- Shamanism is sometimes said to be the earliest religion, the original religion. In fact, there is no evidence that could prove or disprove such a claim. To the contrary, it is certainly the case that every shaman living today utilizes skills and knowledge that are entirely appropriate to the contemporary world. Shamans and their communities are not “primitive” and do not provide evidence of what the first human ancestors did or thought.Similarly, it is sometimes claimed that shamanism is a religion eminently suited to the nomadic lifestyle of people who hunt and gather their food rather than growing it or trading it. While it is likely that the first humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers, shamans are employed in almost every conceivable style of culture. While shamans in many places do aid nomadic hunters, Korean shamans solve problems in urban industrial cities, Mongolian shamans have opened clinics in towns, Amazonian shamans have developed chants celebrating outboard motors, and Aboriginal Australian “clever people” are painting works of art that sell in exclusive galleries. Even the allegedly classic style of shamans, that is, those of Siberia, are more likely to be reindeer herders than hunters. Thus, shamans and shamanism do not fit easily with simple evolutionary schemata.For all these reasons, and because shamans in Siberia are quite different from shamans in the Caribbean, a chronology that traces the history of shamanism could only be misleading, informing us more about Western preconceptions about linear time and history than about the different manifestations of shamanism themselves. If it were possible to date the origins of a particular culture, or its adoption of shamans as religious functionaries, it might then be feasible to produce a time line of that culture’s shamanism. However, it is rarely possible to do this. Instead, this dictionary offers only a few tentative dates relevant to archaeological or literary evidence of ancient practices, encounters between Europeans and shamans in particular places, and the publication of several books that have created new forms of shamanism (i.e., neo-shamanism and core shamanism) in the West. Only dates relevant to entries in the dictionary are included.UPPER PALEOLITHIC PERIOD (FROM PERHAPS AS EARLY AS AROUND 40,000 BCE)• Caves in Europe, as well as other material/visual culture, are decorated with paintings that have been interpreted as “shamanic art” (there have been suggestions of earlier examples of shamanic rock art elsewhere worldwide—and certainly Eurocentrism should be challenged).NEOLITHIC PERIOD (FROM AROUND 8300 BCE)• Europe marks the first use of agriculture, although an “agricultural revolution” arguably overstates the immediate impact; various visual cultures from the period have been interpreted as “shamanic.”BRONZE AGE (FROM AROUND 2500 BCE)• British artifacts, including decorated daggers and ax heads, as well as gold “jewelry,” among other social agencies, from this period arguably reflected status; some scholars have commented on such status-bearers as “shamans.”1766–221 BCE• Chinese literary texts suggest the existence of wu (female shamans) and his (male shamans) during the Shang and Chou dynasties.IRON AGE (FROM AROUND 1000 BCE IN EUROPE)• “Celtic Druids” are often identified as “Shamans,” but these terms are problematic and all too often romanticized.MIGRATION AGE (FROM AROUND 300–900 CE IN EUROPE)• Peoples such as the Anglo-Saxons and Norse (Vikings) may have employed shamans before conversion; there is certainly evidence for cross-cultural exchange between these peoples and indigenous communities they encountered, including the Saami.12TH CENTURY• Gerald of Wales’s Description of Wales describes the practice of Welsh Awenyddion (entranced diviners).• Islam’s spread through Central Asia leads some shamans to add Muslim saints to their cadre of helpers and to adapt to being more marginal to the religious life of some communities.• The creation of the Mongol Empire by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan leads to the dominance of Buddhism in large areas of Asia, but shamans continue to serve their communities, as evidenced by 17thcentury Buddhist missions in the region; fusions of shamanism and Buddhism evolved when there was no outright persecution.13TH CENTURY• The Saga of Erik the Red describes a Norse shamanic séance that took place in the 10th century in Greenland and evidences the transition to Christianity.16TH CENTURY• An antiwitchcraft movement near Venice, Italy, in this period (according to Carlo Ginzburg) involves claims that the benandanti, “those who go doing good,” flew to confront malevolent witches.17TH CENTURY• Buddhist control of what is now Tuva, north of Mongolia, leads to Lamaist missionary opposition to shamans and shamanism; repression continues under later Chinese and Soviet Russian control.18TH CENTURY• Russian colonization of Central Asia leads to Christian persecution of shamans and to the evolution of more individualized, less clanbased authority structures among surviving shamans.• Russian and other European officials, travelers, and scholars begin to provide accounts of Central Asian shamans. The Tungus word shaman generates the German term schamanen and then the English shamanism. Such narratives become increasingly popular in the following centuries.• A distinction between male ritual leaders and female mediums begins among the Ainu.• Christianity is introduced to the Inuit, beginning in Labrador, Canada, sometimes leading to repression but sometimes to creative fusions.• Enlightenment writers and ideologues, such as Johann von Herder, Johann Goethe, and Victor Hugo, adopt a positive valuation of shamans, consider Orpheus to have been a shaman, and promote individual inspiration, while Diderot and others construct shamans as impostors, among other negative stereotypes.19TH CENTURY• Extensive fieldwork research among Siberian shamans begins.• Alleluia shamanism originates among Amazonian shamans in the Guyana highlands as a response to European colonialism and Christian missionization.• Comparison with Buddhism leads to the creation of a new indigenous term with which to label shamanism among the Buryats: the black faith.• Allan Kardec initiates a Spiritist movement, Kardecism, in France; it becomes increasingly popular in Brazil.• Some religious and cultural leaders of Native American nations such as the Lakota and Dakota lead confrontational responses to American colonization; others respond by evolving traditions blending traditional ways with forms of Christianity; and still others encourage the adoption of Christianity as a more or less temporary response to Euro-American domination. New shamanic healing and “world-making,” cosmological and culturally reinvigorating ceremonies, are established.EARLY 20TH CENTURY• A series of expeditions lead by Knud Rasmussen records Inuit shamanism in Greenland.• A religious movement called Umbanda is created in Brazil out of a fusion of African, Amazonian, and Euro-Christian traditions.• The spread of Soviet control leads to repression of shamans and other religious and cultural leaders in Siberia and Central Asia.• European and Western artists—for example, Vincent van Gogh— are labeled shamans by interpreters who judge some forms of mental illnesses to be shamanic.• Margaret Murray’s claim that Europeans persecuted as “witches” were members of a pagan fertility cult partly inspires the creation of new forms of self-identified Paganism and also encourages the thesis that early witches were led by shamans.• The Eranos Conferences initiated by Carl Jung bring together scholars of mythology and shamanism with therapists and artists, inspiring developments among neo-shamans.1950S AND 1960S• Interest in and experiments with “psychedelics” lead to a popularization of vision-emphasizing interpretations of shamanism and later to “cyberian shamanism” and “entheogen tourism.”• Mircea Eliade’s book presenting shamanism as “the archaic techniques of ecstasy” is published, first in French (1951), then in English (1964), and rapidly becomes the focus of considerable scholarly and popular attention.• Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan (1968) is published, attracts the attention of the “psychedelic generation,” and inspires an entheogen-focused version of neo-shamanism.1980S AND 1990S• Michael Harner’s The Way of the Shaman (1980) is published and provides a handbook for an even more popular style of neoshamanism that does not involve hallucinogens and is made available in workshops and New Age–style events.• Shamanic movements such as Candomblé, Santería, Vodou, Santo Daime, and others spread from South America to other parts of the world, not only as diaspora movements but also gaining non–South American adherents.• The collapse of the Soviet regime leads to the resurgence of ethnic and local traditions, including shamanism, in many new Asian republics.The support of American neo-shamans generates interesting blends of traditional and neo-shamanic practices and ideas.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.