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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

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[User Picture]
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:raydon_12
Date:April 3rd, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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thats true to a point. Of course there's the camp that if you haul out the word "shamanism" automatically starts to expound on Native American beliefs, which isn't entirely accurate either.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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*nods* Sometimes, I wonder if the application of the term isn't a play at legitimization. That's a whole other issue: NA beliefs don't at all require any sort of legitimization, but I'm suddenly wondering if such legitimization is sought due to pressures from outside (or perhaps an insecurity about that legitimacy)?

I love games :)

But I can't imagine that there's not a native word that would work thousands of times better than "shamanism," and wouldn't carry the baggage.
[User Picture]
From:raydon_12
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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hehehe, I agree. So many of these terms were "invented" in the 19th century by early British "researchers". In many cases the definitions and the whole system were designed to display the "superiority" of British society. The whole point was to legimitize European colonialism.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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Oh, certainly. We inherited a very evolutionary view of religion from the 19th century, and we've never really gotten away from it. Of course, we Americans perpetuated it nicely, so let's not pretend it's all the Brits' fault :)

Wouldn't it be interesting if the drive to use the terms once used to denigrate "primitive" and "indigenous" religions was now a drive that legitimizes those religions using the same terms? I think that's what happened. . .
[User Picture]
From:raydon_12
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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As you've said, language is a funny thing. Any word or term can be re-defined if you work hard enough at it. Language is like statistics, its all in how you interpret it.
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From:zalon_draconis
Date:April 3rd, 2006 09:43 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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The Algonquin speaking tribes called their mystics "pow waw". I might have gotten that spelling wrong.
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From:tlachtga
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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1. We actually just got in a new edition of Eliade Mircea's Shamanism, which I was surprised to find out mentions the Irish has having practices similar to shamanism. But, of course, Mircea said it was similar, not that it was shamanism.

2. Yeah, but what should the word be? "Ecstatic practice"? I know there is a word without stealing "shamanism", but what would it be?

3. Language is a funny thing. Sometimes it makes my head hurt.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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1. *nods* He says that a lot, that things are similar. But then he goes on to use the word "shamanism" to describe the practices anyway. It's really kind of funny to read.

2. That's a good word, actually. I'm probably happiest with us sticking with the local word for whatever those practices are. The problem with that is that it then goes to the other extreme, where we're less likely to find any similarities between these practices, and that's just a silly notion. So in short, I don't have a great answer for it, unfortunately. :)

3. Mine too :)
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From:trogula
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:11 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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Generally, they refer back to Eliade

Not true at all (or actually, only partially true). Take a look at Jenny Blain's Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic. She has a chapter on this issue that deals with this in great detail.

FYI: Blain is an Elder in the Troth, a practitioner of Seid, and an Anthropologist. Her book is an excellent overview of Germanic Shamanistic practices, as practiced both in history and today.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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Interesting. She didn't use Eliade's work for the book at all? I'm admittedly astounded at that, as it's an invaluable work.

I'll have to find that book and try and read up on it.

Eliade's work is a sort of culmination on scholarship that began early in the 20th century applying the label "shamanism" to these practices, no matter where they're found. Thing is, I haven't ever seen a work on Shamanism that doesn't cite his work, so I'm really interested to see what she cites, now.
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From:trogula
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:34 pm (UTC)

Re: Shamanism...

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She didn't use Eliade's work for the book at all?

No, she did - but that's not all she used. Remember that Eliade's work was published in 1964 - if you think that the scholarship hasn't changed significantly since then, I've got some seafront property in Idaho I'd like to sell you.

Sounds like you're suffering from "Out of Date Academicitis" ;-) I understand...it happens :-)

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