Shamanism: A Concise Introduction

Shamanism: A Concise Introduction

Shamanism: A Concise Introduction

Shamanism: A Concise Introduction

Synopsis

Shamanism is one of the earliest and farthest-reaching magical and religious traditions, vestiges of which still underlie the major religious faiths of the modern world. The function of the shaman is to show his or her people the unseen powers behind the mere appearances of nature, as experienced through intuition, in trance states, or during ecstatic mystical visions. Shamans possess healing powers, communicate with the dead and the world beyond, and influence the weather and movements of hunting animals. The psychological exaltation of shamanism trance states is similar to the ecstasies of Yogis, Christian mystics and dervishes. Shamanism: An Introduction traces the development of shamanism in its many fascinating global manifestations. Looking at shamanic practices from Siberia to China and beyond, it provides an accessible guide to one of the world's most ancient, notorious and frequently misrepresented spiritual traditions. Placing special emphasis on the climate, geographic and cultural pressures under which shanic customs arose and continue to be observed, Margaret Stutley summarizes and clearly explains the logic of a faith whose fantastical elements hold a special place in popular imagination.

Excerpt

Many shamanic belief systems are of a great age and have gained in complexity over the centuries. They are found throughout the vast regions of Central Asia and Siberia, and to a lesser extent in Europe and other countries especially North and South America, but this work deals primarily with Eurasian shamanism. Many beliefs appear to have originated among the Palaeolithic nomad hunter-gatherers.

It is difficult to comprehend the size of Eurasia. Siberia alone is as big as the United States of America and Europe put together. Consequently, it has enormous geographical, ecological, linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity. It contains also the world's largest, oldest and deepest freshwater lake - Baikal - in which live a large number of flora and fauna known only in this area. It includes the only freshwater seal, the nerpa (Phoca siberica). But now this most valuable ecosystem is in need of protection from the effluent of towns, factories, logging, mining, agriculture, acid rain and ranching.

To the west, east and south the country is bounded by high mountains, while the north is open to fearsome Arctic storms. The only way into the country is through a break in the Ural mountains, the route taken in the late sixteenth century by Tsarist forces who gradually gained control of the whole region. Much of the north consists of tundra, snow-covered for eight or nine months of the year, but during the short summer masses of flowers and vegetation appear, although the earth remains eternally frozen a foot or two down. Further south is the taiga, the world's largest forest of conifers and birches covering two-thirds of the land. The climate is harsh with extremes of temperature and long winters when the temperature drops to

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