Sham

Sham – Neo-shamanism is often alleged to be a false shamanism, a pretense or self-delusion based on the wish by colonialists to acquire the metaphorical gold of indigenous spirituality. Early travelers and anthropologists were equally persuaded that Siberian shamans, Native American medicine people, and similar people elsewhere were tricking their communities into believing they had exceptional powers. Allegations that such people were “merely jugglers, sleight-ofhand tricksters and ventriloquists” miss the point that indigenous communities, too, were perfectly able to identify these kinds of tricks. In Gerald Vizenor’s rendition of 19th-century Ojibwe accounts (Summer in the Spring), the term tchissakiwinini is glossed as “jugglers” and “masters of ventriloquism.” The narrator, however, says that “at a given signal all would join in” a chant, and a powerful other-than-human person “had arrived and was ready to listen to and answer any inquiries they had to make.” Similar descriptions of deliberate and open shamming are common elsewhere and can be interpreted as a blend of communal entertainment, preparation, and focusing. Like masks and costumes, shamming also served to help the community pay less attention to the presence of the shaman and more to the activities of shamanizing. Unfortunately, much of the shamming of shamanism appears to have been abandoned (shammed, perhaps) under the influence of modernist colonization. However, the mockery of shamans in Soviet pedagogical satires, and the pseudo-shamanic rituals-as-theater in the cultural revitalization movements in postSoviet republics, can be perceived as genuine moments of shamanic performance that restore the traditional sham to shamanizing.

SOURCE:

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

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