This article discusses the sociological hierarchies among Nanay shamans. The shamans evaluate one another and the community also evaluates them, ranking them in myriad informal ways in terms of effectiveness with spirits and healing power. These rankings come about through discursive activities associated with recounting shamanic healing and other ritual practices. While shamans try to maintain close communicative and social relationships with their community, they actively avoid direct interaction with one another as part of a conflict avoidance strategy.
Representations of the Shaman in Neo-Shamanism
The author focuses on the term 'shaman' as an analytical category. In academic usage its meaning has come to denote similar tribal beliefs all over the world, while in postmodern discourse the plural 'shamanisms' refers to a range of specific spiritual practices. The diverse movement of neo-shamanism appeared as a product of the interaction of etic and emic categories in anthropological literature, in particular as a result of the shift from the etic to an emic perspective that took place in the last forty or fifty years. The author argues that characterisations of shamans are people's representations rather than objective reality. These representations cannot serve as an explanation of a phenomenon, but themselves need explanation. Research in cognitive psychology could inform understanding of neo-shamanism: it would mean investigation of this social phenomenon as an outcome of the interaction of cognitive processes on the one hand and social inputs on the other.
Shuyun Guo and Yanjun Liang
The origin and meaning of the term shaman is a fundamental question in shamanic studies. There are conflicting views on this question in academic circles in China and overseas. Based on historical Chinese documents and Manchu-Tungus ethnic linguistic chronicles, this article argues that the term shaman originated from the language spoken by the Jurchen people of ancient northern China and was transmitted through the practices of generations of Jurchen descendants of the Manchu-Tungus peoples. The term shaman, as it is commonly used, is based on the root sar, which means knowing, or understanding, in the Manchu-Tungus linguistic family. The article concludes that shaman means “a wise man who knows everything.”
Anthropology and anthropological literature have had an irreversible effect on the practice of contemporary shamanism. In this small-scale study, I look at the complex ways the literature has been recorded, initiated interest, revived and verified the shamanic practices. Over the years, anthropologists have also caused distortions in revived practices as they have left some things unrecorded. On the basis of written responses and interviews from shamanic practitioners and active drumming-group members, I demonstrate that the argument of neo-shamanism as the only form of shamanism still alive is not completely true. Attention is drawn also to the claim about the cycle of learning in contemporary shamanism. My argument is that the main part of learning in the deeper levels of shamanic practices still happens in face-to-face situations.
On the Functional Significance of Shamans
This report reviews various legends, stories, and tales, as well as texts of shamanic rituals recorded by various scholars. The report focuses on the significance and role of a shaman in the Odul (Yukaghir) culture, and summarizes the functions a shaman carried out in the society as presented in these recorded texts.
Shamanic Sickness, Spirit Embodiment, and Fragmentary Trancescape in Contemporary Buriat Shamanism
During fieldwork on a contemporary revival of shamanism in Buriatiia in the summer of 2005, I was initially puzzled by what I had witnessed. The spirits that were embodied by the shamans were interacting with the audience. Afterward, the shamans did not remember what had occurred while they were in trance. To me, it resembled what has been described as spirit-mediumship performance. While discussing this with shamans, their initial response was that Buriat shamanism is real shamanism, insisting that authentic trance is unconscious, while at the same time dismissing other forms as fake. Later, however, some quietly admitted that Buriat shamans used to be able to remember their ecstatic journeys, and eventually they will be able to regain this ability. I argue that the post-trance amnesia among the contemporary Buriat neo-shamans is the result of the disruption caused by the Soviet anti-religious legacy, which inhibited Buriats to progress to higher degrees of initiation.
Magic, Sorcery, and Warrior Shamanism in Venezuela
In the area of the Upper Orinoco River in Venezuela, Yanomami shapori (shamans) engage in hostile acts against their colleagues and people (especially children) living in distant villages in order to inflict misery and death. These combative magical practices are primarily motivated by retribution for past assaults of a similar kind. While in most cases the shapori perform these activities intentionally, this article argues that the malevolent non-human acts are also driven by the cannibalistic nature of hekura spirits, which demand human souls. In this way, although shapori intentionally engage in bellicose activities, they must sometimes kill in order to appease the ancestral spirits and thus spare the lives of their own kin. This article focuses on the dark side of Yanomami shamanistic practices in order to counterbalance tendencies that emphasize the more positive, therapeutic aspects of shamanism, namely, its socially integrative roles.
A Nanai Case Study
Tatiana D. Bulgakova
This article concerns the space through which shamans journey (its relationship to physical space as well as to the person), and how it is represented in indigenous Nanai discourse. From the perspective of traditional Nanai shamans, spiritual and physical spaces are interconnected. Events having spiritual significance saturate physical space and thereby open up an additional spiritual dimension. Shamanists believe that by appearing simultaneously on different sides of the border between the spiritual and physical worlds, they are able to observe one another and, having met in the spiritual world, they can enter into lasting relations with one another, continuing them in the physical world. These and other analogous emic ideas permit the conclusion that, for practicing traditional shamans, spiritual space is objective and in relation to the person is externally situated.
Social, Political, and Shamanic Power in Siberia
Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer
An analysis of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in the Russian Federation reveals a variety of village and urban reactions to crises of faith and power. The significance for group identity and instances of synergistic group belief are discussed. The transition that has seen amorphous underground shamanic practice lead to the institutionalization of shamanic cosmology is reflected in the recent opening of a temple in the Republic's capital, Yakutsk, and in the various groups that adhere to charismatic healers and seers. Debates about faith, as well as fragmented faith epistemologies, are described. The data derive from over 25 years of intermittent fieldwork in the Republic and with the Sakha diaspora. My approach is situated at the crossroads of medical-psychological anthropology, political anthropology, and new religious movement analysis.
T. D. Skrynnikova
The author considers that the term 'shamanism' is inappropriate to designate the phenomenon generally so described. Materials on the shamanism of the peoples of Inner Asia lead to the identification of two separate archetypes, i.e. east-Asian and southwest-Asian. Two traditional cultural codes are discussed - that concerned with the principal 'personages' (the supreme deities), and that with the 'agents' (the performers of the ritual). In the east-Asian archetype, the two principal deities are the Sky and the Earth, and the major socially significant rituals - for example, New Year - are carried out by secular leaders, such as the khan, elders, heads of clans, and others. In the southwest archetype, which developed under the influence of ancient Iranian and Indo-Arian traditions, there was a triad of heavenly beings, of which the major one was the Sun, accompanied by groups of other, lesser deities - those of the 'right' and those of the 'left'. The author concludes that only where the cult of the Sun is observed (later possibly mingled with the Thunder-god) do 'white' shamans perform the sacred functions and rituals.