David John's Reviews > Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Shamanism by Mircea Eliade
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's review
Jun 21, 2012

Read in January, 2010

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy is a dense volume of incredibly intricate and detailed research of an extremely fine scholar into the field of religious anthropology. Such is the seriousness of its subject matter that it presents itself as an excellent tool for throwing at 'new-age' practitioners of spiritual bullshit. The weight of this book may be enough to knock some sense into these urban wizards. An extract:

"It is primarily with the syndrome of the shaman's mystical vocation that we are concerned. In Siberia, the youth who is called to be a shaman attracts attention by his strange behavior; for example, he seeks solitude, becomes absentminded, loves to roam in the woods or unfrequented places, has visions, and sings in his sleep."? In some instances, this period of incubation is marked by quite serious symptoms; among the Yakut, the young man sometimes has fits of fury and easily loses consciousness, hides in the forest, feeds on the bark of trees, throws himself into water and fire, cuts himself with knives. The future shamans among the Tungus, as they approach maturity, go through a hysterical or hysteroid crisis, but sometimes their vocation manifests itself at an earlier age: the boy runs away into the mountains and remains there for a week or more, feeding on animals, which he tears to pieces with his teeth. He returns to the village, filthy, bloodstained, his clothes torn and his hair disordered, and it is only after ten or more days have passed that he begins to babble incoherent words."

I cannot recommend this book, not on the basis that it is not good, but more that it can potentially and drastically alter a perception of the world as something that resembles a Hollywood movie. This book strays far from that, and does not contain a happy ending nor a strong cast of reliable characters. It is concerned with the messy and often intimate nature of birth, life and death and even rebirth. It also verges on insanity combined with bouts of severe sickness and occasional violence. It dispels the notion that nature and traditional communities are inherently good or better than the mess of modern civilization and describes a cosmology in which evil beings exist with which the Shaman must struggle with. I will write some more after sobering up. Thanks.
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