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Story Lab

Micro: Journey of the Shaman

NOTE: Topics dealing with HEALING as such are in the following file: [Micro: Healing] ALSO: Refer to: [Ritual's stories as a place to head, communicate origins] 2.z Micro: Journey of the Shaman. One of the more important lessons that i have come across concerned one of the elders of a tribe who in talking with an anthropologist told (thru a translator) that he had visited the moon. He had walked around, sat down, looked at the earth and then returned. The anthropologist tried to not show his skepiticsm, but eventually the discussion turned around to whether the shaman actually believed he had traveled to the moon. What came out was this: Regardless of whether the shaman had indeed traveled to the moon (which he felt that he had indeed), it was the *lessons* that were learned: That the moon was barren of life (and that this could happen to the earth), and that the earth was a holistic whole and that all life and things were intimately connected together. We should bear this in mind: Just because we read about a fictious person (say Candide) and his equally fictious travels, does *not* mean that the related journey does *not* have meaning. As i often remark: As poets we must tell the truth, as artists we must lie -- these are the only ways to tell what we must tell to help the world. And so, without further inter-ruption.... {Back to Story Lab "stuff"}

The Text

"Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries", by Mircea Eliade (translated by Philip Mairet), (Harper-Row, New York, 1957/1961). Pp.73-98: Sense-Experience and Mystical Experience among Primitives. BEGIN BLOCK QUOTE [P.73] Preliminary remarks In socieites still at the ethographic stage [Note 1], mystical experience is generally the perogative of a class of individuals who, by what-ever name they are called are, specialists in ecstacy. The shamans, tghe medicine-men, magicians, healers, the ecstatic and the inspired of every description, are distinguished from the rest of the community by the intensity of their religious experience. They live the sacred side of life in a profounder and more personal manner than other people. In most cases they attract attention by some un-usual behaviour, by the possession of occult powers, by having personal and secret relations with divine or demonic beings, by a style of life, or dress, by insginai and ways of speaking, whih are theirs alone. By general agreement, thes individuals are regarded as the equivalents, among "primitives", of the religous élites and the mystics in other more highly evolved cultures. [Note 2] ... (rest of section omitted) s


[P.75] One becomes a shaman (a) by spontaneous vocation -- the "call" or "election"; (b) by hereditary transmission from the shaminist profession; and (c) by personal decision or, more rarely, by the will of the clan. But, what-ever the method of his selection, a shaman is only recognised as such at the end of a two-fold instruciton: First, of the ecstatic order (dreams, visions, trances, etc), and, Secondly, of the tradtional order (shamanic techniques, names and functions of the spirits, mythology and genealogy of the clan, secret language, etc). This dual instruction, for which the spirits and the old master-shamans are held responsible, is equivalent to an initiation. The intiialtion may be public, and constitute an autonomous ritual in itself. But lak of a ritual of this kind does not at all imply lack of the initiation; for this may very well be brought about in dreams or in the ecstatic experience of the neophyte. ... The future shaman marks himself off progressively by some strange behaviour: He seeks solitude, becomes a dreamer, loves to wander in the woods or desert places, has visions, sings in his sleep, etc. [Local NOTE: [1] See the examples given in our book Le Chamanisme et les techniques archaiques de l'extase, Paris, 1951, Pp.26ff, 30ff.] ... (following sumarised/extracted from Pp.75-78) [This rite of initiation may involve "going wild"; eg, fleeing into the mountains, living upon/among animals ... returning to the village, dirty, blood-stained, with clothes torn, and his hair dishevlled "like a savage". [P.75] ... The acquisition of the shamanic gifts indeed pre-supposes the resolution of the psychic crisis brought on by the first signs of this vocation. The initiation is manifested by -- among other things -- a new psychic integration.
This explains, furthermore, the social prestige of the shaman and his considerable status in the cultural life of the tribe. Far from being neuropaths or degenerates, shamans are, from the intellectual point of view, evidently superior to those around [P.78] them. They are the principal custodians of the rich oral literature: the poetic vocabulary of a Yakut shaman comprises some 12_000 words, whilst his ordinary speech -- all that is known to the rest of the community -- consists of only 4_000. Among the Kasakh-Kirghies of the baqça, "singer, poet, musician seer, priest and doctor seems to be guardian of the popular religious traditions, the custodian of legends several centuries old". [op.cit, Pp.41ff] [Note 5] (further thoughts) END BLOCK QUOTE


(this section only)
[1] It should be clear that i make little (if any) distinction between the so-called "primitive" peoples and the "modern" peoples. Indeed, we are surely among the most primitive of peoples that have ever lived; and we rarely realise it. I would go further and suggest that is when we *do* forget how primitive (and connected to our primitiveness/ancestor/etc) that our society begins to decay; this is not new, and has been commented on by Joseph Campbell, and others. Indeed, in "modern" times, the TV Preacher, the Politican, the TV Guru, and indeed the TV Star have replaced the role of the shaman -- offering us the one, true way of life; of course: But, at what price? {Back to the TEXT} [02] Let us briefly expand on these things. As to how the "shaman" manifests themselves: as a shaman, the person acts as inter-cessor between this world and the spiritual world. Indeed, as intercessor between the common person and the world around them. (see below: profound existence) This goes back to the training of the shaman to be able to interpret the signs (often hidden) around them as well as events/dreams (often clouded). Thus, the shaman (as shaman) uses draws heavily upon their training in order to properly see the world, and ultimately find the proper course of action for a given problem. Also, remember in much of the cases of "curing" or "treating" a person or a problem that the Shaman *actively* involves the person in the process -- either in terms of dance/ritual/chanting/etc. and that in general this differs significantly in the way that the way the modern spritual/medical healers treat the "patient" -- I'm the expert, you just lay there and i'll take care of it. Of course, this is not true as some shaman/shamanistic-traditions still maintain the role of the shaman in much the same way: You just lay there and I'll take care of this. as medicine man, the person draws upon knowledge of pharaceuticals as well as treatments. Regardless of modern science's disdain for the treatments, it is interesting (and hope-full) to note that medical people are now going to the medicine men/women of these tribes to find out the chemical (scientific) basis of many of the herbs and other treatments used by the medicine men through the ages. One should also bear in mind the power of the mind of the person being treated by the medicine man/woman: Both in terms of the power of the mind to heal the body (modern "image therapy is an example of this), as well as the well known placebo effect. Again, i would guess that the medicine man/woman is much more in tune with the mind/body connection when it comes to not only healing but in terms of general health then modern science. as magician, the person draws upon a "bag of tricks" (often literally). In much the same way that the "gladstone bag" of the doctor conveys a signifier/station of office to the modern doctor. The associated trapings of the person as magician do this as well. Also, in thinking about the treatment and the use of dramatic effects, this may be working in much the same way as "bit medicine" -- if you are put into a NMR machine the very presence of allof that technology is bound to have *some* effect psychologically upon you. In the same way, the dramatic effects of the medicine (as radically different from any other memember of the tribe) is bound to make an impression on you. In some cases, i would guess where some sort of depression has set in, the very fact that such a powerful person (or machinery in terms of NMR, etc) is being used for your *sole* benefit would surely, Shirely, shake you up a bit -- and that breaking of the pattern of depression (lack of faith in a future, loss of interest in living, figuring that it all doesn't matter anyway, etc) -- that *show* might be (i would maintain) as instrumental as any of the physical/demonstrative treatments would be. finally, as an "ecstatic", the person uses their own actions/acts to reify (make real/physical) the struggle at hand. That is, with all of the gyrations, words, chants, etc - the shaman makes manifest how serious the problem is. This would tend to quiet any of the afflicted person's detractors that "it's all in their mind", etc. By acting in an outrageous and clearly non-normal manner the shaman shows not only the patient, but the entire tribe what is at stake here. And this is sure to strike everyone as extra-ordinary: Here is the seemingly mad behaviour (far beyond the realm of even the most aberant behaviour of *any* individual of the tribe) by one of the most respected members of the tribe -- that the shaman is not only bound (by position) to do this, but compelled (by their role/title as shaman), but further clearly making a very personal and un-comfortable self-sacrifice makes the treatment all the most effective. [Note 3] The Profound Existence: As Eliad put it: "They live the sacred side of life in a profounder and more personal manner than other people". Part of this goes back to the training or (i would say in many cases) the natural tendency of the shaman to simply *see* more around them than the normal person. This is two-fold in nature. First by simply being trained to look at things more intensely and hence to *think* about things more intensely, they automatically are connected to the world around them more than the average person. This may be merely that they notice things around the person/event that might be significant; ie, always a fresh eye to what is common-place to the person/event. It may go further in that they (because of their devotion to the healing arts) spend more of their time observing and then thinking about all of the possible consequences/interpretations/connections of even the most common place thing. As such, when something is "not quite right", they may be the only one to notice it. They may in fact notice that something/someone is not right before anyone else and (being who they are) take it upon themselves to investigate and/or act and cure the problem/person. Second, by taking upon themselves the role of shaman/healer/etc, they come to feel responsible for the over-all health of the tribe in every way. As such (and this goes back to shaman as "calling" [Eliad, P.75, refer to main text above [Illness/Initiation]), the shaman may take on the role of protector of the tribe to such an extent that the health/well-being of the tribe is continually upon their mind. This leads to part of the perception that the shaman is not entirely in the "now" as are other members of the tribe. Part of this will be seen as "worrying about things" that no else can see/understand. In many "socieites", the artist/poet/philsopher/historian/scientist is often viewed in this way. (It is popular in (eg) American society to make fun of people who are overly spiritual (in ways that are not accepted as *normal*, hence the disdain with which people (such as John Travolta who's religion is Scientology), artists, and others who are seen as "crackpots". This is especially true, when the scientist/philosopher/historian is addressing some need that is apparent to them because of their studies, but which the "common wisdom" has dismissed as hokum; eg, concern over the greenhouse effect, concern over torture during the Iraq war, concern over the surge in anti-emigrant predjudices, etc. However, for the "primitive" tribe, there is in general a much greater tollerance of the shaman's behaviour in dealing with things that only they can perceive. Especially based upon their successes in the past. [Biker Chicks: And the 'naughty bits'!] {Back to the TEXT} [03] As a personal example of this, when i had had my second ulcer and had lost quite a bit of blood, and was in the hospital. They were transporting me down to the surgery where they were going to have to cauterise the ulcer (which had continued to bleed uncontrollably after about 24 hours in the hospital -- meaning my blood supply was getting dangerouosly low). Along the way, i felt the need to "go" (they don't call it "shitting coffee grounds" for nothing), and they were forced (me on the gurney) to stop at a rest room where i weakly made it to the toilet and tried to go. Nothing came out. I became dizzy, and it was the Nurse's yelling AT me (she had been i thought merely tollerantly patient with me up until that time) DON'T YOU STROKE OUT ON ME!!! She took my hand, and felt for the pulse, and then summarily stuffed my back onto the gurney and we went onward towards surgey. But, it was that INTENSITY of her words (and of course the force behind them) that seemed to shake me to the core -- that it was clear that if SHE had anything to say about it, i was NOT going to die. I often return to that experience when thinking about or (in this case) writing about shamanism, etc. {Back to the TEXT} [04] Being the mostly (we suppose) appocryphal tale of the "biker chicks"... Note how this concept of *acceptance* carries over into "modern" life. A rather odd example presented itself to me in my various encounters with people (yes, Biker Chicks). In the case of breast augmentation, almost without exception they said they prefered a given surgeon since he had perfected a technique of going in through the arm-pit rather in thru the nipple. As it turns out, many more traditonal cosmetic surgeons derrogated his technique as being no better than theirs. However, his patients reported no loss in sensitivity of the nipples (which would be expected by the more tradtional approach to the surgery). Yet the traditional surgery is still performed. But, as mentioned previously, almost totally by word of mouth the reputation of the surgeon as the prefered provider was repleat through out the biker community - to the extent that an article appeared in one of the biker magazines. I use this example that the "biker chicks" (being as of a more "earthy" nature), knew good and well what they wanted and went out of their way to get it; while the mainstream women were hit and miss as to how the surgery was performed. [no, i don't have any *hard* data for this]. The point is, that the (perceived) aberant behaviour of this one surgeon either struck a chord with the (self-perceived) aberant behaviour of the "biker chicks", or else they "sensed" that he would be more conducive/amenable to their wants/needs/desires. In the same way, i would maintain, the more primitive tribes are more in touch with themselves and their surroundings and the fact that the shaman is the very personification of this persuit of the material world as directly (and less mediated) experienced around them, and in the same way would *resonnate* in them a level of confidence and hence not only an *acceptance* of the aberant behaviour, but an appreciation of it. (Whether or not this behaviour is actually indicative of some superior quality of the shaman, as opposed to some other model is not what is indicated here, since (as pointed out before), much of the shaman/patient interaction is based on perception/expectation/faith/etc. To further generalise (and go out on the limb), i would maintain that for *any* commonly performed surgery, the word-of-mouth might have more *weight* than any other recomendation -- assuming of course that the people in question fell comfortable about discussing the *problem*. (Probably a lot of bad surgeons continue to thrive for the simple fact that (especially in the case of *personal* surgeries), that people are reticent to discuss "what went wrong", prefering (in the "modern way") to just keep quiet about it -- again with Hemingway's "leading lives of quiet desparation". {Back to the TEXT} [05] Further, once the shaman has been initiated (regardless of how we might "view" such initiation), it is in-evitable that the shaman will now view "the normal" or the "mundane" in the same light as before their transformation. Where-as most of the tribe will continue to be concerned with their normal day-to-day existence and out-look, the shaman is certain to view these behaviours differently. For exmample, in the case of ownership, those in the tribe (primitive or modern) will concern themselves with the stations of ownership, protecting "what they have" (indeed the phrase "something to protect" suggests itself), as well as being suspicious of others who have less and might be tempted at thievery. Thus, while many continue to be obsessed with the material world and specifically *possessions*, the shaman now sees the thin-ness of this world view. In addition to the direct knowledge of the present (and the recent past), the shaman will have been initiated (and being an ever out-ward journey) into a larger view of the world. For example, the shaman may see the senseless-ness of the materialist gathering so many goods around themselves when a flood or other disaster could wipe out everything. In the time of crisis (eg, an acutal flood), this knowledge will enable the shaman to help the materialist to "get through" the tragedy. Even in less dire circumstances, the shaman will un-doubtedly come to value the "simple things" in life, and indeed see beauty where others see nothing. In much of this way, the shaman comes to be more child-like in their outlook. Further, in many cases the shaman will develop a greater patience for people when speaking or dealing with them -- especially in the case of the very young and the very old. Having been transformed beyound life and death, the shaman will see the connection between these two groups that for the most part, the middle-aged will take for granted or even ignore -- having no patience for such silliness or for people who can clearly not benefit them in their own self-centred lives. Thus, as the shaman goes about the world, they garner new experiences from even the most common-place events. Further, they will see (and contemplate) further upon the connections between various things around them -- drawing conclusions and understanding more than the casual passer-by. Again, this will lead them to an awareness of problems in the making before the common person even perceives a problem to exist. Naturally, the training of the shaman will be influenced by those around him. In a manner similar to Einstein's quote: "Everyone is my equal in that I can learn from them". The shaman will often travel to further their education seeking wisdom from other tribes and/or different environs around them or near by. Note that un-like the hero (who goes on a quest or journey which will lead to a transformation of the hero as well as possible enlightenment), the shaman will more-directly see life as a continual journey, rather than an end-driven quest. Thus, much of the shaman's wisdom arises from contemplation of the events that they see all around them, as well as integrating shamanistic states/visions/experiences into their own world-view. Indeed, they will develoop a greater-than just-the-world view. Again the "journey to the moon" as one shaman expressed it: It was the lesson that they learned while on the moon (that the earth is integrated, a whole, and alive with life) rather than the "mere" fact that did (or did not as the anthroplogist in that case maintained) visit the moon -- it is the experience/knowledge that they gained during the "visit" -- not the *accomplishment* of a great deed; again, contrast this with the epic adventures of the hero. Further, the shaman may gain the greatest of insights into the world from the most mundane of experiences. For example, simply reaching out and touching the wall of a hut may make them aware of all of the people who made that wall: They worked hard, they have a family, they have hopes and dreams - and fears, they are *some-one*. This profound (to the shaman) experience will put them in touch with the fact that *everyone* is *someone* -- which most people will "know" but not contemplate when dealing with others around them. As such, a person performing some service will be held in higher regard by the shaman than the materialist who is "simply hiring a worker". The materialist already sets up barriers (boss/employee) between them and others in such a case, and this can naturally lead to abuse of the "mere" employees -- something which the shaman is aware of, and un-likely to take for granted. {Back to the TEXT} [06] {Back to the TEXT} [07] {Back to the TEXT} [08] {Back to the TEXT} [09] {Back to the TEXT} [10] {Back to the TEXT} [11] {Back to the TEXT}