- “Visionary and dreamer”; the Greenlandic shaman (pl. angakkut; also ilisiitsoq sing., ilisiitsut pl.). Missionary Hans Egede in 1721 offered the first detailed account of shamanism on the west coast of Greenland, describing how the shaman is bound with his head between his legs, his hands behind his back, and a drum at his side. The community gathered in the darkness of the house sings for the shaman, who calls on his spirit helpers to aid his unfettering. Thus untied, he ascends on a journey through the roof of the house to the spirit world, where he consults ancestor shamans and then returns to his people with important knowledge to maintain harmony between the worlds of spirits and humans. The Greenlandic angakkoq was a mediator between human and other-than-human persons, ensuring taboos were maintained and attempting reconciliation where they were broken. Sickness was interpreted as a result of breaching taboos, so healing required confessions to transgressions on the part of the patient. In her important review of reports by the Egede family of Christian missionaries and the Danish ethnographers Knud Rasmussen and Gustav Holm, among others, Merete Demant Jakobsen follows Sergei Shirokogoroff’s assessment of Siberian shamanism and characterizes the angakkoq as a “master of spirits.” The emphasis on control (over the other-than-human people shamans engage with) is fitting for shamanisms of the Arctic and parts of Siberia, but is not a universal feature of shamanisms. Rather than attempt to pin shamans down to a checklist of features, a decentered approach localizes shamans in specific socio-historical circumstances.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.