frequently to consist in a compulsive state from which he sees no other means of escape than to 'Shamanize'. It is often clear that the man who is to become a Shaman consciously does not wish to do so at all, but is driven and forced to it by the 'spirits', and finally, in order not to perish, takes the only path open to him and becomes a Shaman. The future Shaman, the young man suited for Shamanizing, cannot escape the demands of the spirits, which drive him deeper and deeper into the illness, although he very often tries to resist. He gets into a situation, into a mental illness, from which he can find no way out but death or the assumption of the office of Shaman."
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                        Re: Definition of Shaman?

                        Wed, February 25, 2009 - 2:28 AM
                        in some places fish people actually pay to rid a child of the gift of being a shaman...

                        on the point of the name and the role today i was talking with the woman i share an office with who is also a shaman. we were talking about the name, the ethics of practice and things and she brought up that her teacher tells them that she doesnt even call them shamans or medicine people they call them Ishka hey, which she said meant crazy people. I was a bit shocked by the pronunciation... the word i was given by the land, by spirit that a shaman would be called here was Shooska hey, which i was told ment power people. when i asked her what language she was saying when she said that name she said that her teacher heard it from the akasic records... I cant really relate to the akashic records but i know what she means when she says that and i can relate to spirit dictating the name as well as the role.
                        shaman was i think a western creation to fulfill a western need... but in some ways i think especially due to animism as well as bioregionalism... and well ok bioregional animism... lol... i think that we are moving past the need for those labels as guidlines to inspire us to establish our own relationships with life, spirit and the fulfilling of needs...
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                          Re: Definition of Shaman?

                          Wed, February 25, 2009 - 3:10 AM
                          Here;s a little blurb on Akashic records.....


                          >Akashic Records

                          A theosophical term referring to an universal filing system which records every occurring thought, word, and action. The records are impressed on a subtle substance called akasha (or Soniferous Ether). In Hindu mysticism this akasha is thought to be the primary principle of nature from which the other four natural principles, fire, air, earth, and water, are created. These five principles also represent the five senses of the human being.

                          Some indicate the akashic records are similar to a Cosmic or collective consciousness. The records have been referred to by different names including the Cosmic Mind, the Universal Mind, the collective unconscious, or the collective subconscious. Others think the akashic records make clairvoyance and psychic perception possible.

                          It is believed by some that the events recorded upon that akasha can be ascertained or read in certain states of consciousness. Such states of consciousness can be induced by certain stages of sleep, weakness, illness, drugs, and meditation so not only mystics but ordinary people can and do perceive the akashic records. Some mystics claim to be able to reanimate their contents like they were turning on a celestial television set. Yogis also believe that these records can be perceived in certain psychic states.

                          Certain persons in subconscious states do read the akashic records. An explanation for this phenomena is that the akashic records are the macrocosm of the individual subconscious mind. Both function similarly, they possess thoughts which are never forgotten. The collective subconscious gathers all thoughts from each subconscious mind which can be read by other subconscious minds.

                          An example of one who many claimed successfully read the akashic records is the late American mystic Edgar Cayce. Cayce did his readings in a sleep state or trance. Cayce's method was described by Dr. Wesley H. Ketchum who for several years used Cayce as an adjunct for his medical practice. "Cayce's subconscious...is in direct communication with all other subconscious minds, and is capable of interpreting through his objective mind and imparting impressions received to other objective minds, gathering in this way all knowledge possessed by endless millions of other subconscious minds." Apparently Cayce was interpreting the collective subconscious mind long before the psychiatrist C.J. Jung postulated his concept of the collective unconscious. A.G.H.
                          • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                            Wed, February 25, 2009 - 10:40 AM
                            OK, thanks, this helps a lot. (I'm known for asking dumb questions, but it is a way I can learn :).

                            So I'm getting the impression that there really is no good "one definition", and the word itself is not really appropriate, although I had brought it up to find common ground on which to explore what might be practices in European heritage.

                            I was studying sources in Old English and was surprised to find so much material has survived in detail, and like you all have pointed out, each term seems to be specific for different things and is context-dependen:

                            "leach" in Old English (laece) means a herbal healer, a "wort" specialist, wort=plant. They are "gatherers of wort-magic" and also used prayer to cure the patient.

                            There's even "wyrtgalstere", a woman who charms plants and herbs by singing over them.

                            "Lybcraft" was skill in using healing drugs, and I have seen some writers suggest that "lyb" = 'intoxicant, medicine, drug, healing plant, vital force' might have been an entheogen, now unknown.

                            A "full-knower" was a man or woman who had magical knowledge of shape-shifting, "soul-faring", the second sight.

                            A "leod-rune" was a woman skilled in the mysteries of the tribe.

                            In an early translation of the bible in Old English, Jesus was called "Heliand" which means "wholemaker, healer" (just like Kalweit's discussion).

                            Then of course the over-used and damaged terms wicca (masculine) and wicce (feminine), which translated as 'witch' but originally may have related to the term "wih" which meant "holy, sacred place, separate, that which is part of God." Or it may be from PIE *wik, "to bend." Or PIE *wek, "voice" as invoking spirits. There are several references to these witches in Ecclesiastical Anglo-Saxon sources, such as around 900 AD: "Witches (wiccan) still travel to where roads meet and to heathen graves with their illusory skill and call out to the devil and he comes to them in the guise of the person who lies buried there..." I like how honoring the ancestors is turned into devil-worship.

                            This is from Stephen Pollington, Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore, and Healing," 2003.

                            There are many others, maybe many kinds of "shamans" and spiritual specialists before Christianity.
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                              Re: Definition of Shaman?

                              Wed, February 25, 2009 - 12:50 PM

                              "Lybcraft" i love it...

                              there were also cunning folk in the UK as well... i like that one...
                              yeah you pretty much hit the nail on the head Lizard.
                              my feeling is that the word shaman was formed and adopted from the tungus academicly but its really become a word defined out of the western imagination and its been used as a role to define a human need within western culture, but has little to do any more with its original context. out side of the fact the original use of the world and the role it defined still guides our inspiration and imagination... but when you look at the examples that you gave here, you start to wonder why is the word shaman even nessecary?

                              im all about discovering new names... recently to describe the contrary people of the PNW i figured that the ol scottish word for contrary would work really well... and so instead of heyoka, or clown or what have you... i figured that withershin folk would acuratly describe my type of people...

                              nanci... its interesting in regards to the akashic records... im not big on astral plane sort of descriptions but i really like irving lazlos A field theory... or akashic field theory...
                              "Ervin Laszlo in his books Science and the Akashic Field and Science and the Reenchantment of the Cosmos brings the latest new science of the A-Field and its function as the source of all manifestation and interconnectedness, flowing out and in via the Vacuum field or zero-point energy, which he equates with akasha—cosmic mind, universal consciousness, and the field that unifies all things."
                              Akashic Field Theory

                              His 2004 book, Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything posits a field of information as the substance of the cosmos. Using the Sanskrit and Vedic term for "space", Akasha, he calls this information field the "Akashic field" or "A-field". He posits that the "quantum vacuum" (see Vacuum state) is the fundamental energy and information-carrying field that informs not just the current universe, but all universes past and present (collectively, the "Metaverse").

                              László describes how such an informational field can explain why our universe is so improbably fine-tuned as to form galaxies and conscious lifeforms; and why evolution is an informed, not random, process. He believes that the hypothesis solves several problems that emerge from quantum physics, especially nonlocality and quantum entanglement."


                              keeping with his work... one could say that if information is the substance of the universe... that each bioregion is also composed of information... information that people have had various ways of being receptive and responsive too through out time and have also contributed too...
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                                Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                Wed, February 25, 2009 - 2:15 PM
                                >that each bioregion is also composed of information... information that people have had various ways of being receptive and responsive too through out time and have also contributed too...<

                                I believe in this concept ; otherwise, how would we be able to communicate with our bioregion? There are the things I know because I was taught those things and there are the things I know because I taught myself and then ... there are those things that I know because I just know them...those come from this collective conscious and certainly through the relationship that exists between myself and my bio region. It's not about ego or being psychic...it's about honoring place and being in touch with your surroundings.
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                    Re: Definition of Shaman?

                    Wed, February 25, 2009 - 2:34 PM
                    >The point is that "shaman" isn't the best term to use if you need one. <

                    There are a few of the north American native nations that use shamans...they are Inuit I believe. Interestingly enough, that land bridge was connected at one time wasn't it? So it is not a far stretch that some nations in that area, as well as PNW. may be inclined to also use the term shaman, if it originated in Siberia. It is also not a far stretch to think that as people migrated, conquered other cultures, and inter-married that the term carried over from one culture to another in that way by means of assimilation. Assimilation is a powerful tool of survival for many cultures.
                    Over all, it is viewed as a new age tag and not the best thing to say if you are looking for a spiritual elder or healer. Like I said...we just call ours David. He would present himself as "spiritual adviser, spiritual teacher, or spiritual healer" he would not call himself a "medicine man" or refer to himself as an elder....and that goes with holding onto the gift of humility.
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                      Re: Definition of Shaman?

                      Wed, February 25, 2009 - 5:44 PM
                      yah nanci its a academic label that doesnt allways work. theres a lot of arguments about it from the indigneous community to the new agers to the academics themselves... honestly i mean the inuit dont call themselves shamans either... they may have practices that are similar but they dont call them that...
                      through out asia the term has moved to describe all animist pracitioners of healing divination, spiritual leadership and teaching... they call themselves shamans in tuva, the buryat call them selves shamans... even though many of their practitioners are extremly similar to spiritual leaders from the midwest of the US... african traditional healers have claimed the name, and the word shaman or chaman has been claimed by amazonian indigneous people. I was told by one that there are three different types of pracitioner in the amazon... curanderos ( curer who only does good) a chaman ( a traditional healer who also does combat and curses, one who does good as well as ill spiritually) and brujos or sorrcerers they have adopted the term shaman and call themselves shaman with no problem at all... same with the nepalese their jahnkari is what they call themselves depending on the tribe in nepal and the language group...

                      to be honest i think that the resistance to working with that word is more political then descriptive and has more to do with deep resentment towards colonialism and continueing resistance to colonialism... the cultures that have embraced the term for ease of communication seem to be cultures with different histories with colonization... the term, label, definition, and role of shaman is unique to the culture and has been used to describe nearly any animist spiritual practitioner that fulfills a role out side of just normal exoteric spiritual practice, which could be one of the easiest definitions i could come up with for it...

                      i hate to say it but the term and indigenous relationships with the word seem to have more to do with politics then anything else...
                      • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                        Wed, February 25, 2009 - 6:37 PM
                        I do not think there is any particular harm in using the word shaman if we maintain a healthy awareness of the history, origins, and politics behind it. And above all make it something Unique to the relationship the practitioner has with his/her specific life place.
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                        Re: Definition of Shaman?

                        Wed, February 25, 2009 - 8:46 PM
                        >indigenous relationships with the word seem to have more to do with politics then anything else... <

                        don't know...as I said ... not something i know alot about or really dwell on alot...lot bigger issues for native people to deal with, although it seems to be around the appropriation of culture around these parts.
                        • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                          Wed, February 25, 2009 - 9:28 PM
                          "withershin folk" -- I like that!

                          "I was initiated by the land" -- llb, this is interesting, was it like a spiritual energy from the land? Or a manifestation as specific entities, animals, plants, ground, spirits, gods? All of the above?

                          I'm trying to reformulate my question. I think we can agree that the complex of shaman-related words and functions are highly diverse and worldwide in varying amounts. I beleive Europe had its practitioners too that fit into this complex. I guess I'm wondering if as an animist, can you be initiated by the land too, without necessarily being a "shaman"? In your classes, are you going to teach ways of being animist that are similar in quality to the apprentice of shamanry? Or are these two ways different? In other words, is being a "shaman" being an animist in the extreme, being "more" an animist, or qualitatively different?
                          • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                            Wed, February 25, 2009 - 10:11 PM
                            My Anthro pof mentioned a group of Lekota, i think, not sure on this - who where known as backwards people. They were different colors, and danced in different directions, an did things different and opposite the rest of the tribe.
                          • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                            Wed, February 25, 2009 - 10:14 PM
                            I guess I'm wondering if as an animist, can you be initiated by the land too"

                            I think this can be connected to what lance talks about with making a covenant. with the land. which is interesting because the group of pagans and eco-spiritlist i work with call ourselves a covenant - I helped name it, and it was the word i intuitively knew needed to be used.
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                            Re: Definition of Shaman?

                            Wed, February 25, 2009 - 10:45 PM
                            ""I was initiated by the land" -- llb, this is interesting, was it like a spiritual energy from the land? Or a manifestation as specific entities, animals, plants, ground, spirits, gods? All of the above?"

                            well yes it was like the spiritual energy of the land, of every thing starting with where i was standing... but not ending there... a power came over me when i was smudged with sage my friend came up to me and my body was moved and so was my thoughts and feelings and my hand moved to his chest and he went to the ground and i started doing healing for the first time. it was pretty intense... while it was happening i felt the cedar tree behind me helping, the wind was helping as well... my head would be moved to a dirrection and my mouth would open and i would breath in and at that moment the wind would blow into my lungs... and i heard that the eagle doesnt fill its own lungs it allows the wind to do so for it... this still happens to me. i was shown/told that all that is in nature would help me heal if i established relationships with them...
                            and i could see many plants and animals and forces come into my vision and show themselves to me, letting me know they were willing to help. I was told that all of life wishes human people to live well, and that my job was to work with them to help... i started sucking out the illness on my friend i was moved to do so literally moved like being possessed kinda... i sucked out his sickness it was a horrible child hood trauma. when i sucked it in i could feel all his pain, i saw and experienced what happened to him, when it happened, why it happened, why he was being healed now what he needed to be healed and why he needed to be healed now because of what was to come in his near future... it was a really hard thing for him to go through... it was very intense... i vomited it out of my lungs basically and my hand was given tobacco by another brother who was powerfilled and helping me and i took tobacco into my lungs all moved by spirit and i blew tobacco and the wind into his wounded area. It was pretty powerful... it was rushing through me so raw that i had to be dragged away from the healing... and we continued it later else where... as our location was causing problems... ( long story) i did healing with different people all night... i never really wanted to be a healer... but thats what ended up happening...


                            "I'm trying to reformulate my question. I think we can agree that the complex of shaman-related words and functions are highly diverse and worldwide in varying amounts. I beleive Europe had its practitioners too that fit into this complex. I guess I'm wondering if as an animist, can you be initiated by the land too, without necessarily being a "shaman"? In your classes, are you going to teach ways of being animist that are similar in quality to the apprentice of shamanry?"

                            no... im not going to teach people ways... thats up to them, if they want to make a covenant that sounds great... but I cannot encourage people to establish a relationship like the way i do unless they are kinda a part of my extended family... but in teaching animism to people my goal is to inspire people to establish their own way of relating and establishing relationships as an animist... and thats up to them and THEM alone... i would be really happy to inspire them... and there are ceremonies that are pan bioregional that i think that can be shared with all people that can inspire people as to how animists relate because it feels like people need examples...


                            "Or are these two ways different? In other words, is being a "shaman" being an animist in the extreme, being "more" an animist, or qualitatively different?"

                            well i think it depends on the people... some shamans in some cultures just do one small function like a simple ceremony once a year... there doesnt seem to be to much consistency there. in some societies damn near every one takes on the role of shaman to the point where the role is decentralized and non-hierarchical every one is encouraged to take on that role for themselves and so thats a different dynamic... the NAC is an interesting example as well. they dont allways have doctors most of the time they just work with their medicine and its all pretty egalitarian.
                            i would not say that it makes you a super animist, i think its just that you have motivations to establish relationships in special ways for specific reasons.
                            • Unsu...
                               

                              Re: Definition of Shaman?

                              Thu, February 26, 2009 - 9:53 AM
                              >My Anthro pof mentioned a group of Lekota, i think, not sure on this - who where known as backwards people. They were different colors, and danced in different directions, an did things different and opposite the rest of the tribe.<

                              Heyoka people
                              • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                Thu, February 26, 2009 - 10:51 AM
                                "i would not say that it makes you a super animist, i think its just that you have motivations to establish relationships in special ways for specific reasons."

                                That might be a good working definition of a shaman for me at the moment.

                                That is interesting about possession. That is a word people in our control-oriented culture do not like to use, but world-wide it seems to be rather common and important in healing, getting information, etc. Not a bad thing I think. I have read anthropologicAL works that bias possession to "primitive" cultures, while "more advanced shamans" manipute their spirits. That is BS I beleive.

                                Anyway, LLB, you should consider doing a podcasr someday, it would be really interesting!

                                • Unsu...
                                   

                                  Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                  Thu, February 26, 2009 - 11:44 AM
                                  that is a pretty good working definition i think too...

                                  possession was the primary method of my education for years, even years before i was initiated... i started my work as a channel or medium... channeling has such annoying conitations with new agers... but traditional mediums never worked with ethneogens either... so i also was a student of different world traditions of shamanry as well as possesion traditions... and i do really think there is a difference...
                                  today I do not call it possession. i dont get possesed, im not a channel or a medium... when your working with it from the point of view of shamanry or even from the point of view of nondualist eastern meditation traditions such as in tibet, you see different phenomena occur here... for instance the oracle of tibet gets "possesed" by a tibetian diety... but thats not how he views it... the way he views it is that he embodies this diety... because this diety is him, just as a tree is him, or a eagle is him... but this particular preist embodies this one specific deity for divination. now this came from much older tibetian shamanry traditions they call their shaman lhaman, or lhamos if they are women... this means god men, or god women. these are the folks that really helped me to understand my particular gifts. I have a tutilary spirit who is from this tradition... at any rate there is no you, no inherent self so to speak to be possesed. to be possesed would mean that there is some sort of seperation, if we are one then we work instead in a sort of synergy with other than human persons ( which includes dieties)... so really its embodyment...

                                  shamans tend to embody or shapechange if you will into lots of different beings as a part of their gig in many traditions. masks are often worn to aid in this process... when i wear a mask ( shit even holding a carrot between my front teeth will turn my mouth into a beak) its like a radio beacon and it comes over me faster and easier... costums all sorts of things are worked with to aid in this process... my whole theory on shamanry is based on embodyment... they embody the whole, they embody the source of healing, they can embpody the source of illness and suffering too ( same source if you ask me), they can embody anything if that being wishes to be embodied and there is a fit between the two of them... i have a hard time embodying some dead folk... for example... they can embody their communities faith, prayer, beliefs, this i tend to think of as holy people... but yah i tend to think its all some form of embodyment...

                                  now possesion is different but its very simular...
                                  • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                    Thu, February 26, 2009 - 3:30 PM
                                    oops I meant podcast. All right, a book then...

                                    Embodiment seems to be a good word for what I was thinking, and has less baggage attached to it than possession. I like the explanation that souls are not separate anyway. It sounds like it is a way more important means of practice for some than the anthropologists think.
                                    • Unsu...
                                       

                                      Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                      Thu, February 26, 2009 - 4:53 PM
                                      yeah a podcast would be interesting... i just dont know how to do it...

                                      yeah snake came to me once during an ayahausca session and really showed me litteraly that theres just one soul and we all share it... changed my life really. when you can create shifts in the way you perceive reality the nature of your experiences really change...
                                      it especially seems to change how one behaves in relationship to spirits when you see that they share the same soul WITH you.
                                      IMHO...
                                      • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                        Fri, February 27, 2009 - 12:25 PM
                                        "when you can create shifts in the way you perceive reality the nature of your experiences really change... "

                                        That is the good thing about your Bioregional Animism, gets me to do that...

                                        What I am also interested in is to see how European cultures once understood all this, the subtleties of souls. The concept of "fetch" in Old English (Old Norse fylgja- "follower") as a guardian spirit attached to each person's soul, which brings luck, personal power, and protection. It may appear as an animal, but was often thought to be the deceased soul of an ancestor too. The Medieval witches often had a fetch as a cat or hare, but it could also be a horse or deer. For men it appeared as female, and for women the fetch was a man.

                                        Then I found out that people of the Niger River area, Africa, have a similar concept, the "bush soul" that is one of 4 souls every person has. It is an external soul living in an animal- leopard, lion, elephant, bat, fish, tortoise. It is passed on in families, but of a hunter kills the animal, the person dies.

                                        There is so much that has been lost, but I am discovering that it is not really lost, we can re-experience all these things.
                                        • Unsu...
                                           

                                          Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                          Fri, February 27, 2009 - 12:47 PM
                                          lots of cultures have some version of this... bhoddisatva for instance was not originally a living person dedicated to helping others reach enlightenment but they were discarnate beings... that did so... the greeks and romans had daemons which took all sorts of forms and where tied to nature and were intermediaries between humans and gods. the okanogan tribes have a version of this too, lots of tribes have some form of power animal, twin soul that takes the form of an animal... as funny as it sounds jamie sams medicinal animal cards seem to be spot on for me. I think that the secret is in just thought, if we create a way for spirit to work through out our lives it will... kinda like plumbing... lol

                                          so many cultures too have some many different ways of looking at the spirit/soul thing ( which are very christian words with very christian meanings but we can stretch them i think) i tend to look at it from the point of view of some one whos explored these questions first hand while under the influence of entheogens... which is going to be experiential a bit different then some one else... its my personal biase but i feel that entheogens combined with clairvoyance techniques gives one a clearer experience which is easier to communicate, understand, and perceive. after all clairvoyance just means clear vision, and IMHO entheogens are really just psychic stimulants...
                                          • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                            Fri, February 27, 2009 - 1:36 PM
                                            I like the idea of fetch and this concept can be found within British-Celtic narratives. Bran the Blessed worked with Ravens, Rhiannon worked with blackbirds (the small song birds, like starlings not like the scavenger crow and raven), Gwyddion worked with Hawk, sometimes seen as eagle. Arthur is believed to derive from the root Artus meaning bear. The local Nez Perce, have a concept like this. In welsh, I was taught a concept for companion, as seen like the fetch and other was fellow traveler, referring to the people who walk beside you and could be used like kin or relative with other humans. Such as us on this tribe, and we could have those who guide us like fox, hare, raven, cow, earthworm, or even the other ones like dragons, or sylphs, or what not. . .
                                            • Unsu...
                                               

                                              Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                              Fri, February 27, 2009 - 1:43 PM
                                              totally... ive got lots of spirit allies... and people with the site can see them working with me... not just animals... but beings thought to be mythic, fairy folk and many other types of beings... human, inhuman...
                                              • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                                Fri, February 27, 2009 - 9:58 PM
                                                Wow, there's a lot of info here, thanks guys...my two cents

                                                I am wary of the word "shaman" anymore...it has become a "trap word" in this culture, too loaded with various people's baggage to be very useful.. like "medicine man" (Native American) or "witch doctor" (Africa)

                                                We don't really have such a category that i know of. We Ioway had these:

                                                1. Doctor= waswehi "to create health". Member of one of the societies Bear, Buffalo or Otter that healed people and did group ceremonies. The powers came from belonging to the societies rather than the individual's own dream, except for the original society founder.

                                                2. Sorcerer/Witch= forget the word right now. An individual who does bad things to get what he/she wants, to the detriment of others, or harms others for spite.

                                                3. Waxobini= "sacred person" - a person who has certain mysterious powers of themselves; they could belong to one of the above categories as well. Usually gotten through being picked by the Powers, often through vision fast.

                                                4. Prophet (I can't remember the word right now)- a very rare person is born once in a great while, we only have had a couple in several hundred years, I can think of 2-3, a person who lives for the tribe, has many visions that benefit all, and has powers; often remembers past lives and being born; more like a culture hero, like the Cheyenne's "Sweet Medicine"

                                                These categories are not always exclusive and there can be lots of overlap. Yes, the same man who can doctor people and cure them could be the same sorceror who harms someone else with power.
                                                • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                                  Fri, February 27, 2009 - 10:14 PM
                                                  You brinig up a good point about the overlap and i think that is some of the confusion around the word and idea, is that there is a lot of overlap between different kinds of roles people can have in a society.
                                                  • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                                    Fri, February 27, 2009 - 10:15 PM
                                                    I am also with you about being leary using the word, but I do think it does have valid usage.
                                                    • Unsu...
                                                       

                                                      Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                                      Sat, February 28, 2009 - 12:41 AM
                                                      the actual definition of the word shaman in tungus or saman... means one who knows...
                                                      pretty open ended...
                                                      • Re: Definition of Shaman?

                                                        Sat, February 28, 2009 - 10:53 AM
                                                        "In welsh, I was taught a concept for companion, as seen like the fetch and other was fellow traveler, referring to the people who walk beside you and could be used like kin or relative with other humans."

                                                        Fishbowl do you have the Welsh words for those? Interesting.

                                                        That's a good point Lance, there are very specific practitioners and names, not just someone called "shaman". That's what I'm finding for early European traditions.

                                                        I actually am quite fond of dragons, sort of a super-lizard.

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