Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Wayward Shamans

Wayward Shamans: The Prehistory of an Idea

Silvia Tomášková
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Wayward Shamans
    Book Description:

    Wayward Shamanstells the story of an idea that humanity's first expression of art, religion and creativity found form in the figure of a proto-priest known as a shaman. Tracing this classic category of the history of anthropology back to the emergence of the term in Siberia, the work follows the trajectory of European knowledge about the continent's eastern frontier. The ethnographic record left by German natural historians engaged in the Russian colonial expansion project in the 18th century includes a range of shamanic practitioners, varied by gender and age. Later accounts by exiled Russian revolutionaries noted transgendered shamans. This variation vanished, however, in the translation of shamanism into archaeology theory, where a male sorcerer emerged as the key agent of prehistoric art. More recent efforts to provide a universal shamanic explanation for rock art via South Africa and neurobiology likewise gloss over historical evidence of diversity. By contrast this book argues for recognizing indeterminacy in the categories we use, and reopening them by recalling their complex history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95531-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    “Why are shamans so popular?” a team of art historians asked recently, in a somewhat exasperated tone. They were attempting to counter the rise of shamanic interpretations in Mesoamerican prehistoric art, part of a common, widespread trend.¹ In offering accounts of the origins of the human capacity for art, religion, and even science, archaeologists regularly cast shamans as the stars of their scenarios. By the early twenty-first century, tales of powerful prehistoric sorcerers have grown familiar to both scholars and popular audiences alike. The termshamanappears regularly in reference to ancient and indigenous forms of knowledge to describe a...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Discoveries of an Imaginary Place
    (pp. 15-36)

    Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2008: “I have a Master’s degree in shamanic practice, and am a member of the association of shamanic practitioners.” The woman who organized the workshop spoke to us matter-of-factly, as if describing her accounting credentials. She described her earlier training with a psychologist, whose patients had not been getting better despite extended sessions. So she went to study with a “real shaman” in Borneo. A short discussion followed as to where exactly Borneo might be; because the organizer and the lone man in the audience could not agree, we moved on to another geographical conundrum. “The...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Strange Landscapes, Familiar Magic
    (pp. 37-52)

    By the eighteenth century, scholars and travelers throughout Europe were familiar with Siberian shamans. Even if their understanding had no depth, the term had resonance or at least sounded familiar.² Yet the stories about the shamans from earlier times did not emphasize a discovery of new, unheard of sorcerers with unprecedented skills. To the contrary, their existence did not seem to come as a surprise—they were almost expected. How are we to understand this lack of surprise, the curious anticipation of the existence of practitioners of mystical arts somewhere else in the world, especially in a place that was...

  8. CHAPTER 3 People in a Land before Time
    (pp. 53-78)

    Narratives of Russian expansion in the East are haunted by a persistent, willful ignorance, what the historian Robert Proctor called “agnotology,” a culturally and historically induced willingness not to know, a stubborn desire not to find out.² Yet as Nancy Tuana and Shannon Sullivan point out, “we cannot fully understand the complex practices of knowledge production and the variety of features that account for why something is known, without also understanding the practices that account for not knowing.”³ A striking theme, repeated from the earliest times of exploration in Siberia, was to emphasize the unknown or imperfectly known character of...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Invention of Siberian Ethnology
    (pp. 79-113)

    At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Siberia appeared as a dismal land of exile to John Perry, the Englishman working for Czar Peter the Great. Only a few decades later, Peter’s successor, the Empress Catherine, could see it as a region where happy, nomadic people colonized the land for the benefit of their benevolent rulers. Needless to say, the difference in the opinion stemmed partly from the station of the two authors. Perry, who spoke for the many foreigners living and working in Russia in the early eighteenth century, was indebted to the czar and wished to stay in...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Sex, Gender, and Encounters with Spirits
    (pp. 114-139)

    Within the general history of shamanism, the gender and sexuality of its practitioners has generated particular interest. It regularly comes up in discussions of shamans far beyond Siberia—specifically, whether men or women more frequently or naturally performed the role.² The subject has spurred many a debate over the centuries, and the debates have acquired new passion in the last few decades. Some claimed that this was a role for which only men were selected. Others have argued that traditionally women were the more “natural sex” to conduct shamanic rituals, or they have sought to demonstrate that there simply were...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Changed Men and Changed Women
    (pp. 140-161)

    One particular aspect of Siberian shamanism fascinated and repelled the early ethnographers: the apparent ability and willingness of men to change into women in order to perform ritual functions. Descriptions of this phenomenon varied widely across the sources, ranging from apprehensive denial to detailed accounts. Explanations, however, were harder to come by. Neither a German nor a Russian scientific background during the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries provided a conceptual framework that could accommodate such behavior. The early travelers found the Siberian connections between sexuality, religious ritual, performance, healing, and everyday existence confusing at best and at worst utterly incomprehensible. Although...

  12. CHAPTER 7 French Connections and the Spirits of Prehistory
    (pp. 162-188)

    How and when did shamans and their magic become a part of stories about the very remote past? The eighteenth-century scientists who roamed the far edges of Siberia regularly pondered whether the Scythians, the earliest ancestors they could conjure, came from these regions.² But how did the stories of shamans make it all the way to the earliest human creations such as the Ice Age cave paintings or rock art?³ In this chapter, I seek to highlight the tangled relationship of religion, science, and art in the formation of archaeology during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My focus will...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 189-202)

    On my very first day in Siberia in Akademgorodok, a town built for scientists in a bucolic setting near a lake, about 30 kilometers from the capitol Novosibirsk, I got hopelessly lost in the woods around the complex in which I was staying. My usually reliable sense of direction failed, and I truly did not know where I was. Even less did I know how to find my new home. On my arrival, I had briefly seen an old woman—a classic Russian “babushka”—who, from her entrance hutch, seemed to watch the comings and goings of everyone residing in...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 203-224)
  15. Bibliographic Note
    (pp. 225-226)
  16. References
    (pp. 227-262)
  17. Index
    (pp. 263-274)