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Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Bollingen Series)

First published in 1951, Shamanism soon became the standard work in the study of this mysterious and fascinating phenomenon. Writing as the founder of the modern study of the history of religion, Romanian √©migr√©–scholar Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) surveys the practice of Shamanism over two and a half millennia of human history, moving from the Shamanic traditions of Siberia and Central Asia–where Shamanism was first observed–to North and South America, Indonesia, Tibet, China, and beyond. In this authoritative survey, Eliade illuminates the magico-religious life of societies that give primacy of place to the figure of the Shaman–at once magician and medicine man, healer and miracle-doer, priest, mystic, and poet. Synthesizing the approaches of psychology, sociology, and ethnology, Shamanism will remain for years to come the reference book of choice for those intrigued by this practice.

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  1. Zekeriyah says

    The Definitive Classic on Shamanism This book is the ultimate book for understanding the beliefs and practices of Shamanism, written by one of the world’s foremost experts on religion and sociology. I cannot stress to you enough how thoroughly Eliade manages to cover the subject. A good portion of the book focuses on the Shamanic traditions of Siberia and Central Asia, the heartlands of Shamanism. Amongst the Mongols, Yakut, Chuckchi, Saami (Lapps) and other people of that region Shamanism was first observed, and is stil practiced today in many regions. Eliade goes into great depth about the beliefs and symbolism, about the clothing and ornamentation, about the meaning of ritual tools and amulets and much more. Everything from the axis mundi to ecstasy and trance states to helper spirits to Shamanic ideas of death and illness is covered in superb detail. But Eliade goes far beyond a simple survey of Shamanic beliefs and practices, almost literally taking you into the world of the Shaman. After reading this book, you will understand the Shamanic mindset and world view far more than you ever thought. And, as I said, Eliade goes far beyond the traditional forms of Shamanism in Siberia and Central Asia. In this encyclopedic work, Eliade explores the Shamanic traditions of the Americas (North and South), Australia, Indonesia, Oceania, Tibet, China and beyond. Even the Shamanic traditions of the ancient Indo-Euorpeans, such as the Greek myth of Orpheus, Persian views of the after world and the Germanic God Odin, are given treatment. This book is very lengthy, well written, extensivily bibliographed and filled with detailed accounts and accurate information on virtually all facets of Shamanism. I cannot recommend this book enough. Even after all these years, “Shamanism” remains perhaps the definitive book on Shamanic beliefs and thought. To truely understand Shamanism and its role in Siberia/Central Asia, you must read this book.

  2. Ian M. Slater "aylchanan" says

    Ian Myles Slater on Fifty Years and Still Going Strong I agree whole-heartedly with the many earlier reviewers who have praised this extraordinary book. However, it has given rise to some controversies, and prospective purchasers might as well be aware of them. Given the richness of the volume, I consider them minor, but a chorus of praise invites disappointment.First of all, the original French edition was in 1951 (and was one of the author’s post-war works apparently not written in his native Romanian). The revised and updated English translation (the fine work of Willard Trask) first appeared in the Bollingen series in 1964. Princeton University Press issued the Bollingen edition in paperback in 1972, and this appears to be the version currently in print. Hence, it is, obviously, more than a little out of date bibliographically. Some people are troubled by this, but there is no way the book could have been expanded to deal with the explosion of research and publications which followed its appearance (although about two hundred titles, mainly post-1948, were added to the 1964 bibliography and notes). Just be aware that it may not mention something important.[Since this review was originally posted, the MYTHOS edition for which it was written has been replaced by a new Princeton printing (January 2004), with a preface by Wendy Doniger, describing the book’s importance and limitations with clarity and considerable authority. (She is the Mircea Eliade Distingiushed Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.)]Also because of the book’s age, Eliade still used terms and ideas which were common in European scholarship in the first half of the century, but have been largely abandoned since, and in some cases never made much of an impression on the English-speaking scholarly world. He takes for granted the ancient Babylonian origin of several ideas about the cosmos, some of which the “Pan-Babylonian” school seems to have been reading into ancient texts. This has some importance for his attempts to trace the diffusion and relative ages of certain ideas. He also uses (and doesn’t really define) cultural descriptions like “Palaeo-Arctic” which originated in anthropological theories current in the 1920s. This is where the age of the book really is important to keep in mind.Of more importance are some of his working assumptions about the nature of Shamanism. Correctly observing that the word entered western European languages from Russian, which had borrowed it from Siberian tribes, he tends to regard the reindeer-herders of the Eurasian sub-Arctic as the model of “true” shamanism, in relation to which other, similar, phenomena, are to be classed. This is reasonable, but, as he sometimes suggests, the Siberian forms have a complex history of their own, and cannot be taken as primitive. It should also be kept in mind than the assumption that reindeer herding was an early precursor of full domestication has been challenged. If it is a secondary imitation of southern pastoral systems, the pristinely archaic nature of the cultures based on it cannot be taken for granted, and their internal history is not independent either.Because many Siberian forms involve elaborate physical (and sometimes verbal) gymnastics, culminating in a trance state, while others consist only in a trance state, often chemically induced, he treats the latter as secondary (and “degenerate”) offshoots. It is easier to see the difficult and complex form being simplified than it is to see a pure trance developing into a demanding theatrical display, but it is not demonstrable. However, Eliade did not intend it as a contribution to later debates over psychedelic drugs, even if it has been read as such. (Eliade doesn’t help matters by citing as corroboration for his view the widespread claim that in the “good old days” shamans didn’t just dance their flights to the otherworld, they were seen flying through the air!) A very different view is suggested Gordon Wasson’s studies of the Vedic Soma, which he relates to the use of fly agaric mushrooms as an intoxicant by the reindeer-herders Eliade invokes for the opposite purpose. In I.M. Lewis’ several studies of ecstatic religions he rather brusquely dismisses Eliade’s position; one would have hoped for a fuller response.Finally, Eliade treats out-of-body experiences (“Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy”) as definitive of shamanism, and spirit-possession as a side issue. However, possession experiences do seem to be central in several cultures which are commonly described as shamanist, and the distinction may be more important to Eliade’s need to limit the material than to anything else.I would also add that Eliade’s copious material on shamanic initiation experiences bears a striking resemblance to some accounts of extra-terrestrial abductions and medical experiments. How did Fox Mulder miss this?

  3. Brian E. Erland "Rainbow Sphinx" says

    Foundational Reference Work On Cross-Cultural Shamanic Wisdom And Practice Mircea Eliade’s foundational work ‘Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy’ is a massive 648 page resource work that was first published in ’51. Now some fifty-five years later it’s still the authoritative reference work on the history, beliefs and practices of shamanic cultures.By the way, just in case you were initially attracted by the subtitle ‘Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy’ let me warn you, it’s not that kind of book. Or if you’re looking for some entertaining reading the likes of Carlos Castaneda filled with vivid, exotic first-hand accounts of interaction with the spirits you’ll be disappointed. This is a scholarly reference work designed for serious students in sociology, anthropology, psychology and the history of religion. There’s nothing exciting here, unless you find knowledge something to get excited about.So if you’re serious about the subject of shamanic magical practices and beliefs than this is a must own volume for your library. However when it comes time to read it be sure to have a very large glass of water close at hand. It’s as dry and dusty a read as you’ll ever find.

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