Shamanism Lesson 2

Author: Khemaysekhmet
Date: Wednesday, 11 January
3. Beliefs

There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world, but several common beliefs are shared by all forms of shamanism. Common beliefs identified by Eliade (1972) are the following:

Spirits exist and they play important roles both in individual lives and in human society.
The shaman can communicate with the spirit world.
Spirits can be benevolent or malevolent.
The shaman can treat sickness caused by malevolent spirits.
The shaman can employ trance inducing techniques to incite visionary ecstasy and go on vision quests.
The shaman’s spirit can leave the body to enter the supernatural world to search for answers.
The shaman evokes animal images as spirit guides, omens, and message-bearers.
The shaman can perform other varied forms of divination, scry, throw bones/runes, and sometimes foretell of future events.

Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits which affect the lives of the living. Although the causes of disease lie in the spiritual realm, inspired by malicious spirits, both spiritual and physical methods are used to heal. Commonly, a shaman “enters the body” of the patient to confront the spiritual infirmity and heals by banishing the infectious spirit.

Many shamans have expert knowledge of medicinal plants native to their area, and an herbal treatment is often prescribed. In many places shamans learn directly from the plants, harnessing their effects and healing properties, after obtaining permission from the indwelling or patron spirits. In the Peruvian Amazon Basin, shamans and curanderos use medicine songs called icaros to evoke spirits. Before a spirit can be summoned it must teach the shaman its song. The use of totemic items such as rocks with special powers and an animating spirit is common.

Such practices are presumably very ancient. Plato wrote in his Phaedrus that the “first prophecies were the words of an oak”, and that those who lived at that time found it rewarding enough to “listen to an oak or a stone, so long as it was telling the truth”.

Belief in witchcraft and sorcery, known as brujería in Latin America, exists in many societies. Other societies assert all shamans have the power to both cure and kill. Those with shamanic knowledge usually enjoy great power and prestige in the community,[citation needed] but they may also be regarded suspiciously or fearfully as potentially harmful to others.

By engaging in their work, a shaman is exposed to significant personal risk, from the spirit world, from enemy shamans, or from the means employed to alter the shaman’s state of consciousness. Shamanic plant materials can be toxic or fatal if misused. Failure to return from an out-of-body journey can lead to death.[citation needed] Spells are commonly used to protect against these dangers, and the use of more dangerous plants is often very highly ritualized.

4. Soul and Spirit Concepts

The variety of functions described above may seem like distinct tasks, but they may be united by underlying soul and spirit concepts.

This concept can generally explain more, seemingly unassociated phenomena in shamanism:

This concept may be based closely on the soul concepts of the belief system of the people served by the shaman. It may consist of retrieving the lost soul of the ill person. See also the soul dualism concept.

Scarcity of hunted game
This problem can be solved by “releasing” the souls of the animals from their hidden abodes. Besides that, many taboos may prescribe the behavior of people towards game, so that the souls of the animals do not feel angry or hurt, or the pleased soul of the already killed prey can tell the other, still living animals, that they can allow themselves to be caught and killed.[62][63] For the ecological aspects of shamanistic practice, and related beliefs, see below.

Infertility of women
This problem can be cured by obtaining the soul of the expected child.

Beliefs related to spirits can explain many different phenomena. For example, the importance of storytelling, or acting as a singer, can be understood better if we examine the whole belief system. A person who can memorize long texts or songs, and play an instrument, may be regarded as the beneficiary of contact with the spirits (e.g. Khanty people).


taken directly from:

Next week we will be looking at the Practices and Regional Variations.
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