Pondering Shamanism Part 1

First off, let’s start with updates. The new job is going well, I enjoy it and am generally happier. I have been revising some of my previous work. After writing several books (only 2 published at the moment), I am learning certain tricks and techniques that only come with experience. Thus, with my new experience, I can look back upon old work and see what I can do better.

The bow I was working on broke during tiller. Oh well, time to try again. I got to work a little on a couple of knives. They move a little closer to finishing. I am still bothered by my current lack of work space. Some days, I honestly wish I had the means to make my own workshop. The wife and I continue to look at houses, but so far nothing has really struck our fancy. A garage will serve I think. That is one of my requirements, naturally.

This post is the result of a conversation, and something I have been thinking about for some time. I engaged in conversation lately with a member of my small working group, and he raised many interesting points. I asked why he had called me “shaman” in the past, and the long and short he said it fits. When I said I do not consider myself a shaman, he followed up with “why not?” I cannot say I could answer that question. I do not know, frankly. The question has left me confused in a very profound way.

So I decided to explore the idea in a little more depth.

So what does being a shaman mean? In some ways, it is too inclusive a term. I could talk about the Tungus of Siberia, and the origins of the term ‘shaman’. I will not, and that information can be found elsewhere. I am just going to put it out there, I do not agree in any way with Harner’s core shamanism. I have read it, and the anthropologist in me rages at most things he has to say. Shamanism as a concept is a cultural complex, something that is deeply rooted in the context in which it arose. The Tungus shamans are not the same as the Sami shamans, who are in turn are different from North American shamans. Shaman-ism, is the idea of the shaman. The is what ‘ism’ means, ‘the idea of’. Sure, similarities can be found, but it is by no means a universal concept.

That being said, I turn now to Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova for some more detail. According to their book Neolithic Shamanism, they define shamanism as; “a spiritual and magical practice that involves working with spirits and is designed to serve others.” They go on to say that “basically, being a shaman is a job.” An important point in my opinion.

They go on to shape further distinctions. First, they detail a spirit worker; defining it as “A spirit worker is someone who works on a constructive basis. It’s an umbrella term…” It is fair to say I qualify under this definition. As an animist, it is fair to say I am a spirit worker. Moving on.

“Shamanic Practitioners have trained in as many techniques as they have the ability to learn, and with what psychic knack they have, and what energetic “wiring” they have, without the trauma and “rebuilding” of shamanic death.” Her again is another qualifier, the shamanic death. This is often in the context of an initiation crisis, but like all such diverse things, not always. I also think I qualify under this concept, but it is the shamanic death that is the kicker here.

And lastly, the shaman; “A shaman is someone who has been seized by the Gods or spirits (or both), sometimes without their consent, and is irrevocably changed on an energetic level by them in order to do work that would fry the circuits of anyone unaltered. This is usually accomplished through a “shamanic death”, a long illness (sometimes of many years) that can be physical or mental but is incurable by modern medicine and eventually brings the person very close to actual death.” Ok, perhaps at least under this definition I am way out of my league. I have had no such experience, at least in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I have some experience, but none I would qualify as this. So, spirit worker? Yeah. Shamanic practitioner, maybe. Shaman, nope. Not under this definition anyways. Though I do concede being seized by spirits, ancestors and gods. Perhaps just not “rewired.” At least, not yet.

There has been much written about shamanism in the anthropological literature, and it would be impossible to recap it all here. However, I would like to touch a bit on some other definitions. The following will come from the book “Studies in Lapp Shamanism” by Louise Backman and Ake Hultkrantz. (Specials characters have been removed from both names.) Let it be said that I will avoid the use of the word “Lapp” wherever possible, as it is an insulting and outdated word for the Saami people of north Scandinavia and surrounding areas.

The authors openly question in the open chapter of the book if “shaman”, like “animism” or “totemism” are useful concepts at all. In their own words; “However, phenomena like totemism, animism, fetishism, and shamanism are today highly debated as facts – do they occur at all? – and as concepts.”

The authors go on to explain that shamanism, as a concept does not point to one particular thing, but more of a range of interconnected parts that make up the concept of the “shaman”. An ideological complex. In their own words; “Thus there are four important constituents of shamanism: the ideological premise, or the supernatural world and the contacts with it; the shaman as actor on behalf of a human group; the inspiration granted him by his (or her) helping spirits, and the extraordinary, ecstatic experiences of the shaman.”

They further detail these “constituent” parts by detailing the shaman’s tasks. These are all supplementing with extra details which I have omitted.
1) The shaman is the doctor/healer…
2) The shaman is the diviner…
3) The shaman is the psychopomp, who escorts the souls of the dead to the afterlife.
4) The shaman is the hunting magician of the group.
5) The shaman is the sacrificial priest.

Given my nature, I can identify strongly with #4, as well as with #5 and #3. It would be fair to say all fit, though perhaps in an unbalanced way.

More to come in Part 2.

References:

Backman and Hultkrantz “Studies in Lapp Shamanism.”
Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova. “Neolithic Shamanism.”
http://www.thejaguarandtheowl.com/2013/06/

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

3 responses to “Pondering Shamanism Part 1

  • Kelley Harrell

    It’s a challenging thing to struggle with, and I’m glad you are finding your way through, YOUR way. In the end, what we call ourselves is moot. It’s what the spirits call us that tells the tale. And no matter what, you’ll always have someone willing to throw rocks. Shaman, Notshaman. It doesn’t stop at any point on your path.

    I’m glad to have found your work. I hope we meet again in the blogosphere, and best of adventure with your journey into being!

    • Nicholas Haney

      Thanks for reading!

      And thank you for your kind words. It has been a bit of a challenge, that is for sure.

      As for you, keep up the good work on your end as well. Unless I am mistaken, didn’t you interview with Jim Stovall recently on the radio? I happen to frequent the Owl, so that is why I ask.

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