The Birth of a Shaman: An outlook on Death and Rebirth - artigo meu com já alguns meses

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The Birth of a Shaman: An outlook on Death and Rebirth - artigo meu com já alguns meses

Mensagem por The Scarecrow em Qua Maio 18, 2011 10:54 pm

1968 marked the Western world with the publishing of an M.D thesis that became well accepted in both academic and popular circles. "The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge" was the first of a series of volumes pertaining to Carlos Castaneda supposed apprenticeship under the guidance of Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Shaman. Despite being later debunked by Richard deMille and riddled with controversy, Castaneda's work still retains a mystique and allure that inspires and awakens people to the hidden and profound realities of the human psyche which makes these books recommended time again and again. This massification and popularization of Shamanism was sealed with the works of Michael Harner whose contribution, alongside with other anthropologists such as Barbara Tedlock and Larry Peters, marked a new milestone in Anthropology for they not only registered what they saw, but also became a part of the communities they studied. For the first time, the scholar was not only the observer but also the participant.

As a nontraditional Shaman, Michael Harner and his Foundation for Shamanic Studies is usually credited the popularization of shamanic techniques and the birth of Neo-Shamanism that, in his Foundation, is called Core Shamanism, a syncretic approach that gathers the similarities between the different types of shamanic experiences and produces a whole that's workable to the western frame of mind and experience. Whilst not the aim of this short exposition to analyze and opinionate on the validity, or lack of, of Neo-shamanism, it is crucial to be aware of its development in conjunction and contrast with its counterpart, Traditional Shamanism, for much of our own practices as witches and magicians are rooted in this ancient spiritual tradition.

Shamanism, as with everything, has the beginning of its problematic with its very definition. To define it I will use the one I consider most appropriate, being " Shamanism can be defined as a family of traditions whose practitioners focus on voluntarily enter altered states of consciousness in which they experience themselves or their spirit(s) communing and encountering several entities, often by travelling to other realms, in order to serve their community" *.I find this definition to be very accurate since it touches on the controlled and ecstatic ways that enable the shaman to be of service, their perception and contact with spirits, and also relates this figure to its validating source: the tribe in which they are inserted. This magico-religious system is one, if not the, oldest religious tradition of Mankind. Whilst not possible to ascertain when it began, it has been popularly linked with Palaeolithic parietal art being a common favourite the display of Le Trois Frères human figure covered with a bison skin as if it was a shaman, however, as said previously, the engravings of Trois Fréres and other caves are simply not enough to infer precisely on what type of religious tradition the Palaeolithic people had and much less if it was Shamanism or not.

The word Shamanism entered our vocabulary through Russian and stems from the Tunguric word saman – a male practitioner -. Shamans are responsible for several roles within the community they serve. They are the priests, the healers, the lore-keepers, the magicians and the mediators between the seen and the useen reality. This formula of spiritual guidance is found throughout the world and it appears to be prevalent in nomadic hunter-gatherer societies that have little to no hierarchical stratified roles. The selection of a shaman happens in three ways: He can be predestined to be so because of hereditary factors; because of a series of events that sets them apart from the community, or, finally, a person can choose to become a shaman, however, the latter ones are perceived to be much less powerful and effective then the former ones. This selection is done either by their community or by the spirits, whose choice is later confirmed by the tribe or the already existent shaman. It is rather obvious the dependence and crucial role that the tribe has on the life of the shaman. As a symbiotic relationship, one serves the other being the community that ratifies a person in his role.In the hereditary end of the spectrum, this selection is filled with superstition and taboo. Even before the would-be shaman is born there are harsh measures placed upon the parents and those taboos follow the him throughout his life. Knud Rasmussen gives an account of one such shaman, Aua, whose mother, amongst other things, was put on strict diet and had to eat from special pots and not able to be visited by any other woman, nor even Aua's father during the first year of his life; his father, on the other hand, was never allowed to sharpen his own knives. The taboo's followed Aua to his adult life being directly concerned with the tribe's sustenance means such as hunting.

Those who were called to shamanism by the spirits had different, but equally harsh experiences. Mircea Eliade notes that "sickness, attacks, and hallucination" were often pre-stages of an emergent shaman. He said that " among the Chuckchee Indians the process is a painful and long journey", this same tribe also believes that a future shaman can be recognized by the look in the eyes are not directed towards the speaker/listener but towards the infinity. The selection, however, is only the first stage for, although in the western world a lot of the shaman's behaviour would be regarded as a psychopathology, there is a distinct mark that sets them apart from the man who was lost to the spirits, and that is control. Indeed the very foundations of shamanism lie in the controlled ability to, ecstatically and at will, walk between the spirit and normative world. This ability, as well as some of the conditions that precognize a shaman and some of the features that accompany their rituals, have, due to the lack of understanding and biases of past scholars, often equated this figure with mental illnesses, something that is not, at all, correct. When Michael Harner was studying with the South American Jívaro tribe, he noticed a man who was always in the jungle talking with spirits. He asked one of his contacts if said man was a shaman. "No" – he replied – "he is crazy". This view is is further supported by psychological data now available due to the increased interest in the subject, something that I will explore later when time is more willing to comply with my wishes. This "control" necessary to allow a shaman to work for the benefit of both himself and his tribe is acquired through a two sided training. Firstly, there is a time of apprenticeship with a master where the theory and practices are presented according to lore, cosmology, ritual and taboo in the ever pervading formative context of culture and myth. It is the mythos that frames and guides the shaman through their cognitive worlds and that sustain him in his altered consciousness states where he will discover and persuade spirits to befriend and help him and the tribe he serves. To this end, the apprentice shaman undergoes a series of ascetic practices such as prolonged fasting, solitude, exposure to cold and other inclement weather, sleep deprivation, pain. An Eskimo Shaman tells us that:

"The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and it can be reached only by suffering. Privation and suffering alone open the mind of man to all that is hidden to others".

Personally, I find this statement beautiful, echoed by the words of Andrew Chumbley:

"Solitude is a Muse to Those whom it loves. "

For a shaman, the suffering and solitude are the means par excellence for the sublimation of the mind and it is during this time that he will learn to recognize, encounter and obtain his first familiar spirits/animals as well as spirit journeying in what is the second part of his training: The direct experience of the "unseen" reality.

The culmination of this stage of learning is initiation. Initiation in a shamanic context is not a stage of beginning but of achievement. An awakening and recognition of attainment. The Eskimo Aua speaks of such attainment thus :
"And then, in the midst of such mysterious and overwhelming delight I became a shaman, not knowing myself how it came about. But I was a shaman. I could see and hear in a totally different way. I had my quamenEq, my enlightment, shaman light of brain and body, and this in such a manner that it was not only I who could see through the darkness of life, but the same…"

This quamenEq refers to a light that the shaman feels in his body, within his brain and that illuminates the dark allowing him to see both literally and metaphorically for it also grants the shaman the ability to see far ahead into the future, the spirit world and within one's soul. This, in conjunction with his ability to journey to other worlds, is what allows him to act as psychopomp.

Despite being actively described as a "Initiation", this event significant and ontological – for the one experiencing it – process is a "death and rebirth" stage. Shamans, yet again, are unable to provide the "whys" to this death and rebirth that has the shaman's body being destroyed and then reconstituted. Rasmussen offers the explanation that, for the shaman to withstand shamanic work and please the spirits, a shaman must be able to see himself as a skeleton. The only part that will remain are the bones for that is the part of himself that will endure long after death. Thus, the blood, flesh and other bodily fluids are taken from him in a dismemberment done by demons or ancestors in a transformative and healing way. Eliade echoes this theme with a discription of a neophyte of the Avam Samoyed of Siberia. This neophyte traveled to the underworld escorted by animal guides provided by the Lord of the Underworld where he encountered evil shamans, Lords of Epidemics, which taught him in the nature of diseases. After this lesson, his heart was ritually torn out, thrown into a pot and then he traveled to the land of female shamans where he was gifted with a stronger voice as well as to the Tree of the Lord of Earth where he received several powers, such as healing power. He continued onwards encountering several entities and again ritually slain and boiled over the cauldron for three years till the blacksmith forged the neophyte's head on one of three anvils which gave him his superhuman sight. Only after becoming a master did the neophyte awoke, revivified as a Shaman.

This dismemberment theme is not only found in Siberia but also amongst the Australian aborigines and others. Whilst not possible to retell every single account of death/rebirth process, it is important to retain that for a shaman to become so he must die for become worthy of the spirits and of the gift the spirits give to him. Shamans start their process being sick, they peak at death, and when they come back they gain mastery, power, and effectively become weller, that is, better then they ever were. To us, in this post-modernist age where the individual is praised above all else and where shamanism is being sold in a few hours workshop it is crucial to ask ourselves, what are we truly doing?

*Definition provided in Roger Walsh in "The world of Shamanism – New views of an ancient tradition"

Resources used in this piece:
Eliade, Mircea. Rites and Symbols of Initiation : The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth


Eliade, Mircea: Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Harner, Michael – The Way of the Shaman
Harner, Michael – The Jivaro: People of the sacred Waterfalls
Rasmussen, Knud – Across arctic America
Walsh, Roger - The world of Shamanism – New views of an ancient tradition


"The greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls. All the creatures that we have to kill and eat, all those that we have to strike down and destroy to make clothes for ourselves, have souls, souls that do not perish with the body and which must therefore be pacified lest they should revenge themselves on us for taking away their bodies"


Última edição por The Scarecrow em Qua Maio 18, 2011 10:56 pm, editado 1 vez(es) (Razão : Wall of text)
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Re: The Birth of a Shaman: An outlook on Death and Rebirth - artigo meu com já alguns meses

Mensagem por Clodagh Amora em Qui Maio 19, 2011 12:06 am

De repente, assombrou-me um dito de uma amiga minha: "Não seriam os loucos mais úteis quando eram xamãs? "

Adorei imenso este seu artigo, pela viagem que nos é implícita devido à leitura do mesmo.

Ao mesmo tempo fui-me recordando de histórias nórdicas que se contam sobre Freyja, a deusa Vanir que, além de ser a deusa da beleza e da Guerra, entre outros, era a deusa Seid, significava, em Nórdico antigo, bruxa, feiticeira ou xamã. Li, infelizmente não me recordo do nome da fonte, que tinha sido esta deusa que havia ensinado a Odin a arte das runas (ao mesmo tempo que se conta que foi ele o seu inventor) e também a arte Seid. Conta o folclore Nórdico que este "Pai Supremo" era um fantástico Xamã/Feiticeiro, pois buscou sempre o conhecimento.

O único livro que li de Eliade foi A história das religiões, num dia em que tive oportunidade de atacar os livros de uma tia minha, mas planeio ler mais, sobretudo esses dois que referiu.

Continuação de boa noite
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Re: The Birth of a Shaman: An outlook on Death and Rebirth - artigo meu com já alguns meses

Mensagem por The Scarecrow em Sab Maio 21, 2011 8:50 pm

Obrigado pelas palavras Smile

Se é louco, não é xamã. Existe uma basilar diferença entre ambos, o louco está preso à sua realidade interior. Ele pode escapar-lhe momentaneamente - em momentos de lucidez, digamos - mas a reversão ocorre sem o seu controlo.

Também já li algo semelhante sobre Freyja, creio que num livro de Hilda Davis, ou Davison.

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Re: The Birth of a Shaman: An outlook on Death and Rebirth - artigo meu com já alguns meses

Mensagem por Ookami em Sab Jun 18, 2011 12:15 am

Very enlightening piece, great work.
It isn’t only the shamanic practice that sees pain and suffering as one of the prices for knowledge in a sense. There are also those in the occult side of Hinduism and Buddhism who go about it in different ways but boil down to the same principle.

I like the distinction made about the man whispering to himself in the forest, a strong point to be made.

Scarecrow és de um caminho Xamânico ou simplesmente foi um artigo que te interessaste em escrever?
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Re: The Birth of a Shaman: An outlook on Death and Rebirth - artigo meu com já alguns meses

Mensagem por The Scarecrow em Qua Jul 13, 2011 11:07 pm

Não sou de nenhum caminho shamanico no sentido tradicional da palavra, mas tenho influências do shamanismo. Acho que quase todas as religiões/praticas misticas ou mágicas as têm Smile
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Re: The Birth of a Shaman: An outlook on Death and Rebirth - artigo meu com já alguns meses

Mensagem por Ookami em Qui Jul 14, 2011 10:24 pm

Ou vice versa
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