Ripinsky-Naxon, Michael

Ripinsky-Naxon, Michael – Scholar whose interest in shamanism concerns the use of psychoactives, the origins of religion, and the nature of religious experience. In line with established developments in the study of religion that have broadened analysis into indigenous practices without the restrictions of theology and biases of monotheisms, Ripinsky-Naxon agrees that shamanism can suitably be approached as a religion. He argues, though, contra Mircea Eliade, that rather than being a relatively recent, degenerate development, entheogens are crucial to understanding shamanism (while this might be so in some instances, given that entheogen use in shamanism is restricted to certain areas, particularly Central America and South America, Ripinsky-Naxon overstates his case). This is in order to establish what he calls the “shamanic metaphor” and its origins, along with the “religious impulse,” in an “ur-religion”—that is, shamanism. In his volume The Nature of Shamanism: Substance and Function of a Religious Metaphor (1993), he suggests, “With the help of trance inducing psychoactive alkaloids, the different magicoreligious credos strove to forge a key capable of unlocking the doors to the cosmic arcane.” This somewhat jargonistic argument harks back to the outmoded research of Gordon Wasson on magic mushrooms as the origin of religion and revives the idea that shamanism can be seen as the earliest religion and indeed the origin of religion (arguably, such a metanarrative neglects the diversity of shamanisms and tells us more about the modern Western researcher’s predilections than about shamans themselves).

Addressing neo-shamanisms, or “New Age pop-shamanism” as he puts it, Ripinsky-Naxon agrees with other scholars that simply learning the techniques employed by a shaman does not make one a shaman. He adds that without established shamanisms in the modern West, neo-shamans tend to show “a tremendous lack of awareness, insight and sensitivity into the true shamanic experience.” In many instances, he is correct, although other scholars have also presented detailed ethnographic information on neo-shamans such as Runic John and Gordon “the Toad” MacLellan, whose roles as “shamans” are honorific rather than self-proclaimed, sensitive to other indigenes, and integrated into social relations.


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