Page 13 - Shamanism
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religious belief is most closely allied with hunting and gathering societies. The human need to ex- 
ert some control or inluence over the natural world on which subsistence depended provided the 

impulse for the development of the concepts and practices of shamanism. The cosmology of 
hunters and gatherers included deities who could inluence weather and the harvesting of lora and 

particularly fauna; the shaman was a member of the community who had special abilities to inlu- 
ence the deities responsible for the well-being of the group. Only the shaman, in a state of trance, 
was able to offer the appropriate prayers and entreaties to the deities, so that the deity, as master of 

the animals, would feel honored and let more animals be caught, or, in later pastoral societies, so 
that the deities in control of the weather would make it auspicious for the growth of grain or grass 

in order to feed the locks. In other words, in a society in which human beings were dependent on 
natural forces for their sustenance, it was important to continually interact with the natural world, 

a world seen as driven by spiritual forces, so that these forces would act in a benevolent manner to- 
ward human beings.

Thus shamanism in what is generally considered its most classical form was based on a particu- 
lar cosmology and belief system, one in which the community depended on the shaman, a person 

with exceptional powers and abilities, to communicate while in trance with spirits and deities for 
the benefit of the community. Even in Siberia and Inner Asia, this classical form did not last; 

hunters and gatherers became pastoral nomads or, due to political pressures, settled in villages and 
towns. In Russia, for example, the emphasis in the previous century and currently is on the 

shaman as healer of the soul and body of individuals, as well as healer of the community at large in 
the performance of rituals for the general well-being.

Although many scholars believe that shamanism is an ancient and universal belief system held 
by hunting and gathering peoples, there is only limited evidence of its most ancient aspects. This 

encyclopedia includes several entries on those ancient practices of shamanism based on evidence 
from archaeology and historical documentation. Most of the historical information on shamanism 

dates back to practices and practitioners who were observed and studied in the nineteenth century 
as missionaries, explorers, and inally anthropologists began to take note of religious practices of 

indigenous peoples, practices that up to that time had received scant Western attention. Therefore, 
many of the entries relect shamanism as it was practiced at the beginning of the twentieth cen- 

tury; contributors often also describe the current state of shamanism in these cultural groups. A 
number of essays (included under “General Themes in World Shamanism”) deal with new con- 

structions of shamanism.
The organizational principles of the encyclopedia are covered in more detail in the last section 

of the Introduction, but some preliminary account may be given here. Because one important 
purpose of this work is to provide a cross-cultural view of shamanism in its universal as well as its 

particular and local aspects, the encyclopedia has two parts. The general entries, found under the 
title “General Themes in World Shamanism” in volume 1, offer information on broader aspects of 
shamanism; the rest of the encyclopedia consists of regional entries, which examine shamanism 

within a particular cultural group or region, providing an in-depth understanding of the particular 
and local manifestations of shamanism. The criteria for selection of topics were developed in con- 

sultation with scholars of shamanism from all over the world.
The regional entries are grouped into ten sections on a geographical basis: North America; Cen- 

tral and South America; Europe; Eurasia; Korea and Japan; China and Sino-Asia; South Asia, the 
Himalayas, and Tibet; Southeast Asia; Australasia and Oceania; and Africa. Within each of these 

regions, there are certain cultural commonalities in the concepts and practices of shamanism. 
Consequently, this geographical approach provides a broader and more comprehensive view of 

these particular shamanic complexes, relected in the regional overview with which each section 
begins. The relation of shamanic belief systems and practices to their particular geographic and 

cultural locales can be seen in the speciic rituals and prayers used, and in the way shamans inter- 
act with their communities. Since shamanism is community-based, shamans receive their sanction, 

and any temporal powers they may possess, from their communities. Shamans are therefore closely 
interwoven in community life, even though they also stand outside it as spiritual specialists. In the

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