Shamanism in Anthropology has been an entity in a constant metamorphosis. It has always been considered exotic and its existence around the globe was never contradicted. However, over the years it did not receive the scholarly attention that it so requires. The age of discovery garnered a multitude of information on shamanism all over the world. The reporters invested a great deal of accuracy in the gathering of the information, but their observational skills were mostly underdeveloped. Furthermore as could be expected, they saw and evaluated things solely on the basis of European religion and social customs (Flaherty, 1992, pp.3) without having it necessary to view its ramifications to the people who are so imbued by it. Despite these methodologies which were grave in nature, matters began to shift during the 1940's and 1950's when the social sciences were rapidly coming into their own disciplines. Shamanism, was beginning to be looked upon as a complex religious notions and modes of behaviour (Lommel, 1967, pp.8). Although shamanism was beginning to harness scholarly attention there were still different contradicting theories being laid out in the scientific community. More recently since the notion of tribalism has become more prevalent shamanism is beginning to be recognized as holding the key puzzle in life. Furthermore, it is growing and encompassing many areas such as Psychology, Pharmacology, and even believe it or not Physics. Now before we elaborate on the historical significance of shamaninsm in anthropology it is imperative that a general definition of shamanism is established.
In order to study shamanism the shaman must first be understood. The original word shaman came form the Ural mountains in Russia. It applied to people who acted in several 'non-ordinary' capacities for their tribes. Shamans may be defined as man or a woman who through their ability to enter a trance state in any given moment can influence the course of events, find lost or stolen items and identify the criminal when a crime takes place. Thus in a sense shamanism is the practising of these mechanisms in trying to make sense of the world. As you can see it encompasses various facets of the social life from healing illness to maintaining social order. This definition of shamanism is very brief and really can not be upheld as a precise and accurate definition, however shamanism within these parameters has always been accepted both in the early and late twentieth century. Nevertheless, differences did emerge that transformed the definition of shamanism in anthropology in that it added more to this vague definition.
According to Mircea Eliade the shaman who is an inspired priest, in ecstatic trance ascends to the heavens on'trips'. In the cause of these journeys the shaman persuades or even fights with the gods in order to secure benefits for his fellow men. Here, in the opinion of Eliade, spirit possession is not an essential characteristics and is no always present (Eliade, 1951, pp.434). He goes on by stating that the "specific element of shamanism is not the incorporation of spirits by the shaman but the ecstasy provoked by the ascension to the sky"(pp.434). That is to say that the incorporation of spirit possession does not necessarily belong to shamanism. Therefore, from Eliade's view point we see that there is a wedge between shamanism and spirit possession (Lewis,1971, pp.49). This was a view that was prevalent in the study of shamanism in anthropology at the time. Other writers on the subject clearly accepted this view as expressed by Luc de Heusch. He sought to develop these ideas into an ambitious, formalistic theory of religious phenomena. He states that shamanism and spirit possession are an antithetical process. The first is an ascent of man to the gods, the second the descent of the gods on men (Lewis,1971,pp.50). So shamanism in de Heusch's view is the movement of pride were man...
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