Bell Digest vol09p10.txt

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	Shamanism-General Overview-Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

	This is the unedited FAQ document as available on the
	Usenet newsgroup soc.religion.shamanism.  I will conclude
	volume 9 here, and will start volume 10 now.

Henk Langeveld, Maintainer/Editor of the RuneQuest Digest and RuneQuest Daily
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Newsgroups: soc.religion.shamanism
From: (Dean Edwards)
Subject: Shamanism-General Overview-Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Summary: This FAQ conatains a general overview on shamanism. 
  It should be read by anyone interested in understanding the what 
  is meant by shamanism and what differentiates shamanism form
  other forms of ecstatic experience
Keywords: shamanism, spirit, anthropology, ethnology, oobe, dreams
Organization: NETCOM On-line Communication Services (408 241-9760 guest)
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1993 19:23:24 GMT
Lines: 195

Archive-name: shamanism-overview
Last-modified: 27 September 1993
Version: 1.0.1

NOTE: The following general overview of shamanism is not intended to
be the last word or the definitive work on this subject. Rather it is, as
its title implies, intended to provide the participant or reader with a set
of guidelines that will familiarize them with the general use of the terms
shamanism, shaman and shamanic in the trends, study and practice of 
historic, traditional and contemporary shamanic experience.
Pleae send comments to (Dean Edwards).

Shamanism-General Overview-Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
(c  September, 1993 by Dean Edwards)
This FAQ shall be posted monthly and is maintained by Dean Edwards
( It is intended for the private non-commercial use
of Usenet users.

Table of Contents:

 1. Terms used in this FAQ
 2. What is shamanism?
 3. Shamanic Ecstasy
 4. Becoming a shaman
 5. The role of trauma in the development of a shaman
 6. The relationship between shamanic traditions and culture
 7. Shamanic Ecstasy
 8. The origin of the term "shamanism"
 9. Roles of the shaman
10. Reasons for this FAQ

1. Why were the terms used in this FAQ selected and do they have special
meanings. There is an extensive literature about shamanism that has been
compiled since the late Eighteenth Century. Like any field of study and
religious practice, shamanism has developed a specialized vocabulary.
Please note that some of the words used in the material that follows are
drawn from scholars who have a solid background in shamanic studies and
may have meanings that are specific and less general than is often the
case in popular usage. Consulting a good dictionary should clear up any
points of confusion.

2. What is Shamanism?
Shamanism is classified by anthropologists as an archaic
magico-religious phenomenon in which the shaman is the great master
of ecstasy. Shamanism itself, was defined by the late Mircea Eliade
as a technique of ecstasy. A shaman may exhibit a particular magical
specialty (such as control over fire, wind or magical flight). When a
specialization is present the most common is as a healer. The
distinguishing characteristic of  shamanism is its focus on an 
ecstatic trance state in which the soul of the shaman is believed to
leave the body and ascend to the sky (heavens) or descend into the
earth (underworld). The shaman makes use of spirit helpers, which
he or she communicates with, all the while retaining control over
his or her own consciousness. (Examples of possession occur, but
are the exception, rather than the rule.) It is also important to
note that while most shamans in traditional societies are men,
either women or men may and have become shamans.

3. What is Shamanic Ecstasy and how does it compare with other
forms of ecstasy?

From the Greek 'ekstasis', ecstasy literally means to be placed
outside, or to be placed.This is a state of exaltation in which a
person stands outside of or transcends his or herself. Ecstasy may
range from the seizure of the body by a spirit or the seizure of a
person by the divine, from the magical transformation or flight of
consciousness to psychiatric remedies of distress. 

Three types of Ecstasy are specified in the literature on the subject:
1. Shamanic Ecstasy
2. Prophetic Ecstasy
3. Mystical Ecstasy

Shamanic ecstasy is provoked by the ascension of the soul of the 
shaman into the heavens or its descent into the underworld. These 
states of ecstatic exaltation are usually achieved after great and 
strenuous training and initiation, often under distressing 
circumstances. The resulting contact by the shaman with the 
higher or lower regions and their inhabitants, and also with 
nature spirits enables him or her to accomplish such tasks as 
accompanying the soul of a deceased into its proper place in the
next world, affect the well-being of the sick and to convey the
story of their inner travels upon their return to the mundane

The utterances of the shaman are in contrast with those of prophetic
and mystical ecstasy. The prophet literally speaks for God, while the 
mystic reports an overwhelming divine presence. In mysticism, the 
direct knowledge or experience of the divine ultimate reality, which is
perceptible in two ways, emotional and intuitive.

However, it can be argued that, generally speaking, there are three
perceptive levels of ecstasy. 
1) The physiological response, in which the mind becomes absorbed in
and focused on a dominant idea, the attention is withdrawn and the 
nervous system itself is in part cut off from physical sensory input. The
body exhibits reflex inertia, involuntary nervous responses, frenzy.
2) Emotional perception of ecstasy refers to overwhelming feelings of awe,
anxiety, joy, sadness, fear, astonishment, passion, etc.
3) Intuitive perception communicates a direct experience and 
understanding of the transpersonal experience of expanded states of
awareness or consciousness.

While the physiological response is always present, the emotional response
may or may not be significant when intuition is the principal means of 
ecstatic perception. Some have argued that beyond the intuitive state there
is a fourth condition in which the holistic perception exceeds mental and 
emotional limitations and understanding.

The ecstatic experience of the shaman goes beyond a feeling or perception of
the sacred, the demonic or of natural spirits. It involves the
shaman directly and actively in transcendent realities or lower realms of

4. How does one become a shaman?
One becomes a shaman by one of three methods:
a) Hereditary transmission;
b) Spontaneous selection or "call" or "election";
c) personal choice and quest. (This latter method is less frequent
and traditionally such a shaman is considered less powerful than one
selected by one of the two preceding methods.) The shaman is not
recognized as legitimate without having undergone two types of
1) Ecstatic (dreams, trances, etc.)
2) Traditional ("shamanic techniques, names and functions of 
spirits,mythology and genealogy of the clan, secret language, etc.) The
two-fold course of instruction, given by the spirits and the old master
shamans is equivalent to an initiation." (Mircea Eliade, The Encyclopedia
of Religion, v. 13 , p. 202; Mcmillian, N.Y., 1987.) It is also possible 
for the entire process to take place in the dream state or in ecstatic 

5. What is the role of personal trauma or crisis in the selection or 
development of a shaman?
A common experience of the call to shamanism is a psychic or spiritual
crisis, which often accompanies a physical or even a medical crisis, and
is cured by the shaman him or herself. This is a common occurrence for
all three types of shamanic candidates described above. The shaman is
often marked by eccentric behavior such as periods of melancholy, 
solitude, visions, singing in his or her sleep, etc. The inability of the 
traditional remedies to cure the condition of the shamanic candidate and 
the eventual self cure by the new shaman is a significant episode in 
development of the shaman. The underlying significant aspect of this 
experience, when it is present,is the ability of the shaman to manage
and resolve periods of distress.

6. Does the presence of an active shamanic tradition necessarily mean that
the society itself should be deemed "shamanic"?
No, not at all. The presence of shamanism in a nation or a community does
not mean that shamanism is central to the spiritual or religious life of
the community or region. Shamanism often exists alongside and even in
cooperation with the religious or healing practices of the community.

7. What is meant by shamanic ecstasy and what role does it actually play
in shamanism?
The ecstatic technique of shamanism does not involve itself in the broad
range of ecstasy reported in the history of religion. It is specifically
focused on the transpersonal movement of the consciousness of the
shaman into higher or lower realms of consciousness and existence.
Another aspect of shamanism is that compared to other spiritual 
traditions, it is a path that the individual walks alone. While much of 
the focus of shamanic studies has been on the shamanic complexes of north
and central Asia, shamanism is a universal phenomenon, not confined to any
particular region or culture.

8. What is the origin of the word "shaman"?
Shaman comes from the language of the Tungus of North-Central Asia. It
came into use in English via Russian. 

9. What are the usual roles of a shaman?
In contemporary, historical or traditional shamanic practice the shaman
may at times fill the role of priest, magician, metaphysician or healer.
Personal experience is the prime determinant of the status of a shaman.
Knowledge of other realms of being and consciousness and the cosmology of
those regions is the basis of the shamanic perspective and power. With this 
knowledge, the shaman is able to serve as a 
bridge between the mundane and the higher and lower states The shaman
lives at the edge of reality as most people would recognize it and most
commonly at the edge of society itself. Few indeed have the stamina to
adventure into these realms and endure the outer hardships and personal
crises that have been reported by or observed of many shamans.

10. Why was this FAQ written?
This FAQ was originally written to support a proposal for a new Usenet
newsgroup, 'soc.religion.shamanism'. The purpose of this proposed 
newsgroup is to provide a forum for discussion and exchange of ideas, 
views and information about historic,traditional, tribal and 
contemporary shamanism. This FAQ is intended to provide a useful general
overview of what 'shamanism' actually means and what it is in practice. 

End of FAQ