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Thread: The term "shamanism"... borrowed or appropriated?

  1. #11
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    But that doesn't change that fact that the statement that we have no existing terminology and therefore had to borrow it is not entirely accurate. If you take away core-shamanism, the term 'shamanism' is not one that is particularly useful or accurate to traditional or extant practices. Before Harner popularised core-shamanism and the buzz word (to borrow MonSno's wording) spread within the neopagan community, people used the term that was specific to their practice.
    I got shamanism from anthropology class---we had to read Mircea Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy. I'd never heard of Michael Harner until I started hanging out around here.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

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  2. #12
    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    ?..Before Harner popularised core-shamanism and the buzz word (to borrow MonSno's wording) spread within the neopagan community, people used the term that was specific to their practice. It wasn't until core-shamanism that we actually required a word that described a more general concept of these practices... because it wasn't until core-shamanism that we had a non-specific set of practices that were removed from their cultural context (and therefore removed from their original cultural terms)...
    In that case, I would like to suggest that developing a general term for a category of practices indicates an advance in knowledge - the realization that a wide variety of practices from a multitude of cultures share a set of similar traits.

    In many ways this is a meaningful discovery. It tells us something about how the mind/brain operates and about how it processes certain types ineffable experience, for example.

    Terms for categories do not harm specific instances in a well ordered brain. What they do is open new avenues for exploration.
    Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.

    I can't do everything, but I can do something.

  3. #13
    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    I got shamanism from anthropology class---we had to read Mircea Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy. I'd never heard of Michael Harner until I started hanging out around here.
    Then you got it from an anthropologist, and Monsno has already pointed out the controversy over the term in modern academia. You should then have also read the actual traditional terms for these practices and practitioners (I've read Eliade too and his is the comprehensive of the academic texts on my shelf). Michael Harner was an anthropologist long before he was the father of core-shamanism, and it was his academic background that's responsible for his appropriation of the term.

    I'd like to point out again that I'm not disputing the use of the term, nor the validity of using the term (which would frankly be hypocritical of me)... just the idea that we don't already have terms for those practices and practioners. You said that 'it would be different if we already had a word for it'... well we do. We don't have a word for core-shamanism (which is what I was getting at bringing Harner into it) but we have plenty of words for indigenous and traditional forms of shamanism and shamans (extant and otherwise).

  4. #14
    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by B. de Corbin View Post
    In that case, I would like to suggest that developing a general term for a category of practices indicates an advance in knowledge - the realization that a wide variety of practices from a multitude of cultures share a set of similar traits.

    In many ways this is a meaningful discovery. It tells us something about how the mind/brain operates and about how it processes certain types ineffable experience, for example.

    Terms for categories do not harm specific instances in a well ordered brain. What they do is open new avenues for exploration.
    Of course it's a meaningful discovery, and of course it represents an advance in knowledge. I'll never dispute that.

    The contoversy over the term lies in the fact that the Tungus speaking people from whom the word 'shaman' was borrowed (the Evenks peoples) are an extant culture with a living, breathing shamanic tradition. Technically, us using the term 'shaman' is no different to us using the term 'Sun Dance' to describe a non Lakota ritual. Cultural appropriation is considered harmful if it involves a living culture.. but no one seems to care about that in respect to shamanism as a term, perhaps because the shamans of Siberia and northern Asia aren't here to point it out.

    And yes, at this point I'm pretty much playing Devil's Advocate. I use the terms, but I'm acutely aware of the hypocrisy of that coming from a person who is sensitive to cultural appropriation. I wish we had another term to use to describe these techniques when stripped of their cultural context, but I'm enough of a realist to accept that we never will. It's part of modern usage, and even if academia manages to reverse the trend within anthropology, the neopagan community never will.

  5. #15
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    Then you got it from an anthropologist, and Monsno has already pointed out the controversy over the term in modern academia. You should then have also read the actual traditional terms for these practices and practitioners (I've read Eliade too and his is the comprehensive of the academic texts on my shelf). Michael Harner was an anthropologist long before he was the father of core-shamanism, and it was his academic background that's responsible for his appropriation of the term.

    I'd like to point out again that I'm not disputing the use of the term, nor the validity of using the term (which would frankly be hypocritical of me)... just the idea that we don't already have terms for those practices and practioners. You said that 'it would be different if we already had a word for it'... well we do. We don't have a word for core-shamanism (which is what I was getting at bringing Harner into it) but we have plenty of words for indigenous and traditional forms of shamanism and shamans (extant and otherwise).
    What word do we have for it? What word has a strong history in the English language that is specific to describe shamansim as a trans cultural phenomenon?
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

  6. #16
    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    What word do we have for it? What word has a strong history in the English language that is specific to describe shamansim as a trans cultural phenomenon?
    Spirit worker. Spiritual healer. Witch doctor. Medicine man. Cunning man. Hedgerider.

    Most of which were terms used by anthropologists before the term 'shaman' became common in academia.

  7. #17
    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by B. de Corbin View Post
    In that case, I would like to suggest that developing a general term for a category of practices indicates an advance in knowledge - the realization that a wide variety of practices from a multitude of cultures share a set of similar traits.

    In many ways this is a meaningful discovery. It tells us something about how the mind/brain operates and about how it processes certain types ineffable experience, for example.

    Terms for categories do not harm specific instances in a well ordered brain. What they do is open new avenues for exploration.
    I'd agree to a certain level but then it begins to detract and to my perspective actually reduce vice enhance. Placed in an academic setting and using identifiable and repeatable comparison's I think it can be a valuable tool. Yet once it passes from academia into general usage then it becomes what ever a person wants it to be or believes it to be. Academic Shamanism is often a far cry from how the pagan community in general defines the word much less utilizes it.

    Figure within the general pagan community it's hard enough to get a usable definition of things like "Witchcraft", "Wicca", etc when the belief and implied accepted practice is it's what ever you want it to be. So Shamanism becomes conflated with Totemism, Animism, Animatism, and a hundred other "ism's" I can't even think of right now. That doesn't even touch the cultural or ethnic practices that are lumped under it because people think they are close enough such as Hedge Rider, Medicine Person, Berserker (in part how it is used in Nordic beliefs), Skin Walker (not in the Navajo concept) and thousands of other words.

    That misinformation I think one of the leading causes of Shamanism within the pagan community being so strongly equated to "Healing" when culturally that was just a small portion of how those things were applied or utilized. Tending to outright ignore the many fertility / fecundity aspects, ignoring the warrior clan aspects of battle and death, ignoring the religious supporting aspect. Figure consider Shamanism is normally a practice not a spiritual pathway as the Shaman follows the spirituality of his / her people and uses the otherwords to aide and assist not to be a spiritual belief of their own.

    It's become so corrupt that in many instances it's referred to plastic shamanism or white shamanism in a derogatory usage.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    Spirit worker. Spiritual healer. Witch doctor. Medicine man. Cunning man. Hedgerider.

    Most of which were terms used by anthropologists before the term 'shaman' became common in academia.
    From Native American usage I suppose you could add things like Pipe Holder, Keeper of the Sacred Relic, Keeper of the Sacred Bundle, Shirt Wearer though today all those under white usage get lumped into Medicine Person. Then there are the negatives such as Raven Mocker, Skin Walker, etc that apply to people who use those traits for evil as defined in their own cultural parameters.

    Gets difficult to give specifics though in that for most of them the "Shaman" person or people live it as an aspect of their culture and society and you can not separate it from it's total presence. It's more than just traits or practices for those are held in place and given meaning by the social, cultural, ethical and moral influences which make up the people. That is the aspect I see most often stripped out by core-shamanism and trying to make it work as an individual belief system. To me sort of like saying these are the bones that make up the body while ignoring all the muscles, tendons, organs, etc that actually are what give the body life and form.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by SonoftheWaters View Post
    You know, I have been studying a very long time and this argument on Shamanism/Shaman being the correct term or not has been coming up only over the last few years, what does it matter if it gets the message across? I grew up on the Res and all the shamans and elders I have ever talked to just said shaman unless they were speaking their native tongue, which most don't anymore, this goes for the ones in Alaska and the ones in Oklahoma. Where did this argument really come from in the first place?
    I can say this argument from my pathwalk has been around since at least 1977, so for me it's not something that has just arisen. Very closely tied to the argument that went on for a number of years trying to tie Totemism and Shamanism together. Ignoring the perspective that Totem's didn't apply to shamanic work or practices in the manner that the word came to be recognized as, especially as paganism came more into the open in the 90's and later.

    I do admit you intrigue me in using elders and reservation's and placing "Shaman" as a word they used. While I have never been on a reservation the Eastern Tsagali (Cherokee) I've know would never use the word Shaman to describe their people or practices. The only Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Oglala (Sioux nations) I've ever spoken to that used Shaman was a person who wrote books to sell to white people and make a dime off the practice. Pretty much disowned by their elders and heads of those nations. In fact a great many so called Native writer's who use "Shaman" or "Shamanic" or even "Medicine Person" to sell books have been either disowned by their supposed nations and called out for it or lay claim to a nation that can never be proven. Most not even willing to speak to anyone outside of their respective nation about their spirituality and cultural practices as they are all rolled into one. I point out the Tsagali and Lakota as those two nations seem to be the most exploited of the Native American peoples though some other's are hit piece meal like the Zuni and their Fetches.

    As for the argument I'd say it started in academia some years ago as the notion of cultural appropriation became more and more debated. Then crossed over into the debate of exploiting people's of color and robbing their cultural faces and words / concepts. The academic debate probably as early as the late 50's early 60's, the cultural and ethnic debate I started seeing in the late 90's though it seem's to have taken hold in my opinion more in say the last 10 - 15 years.
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  8. #18
    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by monsno_leedra View Post
    Figure within the general pagan community it's hard enough to get a usable definition of things like "Witchcraft", "Wicca", etc when the belief and implied accepted practice is it's what ever you want it to be...
    Yes! Isn't it wonderful!

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  9. #19
    Live and learn anunitu's Avatar
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    Re: The term "shamanism"... borrowed or appropriated?

    I would favor you with my beliefs,but I am way to lazy to bother....and you would not understand anyway.
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  10. #20
    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: The term "shamanism"... borrowed or appropriated?

    Quote Originally Posted by anunitu View Post
    I would favor you with my beliefs, but ...you would not understand anyway.
    I know you, so I know this is a complement...

    Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.

    I can't do everything, but I can do something.

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