Goodman, Felicitas

Goodman, Felicitas(1914–2005) – Anthropologist who claimed that various prehistoric remains and the imagery of certain indigenous artistic traditions point toward specific stances or “postures” that can automatically induce a trance. Ethnographic instances include “the bear posture,” based on a carving of a shaman and a bear spirit from North America’s Pacific Northwest. By adopting the pose of the shaman, according to Goodman, any human can potentially enter an altered state of consciousness. One prehistoric example is the cave art of the so-called wounded man depicted in the shaft scene of the famous cave of Lascaux in the Dordogne, France: Goodman suggests that if we take the bird-headed stick and bison as upright, the wounded man is positioned at a 37-degree angle, and that by achieving this angle (with some form of support), trance can be induced. In Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences (1990), Goodman provides numerous examples of these trance postures, as well as evidence for the efficacy of the postures in altering consciousness.

From the perspective of rock art research, the argument regarding the “wounded man” marks a good example of how such imagery is inappropriately interpreted with the Modern, 18th-century definition of art. Not only is there no reliable reason to compare cave paintings with two-dimensional canvases; there is also nothing to suggest where “up” is in the paintings—they are not to be viewed as “framed” or subject to modern Western aesthetic rules. Certainly there are demonstrable connections between the postures some shamans assume and altered consciousness (San shamans in Southern Africa, for example), but the assumption that simply sitting as an “African diviner” or reclining at a 37-degree angle automatically induces a trance is debatable.

In the vein of core shamanism and transpersonal psychology, Goodman’s argument depends on an acultural and monolithic shamanism and the decontextualizing and universalizing of prehistoric and indigenous shamanisms for Western consumption. In 1978 Goodman founded the Cuyamungue Institute in Ohio to “preserve the ancient tradition of ritual body postures as a doorway to the realm of spirit and non-ordinary consciousness known as Alternate Reality,” and the institute continues this work today.


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