Shamanisms Today
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 21: 307-330 (Volume publication date October 1992)
Jane Monnig Atkinson
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor….

My dearest Simone,

I’ve used the word “shaman” without much depth of thought as to what shaped the meaning of that word for me. When I think shaman, I think of someone who is especially observant, skilled at mediation (person to person or person to “spirit”) and less bound by the popular cultural rituals while at the same time putting off a sense of a greater awareness of the heart of the culture. I have little connection to Atkinson’s statement that “the identification so shamanism with altered states of consciousness has become so strong that indeed the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.” It’s not as though I have no association between shaman and person who engages in trance-like states; the one just doesn’t immediately call to mind the other. And while I associate shamanisms – the plural in use to say that definitions of shamanism vary by culture – with healing and spirituality, I don’t have a strong sense of those characteristics being absolutely required for use of the term. Perhaps this is because I haven’t had much contact with some of the early writing on shamanism?

Atkinson says that D. Holmberg and M. Taussig argue that shamans “engage in the disruption of order (conceptual, psychic, social), but shamans create and sustain order as well – the coherence and viability of their patient’s beings, the continuity of a community, or the well-being of a household.” This statement speaks well to my view of shamans being in touch with the heart of the culture, any culture. I don’t think of shamanism being a term to be applied to non-Western cultures exclusively. Even some of the more exoticized descriptions of shamanism aren’t that exotic to me because there was a lot of those types of behaviors integrated into the Christian practices where I grew up (Mississippi) – trance-like states involving communion with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, holy dancing, laying of hands to heal and the like. I think in rural Mississippi, Catholicism was a lot more exotic than most varieties of shamanism.

So it looks like I must stop here if I am to publish this before heading out to do my bit of volunteer work. This is a good change of pace from my usual mad dash to publish before midnight after returning home. Now if I could only be a little better about integrating outside reading…