- An indigenous people of the jungle of Orissa, India. Piers Vitebsky’s fieldwork-based book, Dialogues with the Dead (1993), concerns the mediatory role of Sora shamans between the living and their deceased relatives and ancestors. He discusses the gendered distinction between “great” shamans, mostly women and responsible for conducting funerals, and “lesser” shamans, mostly men and responsible for divination and healing. Funerals and other rituals are occasions on which shamans “impersonate ancestors in pantomime” and enter trances to allow the dead to speak through them to resolve family and communal issues and tensions. As the dead can also cause illness, divination indicates which “dead person is attacking a patient,” so they can be “fended off with a sacrificial offering” as part of the cure. Initiation is the result of the choice by an elder shaman of a successor to whom she will pass her powers, but it also requires training, intimate (marital) relationship with otherworld persons (especially powerful high-caste Hindu spirits such as deceased kings and warriors who have dominated the Sora), and the support of (living human) helpers. Among these helpers are other ritualists, who may be called kuran just like Sora shamans. Vitebsky also notes, “Christian Soras say that Jesus is more powerful than the spirits of their shamans, but that they still believe in the old spirits as these have their own names and all names refer to something.”
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.