religious specialist, originally found in hunting-gathering
cultures, which are loosely structured, technologically
simple, and homogeneous.
word shaman is derived from a word in the Tungusic language
of Siberia, one of the areas in which the classical form
of shamanism is found.
forms of shamanism have been observed in widely distributed
nonliterate societies located in Central Asia, North
America, and Oceania.
a shaman can achieve religious status by heredity, personal
quest, or vocation, the recognition and call of the individual
is always an essential part of that individual's elevation
to the new status.
shaman, usually a man, is essentially a medium, a mouthpiece
of the spirits who became his familiars at his initiation,
during which he frequently undergoes prolonged fasts, seclusion,
and other ordeals leading to dreams and visions. Training
by experienced shamans follows.
main religious tasks of a shaman are healing and divination.
Both are achieved either by spirit possession or by the
departure of the shaman's soul to heaven or to the underworld.
also divine the whereabouts of game, the position of the
enemy, and the best way of safeguarding and increasing the
food supply. Shamans may occupy an elevated social and economic
position, especially if they are successful healers. Attempts
to explain the shamans and their cures have been numerous.
scholars have drawn parallels between shamanistic healing
and psychoanalytic cures and have concluded that in both
instances efficacious and therapeutic symbols are created,
leading to psychological release and physiological curing
anthropologists, rejecting a theory that shamans are basically
neurotics or psychotics, have suggested that shamans possess
certain cognitive abilities that are distinguishably superior
to those of the rest of the community. Other scholars simply
explain shamanism as the precursor of a more organized religious
system or as a technique for achieving ecstasy.
By: John A. Saliba, S.J., Ph.D. Associate Professor of Religious
Studies, University of Detroit. Contributor to Anthropologica
and other publications.
Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 http://encarta.msn.com
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