Traditional and Modern Notion of Shamanism

The focus of the first two texts is function and structure. The study of shamanism is the study of functions and forms. Now functions and forms focus on images, processes, and results. Shamanism can be considered a vivid image of a traditional society, an initiation process, and an acceptance call. According to Czaplicka, a shaman must be an able and inspired person, excited by illusions of power and divine revelation. Any individual who wishes to become a shaman must have alternating fits of paroxysms.  The candidate will sit motionless without food or drink. After several days, the candidate will withdraw to the wild to face the spirits of old. As a result, the shaman becomes a man of spirits. The shaman expects the believer to accept the guidance of the spirits. As the shaman enters into the spirit world, heshe expresses himselfherself through some medium. In other cultures, a shaman is a person of medium size. An old shaman is usually excited to anger  a pernicious state of madness.

This ethnographic approach in the study of shamanism presupposes 1) that the shaman character is an expression of a nervous practice, 2) knowledge is variable  that is, there is no definite or universal definition of a shaman, 3) an altered state of consciousness is synonymous with abnormal behavior, and 4) consciousness is both an expression of belief and appropriated behavior.

The shaman is an integral part of traditional societies. Its functions are as follows 1) provide guidance to members of the society, 2) maintain harmonious relationship between the society and the spirit world, and 3) provide an image of reality. An ethnographic approach in the study of shamanism is essentially a study of imageries and behavior. It does not fully substantiate the altered experience itself.
For Huxley and Leary, the psychedelic experience is a form of altered state of consciousness. Its effects transcend time and space. Indeed, when the shaman is in a state of insanity, his ego goes to the spirit world and communicates with the spirits. Such experiences occur in different ways meditation, hunger deprivation, exercises, and ingestion of drugs. The transcendent experience is not merely a material assumption of reality it is also a form of exercise. For Huxley and Leary, the focus is on the experience itself  on the conditions which manifest itself in the experience.

Huxley and Learys approach is a genuine pursuit to knowledge because of its limited but focused range.

Now, is there a modern equivalent of a shaman Faith healers and witch doctors (found in developing and underdeveloped countries) can be considered an approximation of the shaman. Faith healers and witch doctors call on the spirit world for guidance and help. They request the believer to accept the revelation of the spirits. Specifically, witch doctors ask the believer to respond to the paroxysms of the spirits. The shaman, however, is different from both faith healers and witch doctors in several ways 1) the shaman occupies a prominent role in traditional societies 2) the shaman is considered a part of the spiritual world and 3) the shaman is an ultimate expression of spirituality.


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