Functions, Social Roles, Forms and Differentiations from Other People, Sacred Practitioners and Ecstatics
In most traditional societies that have shamans, the chief function of the shaman is healing. (Eliade, 12964,299) Shamans also do many other things like hunting, planting, giving advice for solving problems, counseling, preserving myths and traditions, and interpreting dreams, visions and ambiguous feelings. (Ibid., 326)
Though the healing often involves magic, such tried and true methods as herbal remedies, diet, massage and showing active concern for the well-being of the person seeking help also contribute significantly to the shaman's stock of healing assistance.
The shaman is "first and foremost a healer" who may have attained ecstasy at one point during initiation and perhaps at crucial points in his/her career. According to Hultktantz (Hultkrantz, 1967, 36) the shaman need not generally enter into trance except for the "summoning of his assistant spirits." At these times, the shaman may become ecstatic to contact the spirits "for consultation or active intervention, be it curing of the sick, the finding of lost articles or the discovery of secrets and future events. (Ibid.)
The McKennas see healing and acting as psychopomp as the shaman's primary functions (McKenna and McKenna, 1975, 10), with divination also being perceived as the "especial prerogative of the shaman, whatever the cultural context." (Ibid., 109) Covell interprets the Korean "Manshin" as being a "quasi-psychologist, but instead of calling on Freud or Jung, she calls on the demi-gods of Korea's cultural past." (Covell, 1983, 99)
As "mediums who through a familiar interrogate spirits as to the future or as to the cause and cure of disease", the "sky-born hereditary [Malay] magician (who may also be a chief) can invoke ancestral spirits" by "falling or pretending to fall into a trance." (Winstedt, 1951, 11-12) While in an ecstatic state, the shaman will divine the location of lost or stolen items and conduct a ceremony to draw an offending spirit out of a person's body "either into the shaman's own [body] or usually into a receptacle that contains an offering of food." (Ibid., 12) This method of spirit-baiting is common in Asia, from Tibet to Korea, and Nepal to Malaysia.
As the principal "neuron" between the sacred and profane hemispheres of life, (Karsten, 1955, 77) the shaman acts as a teacher-negotiator who serves as an intermediary with the spirit world. S/He shows his or her patients that they are responsible for their ailments and that they can re-harmonize themselves through a mutual endeavor with the shaman.
"Curing is the chief function of the Paviotso shaman." (Park, 1938, 45) The "Puhágem" treats the sick by sucking out disease objects and restoring lost souls. (Ibid., 95-96) The public performances allow everyone to participate to some extent since shamanism has been the Paviotso Indian's "principal religious activity." (Ibid., 45) Group participation was possible to a large extent because the Paviotso complex was composed of fairly simple beliefs and practices. (Ibid., 71)
Among the Havasupai, Walapai and Yavapai, supernatural power was used for curing purposes by the medicine-people. Spirits, for the Havasupai of Arizona's Grand Canyon area, are "limited in numbers and are... the familiars of shamans." (Ibid., 95, 107)
The Wintu shamans had multiple professions. "In their hands lay the transmission and moulding of speculative thought.... They were called upon to predict the outcome of hunts, to restrain inclement weather, and in many different ways were allowed to direct and shape social undertakings." (Ibid., 105)
In Penobscott society, the "Maede olinu"/drummer's main activities were outdoing each other in wonder-working, cursing and curing misfortune or illnesses. (Speck, 1919, 243) Their public functions included destroying tribal enemies (either mundane or spiritual) and dispelling group misfortunes. Families often had some member who functioned as a shamanic intermediary to ensure successful hunting and the safety of the group. (Ibid.)
The duties of the "Ki-ugwa Sowi-no" or "dreamer" were focused upon warning the tribe in advance of danger so as to avoid troubles and to assist hunting parties in finding game while "asleep" or in a self-induced, somnambulistic trance. (Ibid., 269) They were not reputed to inflict injury or curses upon each other as the "drummers" were apt to do, and were considered "harmless in their behavior towards other men." (Ibid.)
The Eskimo shaman's principal tasks include procuring assistance from the spirits of game animals to facilitate hunting, driving away evil spirits, healing the sick, changing the weather, and exploring the future. (Holtved, 1967,23) The Kalash Kafir's "dehar" also procures information about the future, and generally advises, counsels, and gives warnings based upon his connections with the spirit world. (Suger, 1967, 81)
The Nepalese "Bon-po" is responsible for curing with herbs and other medicines as well as ecstatic performances. (Schmidt, 1967, 81) Nepalese shamans often treat psychosomatic illnesses that do not greatly interrupt the daily lives of the patient, and are non-incapacitating. The tendency is to treat "neurosis" rather than "psychosis," and to focus upon both "personalistic" (spirit caused) and "naturalistic" (germ-virus caused) diseases. (Peters, 1981, 74) Tamang shamans treat disturbed individuals' emotional states and interpersonal relations rather than physical and psychic matters. (Ibid., 118)
Distinct from the "Alcuklas" or Datura administering astrologers, the Chumash "Bear Shamans" are anomalous as they tend to fulfill no culturally approved and apparent functions for their societies. (Blackburn, 1975, 41) They can not, then, be technically considered as shamans, even though they seem to have relations with the supernatural and have innate spiritual powers. In order to be a valid shaman, one's ecstasy must be channeled toward some socially accepted purpose, as the "Alcuklas'" is for divination. (Ibid., 14)
In almost all societies, shamanic practitioners demonstrate a positive force for goodness and social cohesion through their expressions of the "ecstatic capacity". (Eliade, 1964, 299) This is opposed to the anti-social tendencies of "black sorcerers,” whose behavior has more to do with self-aggrandizement than healing. "In a general way it can be said that shamanism defends life, health, fertility, the world of 'light', against death, disease, sterility, disaster, and the world of 'darkness'." (Ibid., 509)
Sun Bear sees the native medicine-person's main function as "that of a sacred teacher, one who can communicate with the many realms of reality and bring understanding." (SunBear, 1983, 25) "They designed and carried out rituals and ceremonies that marked the changes in the lives of people and of the planet." (Ibid.)
Because of her position between the realms of inspiration and perspiration, the shamanka is an evolutionary agent of high caliber. S/he "must be strong in body and dedicated in mind, possessed of self-control, and capable of mental effort beyond that of most individuals" in her society. (Rogers, 1982, 8)
The shaman's social roles are listed by Hultkrantz (1978, 37) as being those of a diviner extracting information from helping spirits or through "precognitive talents", psycho-pomp accompanying dead souls to the strange realms of the afterlife, hunting magician and charmer of animals who calls and finds game animals through spirit allies, and sacrificial priest who performs ceremonies for blessing and purification, as in the Native American pipe and sweat-lodge ceremonies.
According to Krader, the Buryat shaman has several roles:
l) mediator between man and spirits;
2) specialist in folk medicines;
3) maintainer of the culture's traditions,
4) performed of private and public rituals including:
A) Blessings on the beginnings of any sort of.
B) Exorcizing the spirits causing human illness;
C) Protecting herds and crops from disease and
D) Making prayers to weather and natural world
spirits for bounty and safety in communal and individual life journeys. (Krader, 1978, 190)
Shamans are professionals with proto-historic roots and powerful relations to their societies. (Rogers, 1982, 7) They can be both seers and mediums since both communicate with spirits while ecstatic or in other forms of consciousness or changing orientation. (Ibid., 6) In this way, a shaman can be an artist whose inspiration comes from tapping the sources of "unconscious creativity." (Nordland, 1967, 186 and Suger, 1967, 78)
As it has been mentioned, the shaman aided hunting parties in finding game animals. The Paviotso "Antelope Shaman" used dreams and trance to locate and call a herd to be captured, through the auspices of the Antelope Spirit. To show respect for the Spirit of the Antelope, all parts of the killed animals were used for food, clothing, tools and medicine. Any waste might cause the angered Antelope Spirit to withhold its bounty in the future. "Antelope charming...is the one well-recognized function of the shaman which is not heavily charged with beliefs about the cause and cure of disease. (Park, 1938, 62-66)
Among the Hungarian peoples, shaman figures took several forms. "The magician of folklore, the seers, quack-doctors, faith-healers, witches, village wise men, shepherds, wandering beggars and finally children with special birthmarks, the so-called stigmata, or other external characteristics were regarded by the Hungarian scholars as shaman-figures with roots in the distant pagan past." (Fazekas, 1967, 99)
There were several different types of Hungarian shamanic practitioners who were differentiated according to their functions. The "taltos" (Finnish = "taitoa") was a shaman, medicine-man, wizard, sorcerer, or priest-magician. The "tudos" was a scientist, scholar, learned one, knower or philosopher, not unlike the alchemist of Western Europe during the Middle Ages. The "garabonc(i)as" was a wizard/magi who, disguised as a traveling student, was able to raise storms and prognosticate the future. A "bozorkani" was an evil sorcerer or witch of maleficent behavior, and the "regos" was a minstrel, gleeman, or bard who maintained myths and legends, as well as provided amusement and general information. (Ibid.)
Since a community is human beings in relation to each other, one cannot abstract the individual from his or her social milieux. The shaman's job is to experience this wholistic perspective and to help others reach a similar state of understanding so as to facilitate a healing of social relations that are out of balance. (Peters, 1981, 95)
Paviotso shamans are differentiated from the rest of their society, in which acquiring power is the norm, through their quantitatively greater measure of connections with spirits, and not by quantitative terms. (Park, 1938, 92) The shaman also tends to use this greater reserve for healing other people, as well as him or her self and the planet. "The shaman is distinguished from the lay person not by the nature but by the strength of his supernatural experience." (Ibid., 93) In some cases, the guardian spirit met during a Vision Quest is stronger for the shaman than for the ordinary person. (Ibid., 94)
According to the McKennas , the shaman is distinguished from others in that the "shaman remains eminently individualistic, idiosyncratic, and enigmatic, standing ever apart from organized ecclesiastical institutions, while still performing important functions for the psychic and religious life of the culture." (McKenna & McKenna, 1975, 8) S/he is the "possessor of techniques of proven efficacy and of powers bordering on the para-normal." (Ibid.)
Not all ecstatics are shamans, however. Eliade argued that only those whose trance experiences followed the pattern of a trip to and from the heavens or underworld via the "Axis Mundi" or “Cosmic Tree” were classic shamans. (Eliade, 1964 cited in Hultkrantz, 1978, 31) This may, however, be too narrow a classification category. The "Axis Mundi" is only a model used to communicate the incom-municable to lay persons and other expert ecstatics. The Yakut shaman of Siberia possesses a complex vocabulary of 12,000+ words that make up a poetic language used to attempt to describe ecstatic and spiritual experiences. (Rogers, 1982, 8) This demonstrates both the difficulty of communicating these subjective experiences to non-initiates and the innovative drive of shamanic professionals.
Within Zincantecan culture in Mexico, the shaman is distinguished from his or her fellows in several ways when confronted by a test of "unstructured stimuli" composed of blurred and clear photographs of culturally familiar items, the shamans tended to:
l) avoid bafflement and impose form on diffuse sense data more than non-shamans,
2) be more productive in their responses and more generative of different responses,
3) seem to have available to themselves their own constructive categories and are relatively unresponsive to alternative categories suggested by the experimenter, which shows an "inner-directed" and "self-centered style of classification." (Schweder, 1972, 409, 412)
The shaman's capacity to impose form on stimuli that are diffuse and apparently lacking in significance is highly valued, for, "it is in situations where significance is not clear, and alternative responses are lacking that the shaman's abilities are at a premium." (Ibid., 410)
Depending upon their society, shamans may not be considered to be "abnormal" because their experiences are intricately meshed with a culturally valid, if not unusual, set of perceptions about the nature of reality. (Peters, 1981, 84) The shaman does, however, often live apart from the community in a delicate balance between group norms and the super-normal, gray areas of accepted behavior. To walk this tightrope requires a high level of sensitivity to tendencies, expectations and "rules of the game" of one's particular society. The shaman, therefore, is rarely a true socio-path or psychotic individual. If s/he were, s/he would not maintain the respect, awe, and usefulness of and to his or her community. (Rogers, 1982, 139)
For both the shaman and the psychotic, subtle natural processes are at work to produce both ecstatic trance and toxic psychosis. On the one hand is the shaman who has learned how to manipulate these subtle processes for valid reasons. On the other hand, the psychotic is an unwitting victim, and is often shunned by his or her society. (McKenna & McKenna, 1975, 97) "For both the shaman and patients suffering from protracted hysterical delirium, visual hallucinations...may reveal visions of animals and fantastic processions of ghosts and demons. The patient will utter meaningless words borrowed subconsciously from several languages." (Winstedt, 1951, 63) "There is, however, an impossible gulf between the hysterical visions of an adolescent medium and the calculated ritual of the trained shaman of mature years when intellect has taken the place of lost inspiration." (Ibid.)
Shamans also differ from priests. "Theologically,... a shaman should be regarded as having become a priestly practitioner when his divine tutelary (or tutelaries) no longer adds new revelations to his rite." (Luckert, 1979, 13) The Navaho "Singer", for instance, may not be considered a true shaman since, though they may have experienced ecstasy at some point, their ceremonial development is based primarily upon learning through rational, rote memorization of the texts of the myths that they chant. These skills are taught, and the traditions are maintained across generations. "Singers" do not seek the experiences of prophetic dreams, power sicknesses, regenerative visions and the like as shamans do.
There are of course exceptions, like the "hand-trembling" diviners, who may also be "Singers". The decision, to become a "Singer" is more often related to a desire for economic stability in old age, to the availability of a good teacher with an accurate knowledge of the Chantways and origin myths. The strongest inherent talents for a "Singer" would include a good, strong, resonant voice, a sound memory, and the patience to learn the complex and time-consuming rites. (Ibid., 12)
In other cultures, the shaman is distinguished from the priest "by virtue of his possession of supernatural power... which he uses when he performs curative rites and acts as a prophet and a seer." (Park, 1938, 9) The priest, however, works by knowledge of rituals and esoteric doctrines which are learned arts. In Malay society, the distinction between magician-priest and magician-shaman, if any at all, is that the former is initiated whilst the latter is hereditary. (Winstedt, 1951,7) The priest "has no personal powers, he is a specialist in ritual and symbolic manipulation." (Rogers, 1982, 53)
This is as true in Malaysia as it is in Nepal where the "lama proceeds step by step" according to prescribed litany, while the "Bombo proceeds by his voice," inspired by the gods and spirits. (Peters, 1981, 59) Both lama and "Bombo" are tolerated and employed by the Nepalese for different functions, depending upon their talents.
Among other ecstatic practitioners, prophets are distinguished from shamans through their inability to cure disease, though trance, dreams and visions are experienced by both. (Park, 1938, 69-70) Prophets are also differentiated from shamans, in that prophets tend to have single or infrequent ecstatic revelations which serve predominantly as simple information sources. The shaman, however, tends to contact the spirit world more often and is able to compel the spirits on behalf of his or her community, usually for some sort of healing purpose. As an example, the "Ghost Dance" visionaries were technically prophets, and "not trained shamans," because their activities were directed more to social change than towards personal or group healing via ecstatic communion with spirit entities. (Hultkrantz, 1978, 30)