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. . 2007.


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  • secrecy — (n.) early 15c., secretee, quality of being secret, from O.Fr. secré, variant of secret (see SECRET (Cf. secret)). Form altered late 16c. on model of primacy, etc …   Etymology dictionary

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  • secrecy — [sē′krə sē] n. pl. secrecies [altered < ME secretee < secre, secret < OFr secré < L secretus: see SECRET] 1. the condition of being secret or concealed 2. a tendency to keep things secret; practice or habit of being secretive …   English World dictionary

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  • secrecy — n. 1) to ensure secrecy 2) strict secrecy 3) secrecy in (secrecy in conducting negotiations) 4) in secrecy (to meet in secrecy) (the meetings were held in the strictest secrecy) 5) (misc.) to swear smb. to secrecy * * * [ siːkrɪsɪ] (misc.) to… …   Combinatory dictionary

  • secrecy — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ absolute, complete, total ▪ great, strict, utmost ▪ excessive ▪ government …   Collocations dictionary

  • secrecy — se|cre|cy [ˈsi:krəsi] n [U] [Date: 1500 1600; Origin: secretie secrecy (15 16 centuries), from secre secret (14 16 centuries), from Old French secré, from Latin secretus; SECRET1] 1.) the process of keeping something secret, or when something is… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • secrecy — se|cre|cy [ sikrəsi ] noun uncount a situation in which you keep something secret, or the process of keeping something secret: Discussions were to take place in total secrecy. shrouded/cloaked/veiled in secrecy: The Iraqi contract was shrouded in …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • secrecy — noun (U) 1 the process of keeping something secret, or the state of being kept a secret: I must stress the need for absolute secrecy about the project. 2 be sworn to secrecy if you have been sworn to secrecy by someone, you have promised them… …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

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