Métraux, Alfred

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Métraux, Alfred (1902–1963) – Swiss ethnographer of Vodou in Haiti and surveyor of Amazonian and Guyanese shamanism, conducting fieldwork in the late 1940s. Métraux was the author of Voodoo in Haiti (1959), a work still cited by more recent scholars of Haitian and Caribbean possession religions. His definition of a shaman is “a person who maintains by profession and in the interest of the community an intermittent commerce with spirits, or who is possessed by them.” Métraux notes that the intensity of “religious experience” makes shamans both privileged and marginal. His account of the initiation and performance of shamans includes the ingestion of tobacco and “bark infusions,” vomiting, journeying (especially to the other world), possession, healing by fumigation and sucking (especially to remove “invisible darts”), and the ambiguity of shamans who might be sorcerers. Métraux also says that the shaman “is above all the individual who uses, for the benefit of all, the superior power of the spirits and who thwarts their evils if necessary.”


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


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