Shamanic State of Consciousness

   Michael Harner’s preferred term for the altered state of consciousness induced by shamans, to distinguish shamanic activity (control over the experience, journeying to nonordinary reality, engaging with animal helpers) from other altered states such as those induced by drugs, in mediums, and through spirit possession that, for Harner, lack control and remove important safety barriers. The concept derives in part from Sergei Shirokogoroff’s assertion that the shaman is a “master of spirits” and hence is in control of the experience. For the teachers of core shamanism, the experience can thus be presented as safe for beginners and readily distinguishable from illegal and dangerous drug use. The term is peculiar to core shamanism, since studies on altered consciousness indicate that such states are fluid so that it is difficult to pin down precise shamanic, mediumistic, possession, and other states. Furthermore, the shaman’s vocation may be dangerous rather than safe (especially in Amazonia, where sorcery and dark shamanism are prevalent) and shamans may indeed “lose control,” become possessed, or go mad. Also, these putative states of consciousness are culturally determined performative actions that require cultural knowledge to be effective, recognizable, and meaningful.

Historical dictionary of shamanism. . 2007.

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