Female Shaman and Spiritual Leaders

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  • Topic: Shamanism, Spirituality, Shaman
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  • Published : June 28, 2010
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Victoria Karr
June 22, 2009
Ashford University
Cultural Anthropology
Female Spiritual Leaders - Healing and the Woman Shaman

In a world of male dominated cultures and societies, it is fascinating to find that female spiritual healers have been a constant part of history. Their place in this powerful and spiritual history dates back to drawings on cave walls, with high priestesses and shamans in cultures around the globe. The female shaman and spiritual leader’s strength throughout the ages has long been downplayed and ignored, but there has been a turnaround in recent times and the female shaman and her spirituality and teachings are returning in ancient cultures as well as in modern society.

A Chukchee proverb declares, “Woman is by nature a shaman.” Yet writings and acknowledgements of the female participation and contributions to this realm of spiritual experience has often been downplayed and ignored. The powerful hierarchies of men over women encouraged the belief that women shamans represented a degeneration of an originally masculine profession. Researchers are still hard put to explain why so many male shamans customarily dressed in women’s clothing and assumed other female-gendered behaviors. The theory that shamans ought to be masculine rejects traditions in every culture, from Buryat Mongolia to the Bwiti religion in Gabon, and also the story that the first shaman was a woman (Dashu, 2006). Because of this fear and hunger for power, many imperial and feudal societies suppressed women's open exercise of religious authority. For example, in Asia government and religious sects stamped out women spiritual leaders, witches were burned in Europe and other societies labeled the followers cults.

This drive for power executed by male religious and government leaders led to barring women from ritual leadership and religious authority. These acts have been committed all through history and there has always been a key focus in the drive to undermine female power. Scriptures were rewritten to ban priestesses and female religious authorities. All traces of these relationships were rewritten to demonize the powerful women (such as turning Mary Magdalene from the foremost Christian disciple to a prostitute). Any divine female images were also expunged, such as with an early saying of Muhammad which embraced the three great goddesses of Arabia as "daughters of Allah." The original version of this hadith was denounced as "the Satanic verses," and was revised in the written Quran (Dashu, 2006).

In spite of this, women have continued to be involved leaders in the shaman tradition worldwide, and in some cultures, they still predominate. This is true in modern Korea and Okinawa, as well as among many South African peoples, northern Californian tribes such as the Karok and Yurok, and in Indonesia and Siberia. There are countless other examples, including the Machi of the Mapuche in southern Chile and the Babaylan and Catalonan of the Philippines (Conway, 2006).

History shows through various writings, pictures and stories that women were spiritual leaders, holistic healers, herbalists and speakers. The Shaman woman or priestess invoked spirits of their ancestors, interpreted advice and led her followers in the way of their ancestors. While drums and flutes played they danced themselves into trances and received the spirits into their bodies. While under this influence they healed and prophesied. Many stories were told of Chinese Wu priestesses, where the spirits’ power was seen emanating through the priestess and objects elevated, wounds healed instantly and other miraculous events occurred (Conway 2006). Shamans in Today’s World

Shamanic rites are very much a living culture in today’s world, although government and other organized religions promote strong social stigmas against the powerful women who run the ceremonies. The fact that they heal, prophesize and commune with...
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