Shamans/Neo-Shamans: Contested Ecstasies, Alternative Archaeologies, and Contemporary Pagans

By Robert J. Wallis | Go to book overview
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1

‘WHITE SHAMANS’

Sources for neo-Shamanisms


fastest growing business in america
is shame men shame women
you could have a sweat same as you took manhattan
you could initiate people same as into the elks
with a bit of light around your head
and some ‘Indian’ jewelry from hong kong
why you’re all set

(Extract from the poem Shame On [say it aloud] by Chrystos, published in the activist anthropological journal Cultural Survival Quarterly, Fall 1992:71)

[T]hese new practitioners are not ‘playing indian’ but going to the same revelatory sources that tribal shamans have traveled to from time immemorial. They are not pretending to be shamans; if they get shamanic results for themselves and others in this work, they are indeed the real thing.

(Harner 1990 [1980]: xiv)

Western fascinations with shamanisms have endured from at least the seventeenth century to the present day (Flaherty 1988, 1989, 1992; Eilberg-Schwartz 1989). And while shamans were once deemed to be aberrant - ‘the shaman: a villain of a magician who calls demons’ (Petrovich 2001 [1672]: 18), ‘shamans deserve perpetual labor for their hocus-pocus’ (Gmelin 2001 [1751]: 27), ‘shamans are impostors who claim they consult with the devil - and who are sometimes close to the mark’ (Diderot et al. 2001 [1765]: 32) - they are now perceived by neo-Shamans as inherently ‘spiritual’ and in some way more ‘in touch’ with themselves and the world around them than modern Westerners, providing ‘a way back to greater balance with nature’ (Rutherford 1996:2). The West’s reception of shamanisms is intertwined with the emergence of neo-Shamanisms: various people over the last four centuries, fascinated by the apparently bizarre antics of shamans, enthusiastically romanticised this so-called ‘savage’ into a pristine religious specialist. Some people also directly associated themselves with these prac-

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