Re: Shamanism

John Pastore (venture@CANCUN.RCE.COM.MX)
Fri, 10 May 1996 03:28:01 +0000

Jay Kottliar and John McCreery are writing of Shaman. Although I'm
not sure how Anthropology defines a shaman, it seems that both Jay
and John equate them with the ability to transcend ordinary reality
to qualify. While this may be true, there seems to be an additional
criteria that would distinguish Shaman from, as John describes:
geomancers, fortune tellers and santos. I would think that that
something has something to do with a shaman's stance within the
traditions of an indigenous community.

While, for example, a Mayan shamen will foretell the future as in
where a lost pig might be found in the jungle on a particular day, I
do not think that a Mayan shaman would understand the why of a
modern-day astrologer predicting better or worse times for an
individual --considering how individuals within Mayan communities have
all pretty much the same future anyway --and concern themselves, or,
better stated, do not concern themselves accordingly. In individual
matters I have only witnessed Mayan shaman involve themselves as
healers --herbalists whose treatements, though perhaps not scientific,
work rather amazingly anyway for, at least, common skin aliments,
intestinal worms, and such.

Unlike geomancers, fortune-tellers and, especially Santos, Mayan
shaman seem to concern themselves more with community-wide concerns
such as the accurate prediction of the rainy season. Especially unlike
the geomancers, fortune-tellers and Santos, I have never seen them
actively seek either patients or futures to predict, nor would I think
that they might ever refer anyone to such people --for more reason
than simply not having the persence of mind to consider such.

As a matter of fact, I can't recall any Mayan shaman that was just a
shaman. They all work, as the rest of the community does, in the
cultivating of milpas, and such. When approached for cures, they will
perform, and though they expect a small compensation, a pittance most
often, they certainly do not make out bills. In matters of community
concern, the events which solicit the services of a shaman are
prescribed by their tradition.

Well, perhaps there lies the basis of, at least part, of an
anthropological definition for a shaman --their
non-commercialization, their being integral with the traditions of
their indigenous communities directly, and not, say, in the case of
Santos, merely the vague products of some distant Afro-Hispanic-Native
milieu, that may have had a unique tradition.

> These are "possessed" and are, at least in theory, totally
> unconscious while the gods are in control. Participants in
> spirit-writing cults overlap with artists, poets and Buddhist monks
> who are said to lose themselves in art or meditation. I have been
> intrigued when reading, for example, Paul Stoller's work on West
> Africa, and descriptions of spiritismo in Latin America, to note
> what seems to be a similar rich variety of "magical/mystical"
> experience. It would be quite interesting to see a comparative study
> that began with (1) an attempt to sort out the local genres as
> participants (and critics) see them in various parts of the world
> and then went on to (2) seeing if there are some sort of pan-human
> tendencies in the way in which the genres are constructed.

Ka Xiik Keech Ya Utzil,

John Pastore
Writer/Guide in 'El Mayab'
("The Mayan Homeland")