Cosmology – Shamans and their communities usually share a cosmology, a view of the world, that includes an understanding of both how everything works and how it began. Generally, shamanic cosmologies are animist, although neo-shamanism’s modernist framework is demonstrated by its central focus on individuation and its therapeutic practice. Many indigenous origin myths attribute the creation of the world or cosmos to a number of cooperating and competing other-than-human persons, including tricksters. But it is commonplace to consider that the actions of all living beings continuously co-create the world, intentionally or otherwise. Shamans may be required to mediate between communities and persons whose cocreativity is contradictory, or they may seek to mitigate the results of a creative activity that endangers their community or clients (see SAN). A fundamental problem in understanding shamanic cosmologies (and hence everything that shamans do) is raised by the question of what the world is like. Modernist (post-Enlightenment) cultures are founded on a hierarchical dualism that contrasts “nature” with “culture” (as object versus subject, materiality versus consciousness, and so on). Shamans and their animist communities may see and experience the world entirely differently. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro demonstrates the importance of perspectivism in relation to Amazonia (and his argument is supported elsewhere). The shaman’s job is “to see as others see.” On the basis that all living beings share a single culture but perceive one another differently because there are “multiple natures,” manifest forms or masks, shamans are required to see past the “multinaturalism” to the cultural being. They can then determine the probable intentions of others, especially those who are likely to be predators on human communities.

Classic accounts of shamanic cosmologies from many cultures suggest a tripartite model of the cosmos—an understanding of a three-tiered cosmos consisting of an underworld, this world, and an upper world. Shamans are required because these worlds are interconnected and their inhabitants influence each other in significant and sometimes dangerous ways. Beings from the upper or lower worlds may attack a shaman’s community, inflicting illnesses and preventing hunting. Especially in Mircea Eliade’s model of shamanism which privileges this cosmology, shamans are by definition people who can ecstatically journey between the worlds on behalf of their communities. In neo-shamanism, the other worlds are often taken to be interior to individual shamans or their clients, or archetypal and ideational locations (the “imaginal”). Thus, shamanic journeying becomes an “inner” experience parallel to Jungian and other therapeutic techniques such as visualization.


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


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