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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:


[User Picture]
From:trogula
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:41 pm (UTC)

Re: On the ironic hand

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Remember that Tacitus never visited the Germanic tribes he was writing about - he was reporting from second hand stories. While Tacitus has been somewhat accurate in his descriptive passages, his interpretive ones need to be taken with a large chunk of salt.

That chapter ain't gonna work. ;-)

Other gems from Tacitus include the possibility that he "created" Nerthus while trying to describe Njord (gender inflection error - "Nerthus" is the feminine latin form of the ON word "Njord") and calling Nerthus a Earth Goddess (completely debunked - at least, in the way a Roman would view an Earth Goddess).
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC)

Re: On the ironic hand

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But we can't say that passage is inaccurate. The fundamental problem with saying that is that it's our *only* evidence that runes were ever used in sortilage divination. I'd hate to see a world in which Ralph Blum can't make any money off of rune sets :)

The reason that I bring that particular passage up, though, is that it does describe a priestly function, one rather similar to the Vates of Gaul.

Now, comparing Egil to Taliesin might be fun, too. I'll have to read more about the latter to make a good case, though.

Hrafenkal might also be a good example of a priestly function. I'll have to re-read some of that as well (and since I have it in Old Norse, I can examine it a bit closer than I can most other stories).

Fact remains, I'm in comparative studies. They train us to see similarities, not differences. :) My professors all come out of the Eliade tradition, too. You and I might have different ideas of what constitues a reasonable "comparison". I generally think in broad terms when I look to compare, so anything that fills the function in a general way will score one for me, though you might dispute the point by getting more detailed (and with good reason).
[User Picture]
From:trogula
Date:April 3rd, 2006 06:26 pm (UTC)

Re: On the ironic hand

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The fundamental problem with saying that is that it's our *only* evidence that runes were ever used in sortilage divination.

But we can already say this (and many do say this) - Tacitus was writing about the casting of lots, which aren't necessarily the runes. His writing also shows up over a hundred years before the first archaeological evidence of runes existing - at the current state of scholarship, Tacitus could not have been talking about the runes.

(Note: There are other papers that say the same thing - this one is just most redily available, and is written by an Elder in the Troth and a Germanic Studies scholar)

Tacitus calls the runes notae which simply means "figures or symbols" - they could have been anything. Tacitus also hints that the answers were simple yes or no - "If they prove unfoavourable, there is no further consultation that day about the matter; if they sanction it, the confirmation of augry is still required". In other words, the divination technique that Tacitus describes would not give the long, detailed answers that today's rune divinations may yield (Waggoner 2005)


Now, comparing Egil to Taliesin might be fun, too.


There is no concrete data on rune divination in the Icelandic sagas or in Saxo's History of the Danes, which is significant, because both contain a number of detailed descriptions of both magical rites and divination. To give a few examples, Egil's Saga tells at some length how Egil worked magic on several occasions by carving runes, both to heal and to harm - but he never uses the runes to fortell. (Waggoner 2005)


Waggoner, Ben, "An Eleventh Century Anglo-Saxon Divination Text: Echoes of Rune Lore", Idunna: A Journal of the Northern Tradition, Fall 2005.

Fact remains, I'm in comparative studies. They train us to see similarities, not differences.

I agree here, and I think that similarities are valuable in studying lore. But the devil is in the details - it's far to easy to make broad generalizations based on related data.

Ultimately, as a modern Heathen, I'm concerned not just with what was historical, but what is useful. The runes used as a divination are not at all well supported in the lore. Yet, I still use them today.
[User Picture]
From:tosk
Date:April 3rd, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)

Re: On the ironic hand

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I'm in comparative studies. They train us to see similarities, not differences


So as Wilson says "What the Thinker[part of the brain] thinks, the Prover [part of the brain] proves"? ;-)
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:April 3rd, 2006 06:15 pm (UTC)

Re: On the ironic hand

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Come to think of it, don't you guys have lawspeakers at the Thing, kinda like the Irish do at Tara?

*raises eyebrow*

Hmm . . . That might be my clearest avenue for victory. . . Well, that and the bards and skalds and things like that.

Of course, the easiest defense might be, "yeah, but I was looking for comparisons to "Druids", not all those other kinds of priests. Then we'll argue about whether a bard is a Druid :)

Ah, semantics.

*sighs happily*
[User Picture]
From:trogula
Date:April 3rd, 2006 06:28 pm (UTC)

Re: On the ironic hand

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Two things:

1. The lawspeaker is specific to Iceland - it's late Viking era, and it's not found elsewhere

2. Being a civic leader doesn't automatically make one a priest
[User Picture]
From:tosk
Date:April 3rd, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)

Re: On the ironic hand

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Was it wrong for the Welsh to use the term Bard to refer to a lyric poet? At one time, it 'may' have been a specific term for a member of a Druidic order. However, apparently in Whales the word morphed into a description of a poet (and slightly later in history most of the BI and now common parlance and Dungeons & Dragons).

Was this wrong of the Welsh to evolve a word as time passed?

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