Ancient Israel and Ancient Greece: Religion, Politics, and Culture

By John Pairman Brown | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

The Mediterranean Seer and the Shaman

Shaman properly means the Siberian figure so named in Tungus and other Altaic languages of Central Asia.1 Tungus šaman is often thought derived from Pali samana (Sanskrit s’ramana).2 The Pali is frequent in the Dhammapada, where it has been strongly ethicised: thus 184 (cf. 142, 254—55, 264—65): “nor is he an ascetic who harms others.” I extend “shaman” to the Ainu and the North American cultures closely related to the Siberian, but not to comparable figures in other parts of the world. By “Mediterranean” seers I mean prophetic or charismatic figures primarily attested in Greek and West Semitic texts, supplemented by occasional artistic representations. Prehistoric religions and those of peoples without writing are a realm where everything can be compared with everything else. Here I strive for comparisons between cultures that commend themselves in as many ways as possible: through concrete details of cult or custom; in actual language attested in the texts; in artistic monuments.

There are several ways in which Mediterranean mantic figures differ from shamans.

1. For shamanism I originally followed the work of M. A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia: A
Study in Social Anthropology
(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1914), 197. I now supplement it with
the survey by Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. W. R. Trask
(Bollingen Series 76; Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972). I draw illustrations further
from Joseph Campbell, The Way of the Animal Powers, vol. 1 of
Historical Atlas of World Mythol-
ogy
(San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), taking care to cite photos as close as possible to the
restricted region defined above. The literature on shamanism is enormous and I make no claim
to competency in it. My main point anyway is the differences between Mediterranean mantic
figures and shamans strictly defined.

2. Discussion in Eliade, Shamanism, 495—96, who treats further the question how far Siber-
ian shamanism takes up Buddhist/Lamanist influences.

-81-

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