as a Controversial Phenomenon
Shamanism is a term used in Europe to describe people from
different tribes who performed different rites. In different
tribes Shamans perform different functions. Mostly they were
treated like doctors or people who know medicine. Some people
also believe that shamans have ability to communicate with
spirits. The term itself derives from Tungus language used
in Siberia, Russia. At the present moment shamanism exists
in different places of the world and should be treated as
global phenomenon. Many scientists regard shamanism as archaic
phenomenon which derives from pagan religions. There is another
group of scholars who treat Shamanism as abnormal phenomenon.
Attitude to shamanism greatly changed with the flow of time.
First Christian missionaries who discovered the tribes and
shamans treated them as healers, who used the help of devil.
Such an attitude reflected an attitude of “civilized”
Europe to new phenomenon from another culture. This attitude
is explained to great extend by Christian doctrine, which
did not recognize other religions and confessions. Shamanism
was treated as competitive force, which had a lot of adherents.
An attitude to shamanism in the nineteenth century did not
change to great expand. Most people from civilized countries
still treated it hostilely. An accent on the serving to devil
was not so strong during this time. At the same time shamanism
and communication with spirits was still treated like a fantasy
and daydreaming of people who used it in order to manipulate
others. This attitude also reflected prejudices which existed
at that time. Changes in attitude, which occurred in the beginning
of the twentieth century did not bring much faith in shamanism.
A big group researches, scientists and writers did not treat
shamans seriously. They regarded shamans as charlatans and
put much effort trying to persuade wide publicity that shamans
did not possess and kind of special power and only deceive
people. Famous French writer Diderot gave negative descriptions
of shamans. He described them as servants of Devil, supporting
the theory of evil nature of shamanist practices. He believed
that shamans “persuade the majority of people that they
have ecstatic transports, in which the genies reveal the future
and hidden things to them. The supernatural occasionally enters
into their operations. They do not always guess by chance”
(Diderot, 2001, p. 34). Form the other side he made an attempt
to uncover deceitful nature of shamanism, describing different
falsifications used by shamans. Diderot stated that “shamans
lock themselves into steamrooms to make themselves sweat,
often after drinking a special beverage that they say is very
important to receiving the celestial impressions” (Diderot,
2001, p. 35).
The use of psychological descriptions in order to explain
shamanism was popular during the middle of the twenties century.
George Devereux, a famous anthropologist, expressed an opinion
that shamanism is a kind of neurotic diseased. By his mind
shamans are mentally ill people.
Devereux believed that shamans were mentally deranged. He
also believed that they should have been treated as neurotics.
Julian Silverman went even further. He believed that shamanism
was a form of schizophrenia. He believed this because it corresponded
to two conditions of schizophrenia, which were “grossly
non-reality-oriented ideation, abnormal perceptual experiences,
profound emotional upheavals, and bizarre mannerisms”
(Silverman, 1967, p. 22).
At the same time contrast opinion on shamanism appeared that
time. Some famous psychologists, such as Stanley Krippner
stated that shamanism was a kind of psychological practice
and that shamans possessed an outstanding abilities of indigenous
psychotherapists. Mircea Eliade in her work, published in
1950s that that “shamanism is an archaic technique of
ecstasy, involving soul flight, or "journeying"
(Eliade, 2004, p. 154). Despite her ideas were greatly criticized,
they became were important for further development of Neo-shamanism
and growing interest to shamanism.
Another group of scientists, such and Walsh (2001), Basilov
(1997) and Sander (1979) gave counter arguments to the point
that shamanism was a kind of mental illness. They believe
that shamanism has clear differences from schizophrenic states.
Remarkable abilities and good mental skills, peculiar to shamans
make them different from mentally ill people.
Nowadays shamanism becomes more widespread among people, who
do not belong to aboriginal tribes. Neo-shamanism becomes
a part of New Age movement and gains popularity all over the
world. The meaning of the term New Age is really broad nowadays.
It is used for describing all alternative spiritual subculture,
which makes a combination of channeling, meditation, holistic
practices, and environmental practices.
The New Age Movement is a combination of ideology, religion
and spiritual methods peculiar to contemporary Western culture.
The name New Age is used in many meanings. It describes many
practices, beliefs, rituals peculiar to this movement. New
Ages combines religions and spiritual prophesy of East and
West. It also includes the knowledge from psychology, biology
and ecology. There are many religions, which influenced this
movement. Among these religions are Buddhism, Spiritualism,
Hinduism, Wiccan, Taoism, paganism, Sufism and many others.
New Age emerged as a response to new social, political and
cultural trends in the society. Exhausted by social conflicts,
wars, and political withstanding, people started losing faith
in conventional religions and neo-shamanism is often regarded
as a part of this movement.
Shamanism combines a lot of spiritual and mystical teachings
became that new force, which managed to give people hope for
future and confidence in themselves. Nowadays we can see that
Christian faith has lost its meaning for younger generations.
Strict norms and regulations of Christianity do not appeal
to younger generations any more. It is not surprising that
New Age became especially popular in the United States, since
this country had many different alternative religions and
philosophical movements. The American elite of the nineteenth
century became greatly affected by Oriental mentality and
European occultism. Masonic movement has also caused a great
impact on the intellectual elite of the United States. The
difficult situation of the sixties of the last century resulted
in the crises of faith. People could not be satisfied with
the existing explanations, provided by the conventional religion.
Dogmatic explanations about God did not satisfy the spirit
of the time and people started looking for other source of
inspiration. Different alternative religions and spiritual
practices became especially popular during that time. People
rediscovered their interest in yoga, mediation, occult knowledge,
paganism, Celtic culture and shamanism. “As might be
expected New Age unleashed counter-forces from the side of
fundamentalist Christian denominations. Especially after Marilyn
Ferguson wrote in her book The Aquarian Conspiracy that the
fraternity dedicated to this philosophy constituted a worldwide
network” (Hanegraaff 105). Since New Shamanism is comparatively
young movement, its ideas are in the stage of growing and
Specialists do not have one opinion concerning shamanism and
neo-shamanism. Some do not place it to the category of religion.
They state that New Age is rather a combination of mystical
traditions. The word “movement” describes the
status of this religion best of all. Some specialists place
this movement to the category of alternative religion. The
idea of conceptual integration of body, mind and spirit makes
one of the core ideas of neoshamanism as a part of New Age
movement. There are several characteristics, which give reasons
to compare New Age movement with religion. This system is
based on basic beliefs. The main ideas of New Age movement
are the ideas of Evolutionary Godhood and Global Unity. Evolutionary
Godhood assumes spiritual evolution. The real evolution can
be expressed not on the physical level. True evolution assumes
a great leap into another dimension, where people will be
able to realize their God-like nature. According to the teaching
of New Age, the nature of people is originally good and divine.
Thank to divine nature man has divine qualities, which can
be discovered with the help of New Age. The followers of New
Age movement often believe in reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation
is connected with the idea of Karma, or responsibility for
all thoughts and actions. Reincarnation or repeated births
are necessary in order to pay for all bad things, committed
in the past. At the same time New Agers pay less attention
to the idea of karmic debts and see a reincarnation as a way
to achieve unity with God.
Shamanism is a historical prophesy and widespread practice
for many people. When it was first discovered by people who
did not meet it before, shamanism caused a lot of wrong interpretations
and speculations. It was treated like magic practice, like
serving to devil and like deception of people. Later scientists
and psychologists made an attempt to regard shamanism as a
kind of mental illness. This opinion was expressed by several
respectful authorities in the field of psychology. Another
group of scholars gave their counter-arguments which prove
that shamanism is not a kind of mental illness. They prove
that shamanism is a complicated phenomenon, which can not
be treated like something abnormal. Shamanism does not fit
into the judgments of ordinary European people but this no
way means that it does not have right to exist and should
be treated like something abnormal. Many innovations and important
discoveries were rejected by wide publicity in the beginning
and later became useful for mankind. I believe that shamanism
also should be explored from this position, and this way it
will be possible not only to save this unique practice, but
also to use to for common good.
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Braden, Charles: (1963).Spirits in Rebellion; the Rise and
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Devereux, George, (Oct., 1961), "Shamans as Neurotics",
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