MĂ©traux, Alfred

MĂ©traux, Alfred (1902–1963) – Swiss ethnographer of Vodou in Haiti and surveyor of Amazonian and Guyanese shamanism, conducting fieldwork in the late 1940s. MĂ©traux 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.” MĂ©traux 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. MĂ©traux 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


Related Articles


Darts – In many cultures, it is thought that illnesses may be the result of assault by sorcerers, witches, enemy shamans, or even aggrieved “friendly”…


Initiation – Shamans are sometimes distinguished from other religious or cultural leaders by a particular style of initiation. In contrast with priests, who are normally…


ArawetĂ© – Indigenous Amazonian people whose shamanism is similar in some respects to that of neighboring peoples, and different in others. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro…


Sucking – A common method of healing illnesses employed by shamans while performing their duties as doctors. It is commonly understood that illness results from…