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

By Robert J. Wallis | Go to book overview

2

PLASTIC MEDICINE MEN?

Appraising the ‘Great Pretenders’

Selling shamanic journeys is a multimillion-dollar business today. Some sellers, such as Michael Harner, believe they are assisting clients to ‘cross the shamanic bridge’ into contact with spirits, to heal ills and extend cosmic knowledge. Some sellers appear merely earning a living. A few can be dangerous

(Kehoe 2000:81)

A shaman belongs to his people, be they human or non-human And there the shaman’s obligation lies: to serve those who come to him [but] he is not necessarily there to be nice to anyone A shaman is fierce or tricky or gentle because he sees a way in that for his people to find their own paths through life, not because he is bitter or vindictive.

(MacLellan 1999:117-118)

Having introduced how neo-Shamanisms are constituted and examined the background of historical influences, I turn in this chapter to the ways in which neo-Shamans have been and can be appraised critically. Four main charges are made against Harner and neo-Shamanisms more widely:
1 Decontextualising and universalising
2 Psychologising and individualising
3 Reproduction and reification of cultural primitivism
4 Romanticising of indigenous shamanisms.

Paradoxically, these misappropriations of shamanisms largely reproduce pervasive themes in the study of shamanisms such as evolutionism, which, as I have argued, equally misunderstand shamanisms (see also Boyer 1969; Noll 1983, 1989). In exploring these criticisms, it is important to note that critics tend to treat core-shamanism and other neo-Shamanisms as a single entity, thereby privileging Harnerism and both stereotyping and neglecting

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