Re: Shamanism II

John Pastore (venture@CANCUN.RCE.COM.MX)
Tue, 14 May 1996 06:08:52 +0000

Hi Clyde,

A nice summuary --allowing for a better base for better expansion on
the topic.

On 15 May 96 at 0:06, Clyde Davenport wrote:


> 3. Previously I said that "if shamans go out of the body, it is
> only in the sense that the body is a culturally created entity.
> Shamans don't really go anywhere, and this is their power."

Whether the body is a culturally (?) created entity or not, shaman do
leave their bodies. They hover above scenes that can be occuring
elsewhere in the present, or past --and, perhaps, the future. Such
has been described for the Yaquis and, even, Tibetan cave hermits,
and according to Carlos Castenadas, the Yaqui 'brujo', Don Juan,
admonished his apprentice, the author, of how vulnerable both the
spirit was when outside the body, and the body with its spirit gone,
to attack, even accident, and death for the shaman. A mere
description though isn't what would be acceptable as 'collaborative'
evidence, so how does one verify? More...

> However, here instead of delving deeper into the meaning of the body
> as culturally created entity (and thereby in a sense a non-entity),
> I would like to suggest that two types of shamanism are to be found
> in relation to how they conceive of the relation of the spirit/dream
> world to the body. One is the journeying type where the shaman
> travels (flies, etc.) to some place and visits spirits, people, etc.


> This basically concerns the problem of the relationship of
> conventional reality to shamanistic reality.

"Non-oridinary reality" as Castenadas, or rather Don Juan, termed

... How do shamans
> conceive of this relation?

Conceptions, or visions --as when "seeing between the light rays"?

... Is their role merely to bring insights
> into conventional reality from their shamanistic reality in order to
> heal, promote the evolution of culture, and generally improve
> people's lives (or alternately in the case of less positive
> shamanizing to make others sick, promote their own interests vis a
> vis their culture, etc.)?

That and: both survive as shaman themselves and perpetuate the
knowledge of their shamanism from their generation to the next.

...Or is there also not another movement of
> conventional reality entering shamanistic reality in that
> shamanistic experience is itself something cultural? (And thus we
> can speak of shamanistic societies as a type of culture.)

The universality of leaving the body to fly and hover above a scene
(not participate necessarily or intervene, but to observe) makes it
seem that there is somehing very basic and cross-cultural, though the
accoutrements will vary, about shamanism. Its genuineness also seems
proportional to the extend, the shamanism is based in an animistic

> And we as observers outside of shamanism, how do we see this same >
relation of shamanistic reality to conventional reality?

By taking yourself from the outside in.

Shamans of any culture have their 'conventional' realities too. You
are looking for a relationship that does not exist: "shamanisitic"
reality as opposed to "conventional reality". You need to first look
for and recognize "non-oridinary" reality, and then make the
relationship with "conventional reality". The only real abilities a
shaman has over his or her non-shaman neighbors is this ability to
percieve the parallel "non-oridinary" reality, and then be willing
to participate in it.

...We have > our own conventional reality as members of mass
cultures at the > close of the 20th century.

Despite whatever preconditioning, "non-ordinary reality" is there
and you can learn to perceive it.

...To us, scientific reality has the same > function as shamanistic
reality does for shamans: it denotes a > space more real than the
reality we know conventionally; and yet the > scientific space we
seek to inhabit is nevertheless a cultural one.

I'm hoping you are speaking for yourself on that one. The problem
with applying 'science', or at least this perception of 'science' to
percieving 'non-oridinary' reality is the presumption that only one
reality can exist at the same time as in there having to be 'degrees'
of "space more real". This is not the case. Both "ordinary reality"
and "non-ordinary reality" exist so much to be all-pervasive, while
separate, but complimentary, entities. It's a matter of detection
and perception. Whether "reality" and "non-oridinary" are either
separate entities or two components of a single condition, science
limits itself to its ability, and even insturments, to detect and
perceive things in reality only when meeting the criteria that the
selective perceptions of the scientists and the selective design, and
dependancy, on its insturments of detection. "Non-oridinary reality"
exists whether a telescope has been devised, or is needed, to
perceive it --or not.

> As Jay Bernstein says, the question of belief is a thorny one. It
> also brings up memories of the recent myth/ideology/belief thread
> which didn't come to any resolution.

Shaman of course 'believe' in the existance of "non-ordinary reality"
otherwise there would be no shamanism. The word "belief", as in
having the faith to accept the existance of a reality scienctists
regard as intangible, is not however applicable. "Non-ordinary
reality" is just as 'tangible' for those who can, and do, detect it.
Faith is not only not required, it would be an impediment for any
novice who believed such was required when learning how to detect it.
Moreover, once the "non-oridinary reality" is detected, it may be
then examined successfully by the scientific method. It remains for
many a perceptional problem, or the lack of an acceptable inturment
for its detection.

> 5. Jay Bernstein's point that there were shamans and then >
> shaman/healers is an interesting one. Perhaps this means that not
> > all shamans had the specialized botanical knowledge to use plants
> in treating diseases.

I think you've got that turned around. Shaman recognize the spirits
and power of things both animate, and inanimate including plants.
That's what makes them shaman. One does not have to be a shaman,
however, to know the medicinal applications of plants.

...Or perhaps it signifies that not all shamans
> > were interested in the well-being of others in their communities
> > (shamanism does not seem to emphasize an ethical system at least
> in > the same sense that the later organized religions did).

Except for the results of either dangerous or not dangerous,
beneficial or not benfeficial, ethics, no matter how contrived
systematically, is artificial when delving in "non-ordinary reality"
--much like whether using a telescope to detect the moon is ethical,
or the moon itself is. The 'ethical' systems of incomparbale
"organized religions" were designe to remove people from their
natural affinity to "non-ordinary reality", much like health laws
prohibitting the raising of chickens in city neighborhoods to force
people to go to the A & P.

> In this context, John Pastore's comments that shamans among the Maya
> are distinguishable in their being indistinguishable, that is in
> their being ordinary members of the community, may be of relevance.
> If shamans are "specialists" it may not be in the ordinary sense in
> which we think of people as being specialists. And their "power"
> may not be the same as what we ordinarily understand as "power"
> (wealth and the ability to influence or control others).

I better clarify my past statements about that. I definitely
witnessed healers, whether they were also shaman I cannot tell
although their being the ones to conduct rain-making ceremonies would
make them seem that they were. They certainly don't tell you, and
that's relevent to your above statement. A shaman's power, or better
stated, ability, is learnable by anyone. That is why shaman are
careful not disclose what has been taught them. It is knowledge
ususally reserved for the son (and I presume in other cultures
daughter) of a shaman, and so on. Among the Maya, these healers,
and, perhaps, shaman do not lord their abilities over anyone else.

> Perhaps our point of view in thinking of shamans as a unique type of
> individual is mistaken. In shamanistic cultures, all individuals
> are shamans in some sense since they share the shamanistic
> cosmology.

I think that statement is closer to the truth.

> 6. In a posting a few months back on song and dance, I wanted to
> show that song and dance have an important role in shamanism.
> Perhaps a definition of shamanism should include them.

As a 'cultural' accoutrements maybe, or as accustomed methods for the
detection of "non-ordinary reality", but not only not necessary, but
also, inhibiting. There are other methods where a shaman can function
within his or her abilities without also having to be dancing and
singing --thought such methods may be unknown to certain cultures.

...Of course,
> this would extend the range of shamanism beyond the experiential
> level which can only be individualistic. Instead of saying with
> Kotliar that a shaman is "someone who is able to transcend the
> natural world through ecstatic mystical/magical experiences," one
> might instead be able to say that a shaman is one who is able to
> inhabit simultaneously the natural and social worlds through
> ecstatic mystical/magical dancing and singing.

Seems closer to the truth, but like I said, not neccessarily limited
to a single cultural accoutrement, or single set of such
accoutrements, of any single society.

... This perspective
> would probably make it easier to see the role which women played in
> shamanism in hunting and gathering societies as well as to see the
> role which shamanism still plays in our own scientized society.

While the first part of that statement seems valid, I don't see why
its being compared to the second. Shamans play out their roles
whether a sieintized society is existing or not --at least within
the enclaves of animistic societies. I don't buy faith healing in
organized churches as shamanism. Shamans, are not operating on
faith; and I think they would buy LSD before they would buy LDS.

> 7. Jay Bernstein's point that drug use is not an essential feature
> > of shamanism is a good one (albeit he seems to sidestep the
> problem > of why drug use is associated with *some* forms of
> shamanism;

Drug use is not essential, but it sure does help --that is with
psychotropics. The problem here is science's definition of what
constitutes reality, as opposed to a hallucination. Didn't most
people think they were hallucinating when the telescope was
relatively new and they were first peering through one?

> previously I mentioned the problem of colonization in
> this regard > which, though, may not be an adequate explanation).
> His mention of rocking in this context as a way of concentrating
> the mind is an > interesting one. What are other bodily techniques
> which are used?

More tommarrow on the one, with a description of the Tibetan cave
hermits, and how they train themselves to fly "astroproject"
--without drugs. Its a simple process. I have to get back to work.


Ka Xiik Keech Ya Utzil,

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