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The art of Shamanism

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Magic, therapy provide basis for shamanism


“Shamanism and similar areas of research have gained in significance because they postulate new ideas about mind and spirit. They speak of things like vastly expanding the realm of consciousness … the belief, the knowledge, and even the experience that our physical world of the senses is a mere illusion, a world of shadows, and that the three-dimensional tool we call our body serves only as a container or dwelling place for Something infinitely greater and more comprehensive than that body and which constitutes the matrix of the real life.”
— Holger Kalweit, Dreamtime and Inner Space

Shamans provide healing, therapy, advice, teaching or spiritual meaning through the use of altered states of consciousness. It is a belief in the powers in the manipulation of spiritual forces to benefit the human race.

“Shamanism is treated as a religion, but it’s not,” Martin Ottenheimer, professor of anthropology, said. “Shamanism describes an approach rather than a specific religion.”

It is a method of communicating, Ottenheimer said. It is a method of getting in touch with the supernatural.

“Shamanism is the belief of spirits inhabiting objects such as trees, rocks and earth,” Mark Jameson, philosopher from Lawrence, said. “It is a metaphysical personification.”

Jameson said shamanism can be considered a magical belief.

“Every religion practices magic, from Christianity on down,” Jameson said.

What people call spells are simply more stylized forms of prayer, Jameson said.

Teaching itself can take on characteristics of shamanism, Ottenheimer said.

Ottenheimer said a teacher is very often expressing cultural values and concepts.

“A good teacher sometimes makes students aware of fundamental values about themselves,” Ottenheimer said. “Shamanism can bring these out as well.”

A shaman in performance must learn communication and master fundamental social values into social expression, Ottenheimer said.

“Shamans must go through a vigorous training,” Ottenheimer said.

Ottenheimer said shamans are trained from tradition.

“It’s typical for shamans to go through four years of training,” Ottenheimer said.

These four years can be broken into various categories.

One would learn which locally-grown materials can be used for medicinal purposes, and which can be traded with other practicing shamans, Ottenheimer said.

“Another one would be sleight of hand and ventriloquism,” he said. “They would learn how to use helpers in creating a culturally appropriate setting for shamanistic purposes.”

Next would be learning to communicate with appropriate spirits.

“And fourth would be how to perform a curing ritual,” he said.

There are many different types of shamanism. It is practiced throughout the world. Within each area, there are different means of achieving the state of being a shaman.

Altered states of consciousness may be achieved by various methods including music, chanting, drums, meditation, solitude, movement, dancing and psychoactive plants.

“Although starvation, self-inflicted pain and hallucinogens are effective tools for altering conscious states, they clash with modern western consciousness,” Cameron Kelly, junior in English literature, said.

Kelly said there is an alternative to tradition, which is neo-shamanism.

“Drumming, dance and chant can accomplish the same goals, at what is perceived as a lower cost,” Kelly said.

The method of shamanism depends on the shamanistic tradition, Ottenheimer said. The western hemisphere has its own form.

Ottenheimer said the most common form of achieving shamanistic alternate consciousness is through percussion instruments.

Drumming is the most common, but is not the only method.

The way to learn shamanism is from a shaman who knows what he is talking about, Jameson said.

“What many modern shaman sometimes fail to remember is that their limited training does not begin to compare with the ordeals experienced by traditional shaman,” Kelly said. “However, I don’t think this fact necessarily lessens the experiences of the neo-shaman encountered in our society.”

Children of shamans can become shamans, but it is not necessary, Ottenheimer said.

Shamans are not born with the knowledge, Jameson said.

“There is always a powerful tie through heredity,” Jameson said. “But just because you are a shaman’s son doesn’t mean you will become one.”

Ottenheimer said some form of shamanism occurs almost everywhere.

“Some people call it the oldest profession,” Ottenheimer said.

When you look at some of the earliest archeological sites, you can find some indirect evidence that shamanism was around then.

“Paraphernalia for shamans has been found in these early sites,” Ottenheimer said.

Ottenheimer is not certain how much shamanism is practiced in the Manhattan area.

“There are some people who are involved in it and don’t want others to know,” Ottenheimer said.

“There are definitely people involved in shamanism in the Oklahoma and Kansas area,” Ottenheimer said.

Native Americans believe more in the world of spirits, Jameson said.

“American Indians practice a form of shamanism,” Jameson said. “And others such as druidism also practice a form of shamanism.”

“These and others have the belief that spirits inhabit inanimate objects,” Jameson said. “It goes beyond trees. It goes to rivers, to mountains and everywhere.”

Shamans sometimes get together with other shamans, Ottenheimer said.

“They will communicate together about techniques and medicines,” Ottenheimer said. “The actual performance will usually be undertaken by a single shaman, or a shaman with a group of interns.”

Ottenheimer said each community will have its own principle shaman for its personal performances and rituals.

Like any belief system, they are dynamic. They change,” Holly Mayland, graduate student in entomology, said. It depends on where you learn things.

“All too many people these days get their beliefs from Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games,” Mayland said.

“Unfortunately in our society of instant gratification, I see frequent examples of weekend Shaman who don’t do justice to their legacy because they are not dedicated,” Kelly said. “They are simply looking for another avenue to a quick power fix.”


If you are interested in being a source for upcoming stories on voodooism and druidism or could provide background information off the record, please contact Kris Bethea. You can call Kris at 532-6556 or e-mail her at kris24@ksu.ksu.edu. Any help or information would be appreciated.

This article was published on Wednesday, April 3, 1996

Copyright 1996, Student Publications Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may be distributed electronically, provided it is distributed in its entirety and includes this notice. However, it cannot be reprinted without the express written permission of Student Publications Inc., Kansas State University.