- Paperback: 125 pages
- Publisher: Waveland Pr Inc; Third edition (September 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1577661621
- ISBN-13: 978-1577661627
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in Critical Thinking Third Edition
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"It provides an important native perspective on revitalization movements. The explanation is thorough and insightful." --Tori L. Jennings, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
From the Publisher
Also by Alice Kehoe and available from Waveland Press: The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization, Second Edition (ISBN 9781577664536) and The Kensington Runestone: Approaching a Research Question Holistically (ISBN 9781577663713).
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Alice Beck Kehoe (b. 1934) specializes in fieldwork among cultures with ancient roots, especially the traditional healers and seers of North American Plains Indians. She has been a professor of anthropology and archeology at the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University. As her book’s subtitle indicates, Shamans and Religion is an “exploration in critical thinking.” Kehoe begins by establishing the actual setting of a shaman culture in Northern hemisphere areas, especially Siberia and North America. She argues that, since the late 19th century, scholars and novelists have misapplied the term shaman to healers and seers of cultures worldwide that bear no relation either to the Siberian Tungus people who produced the term or to their peculiar rituals and philosophy.
Kehoe examines how her predecessors tagged shamans as living “fossils” in the progressive evolution of religious behavior that has culminated in modern European religions. Early anthropologists surmised that shaman culture was a “childish” stage, one in which “primitive” or savage men believed in magic, much as preschool White children might. Kehoe’s intent is to distinguish proper anthropology from both the “armchair” scholarship approach of Eliade and the New Age misappropriation of shamanistic technique for individual embellishment. Shamans proper were servants of their communities, not the psychotherapy seekers that populate neo-shaman workshops in America. Now, I do not disparage the healing or emotional boost any person might experience while “journeying” at a Michael Harner Way of the Shaman workshop, but I applaud Kehoe, who chose Harner’s New Age approach to shamanism as a prime example of misappropriation and racism.
Kehoe’s effort reasserts the science in anthropology. She would ask that we at least respect indigenous religion for what it means to the culture that formed it. She takes Harner to task when he in 1990 wrote “with respect” that “shamanism” survives in “primitive peoples” and “low technology cultures” worldwide. Thus Harner homogenizes what he sees as primitive mysticism and tribal ritual into one word—shamanism. He claims to have distilled the essence of that shamanism, and then he recycles it for eager customers who want a piece of authentic “Indian” experience.
Kehoe’s last chapter, titled “Deafening Silence,” considers what Professor Yolanda Moses (president of the American Anthropological Association) said: “The silence is deafening.” Moses herself has some African ancestry and is labeled a black American. “No one seems to see themselves as racist,” says Kehoe on page 91. Professor Moses noticed that no one was saying anything about this form of academic prejudice against cultures that had no written language, thus could hardly compete in the academy with representatives. There persists a nineteenth-century notion among anthropologists, “a kind of generalized model of Primitive Man. It is an unintended legacy of Progressivism.” Kehoe was quoting William Adams who stated that in The Philosophical Roots of Anthropology. By Progressivism, Adams refers to assumptions that modern man is more evolved; therefore, we have a right to pigeonhole less-evolved cultures in our image as if they were “other” and non-Western.
To clarify Kehoe’s notion of racism further, I worked with a television news reporter in New Mexico in 1987 to produce a series called New Age: Faith, Fad, or Fiction? The reporter was Conroy Chino, a full-blooded Acoma Indian whose culture still resided on a mesa-top Pueblo outside of Albuquerque. Chino’s family males were “medicine men” who still practiced the old ways while also living as modern Americans. He told me that his people were often puzzled by white seekers who wanted to join in their rituals. “We are not doing anything special or better than their religions offer,” he said. Of course, his uncles would politely turn away these errant white folks.
While reading this book several questions came to my mind about the necessity for modern people's to give themselves the title of shaman, especially some of the people that I have encountered who just like to give themselves the title and tell themselves that they are healing people. Is our society in such need that the only way one can feel whole is if one feels that they are healing others? Shaman, heal thyself! But those are just my thoughts.
I think this is a good starter book, maybe a rewrite or newer edition is in order with all the new ethnological information available.
In the first 4 chapters Kehoe’s central points are presented:
• Eliade was an "ivory tower" type of anthropologist.
• Eliade did not go into the field to observe first hand.
• Eliade was "old school" and saw non-white people as being primitive; their religions as being primal.
• Eliade made a leap to the Shamanic experience being one of ecstasy.
• Shamans that were observed in the field were considered to be faking their journeys and magical accomplishments to the "right" field oriented anthropologists (including Alice Beck Kehoe).
• Shamanism has nothing to do with religion according to Kehoe.
• New Age folks are being flim flammed by modern "shamanic" practitioners.
• Eliade makes too many assumptions and does not follow rigorous, critical thinking processes to support his claims.
Chapter 5 is titled “Shamans Everywhere?” Kehoe gets on my bad side almost immediately by labeling believers in witchcraft as being “irrational” (an attitude that she had previously introduced in connection to primitive and barbaric cultures and how they are viewed relative to our more modern, formally schooled and respected religions and their practitioners). This intro is immediately followed by a section called Trance and Mysticism.
In this part of her book, Kehoe attempts to show that there is a societal bias towards those who involuntarily have trance-like experiences from environmental or cultural influences vs. those who voluntarily investigate these phenomena. The former are considered to be hysterical and even could be likened to problems faced by alcoholics (according to Kehoe, with a section on Alcoholics Anonymous) and the latter are described using examples of saints and native spiritual leaders. The difference seems to be split along the lines of being voluntary or involuntary and is based on study or just reaction to events.
Chapter 6 is all about “Shamanic Painters.” It is Basically Kehoe’s attempt to treat rock art and painting that are found in many cultures as just art. She says it could even be the work of children as they travel around with their families from place to place, work to work or hunt to hunt. She also discusses the works of David Lewis-Williams, introducing it as a “coffee-table” book. She then goes on to pretty much disparage his theories of a basic shamanic type of symbolic language to be found in a fundamental set of seven geometric forms or symbols: grid, parallel lines, dots, zigzag, nested curves, thin meandering lines, spirals.
Chapter 7 - “Selling ‘Shamanic Journeys’” is a good read and reports on behaviors and exploitations of cultures that probably almost anyone who has been involved with the NeoPaganism, Wicca or New Age movements have likely encountered from time to time. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen and fast buck artists out there attempting to swindle those who seek and easy path to wisdom and understanding. Kehoe presents a list of advertisers in the Shaman’s Drum magazines as examples of this type of fortune or power seekers. She says that there are probably some who think they are providing a service or a window into the real tradition but even these are wrong in what they think they are doing.
Chapter 8 is titled “Deafening Silence” yet it does not seem to be silent at all. Kehoe summarizes her arguments that Eliade did not really know as much about the subject of shamanism as he appeared to know (based on her critique of using primary sources and extensive field work). She paints him as a generalist with scant data to back up his romantic and misogynist opinions and attitudes. In this, she also seems to lump him together with others like Charles Leland and Joseph Campbell. She also carries through her continuing theme of indicting Western and European culture for being misogynistic and even racist in its attitudes and treatment of non Western cultures and especially of so-called primitive cultures. She repeats the idea that modern culture sees anyone that is non-technical or unindustrialized as being less civilized and that they are therefore primitives. She correctly disputes this idea and gives examples to demonstrate how cultures that are closer to the earth and away from modern cities actually have a superior “carry-with-you” technology. This is said to fundamentally be their ability to make what is needed easily from the available surrounding materials and without having to carry large amounts of supplies and equipment with them as they travel or explore.
Kehoe’s conclusion begins by saying that she expects that some readers of her book expected to read about exotic shamans enacting ceremonies and rituals in wild costumes , She juxtaposes this supposition with her goal which she hopes readers have learned: western society has such an ingrained racism that even anthropologists reinforce and support it when they are attempting to study other cultures. Eliade is her prime example of this earlier racism in anthropology (though she probably does not truly consider him to have been an anthropologist if I read her correctly).
Her parting words are on the topic of something she calls the “Other” (which seems to be the idea that other cultures can be stereotyped as a kind of made up and mythic people). She decries modern society’s embracing of this dichotomy between us and them to the point of saying that it is woven and so present in present civilized culture to the point that kindergarteners are shown to be indoctrinated by it in their Thanksgiving pageants. The only way to overcome this inherent racism is to embrace critical thinking and culturally specific information relative to each culture and to avoid generalizations about world cultures as people like Eliade and Campbell have done in the scholarly world and people like Harner have done in the commercial world. In short, Kehoe appears to be saying that modern culture should be a constantly evolving investigation of its own concepts at every step of its way without forming any hard and fast attitudes or social mores. I cannot fault her observations and conclusion in that respect as I think that the Druid way demands that each of us seek and support the truth in all things. However, I think that modern society as evidenced by its social networking and entertainment capabilities is programmed and controlled through imagery and suggestion. This brainwashing (or group hypnosis) is so extreme as to negate individual thinking and to enforce a seeming dictatorship of group thinking and even fad worship. We see this in Pagan circles almost as much as we see it in the general populace.
Perhaps we should not embrace one extreme or the other in our search for truth? There should probably be room for the inspirations of generalists along with the detailed fact collecting about specific cultures. In a perfect world, everyone would have degrees in anthropology, philosophy, mathematics, physical and critical thinking. Then we would all be philosopher-kings in the noblest of Platonic Utopias. Kehoe’s “deafening silence” and title for her concluding chapter are intended to point out the lack of outcry over modern, Western society’s innate racism toward other cultures and the need for critical thinking as a tool to break through all barriers. She pointedly does this in her book, yet it seems to me that she falls victim to the very enemy she is fighting in her single minded pursuit of specificity over generalization. In my opinion, one should use both tools in a pursuit of truth and openness toward all things. The irony in this struggle and debate seems to be that in seeking to negate a thing at times, our battles with it cause us to become infected by it.