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Ár nDraíocht Féin
Three Cranes
Chaos Matrix

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)


[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC)
"can't we grab that name from somewhere that doesn't involve stripping a culture of its religion and turning it into spare parts?"


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 ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
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?
[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:07 pm (UTC)

It's rather like Wiccans going around calling themselves Celtic just because they stole Cernunnos and made him the Horned God, all because of Murray's bullshit.

Sorry, I'm annoyed and angry and I haven't slept in three weeks, and I keep seeing these idiots on the OLD-IRISH-L going on about how Beli Mawr is really Ba'al.

[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:18 pm (UTC)

Esus = Jesus
Beli Mawr = Ba'al

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! See the Battle Royale, the Holy Rumble, the Title Match! Ba'al the Irish God and Jesus the Gaulish God fight it out ONE NIGHT ONLY!!! Get your tickets now! Come for the pre-show Transforming Mechanical Dinosaurs and stay for Armageddon! Kids only FIVE DOLLARS!
[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC)
I understand that viewpoint. However, to me it really appears about as convincing as arguments for "diversity" or "inclusion". All of these presume that we should respect some culture by allowing it to remain stagnant and not expecting it to evolve. I think its utterly insane for Canada, for example, to allow Muslims to hold civil court cases under Shiria Law. It appears, to me, to encourage stagnation, not inclusion. The same can be said for the myrriad of college campuses that now seem havens of political correctness, instead of free thought. It's not appropriate to use word X in situation Y, because someone might get *Ohhhh* offended.

As Penn and Teller say, "Bullshit".

While I think its probably inarticulate and unwise to presume that a Seiberian Shaman and a Native American 'medicine man' are practicing the same belief system. I see no problem with a generic term that refers to individuals who act as ritualists for animistic systems of belief. If that generic term is derrived from a more specific term, well welcome to the English language. Would you like a 'xerox' copy of this? Hang on, I need to wipe my nose with a 'kleenex' and I soooo need an 'aspirin'... I don't think a 'band-aid' would fix what's wrong with me.


[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2006 10:04 pm (UTC)
I think the term 'priest' is broad enough, but I suppose there are certain people in the majority priesthood who wouldn't like being compared to other sorts of priests.
[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
Well, I think that well supports the use of the term shaman. "Priest" tends to denote a member of a clergy class, particularly in belief systems that tends toward a transcendental paradigm. "Shaman" tends to be used in a similar fashion, but to denote spiritual leaders in a tribal setting based on more animistic systems of belief. At least that what it appears like to me.
[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2006 07:19 pm (UTC)
*grin* I think you need to write the other side of the article. :)

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