Re: Dialogue on Shamanism, Cont...

John Pastore (venture@CANCUN.RCE.COM.MX)
Wed, 22 May 1996 07:27:28 +0000

On 22 May 96 at 23:21, Clyde Davenport wrote:


> JP: True enough, although I would think Dan Floss might have some
> light to shed on this idea, but, whether monotheism was to replace
> animism or not, the contrast to animism would seem more like the
> "God(s) is Dead" theories made popular back in the late '60's.
> CD: I'm a little unclear on your point. Do you mean that "God is
> Dead" theories were meant to be a replacement for standard
> (Christian) monotheism (but a replacement which by its very nature
> undercut the foundation of the other)?

JP: No, I'm not talking about any kind of replacements. I'm using
the "God is Dead" idea in that it may exemplify the opposite of
animate as a verb, as in inanimate as a verb --the opposite of
putting life into something.

> ____
> JP: . . . What is the "it" you refer to?
> CD: The "it" is their insight, the knowledge they have gained in
> non-ordinary reality. In Buddhist terms this would be their wisdom.
> JP: I think it's time to differentiate between 'belief' systems, no
> matter how originally based in animism (or not), from 'shamansim'
> which does not require 'belief' or 'creed' (systemitized or not).
> Whether a shaman might be 'Buddhist', 'Confucianist', or simply
> 'Mayan', the shaman can practice his or her abilities, not because
> of any 'belief' system, or, even, despite any 'belief' system.
> CD: An interesting point. So you are saying that shamanism is a
> set of practices rather than beliefs? And that animism is different
> from shamanism in being a set of beliefs?

Yes, though the ambience animism provides would better foster the
practice of shamanism, which has an animistic world-view, shamanism
in itself is not dependent on, or limited to, any attached belief
systems or creeds.


JP: ...For two, the 'enlightenment' sought by a practicioner of zen
or yoga, is not the equivelent of the 'non-ordinary reality' seen,
participated in, by a shaman.

> CD: In what way?
> JP: A shaman does not return with knowledge for its own sake, but
> with power: the power to heal or maim, induce nature to cooperate,
> or not. A shaman does this by entering into 'non-ordinary reality'
> and there, hopefully, communing and allying him or herself to the
> powers of nature individualized as spirits--whether those spirits be
> "Mezquilito" the spirit of mezquilin, for example, or a mountain
> animized.
> CD: I guess here we have our point of disagreement. From your
> words, you seem to be substituting the idea of power for its own
> sake with the idea of knowledge for its own sake. This adds a
> Machiavelian edge that I'm not sure that shamanism has in its
> essence (although it can be there as a matter of either practice or
> personality). You seem to be saying that while total knowledge is
> impossible, total power can be realized.

JP: "Power" in the sense of the spirit, or life-energy, of an
animated object that in an inanimate state would be powerless. To
ally oneself to "Mezquilito", for example, is to ally oneself to the
power that is that spirit, and, perhaps, incorporating that spirit,
that power, within your own. Nothing Machiavelian about it, including
Anglos' misperception of Machiavelianism as something sinister.
Whether total knowledge, or total power, can be achieved I do not
know. Having thought about it though, I would imagine such would be
impossible since knowledge and power is forever expanding.

> I (CD) tend to feel that shamanism is a system of knowledge of >
> alternative realities. Through this knowledge various powers are >
> possible. But the motivation of the shaman I feel is not defined
> by power but rather the attraction of the other as something in
> itself. > And part of this attraction is a desire to "know" the
> other, in the > various senses the "know" has.

JP: Shamanism isn't a system of knowledge of alternate realities
anymore than seeing that the sky is blue requries a system of
knowledge to perceive the sky as blue. I don't even think a shaman
needs to know the why of a non-ordinary reality to perceive and
participate in that reality, anymore than a non-shaman needs to know
the why of ordinary reality to percieve and participate in that
reality --though it would help.

> Also, you (JP) said that the shaman allies herself or communes with
> "the powers of nature individualized as spirits." I am not sure
> that a shaman would agree with this definition. How can "nature"
> be "individualized" into "powers" which are actually "spirits."

JP: In the same way that the "spirit" of Mezquilito is not the
"spirit" of something else. A shaman is not "individualizing"
anything, by the way. A shaman is simply recognizing something that
is already there.

> All of these terms are culture dependent. Even to cite your
> examples, is "mezquilito" really the plant, the spirit, or deer?

JP: "Mezquilito" would be all three. Interesting, also, is how the
ancient Maya not only animated such scientifically perceived
inanimate objects as mountains, but went a step further and animated
concepts such as numbers, mathematics, time and astronomy, as their
deifying (recoginizing the spirtis) of such concepts would indicate.
The shaman of their culture must have been, proportionately, very

... I
> think it is the confusion of categories that gives the
> term/icon/sign/reality "Mezquilito" its/her/his "power."

JP: No. The spirit, or life-energy, of "Mezquilito" is its power.

> Furthermore, how can a mountain be animized? This implies that it
> already wasn't animate before we conceptualized it in this way.

JP: True, and the implication would be wrong. Animizing would be more
of a process of recognizing something that is already there.

> But as Dogen said the green mountains always walk. The animists >
> make the mountain which shamans can fly upon? We still have the >
> problem of cultural creation, the social construction of reality.
> >

JP: A shaman may make cultural associations when trying to describe
places or events occuring in non-ordinary reality, but the
non-ordinary reality is there whether recognized from within one
culture or another.


> CD: Yes, but even in Buddhism there is a concern with "thusness,"
> with reality as it is in its essential non-being or projected
> nature. Even with Buddhists, they are only possibly for the wiser
> with the knowledge they gain. But why is this? Is it not that they
> get entrapped in the cultural creation of nature and the natural
> creation of culture. How is one supposed to make heads or tails of
> this? My belief is that shamans as much as Buddhists can only do
> this imperfectly. Buddhists may have an ethical system and a
> philosophical system which helps them make sense of these processes
> and so have greater intellectual knowledge. Shamans have neither a
> complex philosopical or ethical system (all of this is merely a
> question of borrowings and accretions) and so they have a more
> immediate cognizance of the incommensurability of it all (and thus
> the tendency among some shamanistic personalities to reduce it all
> to power).

JP: Whatever the "concern" of anybody, shamanism is independent of
'belief' systems --ethical included, and "power" must be defined as
the life-energy of what ordinarily might be perceived as an
inanimate object.

> ___
> CD: You misunderstand my point. If shamans have anything of
> the superhuman about them it is in the context of non-ordinary
> reality. But when they return to ordinary reality they are
> merely human. Yet why do they return to non-ordinary reality?
> One reason is to train other shamans. And they can do this
> because everyone does have the potential.
> JP: No, you are still missing mine. A shaman is human even in
> 'non-oridinary reality', and not "merely" when returned to 'ordinary
> reality'. People can go to 'non-ordinary reality', be the same
> people they are when returned, and when there be only as different
> as the 'non-ordinary reality' would have them seem.
> CD: What do you mean by this "would have them seem." Is it that
> non-ordinary reality is fostering the illusion that non-ordinary
> reality even exists?

JP: "Would have them seem" was a poor choice of words. I was
thinking if shaman ever look at themselves to know what form their
bodies might take when in non-ordinary reality --though they may
encounter other shaman when in non-oridinary reality as, if I
remember right, Don Juan did when seeing another as a raven.

... Ordinary reality is of course by itself
> non-ordinary in being culturally created. Non-ordinary reality
> remind of this and ironicizes itelf thereby? But who/what is doing
> this?

JP: I don't think so. Both ordinary and non-ordinary reality would
exist whether people and their cultures existed or not.

> JP: ...Moreover, shamans play out their roles whether a scientized
> 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.
> CD: Wouldn't they really buy neither? A person I know quite
> well saw deer, real ones, when they did peyote, but when they
> did LSD they only looked at dreams, and plastic ones at that.
> JP: Maybe. You're a real naturalist Clyde.
> CD: Here, I have difficulty deciphering the reasons for the
> irony/sarcasm. Peyote is considered to be a spirit as well as a
> plant. It is also associated with the deer among the Yaqui. Thus
> when the individual in question saw deer while doing peyote they
> thought it might have been because of the magical connection between
> deer and peyote. The individual in question had said that he had
> never had a similar kind of experience when he had done LSD. Is
> this merely because of the chemical differences in the "drugs" or is
> there actually some kind of spirit associated with peyote?
> JP: Apparently you did misunderstand the "irony/sarcasm", as there
> was none. I was presuming you might know of the history of drugs in
> the States during the late 60's and 70's when the introduction of
> 'horse tranquilizers' supposedly as LSD, cooinciding with a movement
> toward vegetarianism and herabal teas, convinced alot of people not
> to take any drugs unless they were in their 'natural' form. There
> is, according to your freind's experience, truth in the notion that
> natural forms, as opposed to manufactured or artificial forms,
> contain a different quality of vision, not unlike a real deer from,
> perhaps, a plastic, garden adornment. Nevertheless, in a pinch, a
> shaman would prefer LSD to LDS. Faith healing is not shamanism, if
> for no other reason that a shaman can heal, or maim, whether the
> patient, or victim, knows what's going on, much less have faith in
> it.
> CD: You have expressed some interesting ideas here. But first I
> think there is no way that anyone could confuse the horse
> tranquilizer you mention (I remember it vaguely but have forgottened
> its name, all I can think of is PCBs) with LSD since the experience
> is diametrically opposed (the only resemblance, and a superficial
> one at that, is that one can freak out in either case).

After consumption I would agree with you, but not, necessarily,
before. I believe that biker gangs allied to police enforcement
agencies were dumping the stuff on the market to get rid of the
market --and their basic opposition to the war in Vietnam, while
also clearing neighborhoods for commercial development.

... In terms of
> the garden adornment analogy, this is an interesting one. Peyote
> and mushrooms grow naturally. LSD was first synthesized from was it
> the corn ergot? Maybe rye has the same kind of thing, I've
> forgotten. At any rate, between the two we have a difference
> between wild and cultivated plants (although in the case of
> mushrooms they are really neither plants or animals).

Definitely needs more investigation.

> About faith healing, I think you have a too idealistic view of it in
> seeing that its only purpose is to heal. Another purpose may be to
> sham-anize (to make a bad pun). In other words they want to prove
> their charisma by their ability to heal and will create performances
> which make it appear that their power to heal is a true one. This
> assertion though goes back to whether or not there is an element of
> deception in shamansitic performances when they try to bring
> non-ordinary reality back home in their curing ceremonies, etc. And
> even if their magic is "real" and they can maim as well as cure,
> isn't their desire to maim still caught up in the social meaning of
> proving dominance?

I believe your right, but one would still have to make room for mind
over matter in some cases --psychosomatically speaking, so to speak.

> Again, I'm just speaking off the top of my head and having you say
> whatever I would like you to say. We can submit this present >
dialogue to the list, too, if you have a look at it first and say >
whether you like it or don't.

I'm never one to say in private what can't or shouldn't be said in

> Did they ever find the cable that wasn't bolted down in Mexico City?

I think some people in Boston might have run across it. The plus
side of the episode has convinced the local server to establish a
direct line to the U.S.A.

Ka Xiik Keech Ya Utzil,

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

"A teepee is a pyramid, isn't it?"