SHamanism Paper

This essay has a total of 1711 words and 7 pages.


To truly understand the meaning of shamanism one must uncover the original definition. The
word shaman comes from the language of the Evenk, a small Tungus-speaking group of hunters
and reindeer herders from Siberia. It was first used only to designate a religious
specialist from this region. By the beginning of the 20th century it was already being
applied to a variety of North America and South American practices from the present and
the past. Today people have gone as far as defining the word shaman as any human that
acknowledges that he/she has had contact with spiritual entities. Well at least the term
still refers to human beings.

The Siberian shaman's soul is said to be able to leave the body and travel to other parts
of the cosmos, particularly to an upper world in the sky and a lower world underground.
How can anyone know what the people of Mesoamerica were seeing if they in fact were even
in these states of trance. A broader definition is that shamans would include any kind of
person who is in control of his or her state of trance, even if this does not involve a
soul journey. This broader definition stills does not include a culture that no one was
around to document. Does anyone really know if these ‘shamans' controlled their state of
trance? Not to mention, there is no evidence of a written language of either the Olmec or
West Mexican regions to date. These definitions of shamanism are very brief and really can
not be upheld as a specific precise and accurate definition, however shamanism within
these parameters has been widely accepted both in the early and late twentieth century,
and into today.

Shamanism due to its many definitions could be just about any being that can be observed
practicing. Shamanism is not a single, unified religion but a cross-cultural form of
religious sensibility and practice. It is a complex set of practices, beliefs, values and
behaviors that enable the practitioner to elect a shift from ordinary consciousness into a
trance state with a specific goal in mind. Such as healing, obtaining information, power,
vision, divination, contacting the spirit of the deceased, soul retrieval or guidance for
right action.

Shamanism is scattered and fragmented and should perhaps not be called an -ism at all.
There is no doctrine, no world shamanic church, no holy book as a point of reference, no
priests with the authority to tell us what is and what is not correct. Shamanism is not a
religion but could justifiable be a part of a religion. The fact is that well philosophers
can speculate, even by the vaguest definition of shamanism they can not prove that these
individuals were taking part in these trance-like states without written or physical

Due to the theory of shamanism being introduced into the Mesoamerican culture because of
the writings of Eliade and Furst, it seems only fair to look carefully at the relevance to
their interpretations. Eliade had originally acknowledged the oddity concerning the
concept of shamanism and, in turn, took it into his own hands to create a version this
concept himself. (Klein, pg. 388) I can not reasonable enter into the idea of this model
that he has created. He clearly explains the existence of shamanism in Siberia and inner
Asia, in which there has been, documented proof. The idea that because this is happening
there does not prove that it was happening over 2000 years ago across the world. He fails
to connect the two areas, in time and place, feasible. It is extremely interesting that
only Eliade's point of view is found in the Encyclopedia of Religion. (Eliade 201-208)

Despite Furst's attempt to redefine shamanism in terms of specific American religious
beliefs and practices, the new criteria he provided have proved to be as unreliable as
Eliade's. It repeatedly insists that the concepts of the universe divided horizontally
into an upper world, a terrestrial middle world, and an underworld in the sense that
shamanism would include most American belief systems. In fact in Furst's definition of
shamanism he explains that the ‘shaman' does not have to even take a hallucinogenic to
reach a state of trance. Basically, Furst redefined shamanism in terms that scholars, even
Eliade, would consider to be vaguely described. Even so, many take Furst's explanations as
reality. For example, his descriptions of a variety of sculptures and paintings from
Mesoamerica, he referred to them as being part of or relating-to shamanism. In ‘Dog with
Mask' 100-400 AD Furst contributes the mask to the transformation that shaman's go
through, which is happens to be a theory backed no hard evidence. (See Figure 1. Some of
the most popular figurines from Colima are the numerous representations of dogs, depicted
in all sorts of activities: fighting, grooming themselves, standing or merely sleeping.
Invariably, these dogs are short-legged and appear to be excessively fat. This may be due
to the fact that Mesoamericans were no strangers to using dogs as food and they even
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