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April 3rd, 2006


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09:51 am - Ah, Shamanism: What a fun term!
Last weekend's discussion of shamanism on ADF-Druidry (in which I was amused to find myself called a snob for stating that ADF doesn't call things "mumbo-jumbo") was fun, but today, latexpussy pointed me to a similar discussion that sort of encapsulates how it went.

I think I would like to write an article about the usage of the word "shamanism," but I'm not keen on my opinion being the only one represented (even if I do think I'm completely right, of course), and so would be interested to get someone to write a counter article, and then we can synthesize a third article from that.

It's not like Oak Leaves couldn't use the submissions, ya know? :)

For those who missed it, my basic position on the term shamanism is that it should not be used to describe beliefs outside of its cultural context, i.e. that of north central asia, particularly Siberia. Of course, scholarship says that you can use the term anywhere to apply to anything that sorta kinda looks like it's shamanic, from Native American to Peruvian to African diaspora to aspects of Christianity.

Scholarship, though, isn't perfect. I think that in this particular case, we've done a grave disservice to practitioners of shamanism by expanding it beyond Siberia. But probably the worst injustice done by the use of this term is that it has ceased to be recognized as its own unique religion and become a box into which parts are taken out of and other religions are fit into.

While on the one hand it's really nice to have a name for something, can't we grab that name from somewhere that doesn't involve stripping a culture of its religion and turning it into spare parts?

As for your "gold standards" and being proud that "shamanism" is the term applied to all these other practices, just remember how many Christians hate it when you apply the name of their religion to groups that they don't think of as Christian. . . like the Southern Baptist stance on Catholics you sometimes hear. Not everyone is happy to have their religion applied to others, especially when those others think that they're practicing the religion "correctly" and it doesn't look anything like yours.
Current Location: The Monkey Queen's Lair
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: "Christmas in the Caribbean", -JB

(58 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:latexpussy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)
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Yay! You're in my lair! Let the monkey dances begin!
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From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
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*monkey dances*

*gets weird looks from co-workers, who should be used to this by now*

*monkey dances again*
From:ceolnamara
Date:April 3rd, 2006 02:08 pm (UTC)
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language evolves. So, I don't have a major issue. But, I do object to ending sentences with prepositions. That, however, is a personal problem :-D
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From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC)
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I've never been able to figure out why such a thing would be a problem, honestly, nor anything similar. Why should a preposition not be allowed at the end? Is there something that's being upheld?

I cannot possibly imagine a logical reason for stating that a preposition cannot sit there.
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From:raydon_12
Date:April 3rd, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)

Shamanism...

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It might be interesting to chase down a sociologist and/or someone from an anthropology department and get their technical definitions of shamanism.
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From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 02:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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Generally, they refer back to Eliade, whose work on the subject is really very good, but I dislike the idea that we have to stick with the word "shamanism" for anything that looks remotely like any aspect of Siberian shamanism.
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From:tosk
Date:April 3rd, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC)
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"can't we grab that name from somewhere that doesn't involve stripping a culture of its religion and turning it into spare parts?"

Why?

Are the natives of Siberia upset that the common English term for a general type religious individual is borrowed from their culture? The entire English language is one theft of "culture" after another... indeed, from my examination of religion, it appears to me that nearly every religion is a mishmash of any number of 'cultures' that came before it. The Beast and Scarlet Woman of Revelation, appear thousands of years earlier as patron God and Goddess of Babylon. Wicca combines who knows how many different variations on magical systems, as does Chaos Magic. The Romans liberally swiped deities from conquered nations.

Life, as far as I can tell, appears to me as an active process. Or perhaps as RAW states, "Interactive processes non-simultainously percieved". While the term shaman may once have refered exclusively to Seiberian native spiritual leaders, to assume that it would always and only refer to such, seems to expect a stagnant semantic system, along with a stagnant system of beliefs. This, to me, seems an impossible supposition (That which is stagnant, dies, does it not?).

How many terms in magic or pagan systems have retained their true meaning, in their specific context and belief system? You're a Druid, yet we have no
primary source material about their beliefs or use of terminology. Can you guarantee that the terms, titles and descriptors used by the ADF are not being misued when compared to their original culture? What about more generic terms, should we only use 'Egrigore' when referring creations within specific styles of 'magic' as used in the Middle Ages?

I don't think there's a grave disservice to anyone. Life, words, semantics and terminology seem constantly on the move. Dictionaries, at best, can provide us with a snapshot of mosbunall words in a langauge as of a specific date. By the time they're published, the language has evolved.

Besides, the word is not the idea ;-)
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From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
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I got no problem borrowing the idea, but I got problems borrowing the word. It's kinda weird :) Part of that is because shamanism is a distinct, particular religion that's still living and breathing. Icorporating a fraction of what they do and not caring about the culture, or applying the word to cultures across huge differences (often literally half a world away) seems. . . wrong.

We could get better mileage, I think, out of not forcing everything that looks vaguely like shamanism into a box called "shamanism". It places notions and implies ideas about the practices we're studying. From a scholarly standpoint, what we're saying to a culture that is not from Siberia is, "We already know what you're doing: It's shamanism. It's just like what they're doing in Siberia." And it implies, "We know this because we're smarter than you are. Whatever it is that makes your culture "special" is unimportant: it's still just like they do it in Siberia."

I can separate this out from what we call "Drudiry" primarily because we're generally culturally confined. We're not saying, "Oh, yeah: they practice Druidry in Central America because they write poems, and poetry is a Bardic art." We're generally saying, "Yeah, we're imitating an IE priesthood."

I suppose I don't really make all that great a Chaote, when it comes right down to it :) I have a hard time stealing most terms.

btw, I showed up: how much XP did I get?
From:fred_smith
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
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I can see your point. But, what term would you prefer?
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From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:24 pm (UTC)
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Dunno. I think that my preference for what ADF does would fall to "mantic" rather than "shamanic", as "mantic" is at least an IE term. My preference for general usage, though, is to go with whatever the local, culturally appropriate term is.

Of course, anthropologists haven't bothered to record most of those words, simply translating them as "shamanism" since the beginning of the last century, so that suggestion is really very problematic. . .
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From:tosk
Date:April 3rd, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC)
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the training and proper context to go with it

And who shall judge what the proper training and context is?

;-)
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From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:08 pm (UTC)
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I'm always glad to come back from lunch and find a post by Jeremy. He brought up an aspect I hadn't thought about (as he often does) and that I probably wouldn't have brought up myself (I'm already treading dangerously close to some people's toes, and appear to have already stepped on some of them despite my best efforts) because I've wanted to confine myself to usage of the term rather than the actual practitioners. I knew I was going to get some demons stirred up just talking about the term, so I did my best to make it clear that I wasn't saying that anything wasn't shamanic (or valid, or whatever), just that I didn't like the use of the term "shamanic" for those practices.

I think that's when I got called a snob, which just tickled me pink. :)

And yeah, "totemism" is a wonderful example of some armchair European (i.e. Freud in this case) extrapolating a word to fit an entire religion. . . and even making it the first religion that we all followed in our evolutionary process to eventually get smart and come to science. . . And some scholars still use it that way.
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From:styskel
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC)
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This is completely OT, but... could you explain the thinking (And possibly sources) for the interpretation of ""Giant", tormentor of women." for Þurz?
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From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:10 pm (UTC)
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Yep. Check the rune poems. It's either "Thorn, and a pain to sit on" in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, or "Giant, tormentor of women" in the others. The Norwegian rune poem in particular is what you're looking for regarding the tormentor of women. Also translated as "sickness of women".
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From:rfunk
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:06 pm (UTC)

evolving to multiple meanings

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I pretty much agree with tosk here, but I would add that language both evolves and branches. Word meanings change just as cultures change (and only dead cultures don't change). Meanwhile, if some people keep using the old meaning, both the new and old meaning are valid, so context and clarification become important.

Pagan itself is an example of this, as is witch and probably druid.

In another subculture I sometimes hang out in, a predominant example of this is hacker.
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From:tosk
Date:April 3rd, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)

Re: evolving to multiple meanings

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I pretty much agree with tosk here


Oh dear Goddess.... that may not be wise... ever. ;-)
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From:trogula
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:07 pm (UTC)

On the ironic hand

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While on the one hand it's really nice to have a name for something, can't we grab that name from somewhere that doesn't involve stripping a culture of its religion and turning it into spare parts?

Yea, 'cause non-Celtic druids in ADF don't do that at all...

(trogula: One of the few, the proud, the ADF Norse)
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From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:17 pm (UTC)

Re: On the ironic hand

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*grins* Yep, we sure do. Of course, ADF works on a supposition that we either maintain or completely restructure from: The term "druid" is representative of a class of priests in IE socieites that we can compare functionally and even linguistically across those societies. While this supposition relies heavily on the Dumezilian functional divisions, it is reasonable that we don't abandon that particular set of divisions quite yet, as they provide not only a useful way of looking at IE cultures, but also seem to support the sort of cross-cultural naming convention we've come up with.

Well, that, and there are no druids left to either complain or tell us how to do something right. . .
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From:singingwren
Date:April 3rd, 2006 08:15 pm (UTC)
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The term 'shaman' is all well and good, but what about 'magician'? THAT'S where the real trouble lies, my friend! All of these magiticians try to go around passing themselves off magicians, and then the magicians pretend they are magisticians and that gets ever worse. Throw in some confused magistrates, those rare magiticians who are ALSO magicians, and those magicians who regularly practice magick (<-- feed that to your entity, with love from Anna.)

Now THAT is a tricksy term!
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From:rfunk
Date:April 3rd, 2006 11:50 pm (UTC)

"Magician"

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What about the magistatisticians?
From:shizukagozen
Date:April 4th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC)
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I think that in this particular case, we've done a grave disservice to practitioners of shamanism by expanding it beyond Siberia.

I agree. And yup, that's all I'm sayin'.

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