Category: Michael Berman

Shamanism: is it a religion?

MICHAEL BERMAN. The question of whether Shamanism is a religion, a way of life, or a methodology will be considered, and the implications that this has on the attitude towards, and serious study of the subject. Even acknowledged experts in the field appear to skirt the issue of whether Shamanism can be regarded as a religion or not. It would seem that for some people the word religion has negative connotations and they do their best to avoid it at all costs – partly perhaps because it is unfashionable, partly perhaps because it is so difficult to define. The intention in this paper, however, is to tackle the question head-on, in the hope of contributing something new to the discussion.

Mulla Nasruddin on the subject of death, and what happens after

MICHAEL BERMAN. One of the most effective ways of coming to terms with questions that trouble us and we can find no answer to is sometimes to laugh about them. Mulla Nasruddin, the Sufi visionary who lived during the 13th century, was an expert at helping people to do this through his stories. In our conditioning, we see things as either right or wrong, black or white. Linear thinking does not allow one to think holistically. Our minds wrestle in the dark dens of logic and lose the gist of life. However, the Sufi teaching tales, like koans of the Zen tradition, reveal the paradoxes of conditioned living and they do so with humour as the following examples show. Mulla Nasrudin, celebrating his 95th birthday was asked by a friend “Don’t you hate growing old, Mulla?” “Definitely not.” said Nasrudin. “If I wasn’t growing old, I’d be dead.”

Svaneti – where the Living feed the Dead and the Dead feed the Living

MICHAEL BERMAN. In ‘The Cafeteria’, a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, one of the characters asks the question “How can we hope when everything ends in death?” The answer given is that “Hope in itself is a proof there is no death.” The point being made is that as so few people can ever really accept they are dying, in a sense death does not exist for them. And in another short tale by this master storyteller, ‘The Power of Darkness’, Singer offers a possible explanation as to why people die – “The living die so the dead may live”. The dead live on in our memories.

Where The Two Magicians Come From

MICHAEL BERMAN. “The Two Magicians” first appears in print in 1828 in two sources, Peter Buchan’s Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland and John Wilson’s Noctes Ambrosianae #40. It was later published as number 44 of Francis James Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads, and it is this version that is presented below. The ballad tells the tale of a blacksmith. He threatens to take the virginity of a lady, but she vows to keep herself a maiden. A transformation chase ensues, differing in several variants, but containing such things as she becomes a hare, and he catches her as greyhound, she became a duck and he became either a water dog or a drake.

The Girl without Hands and the number Seven

MICHAEL BERMAN. Before considering the importance of the number seven, here is a story, taken from Household Tales, by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm (1812) Margaret Hunt, tr., in which it features prominently. (This, however, is just one of a host of traditional tales that could have been used to illustrate the significance of the number). A certain miller had little by little fallen into poverty, and had nothing left but his mill and a large apple-tree behind it. Once when he had gone into the forest to fetch wood, an old man stepped up to him whom he had never seen before, and said, “Why dost thou plague thyself with cutting wood, I will make thee rich, if thou wilt promise me what is standing behind the mill?” “What can that be but my apple-tree?” thought the miller, and said, “Yes,” and gave a written promise to the stranger. He, however, laughed mockingly and said, “When three years have passed, I will come and carry away what belongs to me,” and then he went.

Holy Wells and the Power of Water

MICHAEL BERMAN. Wells have long been believed to possess the power to heal, if not cure, illnesses of various kinds. After some background information on the subject, three of the many that can be found in the west of England will be presented in this article. Wells have a long tradition of marking sacred places. The Waters have been described as the reservoir of all the potentialities of existence because they not only precede every form but they also serve to sustain every creation. Immersion is equivalent to dissolution of form, in other words death, whereas emergence repeats the cosmogonic act of formal manifestation, in other words re-birth. And, following on from this, the surface of water can be defined as “the meeting place and doorway from one realm to another: from that which is revealed to that which is hidden, from conscious to unconscious”.

The Transformative Power of Water

MICHAEL BERMAN. The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper, and water, in particular its healing and transformative powers, is one of these great mysteries.

The Transformative Power of the Wind

MICHAEL BERMAN. Have you noticed how the one thing people are always doing about the wind is complaining? They complain about the wind blowing rain into their faces, blowing their umbrellas inside out, spoiling their new hairdos, chilling their bones, causing a draft, blowing their newspapers away or their candles out etc., etc. The one thing they never seem to do is to acknowledge, how without it, life as we know it would probably cease to exist. The following Native American etiological tale touches on this subject, and reminds us of the folly of taking what we have been blessed with for granted.