- Ioan Lewis states that “shamanism is tied to the Tungus [Evenk] clan structure of which, indeed, it is an essential component,” thereby situating shamans in their communities and social contexts in a way that few other interpreters have done. Noting that Evenk clans, like those in many other indigenous and animist cultures, include not only living humans but also ancestors, other-thanhuman persons, and spirits, Lewis encapsulates much of what might be labeled totemism, that is, the understanding that humans are intimately related not only with their genetic (“blood” or “uterine”) kin but also to a range of other persons, not all of whom are human or mortal. Within this social context, Lewis argues, the shaman as master of spirits “is essential to the well-being of the clan, for he controls the clan’s own ancestral spirits and other foreign spirits which have been adopted into its spirit hierarchy.” Left outside of the clan relationship, “free spirits” can be “extremely dangerous . . . pathogenic . . . sources of the many diseases” that afflict people. Shamans, therefore, mediate among members of the clan and between the clan and hostile beings, and they also combat “noxious” spirits and seek to cure the illnesses they cause. The collaborations between Caroline Humphrey, Nicholas Thomas, and Urgunge Onon have resulted in similarly important and rare discussions of the political and social contexts in which shamans live and work. They demonstrate, for example, that shamans can work with emperors on behalf of imperial conglomerations of clans, and that they can be distinguished from elders, who also lead clans and engage with ancestors in particular ways.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.