22 November 2009

The Qualifications of a Shaman

This time of the year seems to be an opportune time for people who profess to be experts or 'special proponents' of supernaturalism to crawl out of the woodwork and make more money. People want to know what the next year will bring. Will they find a new love? or will their current relationship improve or their finances or career take a turn for the better. Who else to seek advice from but someone who appears to have special powers and insight? A shaman, priest/ess, obeah wo/man, psychic, faith healer - whatever they choose to call themselves. They fall into the same category.

Leslie A White, a cultural anthropologist wrote a fascinating book: 'The Evolution of Culture - The Development of Civilisation to the Fall of Rome' (1959), (sadly out of print), where he explains the cultural purpose of these people. Here is an excerpt:
"...Let us turn first to the qualifications of a shaman.
 Traffic with the supernatural world is by its very nature mysterious. Extraordinary abilities are therefore required or are at least an asset. Epileptic fits, trances, hallucination, and hysteria are mysterious experiences, and hence eminently suited to communication with the supernatural world. Dreams during trances are interpereted as visits to the land of the spirits; fits and hysteria are states produced when a spirit seizes and possess the body the shaman. This conception is preserved in our word "epilepsy" (Gr. epi, upon; lambano, seize). Hence neurotic, abnormal, and unstable individuals are better qualified for the profession of shamanism than are normal and stable persons. As Tylor long ago observed: '...In all quarters of the world the oracle-priests and diviners by familiar spirits seem really diseased in body and mind...'  More recently, Lowie has commented upon the abnormal character of the shaman: 'From Africa and Oceania, from Siberia and Tierra del Fuego we thus have evidence that shamans are either abnormal or at least temporarily capable of passing into abnormal mental states.' The advantage of abnormality in trafficking with the supernatural world is further indicated by the widespread use of drugs, liquor, fasting, self-torture, and solitude to produce temporary pathologic states as a means lor a condition of supernatural experience. Thus we see that some individuals are better qualified to become shamans than others."

4 comments:

1skepticalbrother said...

Here in the States we have no shortage of "anointed" perpendiculars. The most effective way that I've developed for dealing with these folks is to ask for on the spot demonstrations. If they claim to have the power to heal the sick, I insist that we go directly to the nearest hospital to verify their claims. If they claim to have access to special knowledge of future events, I find a newspaper and I ask if they can "predict" any past events. I adjust my evidentiary interrogation according to the depth and severity of the delusion.

Perhaps the reasons why shamans, in all of their manifestations, have always found some type of currency is because we are only partly rational mammals; that coupled with that fact that too many of us would prefer an irrational unsupported explanation to no explanation at all.

I went to high school with one of these "profits"; he goes by the self-appointed title of Master Prophet E. Bernard Jordan. You can find him pilfering the credulous on B.E.T. early in the am. This is what I call Black on Black crime at the lowest level of so called spirituality.

Dave said...

Spiritualism has a notorious tradition of fraud. Houdini was famous for exposing these scams. However, just because conmen exist does not automatically mean every practitioner of alternative spirituality is a fraud. The test is money. If someone wants to make some coin out of their supposed powers, then we can assume they are frauds. Those who don’t’ seek profit are likely sincere, perhaps misguided, perhaps not.

C Woods said...

Barnum was right.

This is just another subject on which people see what they believe.

I recommend the film "Marjoe" the 1972 Oscar-winning documentary about the lucrative Pentecostal preaching business. Marjoe (named after Mary & Joseph) had been a child evangelist. As an adult, he invited a film crew to accompany him to expose the methods used to sucker people in ---as his swan song before getting out of the business. You can find more about him online by searching for Marjoe Gortner ---but the film is worth watching. (It's available on Netflix.) Marjoe clearly borrowed some of his charismatic moves from the likes of Mick Jaggar. He is an admitted scam artist, but fascinating to watch.

Another good source for exposing scams is the James Randi Educational Foundation. The Amazing Randi is an illusionist who has exposed faith healers, astrologists, and psychics among others.

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