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Shamanism - Essay Example

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Q1. Although shamans themselves are known for their use of verbal art as an important tool of their trade, one form of narrative that is important in shamanic traditions is the relating of stories about shamans by other members of the community. These tales may be told by friends, enemies, neighbors or clients…
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Download file to see previous pages These tales take on a legendary, epic nature. In communities that continue the shamanic traditions, narratives with shamanic protagonists serve to establish a communal code of conduct, providing a narrative model of idealized and stigmatized shamanic behaviors. They constitute a native discourse on the nature, efficacy, and dangers of shamanic practices. A practitioner's power can be described and also enhanced by such tales. Examples of such narratives can be found in Knud Ramussen's (1921) Eskimo Folk Tales. One typical story is that of Kuniseq who sets out on a spirit journey to the land of the dead with a spirit helper. The landscape is described as a slippery reef, changing into a field of heather, providing visual imagery for a better understanding of the nature of the spirit world. Kuniseq meets some children and his mother who tries to kiss him and offers him berries which he refuses, as one should never eat in the land of the dead if one intends to remain with the living. In general, the tale provides a comforting representation of the land of the dead and the supporting role of the spirit helper. When Kuniseq dies soon after this journey, it is to be happily reunited with his deceased kin. The tale illustrates the shaman's familiarity with the spirit world, emphasizing his competence and also provides information on the other world of interest to listeners. Not only does the tale provide valuable cosmological information, it also underscores the efficacy of the angakok to fulfill the task of supplyinf information on the cosmos that would otherwise be unavailable to ordinary members of the community and presents the shaman as a true Inuit hero.
Q2. In the cultural encounters between shamanic traditions and other religions or systems the former have often been vilified and condemned. Shamans have been tortured and persecuted as was reported of U.S. Navy Commander Henry Glass in his dealings with the Tlingit people in the 1890s. But even more subtle methods of discrediting and suppressing shamanic worldviews exert pressure on practitioners over time. Intercultural and interfaith confrontations can lead to the marginalization of the shaman figure, which did not necessarily enjoy total acceptance in the first place, and was sometimes regarded as a source of misfortune and suspicion even in the shaman's own cultural context. As the community evolves toward more complex systems of organization and the religious tradition becomes more firmly institutionalized with a fixed doctrine, the marginalization of the shaman can increase. Religions undergo transformation reflecting the changes in norms and circumstances of their ambient societies. Combined with external pressure and systematic suppression, particularly from missionizing religious traditions with strong doctrinal components and the superiority of the aggressors, the cultural context of the shamanic community can change to such an extent that a shift occurs and the religious beliefs predominant in the community change. There may or may not be vestiges of the old traditions remaining in form of certain rephrased rituals, or mystical figures. The shaman is gradually superseded by or transformed into the priests elected and trained by established religious institutions. An internal decline in the belief in the importance of shamanic rituals can be the result of external influences and the encroachment of alternative worldviews. State- sponsored efforts as in Soviet Russia, or ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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