last updated June 4th, 2005 and is permanently morphing...
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shaman (shä´men, shâ´-) noun
A member of certain tribal societies who acts as a medium between the visible world and an invisible spirit world and who practices magic or sorcery for purposes of healing, divination, and control over natural events.
[Russian, from Tungus šaman, Buddhist monk, shaman, from Tocharian samâne, from Prakrit samaNa, from Sanskrit sramaNah, from srámah, religious exercise.]
- shaman´ic (she-màn´îk) adjective
shaman (shä´men), among tribal peoples, a magician, medium, or healer who owes his powers to mystical communion with the spirit world. Shamanism is based on ANIMISM; the shaman shields humans from destructive spirits by rendering the spirits harmless. He receives his power from a spirit who selects him and whom he cannot refuse. Characteristically, he goes into auto-hypnotic trances, during which he is said to be in contact with spirits. He occupies a position of great power and prestige in his tribe. Noted especially among Siberians, shamans are also found among the Eskimos, some Native American tribes, in SE Asia, and in Oceania.
"The tragedy of our cultural situation is that we have no shamanic tradition. Shamanism is primarily techniques, not ritual. It is a set of techniques that have been worked out over millenia that make it possible, though perhaps not for everyone, to explore these areas. People of predilection are noticed and encouraged. "
"In archaic societies where shamanism is a thriving institution, the signs are fairly easy to recognize: oddness or uniqueness in an individual. Epilepsy is often a signature in preliterate societies, or survival of an unusual ordeal in an unexpected way. For instance, people who are struck by lightning and live are thought to make excellent shamans. People who nearly die of a disease and fight their way back to health after weeks and weeks in an indeterminate zone are thought to have strength and soul. Among aspiring shamans there must be some sign of inner strength or a hypersensitivity to trance states. In traveling around the world and dealing with shamans, I find the distinguishing characteristic is an extraordinary centeredness. Usually the shaman is an intellectual and is alienated from society. A good shaman sees exactly who you are and says, "Ah, here's somebody to have a conversation with." The anthropological literature always presents shamans as embedded in a tradition, but once one gets to know them they are always very sophisticated about what they are doing. They are the true phenomenologists of this world; they know plant chemistry, yet they call these energy fields "spirits." We hear the word "spirits" through a series of narrowing declensions of meaning that are worse almost than not understanding. Shamans speak of "spirit" the way a quantum physicist might speak of "charm"; it is a technical gloss for a very complicated concept."
"One of the things we were saying in _The Invisible Landscape_ is that there are avenues of understanding in the human body that have not been followed because of epistemological bias; for instance, using voice to effect physiological change in one's own nervous system. The sounds on one level preposterous, but on the other hand, it is simply a formalized way of noting the fact that sound is energy, that energy can be transduced in a number of ways, and that when it is directed toward the body it obviously does make changes. Chanting and singing are world wide shamanic practices. The shamanic singers navigate through a space with which we have lost touch as a society."
"I think in a sense it signals
the rebirth of the institution of shamansim in the context of modern
society. Anthropologists have always made the point about
shamans that they were very important social catalysts in their
groups, but they were always peripheral to them - peripheral to the
political power and, actually, usually physically peripheral, living
some distance from the villages. I think the electronic
shaman - the person who pursues the exploration of these spaces -
exists to return to tell the rest of us about it."
-Terence McKenna - _Archaic Revival_
Of prime importance here is the initiatory ritual of death and resurrection. A shaman enters his vocation in one of several ways, usually through inheritance or through a spontaneous 'call'. This often takes the form of an initiatory sickness, which may be an illness, an accidental brush with death (e.g. being struck by lightning) or a general breakdown.
tribesmen of Siberia say that when the shaman goes into his trance
and raves incoherent syllables, he learns the entire language
"The Language of Nature."
"Yes, sir. The Sukuma people of Africa say that the language is kinaturu, the tongue of the ancestors of all magicians, who are thought to have descended from one particular tribe."
"What causes it?"
"If mystical explanations are ruled out, then it seems that glossolalia comes from structures buried deep within the brain, common to all people."
- _Snow Crash_by Neal
Shamanism is an aspect of desert mysticism. It
consists also of meditative, mystical and magical practices
which were taught from father to son by the oral tradition, this
teachings can be regarded as an esoteric offshoot of the old teachings
of the prophet Idres (Hermes). The bedouin shaman made
use of the eclipse of themoon because he knew that
earth forces in someway could be used for 'magical'
purposes. It is conceivable that the shaman was somehow able to
unite the forces of his own mind with those of the earth at such times,
and perhaps even transmit the power straight along the ley lines, as a
modern engineer could transmit an electric current
along a cable.
book _Angel Tech: A Modern Shaman's Guide To Reality Selection_ by Antero Alli
"A modern shaman is a shaman in the 21st century...code name: Cyber Shaman. From the Greek, Cyber is a pilot. A modern shaman is an individual of power interacting with "spirits," triggering Knowledge, Vision, Technology and Advanced Fun.
When we reach for a good solid model for the function of psychedelics within a larger culture, we immediately face the shaman. The shaman is a very romanticized image, very "overwritten" as the academics like to say, meaning that the term now means many different things, including scores of things totally outside of its original ethnographic context. I’m not going to go into any specifics about particular shamanic cultures, but I would like to draw sort of a general picture that relates to the question about contemporary psychedelic culture.
One thing you can say about the shaman or witch is that she lives on the edge of cultural maps. The shaman acts as a kind of interface between the specific culture of a particular tribal group and the world outside, a world that we can think of not only as nature, of course, but as the cosmic, the abstract, the alien. The witch lives at the edge of the village; in her zone, we start to move into the wild. And that’s a very potent image for being a transfer point between the outside and the inside of human culture. One of the interesting paradoxes of shamanism is that, on the one hand, it is very technological, very savvy, full of knowledges in almost a modern sense of the term, like scientific knowledge. And yet the worlds that are being produced, sustained, and performed by the shaman are extremely cultural, spiritual, mythological. Look at a healing ceremony, and think about what exactly is happening there. Let’s say that healing is occuring through the use of quartz crystals being pulled out of the body. What’s happening there? What’s really going on?
One way of looking at it is to say that the shaman is playing a two-fold game. On the one hand, he knows perfectly well what he’s actually doing, that he’s pirated a little quartz crystal in his palm, that he’s using very specific plants which have very specific properties which can produce effects, both specifically related to health and to more general psychoactive goals as well. There’s a tremendous amount of knowledge there. And yet, what does the shaman do in the actual situation of the healing? She performs. And what she performs is a whole cultural web, the glue that embeds those knowledges in lived human life. Our doctors do that too, but the package is pretty one dimensional – "take this pill, it’ll work out for you." Their knowledge is kept on the inside. What the sick person perceives is a cultural story,a cosmic metaphor, an image of the illness being removed from the body. So it’s not that the shaman is a manipulative trickster just playing games with quartz crystals. It’s that the shaman understands the technology of packaging knowledge within the cultural matrix of transformation, and performs this packaged knowledge as if it were one thing, one process of body and mind. Even a skeptic must recognize that the placebo effect plays a tremendous role in healing of all sorts, and that the art of producing the placebo effect is incredibly valuable.
Within this performance, the shaman plays a liminal role, mediating between knowledge and performance the way he mediates between outside and inside. Liminality is an anthropological concept that describes, again, a place on the edge of cultural maps, a zone between the wild and the culture, between hot and cold, between different villages. In the ancient world, crossroads were places of tremendous liminal power. People from different villages, different cultures would encounter each other there. So there’s a whole mythology of trickster figures – Hermes, Coyote, Legba, often associated with communication – who model this relationship between inside and out. The concept of liminality is crucial to understand what function and what role psychedelics play in the larger culture.
Today, many people attempting to create models for modern psychedelic use have looked to the image of shaman healer. Of course we should be wary of abusing this poor old character for our own purposes. There’s also one very important distinction, I believe, between the world view of the traditional shaman healer and what we are faced with, which is that we do not have a coherent, contained world view. We no longer have a specific cultural story that can be performed in that mythological sense. We’re at this very strange juncture in history when cultures are smashing together and flattening out. We have globalization, we have fragmentation, it’s a very open-ended situation. If there is a central error in the shamanic interpretation of modern psychedelic culture, it lies in a romantic nostalgia that wants to reconstruct or re-embody some fully coherent mythological world view.
I don’t want to say that in a way that undercuts the power of traditional myths, not to mention traditional practices and knowledges. Moreover, modern psychedelic culture has largely been defined by a relationship to non-European knowledges and cultures, and the reception of those stories and practices from the world over inform the evolving picture or cultural story about what psychedelic people are trying to do in the world. But I think that we often find a misplaced desire or tendency to want that story to be fully complete and realized, so that we then know that what we’re doing is engaging the mind of the planet, or that nature herself is telling us something. Those are valuable perceptions, but their attempt to escape the Western model can sometimes be Western transcendence – not to mention Western consumerism --- in new disguise. I think it’s very important to recognize that, at the moment, we are still intimately embedded in this tremendous, bizarre, horrible and fascinating process of technological modernity. We can see its horrible claws, its profound lacks, and there’s a desire to overcome these things quickly and fully, to chuck that framework and enter into a different kind of re-enchanted world. The desire to re-enchant our experience of the world is a profound thing that we’re all feeling. It’s incredibly legitimate. And yet, I think that the way in which we move forward with that is not by reconstructing a kind of mythological world view in the name of ancient wisdom. The psychedelic eye sees that things are already enchanted, just the way they are, fragmented and integral at once. In this sense, it is important to see psychedelic culture not as a resistence to modernity, but its own fractal edge.
- Erik Davis - _Psychedelic Culture: One Or Many?_
"Another cyber function of the brain decodes
current information into skills for navigating the
future and accessing future memory."
- Christopher S. Hyatt, Ph.D. & Antero Alli - _A Modern Shaman's Guide To A Pregnant Universe_
_Shamanic Trance - Dada
Funk mix_ mixed by Tsuyoshi Suzuki on Return
To The Source (1996)
604 release _Shamanic Trance: Psiberfunk_
Mix by Mark Allen : Return To The
entity The Shamen
track _You_ by Gong remixed by The Shamen
The Shamen collaboration with Terence McKenna on the track _Re:Evolution_ off of their 12" on One Little Indian (1993)