- In Mircea Eliade’s construction of shamanism, political involvement is a sign of degeneracy among shamans. He prefers to present them as ritualists and religious leaders rather than as community leaders, let alone the allies of emperors. Similarly, the universalization of shamanism by Michael Harner and other promoters of core shamanism and neo-shamanism typically divorces the practice from local political concerns. In contrast, Caroline Humphrey, Urgunge Onon, and Nicholas Thomas demonstrate the intimate relationships between Mongolian and Chinese shamans and emperors and elders. Similarly, Mercedes de la Garza argues that the Mayan rulers of the classical, precolonial period were shamans because they “acquired [their divine quality] through strict initiation rituals . . . as well as through continual ascetic practices,” including locally significant forms of “self-sacrifice.” A reinsertion of shamans into their lived realities requires full engagement with their political and other communal roles. Even neo-shamans, for all that they may wish to devote themselves to “spirituality,” are integral members, if not significant players, in the expansion of Western hegemony precisely because some of them insist on universalism and the separation of religion from politics.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.