- Shamans in many cultures are expected to combat users of malevolent magic, witches, or sorcerers—or they may be suspected of being witches or sorcerers themselves. Obeah, for example, is commonly portrayed as the practice of witchcraft, but its practitioners consider it equivalent to other shamanic trance and ritual complexes utilized for healing and other socially valued actions. Among the Amazonian Parakanã, discussed by Carlos Fausto, no one admits to being a shaman but only to being a dreamer, because although only the former can heal people from the intrusion of karowara, “spirits,” even to admit to having seen karowara is to admit the possibility of being a witch. Ioan Lewis argues that, as “possession is the means by which the underdog bids for attention,” so “witchcraft accusations provide the countervailing strategy by which such demands are kept within bounds.” In addition to providing another illustration of the political roles of shamans, this also unveils the essential ambiguity of notions of shamanic power and sources of power, especially among socially marginal individuals and groups. If marginal people can access power to heal the victims of unwanted possession, what power will they wield when they voluntarily become possessed and actively control or master the spirits? The otherworld persons involved here are themselves ambiguous, tricksters at best, and “they can scarcely be expected to have shed completely their capacity to harm.” Lewis concludes that one who “can cast out malign spirits is ipso facto a witch,” and shamans cannot be entirely distinguished from such sinister and dangerous beings. By rejecting this possibility and allying itself with only positive values and actions, neo-shamanism undercuts its claims to access similar sources of power and its assertion of sharing a similar cosmology. These uses of the “witch” and “witchcraft” should be distinguished from Pagan witchcraft or Wicca.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.