Page 12 - Shamanism
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Shamanism is a living, vital phenomenon, one that interests a wide range of people. Today it is 
clear that shamanism, as an area of academic study, is a rich and rapidly evolving ield. This 

encyclopedia represents a wide range of perspectives and approaches of over 180 contributors
according to their academic specialties. Thus it is not the intent of this encyclopedia to present a 

homogenized picture, either of the phenomenon of shamanism or of the present state of shaman- 
ism as a ield of study. The reader will ind the story of the development of the ield and some of 

the most pertinent theoretical and historical issues addressed in the Introduction, as well as in re- 
lated entries.

Shamans are globally distributed and shamanism is an ancient spiritual practice. Thus this ency- 
clopedia covers this most human spiritual endeavor in its worldwide manifestations, with the goal 

of developing an inclusive and multidimensional picture of shamanism as currently and histori- 
cally encountered throughout the world. The scope of the entries in these two volumes is broad: 

the reader will ind considerations of the earliest indications of shamanism in rock art, of early his- 
torical writings that portray various aspects of shamanistic worship and practice, of later manifesta- 

tions attested to by European and Russian ethnographers, and of current research in the ield all 
over the world. The reader will be able to see how shamanism has developed and changed over the 

centuries, allowing shamanic practices to remain signiicant in present-day cultures. Some of the 
entries focus on universal aspects of shamanism, but of course shamanism is not one uniform phe- 

nomenon over a wide range of time and space; each culture lays its own imprint on the belief sys- 
tem, practices, and outward appearances of its shamanic practitioners. For this reason, in the ma- 
jority of the entries the focus is on the way shamanism is practiced within a particular culture, and 

to provide an understanding of the cultural speciics of this phenomenon.
Most basically, shamanism can be deined as a religious belief system in which the shaman is the 

specialist in knowledge. The shaman knows the spirit world and human soul through “ecstasy,” the 
power of an altered state of consciousness, or trance, which is used to make a connection to the 

world of the spirits in order to bring about beneits to the community. Mircea Eliade, in his book 
Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, saw the essence of shamanism in the techniques by which 

the shaman is able to travel into the supernatural world in a state of ecstasy induced by drumming 
or other means. The broader deinition of shamanism adopted for the purposes of this encyclope- 

dia includes not only the kind of ecstatic relationship to the spiritual world involved in such jour- 
neys—the kind in which the shaman deliberately goes to meet the spirits and is in control of them 

or “masters” them—but also the phenomenon of possession, in which the spirits take the initia- 
tive, and the shaman is “possessed” by the spirits who then speak through the shaman as a vessel.

The hallmarks of shamanism as a religious phenomenon are most clearly seen, historically and 
currently, in Siberia, Mongolia, and the Inner Asian geographical area, an area often referred to as 

Eurasia. As noted by a number of scholars in the ield, shamanism as a phenomenon or system of


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