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Read About Shamanism

A guide by Stephan V. Beyer (Chicago, IL USA)
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There are lots of books out there about shamanism -- manuals for soul retrieval, tales of adventure, personal accounts of transformational experiences, guides to power animals, instructions for self-development. In contrast, what follows is a reading list for the scholarly study of shamanism as it is embedded and practiced in various cultures. Most of these books on shamanism are thus by anthropologists, since anthropology is the academic discipline that studies culture generally. This is, in effect, the reading list I would use if I were teaching an undergraduate university-level course in shamanism.


General Introduction

A new student of shamanism might well begin by reading two recent general introductory texts:

An Introduction to Shamanism (Introduction to Religion)
Shamanism: A Reader

Note that I am not recommending Mircea Eliade's famous study, which was published in French in 1951 and then republished in English, with some additions but no major changes, in 1964. We have learned a lot about shamanism in the fifty years since then, and these two books, I think, capture much of the current thinking about the subject. (We will list Eliade's work below under Theorizing Shamanisms.) The first is a thoughtful review of what we think we know, more or less, about shamanism; the second is an eclectic and insightful collection of excerpts, primarily from secondary sources, along with an outstanding introduction. Both are worth reading straight through.


Shamanism and the West

It is important, I think, to bear in mind that the idea of “shamanism” is simply an anthropological construct; there was no –ism to it until anthropologists put it there. Religious scholar Daniel Noel calls the concept of shamanism “fantastic, fictive, a work of imagination”; anthropologist Michael Taussig calls it “the Western projection of a Siberian name”; historian Andy Letcher calls it an “orientalist construct.” The following books address, each from its own point of view, the Western reception and understanding of shamanism — that is, the ways in which we ourselves have imagined and created it:

The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination
Shamans: Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination
Shamans/Neo-Shamans: Ecstasies, Alternative Archaeologies and Contemporary Pagans

I would suggest that beginning students read at least one of these books, just to make sure we bear in mind the interplay between a shamanism that is somehow “out there” and shamanism as a creature of our own assumptions and biases.


Shamanism in Cultures

I believe that the way to a scholarly understanding of shamanism is to study it within its particular cultural contexts. Yes, we can make generalizations about shamanism, and we can come up with general theories about its history, functions, and cultural roles. But the raw material for such generalizations — as well as of such theoretical esentialisms as Michael Harner's "core shamanism," Mircea Eliade's "shamanism," and Michael Winkelman's "psychointegration" — continues to be ethnographic studies of the ways in which shamanism actually works, for better or worse, among individuals and their cultures. Explorers, missionaries, and anthropologists have been writing ethnographies of shamanism for more than a century; but, again, we have been learning a lot lately about ethnographic fieldwork and writing, and I think the best place to begin might well be with contemporary material that deals with our own contemporary concerns.

The following books provide thoughtful views of just such shamanism-in-place, and to learn about shamanism one should read as many of these books — and books like them — as possible. In addition, these books approach the question of shamanism-in-place in different ways, and, implicitly or explicitly, take positions on what shamanism is and what shamanism does. If this were a course, I would say that a beginning student should read at least two, in order to know something in depth about shamanism in two different cultures and from two different vantage points.

Shamans of the Foye Tree: Gender, Power, and Healing among Chilean Mapuche
Shamans, Spirituality, and Cultural Revitalization: Explorations in Siberia and Beyond (Contemporary Anthropology of Religion)
Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon
The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan (Japan Library Classics)
The Gift of Life: Female Spirituality and Healing in Northern Peru (Studies in Modern German Literature)
Shamans and Elders: Experience, Knowledge, and Power among the Daur Mongols (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)
Korean Shamanism: The Cultural Paradox (Vitality of Indigenous Religions Series) (Vitality of Indigenous Religions Series)
Taming the Wind of Desire: Psychology, Medicine, and Aesthetics in Malay Shamanistic Performance (Comparative Studies of Health Systems and Medical Care)
Inuit Shamanism and Christianity: Transitions and Transformations in the Twentieth Century (Mcgill-Queen's Native and Northern Series)
The Flying Tiger: Women Shamans and Storytellers of the Amur (Mcgill-Queen's Native and Northern Series)
Dark Shamans: Kanaima and the Poetics of Violent Death


Theorizing Shamanisms

Once we have begun to think though for ourselves what is the same and what is different in shamanisms and their cultures, we can turn to those who have thought this problem through before us. Their constructs have been quite various, and the following books provide a sampling.

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Bollingen Series)
Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession
Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion
Haunted by the Archaic Shaman: Himalayan Jhakris and the Discourse on Shamanism
The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine
Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing


Shamanism and the State

In much popular literature, shamanism is presented in personal terms, as a means to individual growth or transformation or healing. But shamanism is also about power, and power is inevitably political. It should come as no surprise that shamanism is involved in warfare, conflict, politics, resistance, and the formation and dissolution of of political units.

SHAMANISM AND THE ORIGIN OF STATES: SPIRITS, POWER, AND GENDER IN EAST ASIA
Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing
Shamanism, History, and the State
Not Quite Shamans: Spirit Worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia (Culture and Society after Socialism)

Products mentioned include:
General Introduction
1.  An Introduction to Shamanism (Introduction to Religion)  by Thomas A. DuBois
$27.43 Used & New from: $20.00
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2.  Shamanism: A Reader  by Graham Harvey
$40.59 Used & New from: $31.98
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Shamanism and the West
3.  The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination  by Andrei A. Znamenski
$35.57 Used & New from: $30.02
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4.  Shamans: Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination  by Ronald Hutton
$25.34 Used & New from: $20.07
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5.  Shamans/Neo-Shamans: Ecstasies, Alternative Archaeologies and Contemporary Pagans  by Robert J. Wallis
$40.13 Used & New from: $18.38
3.7 out of 5 stars   (3)
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Shamanism in Cultures
6.  Shamans of the Foye Tree: Gender, Power, and Healing among Chilean Mapuche  by Ana Mariella Bacigalupo
$25.80 Used & New from: $14.24
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7.  Shamans, Spirituality, and Cultural Revitalization: Explorations in Siberia and Beyond (Contemporary Anthropology of Religion)  by Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer
$90.39 Used & New from: $50.29
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8.  Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon  by Stephan Beyer
$21.38 Used & New from: $18.00
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9.  The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan (Japan Library Classics)  by Carmen Blacker
$70.25 Used & New from: $40.14
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10.  The Gift of Life: Female Spirituality and Healing in Northern Peru (Studies in Modern German Literature)  by Bonnie Glass-Coffin
$25.54 Used & New from: $10.02
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11.  Shamans and Elders: Experience, Knowledge, and Power among the Daur Mongols (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)  by Caroline Humphrey
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12.  Korean Shamanism: The Cultural Paradox (Vitality of Indigenous Religions Series) (Vitality of Indigenous Religions Series)  by Chongho Kim
Used & New from: $61.74
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13.  Taming the Wind of Desire: Psychology, Medicine, and Aesthetics in Malay Shamanistic Performance (Comparative Studies of Health Systems and Medical Care)  by Carol Laderman
$32.25 Used & New from: $0.90
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14.  Inuit Shamanism and Christianity: Transitions and Transformations in the Twentieth Century (Mcgill-Queen's Native and Northern Series)  by Frédéric Laugrand
$31.46 Used & New from: $23.80
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15.  The Flying Tiger: Women Shamans and Storytellers of the Amur (Mcgill-Queen's Native and Northern Series)  by Kira Van Deusen
$29.78 Used & New from: $14.94
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16.  Dark Shamans: Kanaima and the Poetics of Violent Death  by Neil L. Whitehead
$22.13 Used & New from: $1.10
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Theorizing Shamanisms
17.  Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Bollingen Series)  by Mircea Eliade
$24.98 Used & New from: $12.84
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18.  Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession  by I. M. Lewis
$24.95 Used & New from: $10.00
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19.  Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion  by James McClenon
$20.90 Used & New from: $3.25
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20.  Haunted by the Archaic Shaman: Himalayan Jhakris and the Discourse on Shamanism  by H. Sidky
$85.50 Used & New from: $58.35
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21.  The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine  by Barbara Tedlock
$14.74 Used & New from: $4.67
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22.  Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing  by Michael Winkelman
$51.16 Used & New from: $50.16
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Shamanism and the State
23.  SHAMANISM AND THE ORIGIN OF STATES: SPIRITS, POWER, AND GENDER IN EAST ASIA  by Sarah M. Nelson
$33.20 Used & New from: $18.35
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24.  Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing  by Michael T. Taussig
$30.57 Used & New from: $8.99
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25.  Shamanism, History, and the State  by Nicholas Thomas
$22.38 Used & New from: $12.24
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26.  Not Quite Shamans: Spirit Worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia (Culture and Society after Socialism)  by Morten Axel Pedersen
$23.25 Used & New from: $16.59
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Author

Stephan V. Beyer (Chicago, IL USA)
(REAL NAME)   
Qualifications: Scholar, adventurer, expert on plant hallucinogens
Last updated: 6/23/11
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