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

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

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

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

Synopsis

In popular culture, such diverse characters as occultist Aleister Crowley, Doors musician Jim Morrison, and performance artist Joseph Beuys have been called shamans. In anthropology, on the other hand, shamanism has associations with sorcery, witchcraft and healing, and archaeologists have suggested the meaning of prehistoric cave art lies with shamans and altered consciousness. Robert J. Wallis explores the interface between 'new' and prehistoric shamans. The book draws on interviews with a variety of practitioners, particularly contemporary pagans in Britain and north America. Wallis looks at historical and archaeological sources to explore contemporary pagan engagements with prehistoric sacred sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury, and discusses the controversial use by neo-Shamans of indigenous (particularly native American) shamanism.

Excerpt

Shamanism is now a hard working word. A pedant might insist that the word can only mean whatever it meant to its original users, Siberian Tungus and their neighbours. Anthropologists might argue about its applicability to similar constellations of techniques, beliefs, traditional knowledge and authority in other cultures. They might also question its applicability to the activities of New Agers, Pagans or Therapists in America, Britain and elsewhere. Meanwhile, however, there are people who consider themselves to be Shamans or to be doing ‘shamanic’ things.

(Harvey 1997b: 107)

Under cover of darkness on the morning of 19 June 1996, a number of stones of Avebury’s Neolithic West Kennet Avenue were painted with white and black ‘pseudo-magical symbols’ (Carpenter 1998:24), perhaps executed by ‘New Age crazies’ (Figure i) (Antiquity 1996). At the Summer Solstice a few days later, hundreds of neo-Shamans visited the Avebury monuments. Some of the less responsible practitioners left candle wax and scorch marks on West Kennet long barrow’s sarsens, while others ascended Silbury Hill which is currently closed to the public. In the years since, more and more ‘Pagans’ have chosen Avebury as their place of pilgrimage. In June 1999, two more stones were vandalised, one daubed with the word ‘cuckoo’, and the other covered in red and green paint, and then, at the summer solstice 2001, scratch marks - apparently unreadable - were made in West Kennet. Other so-called ‘sacred sites’ have also been damaged by ‘alternative’ interest groups, from the ‘restored’ stone circle at Doll Tor, Derbyshire, to the ‘napalm’ damaged Men-an-Tol, Cornwall.

Despite these acts of ‘vandalism’, access to Stonehenge at the summer solstice reached a turning point in 1998, as one hundred people - a mixture of Druids, Pagans, neo-Shamans, archaeologists, locals and press - were allowed to walk freely among the stones and, if they wanted to, conduct ‘rituals’. The non-confrontational nature of these proceedings resulted in access being made even easier the following year. The five-mile exclusion . . .

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