Re: Dialogue on Shamanism, Cont... (Let's go flying!)

Clyde Davenport (clyde@BUS.HIROSHIMA-PU.AC.JP)
Mon, 27 May 1996 17:33:43 +0900

At 12:21 PM 96.5.22 +0000, John Pastore wrote:

>> Continuation of Dialogue on Shamanism: 23 May 96, John
>> Pastore/Clyde Davenport


>> CD: Still, though, I wonder how shamanism can have an animistic
>> world-view yet at the same time not be dependent on it.

>JP: Shamanism can't be independent of animism as a reality, but can
>be of "any belief system or creed" attached to it as in the dogmas (if
>any), or belief system of Shintoism for example.

CD: Shintoism is difficult to define as a belief system because it is
in some ways more a collection of practices than a set of "beliefs."
If Shintoism can be said to have any beliefs it is to be found in its
notions of purity and impurity (as revealed in purification rituals and
in what is considered impure) and in its characterizations of "kami" or
god/goddesses (but also including ancestors, certain religious figures,
etc.). For a long period in Japanese history, Shinto and Buddhism
existed side by side. To Buddhism was delegated the responsibility
of providing a cosmology, a body of theological doctrine, a system of
ethics, etc. The Shinto "kami" were seen as manifestations of the
Buddhist Buddhas and bodhisattvas. This harmony between Shintoism
and Buddhism was split in the Meiji Era as part of a conscious campaign
to stress pure Japanese values in order to move along the
modernization program of the nation (i.e. the creation of State Shinto).

The relationship between Shinto and shamanism is rather difficult
to define. My take on shamanism is that it finds its primordial
form in hunting and gathering societies and then undergoes
modification with the rise of agriculture. There are some
mediumistic kinds of shamanism associated with Shinto: for
example, the "miko," women who would be possessed by a "kami"
and then speak in the trance state. However, with time the male
"yamabushi" (Buddhist ascetics) came to take on the role of
summoning the spirit which was to enter the miko's body, leaving
the miko with only a passive role. And then finishing this process of
evolution, the miko in the end became mere attendants at Shinto
shrines without any shamanistic powers.

The early literary sources of Shintoism all involve royal Shintoism,
that is the "religion" of the emperor and other ruling groups. Although
no monotheism developed, we find a similar process of some gods/
goddesses coming to dominate others.

"And the two deities:
And Take-mika-duti-no-mikoto
Were caused to descend from the heavens:
They expelled with a divine expulsion the unruly deities
And pacified with a divine pacification;
They silenced to the last leaf
The rocks and the stumps of trees,
Which had been able to speak,
And when the Sovereign Grandchild [the emperor] descended from
the heavens,
Entrusted [the land to him]"

_Norito: A Translation of the Ancient Japanese Ritual Prayers_,
Donald L. Philippi, Princeton University Press, 1990, p. 69.

Of interest to note is that we have a reduction in animism in that
the formerly animate rocks and trees became mute, or inanimate.
The mention of tree stumps may also suggest that forest land was
being cleared to plant rice. The theme of pacification is also an
important one. In some ways building a shrine may be thought of
in some ways as a means to control a deity. The deities spirit is
encouraged to inhabit some object which is then kept in the innermost
part of the shrine.


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

>> CD: To me, ordinary reality is by definition our perception of the
>> world, our shared agreement on what the world is or is not.
>> Ordinary reality is, thus, a cultural creation. Without people it
>> would not exist. Non-ordinary reality encompasses the various
>> potentialities of the world outside the framework of culture.

>JP: I think ordinary reality would exist, just as it did for the
>dinosaurs before the appearance of humanity --likewise for
>non-ordinary reality. We can check it out if you like.

CD: Perhaps now that our human ordinary reality exists, in the
future there will be traces that remain even if people die out. Traces
of the dinosaurs still exist, of course. But at least my way of
thinking about this would be to say that the ordinary reality of the
dinosaurs would not be the same thing as the ordinary reality of
humans. The ordinary reality of the dinosaurs would be based on
their sensory proclivities and their own forms of sociality. Human
ordinary reality is based on our sensory proclivities in addition to
our vast store of cultural knowledge and our complex sense of social relations.


>>... The
>> question, here, is then whether or not an animist world view can be
>> related to shamanism or not. You see no connection...

>JP: Of course there is a connection. There would be no shamanism if
>there were no animism. I see no connection as to any belief systems
>or creeds that might attach themselves as being required for
>shamanism --though, as you have mentioned, there may be some help for
>a shaman in that a belief system might embody knowledge on the
>"rules" of the game so to speak.

>>... so you can keep
>> faith healing as separate (and also you point out the whole
>> phenomenology of belief in fundamentalist Christian faith healing:
>> if you believe in Jesus, you will be saved/healed!). I on the other
>> hand do not see such a clear separation. Thus, I tend to interpret
>> faith healing as a variant of the mediumistic kind of shamanism
>> where spirits are called down into the body.

>JP: Yet, shamanism requires no faith.

CD: I think we need to clarify here what "belief" or "faith" is. What
is its phenomenology? What is its origin? No doubt, all peoples
have beliefs of one sort or another. And all peoples have ideas that
imply for example a certain attitude is required when dealing with
the numinous (though not exactly "faith"). Why is it that belief and
faith become such important issues in the more historically recent
organized religions? Is this perhaps not some kind of sociopolitical
process stemming from the close identification between secular and
spiritual power? Or are other factors involved?


>* Clyde, I'm going to invite a couple of people who I think might be
>interested in learning how to astroproject --Tibetan Cave Hermit
>style (no drugs required). I want to do an experiment: go flying
>with some girl. Are you game?

CD: Why not. I am not sure that my efforts will come to anything, but
it is worth a try (it's good to keep an open mind, no?).

>Ka Xiik Keech Ya Utzil,

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

Clyde Davenport