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The Shamanic World-View

The term “shaman” is derived from the Siberian Tungusic root “saman”. The word Shaman usually refers to a male practitioner, whilst the word shamanka refers to a female. As a loose generalisation, it is possible to draw a composite picture of the worldview of the shaman. The universe is multi-layered, with both a celestial overworld and a chthonic underworld, with appropriate spirit rulers and other denizens. there are also rulers of the principal directions or quarters. The levels of the universe are connected by a central axis, the axis mundi which appears as a sky ladder or world tree. It is via this central axis that the shaman gains entry to all the levels of the universe.

Another central feature of the shaman’s world is that humanity, animals, and all other life is equal – the shaman is at one with nature. Such equality may be expressed for example, in terms of rituals to appease the souls of dead animals. The precise arrangement of the skulls of animals so that they face east (the place of rebirth) is found in many cultures. Both Finnish and American Plains Indians for example, perform such rites. A related concept is that of metamorphosis, being the belief that humans and animals are capable of assuming each others shape. In many genesis-stories, this ability was had by all, but it was lost, usually through taboo violation, and became the sole province of the shamanka. In South America, the most common doppelganger to the shaman is the Jaguar, so much so that the words for Jaguar and shaman are interchangeable.

The idea of a gateway between the worlds is also central to the shamanic vision. This is the entrance to other worlds, where dwell
ancestral spirits and demons. The gateway is often represented as clashing rocks, the jaws of a monster, or icebergs.

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Categories:   Paganism and Witchcraft

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