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Shamanism: Traditional and Contemporary Approaches to the Mastery of Spirits and Healing

Merete Demant Jakobsen
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Shamanism has always been of great interest to anthropologists. More recently it has been "discovered" by westerners, especially New Age followers. This book breaks new ground byexamining pristine shamanism in Greenland, among people contacted late by Western missionaries and settlers. On the basis of material only available in Danish, and presented herein English for the first time, the author questions Mircea Eliade's well-known definition of the shaman as the master of ecstasy and suggests that his role has to be seen as that of a master of spirits.

    The ambivalent nature of the shaman and the spirit world in the tough Arctic environment is then contrasted with the more benign attitude to shamanism in the New Age movement. After presenting descriptions of their organizations and accounts by participants, the author critically analyses the role of neo-shamanic courses and concludes that it is doubtful to consider what isoffered as shamanism.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-472-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. viii-ix)
    Merete Demant Jakobsen
  6. Introduction
    (pp. x-xiv)

    The otherness of the shamanic world-view has fascinated — and appalled — researchers and missionaries for centuries, just as it now fascinates modern urban Westerners. The increase in the number of shamanic courses over the last few years is just one indication of how much interest exists in the role of the shaman. I have chosen to focus on the concepts of mastery of spirits and healing from a shamanic perspective among the Greenlandic people, with a few examples from other Eskimo¹ peoples, and the New Age version of shamanism called neo-shamanism, core-shamanism or urban shamanism.

    The reasons for choosing the Greenlandic...

  7. Chapter 1 Shamanism: Definition and Description
    (pp. 1-17)

    Shamanism isstrictu sensupre-eminently a religious phenomenon of Siberia and Central Asia. Although the concept derives from the Tungus of Siberia, the role of the shaman as a mediator between the human world and the world of the spirits is known worldwide and therefore justifies the use of shamanism as a more general term. ‘There is more between heaven and earth than one can directly see. Some societies have accepted this and handed it over to some special human beings to take care of the society’s relationship to the supernatural. Such specialists that have existed as long as there...

  8. Chapter 2 Early Encounters Between Explorers, Missionaries and Shamans
    (pp. 18-38)

    Fascination with the discovery of remote corners of the world and the excitement of the encounter with the unknown have always been an important impetus behind exploration, although the actual reason for some of the journeys undertaken has been of a political nature. Some of the missionaries venturing into the same areas as the explorers might have been driven by a similar curiosity but their main purpose was the conversion of the ‘savages’. The narratives of their encounters with the belief systems of these peoples thus reflect the interaction of an alien world-view with that of Christianity.

    The shaman, and...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 39-44)
  10. Chapter 3 The Greenlandic Angakkoq
    (pp. 45-146)

    These are the thoughts that an old East Greenlandic man shared with Knud Rasmussen in an attempt to explain his outlook on life. In a few words he expresses the attitude to life among a people living under Arctic conditions. The forces of nature are merciless and therefore play a major part in the composition of the belief system. As another Greenlander expresses it:

    Our country carries secrets in its womb, that no man has any idea of. We up here live two kinds of life, in the summer under the torch of the sun and in the winter under...

  11. Chapter 4 Neo-shamanism and the New Age
    (pp. 147-207)

    Search for the meaning of life and commitment to a higher order that interacts with human existence is hardly specific to the New Age. The cave paintings of ‘shamans’, theangakkoqAua’s explanation to Knud Rasmussen about the reason for taboo rules, the New Age courses in shamanic healing, all reveal human beings perceiving themselves as relating to divine forces or energies that make sense of suffering, death and the general conditions under which they live. The search for meaning and the attempt to understand spiritual experiences are not new; what is new is the way that this search is...

  12. Chapter 5 The Revival of Shamanism in Other Cultures
    (pp. 208-215)

    As far as I have been able to discover there is no real attempt to revive the shamanic tradition in Greenland. The Christian Churches are very well attended and interest in the old traditions of the forefathers is expressed through art and literature. The Tukâk [harpoon point] theatre in Denmark, established in the 1970s on the west coast of Jutland with the intent of using native Greenlandic actors and establishing a modern mythology based on the old myths and the experiences of the young Greenlander, included shamanic elements but not séances with an audience composed of believers in the magic...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 216-223)

    The relationship between the feeling of impotence in the face of the forces of nature and the resort to magic is well documented in several studies of religion among indigenous peoples. Among the Greenlanders the task of theangakkutwas no different from shamans in other parts of the world: to keep the interaction between human beings and the forces surrounding them under control. The most important skill of theangakkutwas therefore to master spirits that could serve as helpers in a world in which an unpredictable onslaught by evil forces might occur, be it in connection with famine,...

  14. Appendix Advanced Courses in Shamanism
    (pp. 224-258)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-268)
  16. Subject Index
    (pp. 269-271)
  17. Name Index
    (pp. 272-273)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)