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Shamanism

The shaman occupies a key role as a healer mediating between the world of the living and the world of spirits and is a potent figure in alternative medicine. Shamanism, a richly illustrated guide, looks at both historic and present-day manifestations, from the snowscaps of Siberia to the jungles of the Amazon.

The book discusses visions, initiation rites, shamanic chants, shamanism and mental health, the shamanic use of plants, and the political and social background to the shaman’s work. Also covered are the links between the shaman’s sense of unity in nature and the recent growth of ecological consciousness in Western societies.

* Includes more than 250 color illustrations that present a unique pictorial record of shamanism in practice and as represented in art and artifacts

* Includes a detailed region-by-region survey of shamanism with full-color maps

* Explores both spiritual and psychological aspects of the subject, as well as the relevance of shamanism to contemporary Western culture

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  1. Craig Chalquist, PhD, author of TERRAPSYCHOLO... says

    Start here! Anthropologist Piers Vitebsky, Head of Anthropology and Russian Northern Studies at the Scott Polar Research Institute, has been doing fieldwork among shamanic cultures since 1975. His researches range from Siberia to India to Sri Lanka and beyond. In this book he has provided a clear, non-technical introduction to a badly misunderstood field. Included: bibliographic information (including citations of his own studies) and a glossary. The book begins with a discussion of shamanism and its worldview, moves on to regional traditions, talks about shamanism from the shaman’s viewpoint, and ends with a brief discussion of the new shamanic “movements” (fads).As with “Far Eastern wisdom” reinterpreted and sold by people educated in the West, shamanism has been the target of intense cultural appropriation. A worldwide esoteric spiritual tradition has been diluted into self-help, with guided imagery exercises sold as “shamanic journeying.” As Vitebsky notes, “Many forms of neo-shamanism use elements from North American native religions which I have characterizedin this book as not strictly shamanic. In addition…native organizations have started to criticize some of these systems for cultural imperialism or intellectual piracy.” It would seem to be a characteristic of the empire psychology so many of us share but do not see that we feel entitled to uproot practices and traditions that grew up in very different societies instead of exploring our own.A strength of this book is its presentation of shamanism as actually studied in its indigenous contexts. This frees it of the choking layer of common mischaracterizations (e.g., shamanism as dark night of the soul, self-improvement method, or spiritual path for people taking drumming lessons). I often recommend this book in my graduate holistic studies classes because here in California everyone and their mother think of themselves as shamans after attending some workshops and watching a few videos. The real shaman does not decide to become one but is selected from a long shamanic lineage by imaginal guides (“spirits”) whose manifestations vary across cultures. The selectee then works as a shaman if he or she survives the initiatory illness (some do not). Nobody who has lived through the illness would choose to walk it as a spiritual path. It has nothing to do with self-improvement, and genuine shamans sometimes report feeling wounded by it for decades after enduring it.Bonuses of this book include the glossy text stock and beautiful photography. Most of the pictures are small, but evocative, especially the agonized expressions of the shamans who appear throughout the book (e.g., pages 10, 58, 65, 98, and 156). The book also discusses the arduous training the shaman will need for a lifetime of dissociating and painful ecstatic trances that (in the shamanic view) hold the energies of the world community in balance beyond the healing work done with an occasional human client.

  2. Chris Cooley-Paroczy says

    A Good Quick Reference This volume provides a good quick reference on the varying aspects and traditions of shamanism. Whilst it doesn’t boast the detail of Eliade’s Shamanism for example or contain any how to information, it is an excellent introduction for those approaching the subject for the first time. It is beautifully illustrated and does provide enough pointers to guide you in the right direction. It is supplemented by a good bibliography and a list of contacts (although how current the latter are I don’t know). Taken for what it is, an introductory text, the book achieves its goal admirably. In my opinion it is also a useful supplement to Eliade by countering the dryness of Eliades text. In summary a readable introduction to the topic.

  3. J. M. Hannam says

    An interesting look into Shamanism Vitebsky may have not put together a masterpiece with this book, however there is a multitude of excellent information within its pages. The book covers shamanism cross culturally, so you get a taste of shamanism in Siberia (where it first originated) Africa, South American, North America, and many others. Some of the information in the text may be a little dated or flawed, but if you are someone who is just getting interested in the area of shamanism I highly recommend it. The text is easy to read, has vivid pictures, isn’t too dry or boring, and doesn’t spend an exorbitant amount of time on any one thing in particular. In short it’s a fun and interesting educational read.

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