- The history of shamanism in this large Asian country illustrates the variety of possible relationships between shamans and other religious, cultural, and political leaders and movements. The Chinese character wu is often translated as “female shaman” or “shamaness,” and the character his as “male shaman.” However, both characters can be applied to people who act in similar ways regardless of their gender. References to shamans may be found in Shang and Chou dynasty literatures (i.e., 18th–3rd century BCE), in which they act as diviners, oracles, exorcists, and healers, communicating with deities, ancestors, and guardian spirits while possessed or in a trance. Shamanic performances are recorded in which shamans dance to rhythmic drum music, self-mutilate to demonstrate their powers, and are considered to journey beyond their physical location to engage (sometimes sexually) with their helpers. Shamans also have the role, of some importance in Chinese and neighboring cultures, of killing ghosts, kuei. Priestly leaders of Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist movements sometimes adopted the duties of shamans (especially mediating between human and other-than-human persons), but just as often belittled or persecuted shamans as sorcerers. In the Communist era, shamans have continued to serve local communities as mediums, exorcists, and purifiers of homes and villages (especially in southeastern China), but they have no official status and have been persecuted. Even in Taiwan, shamans may have a low social status compared to the more respectable, liturgically centered priests.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.