- Initiation as a shaman often entails the learning of knowledge, practices, and skills that are unknown to other people and are not meant to be revealed to anyone but another shaman. Some of these “secrets” are in fact known to everyone; for instance, the fact that a mask that is experienced and treated as a powerful otherthanhuman person is carried or worn in rituals by a known relative may be common knowledge but is treated as less significant than the presence and performance of that visiting person. Paul Johnson calls this “secretism,” the privileging of the idea of secrets and their known possession by particular, honored individuals or groups; he traces its importance in possession traditions in the Caribbean in particular. In many places, shamans may be feared because they might know secrets that might endanger uninitiated people or be used to threaten others with illness. This is one of the reasons for the suspicion that shamans might be sorcerers. Shamans’ abilities to find hidden knowledge may be drawn upon when people suspect someone in their community or a neighboring group is causing illness or bad luck. Less threateningly, shamans may tell clients or patients things, or give them tasks to perform, that must remain secret in order to be efficacious. Similarly, secrets may be held in common between shamans and their otherworld helpers, especially those with whom they form sexual and/or marital relationships. Revelation of such secrets may lead to the withdrawal of a shaman’s helper and, thus, efficiency.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.