Page 17 - Shamanism
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states of consciousness. This neuropsychological model has been applied to various imagery, rang- 
ing from northwest European tomb art to Australian rock art.

On the other side, scholars such as Alice Kehoe (2000), Roberte Hamayon (2001), and Paul Bahn 
(2001) have criticized such approaches as unsatisfactory for understanding prehistoric rock art. As for 

the ield as a whole, Whitley admits that archaeological studies of religion in general are relatively new 
and that this is still a somewhat underdeveloped ield. Esther Jacobson’s entry, “Ancient North Asian 
Shamanism,” is also written from a critical point of view; she objects to any free subjective interpreta- 

tion of rock art images such as great moose, elk, or so-called “bird-women” as shamanistic. She be- 
lieves those images refer to cults of fertility and rebirth earlier than and unrelated to shamanism.

Other attempts to show shamanistic features of early religions extend to pagan Europe. Michael 
Strmiska’s entry, “Paganism in Europe,” discusses the efforts scholars have made to reconstruct the 

pagan religions of pre-Christian Europe, which display shamanistic elements of great interest. One 
speciic area that has gotten a good bit of scholarly attention has been the Celtic world, discussed 

by Tina Fields in the entry “‘Celtic Shamanism’: Pagan Celtic Spirituality.” Fields inds in Greco- 
Roman sources and early Celtic literature (folk songs, fairy tales, and the like) ample evidence of 

shamanistic elements in Celtic religion; there are descriptions of practitioners and patterns of mag- 
ical initiation, as well as of experiences of deep mystical inspiration and understanding.

Thus, archaeologists and religious historians as well as folklorists have used the available data to 
reconstruct early religions and to ind shamanistic elements in ancient societies. Such reconstruc- 

tions inevitably depend to a great extent on each scholar’s interpretations, an approach apt to trig- 
ger the criticism of some anthropologists and others who would like to stick to a “scientiic” ap- 

proach to the study of shamanism, or to adhere only to culture-specific evidence that can be 
supported by ethnographic research.

The First Encounter: Reports of the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century

In looking at shamanism from a historical perspective, we have irst considered the evidence that 

can be gleaned of shamanistic elements in ancient and prehistoric cultures. Yet the more direct ac- 
counts of contact with shamans in “primitive” cultures can be found in the reports of Europeans 

who actually traveled to the remote regions for their own personal reasons. Jeremy Narby and 
Francis Huxley (2001) have compiled these Western accounts, the earliest of which date from the 

sixteenth century, in their recent book, Shamans through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge. 
According to them, the first such reports is given in the accounts of the Spanish navigator- 

historian, Gonzalo Ferńndez de Oviedo, published in 1535. He observed that some old men 
among the inhabitants of Hispaniola (the island currently comprising Haiti and the Dominican 

Republic) used tobacco in order to communicate with spirits and worship the Devil (Narby and 
Huxley 2001, 11–12). The French priest Andŕ Th́vet similarly reported in 1557 that the natives 
in Brazil invoked the evil spirit in certain ceremonies. Yet Th́vet’s report was not completely nega- 

tive; according to him, these shamans also provided answers to community problems and learned 
“the most secrete things of nature” (15).

In the seventeenth century, when Russians started colonizing Siberia, the Russian priest Av- 
vakum Petrovich became one of the irst observers to use the word shaman in print, in his autobi- 

ography published in 1672. He told of inding Siberian shamans who claimed to communicate 
with spirits and who put on trickster performances such as pretending to stab themselves with 

knives. He called the shaman “villain of a magician” (18). Denis Diderot (1765), a French writer- 
philosopher who was one of the editors of that great work of the Enlightenment, the Encycloṕdie, 

deined Siberian shamans as “imposters,” who function as priests, jugglers, sorcerers, and doctors 
who claim to have an inluence on the devil. According to Diderot, shamans “perform tricks that 

seem supernatural to an ignorant and superstitious people” (32). He described them in their role 
as jugglers as making “a pact with the genies” while drumming, screaming, yelling, singing, and 

smoking. These shaman figures “persuade the majority of people that they have ecstatic trans- 
ports,” but these transports are really trickery (34).

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