Abram, David

David Abram (1957– ) American cultural ecologist and magician, a proponent of animism who argues that Western modernity is a form of willful disconnection from the sensuous realities of the body and the earth. Abram travelled many parts of the world as an itinerant sleight-of-hand magician, living and trading magic with traditional shamans in Indonesia, Nepal, and the Americas. His work places particular emphasis on the sensorial and linguistic characteristics of the animistic worldview and stresses the ways in which alphabetic literacy has transformed and often displaced the animistic styles of seeing and speaking common to our oral, indigenous ancestors. Abram is highly sceptical of the term shamanism because he understands it to imply that shamans are central to, and even revered or worshipped by members of, “shamanistic” cultures. Abram asserts, on the contrary, that traditional shamans or medicine people are almost always edge-dwellers, commonly dwelling on the periphery of traditional villages, mediating between the human community and the more-than-human community of animals, plants, landforms, and earthly elements that surround and sustain the human group. Abram thus asserts that this ecological function—as an intermediary between humans and the rest of an enspirited nature—is essential to the craft of the shaman, and that even the shaman’s role as a healer remains rooted in this more basic ecological function. Hence, for Abram, the shaman always operates in an animistic (rather than a “shamanistic”) context, wherein every part of the sensuous cosmos is taken to be animate, sentient, and communicative.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007