Shamanism: is it a religion?

other contributors bannerby 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.

The Pagan Federation defines Paganism as the practice of polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religions, and includes Shamanism under its umbrella. It will be argued, however, that whether Shamanism is actually pantheistic or not is debatable, and perhaps something that needs to be reconsidered.

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. If you asked everyone you know to come up with a definition of religion, it is highly unlikely any two of them would be able to agree. That is because there are so many factors involved – the religion of your parents, your education, your cultural background, and so on. Neo-shamanic movements tend to take the view that shamanism is opposed to institutionalized religion and political systems and refer to a democratization of shamanism in which everyone can be empowered to become their own shaman. They think of shamanism not so much as a religion but as “a view of reality and an effective technique” (Vitebsky, 2001, p.151). To see the world through rose-coloured spectacles is a view of reality and working out in a gym might be aneffective technique for losing weight. However, both expressions used to refer to shamanism do nothing but trivialize the role it has played in the lives of people. To be fair to Vitebsky, however, it should be pointed out he is referring here to what he believes those he has studied think and not necessarily to what he thinks himself.

Drury asserts that “It is possible to speak of shamanism as a universal mode linking man with the cosmos by means of the magical journey” (Drury, 1982, p. xi), Halifax refers to shamanism as “an ecstatic religious complex” (Halifax, 1991, p.3), Jakobsen labels it a “complex of behaviour” (Jakobsen, 1999, p.6), Walsh calls shamanism “a religious tradition, implying that it has definite religious elements but may not always meet sociologists’ technical definition of religion” (Walsh, 1990, pp.12-13), Ingerman describes it as a “system” and “a path to accessing spiritual information”(Ingerman, 1993, p.4), and Harner considers shamanism to be a methodology rather than a religion. He says “Shamanism represents the most widespread and ancient methodological system of mind-body healing known to humanity” (Harner, 1990, p.40).

As William James points out, “the process of remedying inner incompleteness and reducing inner discord is a general psychological process, which may take place with any sort of mental material, and need not necessarily assume the religious form”(James, 1982, p.175). But are the above definitions really meaningful and appropriate ways of describing what shamanism is? Let us take a closer look at them.

As for a universal mode, a universal mode of what? And what is a religious complex? Does the noun here refer to a group of similar buildings or facilities on one site, an abnormal mental state resulting from past experience or suppressed desires, or an extremely strong concern or fear? None of these dictionary definitions of the word would seem to be at all appropriate. Perhaps we are supposed to assume the wordcomplex is being used here to refer to practices related to spiritual matters which take a particular form, but the meaning is not at all clear. The term religious traditionat least employs the word that seems to frighten so many people in its adjectival form. But a religious tradition belonging to whom and consisting of what? Various classes offered to members of Health Clubs are described as systems of mind-body healing but we know for a fact shamanism has played a much greater role than such sessions do in people’s lives. Those looking for a path to accessing spiritual information, might find one reading the daily horoscope in a tabloid or gazing into a crystal ball. As for a methodology, the collocations the methodology of language teaching and the methodology of research are in common use but it is doubtful whether the term is particularly apt or illuminating to refer to shamanism.

It could be argued that Drury, Halifax, Jakobsen, Walsh, Ingerman and Harner are intentionally begging the question and they are not alone in this respect. Another way of avoiding the issue can be found in the following quote taken from an article by Hultkrantz. “For some people religion is supposed to mean institutionalized religion with a priesthood and a growing class society. In this light, shamanism is of course a pre-religious phenomenon” (Hultkrantz, 1988, p.36). Hultkrantz has also referred to shamanism as “a religious configuration” (a mythico-ritual system) (Backman and Hultkrantz 1978, pp. 10-11), but this too can be seen as a way of avoiding the question of whether it is a religion or not.

If religion refers to the experience of the sacred rather than belief in a God or gods, then this is surely what is experienced by not only the shaman but also those who witness or participate in his practices. It can consequently be argued both shamanism and neo-shamanism can be classified under the heading of religion. The problem, however, is that this might not be a heading that neo-shamanists would necessarily be comfortable with.

Jung once described religions as “psychotherapeutic systems … We [psychotherapists] are trying to heal the suffering of the human mind, of the human psyche or the human soul, and religion deals with the same problem” (Jung, 1977, p.162). And shamanism can surely be classified as one such system in that it is made use of by healers and therapists. It is unlikely, however, that many believers would be prepared to accept that this is all that a religion consists of.

Radin suggests religion includes “a belief in spirits outside of man, conceived of as more powerful than man and as controlling all those elements in life upon which he lays most stress” (Radin, 1957, p.3). However, some neo-shamanists would argue that “rather than there actually being other universes, [and spirits outside of man]the beliefs and associated rituals [can] serve to dramatise aspects of the quest within” (Heelas, 1996, p.89). They might also be of the opinion that through shamanic practices we can in fact take control of our lives. Consequently, this definition would seem to be unsatisfactory too.

Durkheim, the father of the sociology of religion, defines religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and surrounded by prohibitions–beliefs and practices that unite its adherents in a single moral community called a church” (Durkheim, 2001, p.46). A church is defined as “A society whose members are united because they share a common conception of the sacred world and its relation to the profane world, and who translate this common conception into identical practices” (Durkheim, 2001, p.43) and does not necessarily require a building to operate in.

He differentiates between religion and belief in magic by suggesting that the latter does not unite those who practise it into a group leading a common life (see Jones, 1986, pp. 115-155). There are, however, both solitary witches who celebrate their beliefs by themselves and societies of magicians. Consequently, there would seem to be both religions without any churches as well as moral communities of magicians, and for these reasons it has to be concluded that Durkheim’s definition is far from being all-inclusive. Moreover, is a religion merely a moral community or is it not in fact something more than that?

According to Durkheim “There is religion when the sacred is distinguished from the profane, and we have seen that totemism is a vast system of sacred things”(Durkheim, 2001, p.136). He also makes the point that “In addition to being a spiritual discipline, every religion is a kind of practice that allows man to face the world with more confidence” (Durkheim, 2001, p.142). Having a practitioner to act as a mediator on behalf of the community would certainly allow its members to face the world with more confidence. However, it has to be said that not only religion allows people to do this with more confidence. Being a member of a football supporters club or a political organisation might have just the same effect too.

Max Muller saw all religion as “an effort to conceive of the inconceivable and to express the inexpressible, an inspiration toward the infinite” (Muller, 1873, p.18). Unlike Durkheim’s, this is a more poetic definition but it is surely something man could attempt to do on his own so is what is being defined necessarily a religion?

William James defined religion as “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider to be the divine. Since the relation may be either moral, physical, or ritual, it is evident that out of religion in the sense in which we take it, theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical organizations may secondarily grow” (James, 1982, p.31).

However, it has to be remembered that James considered institutions to be compromisers of the religious impulse, which is probably why the definition makes no mention of the communal places of worship in which most religions are practised or the organizations that regulate and monitor such practice. Jean Houston points out, referring specifically to shamanism, it is possible to have spiritual experience and revelation direct and unmediated by institutional structures and doctrine. And she comments on how this appeals to those who seek autonomy in the spiritual journey (Houston, 1987, p. vii). This aspect of shamanism would presumably have appealed to James too, though clearly not to those who consider institution and doctrine to be an integral part of religious life.

William James considered prayer to be religion in act. “It is prayer that distinguishes the religious phenomenon from such similar or neighboring phenomena as purely moral or aesthetic sentiment … the very movement itself of the soul, putting itself in a personal relation of contact with the mysterious power of which it feels the presence, – it may be even before it has a name by which to call it. Wherever this interior prayer is lacking, there is no religion” (James, 1982, p.464).

However, can it be said shamans pray in any conventional sense of the word? Does negotiating with the spirits consist of prayer? The answer must surely be that it does not, and indigenous shamans would of course certainly not describe what they do in such terms. Consequently, if we accepted this definition of religion, shamanism would find itself excluded. Another approach to defining religion is to consider the characteristic forms religion takes, which is what Ninian Smart does. He considers most religions have seven main dimensions: the experiential, the mythic, the doctrinal, the ethical, the ritual, the social/instructional, and the material. From this Chryssides concludes that a group of people can be said to constitute a religious group if they operate functionally as a religion – that is to say, if they offer a means of coping with the key events and the adversities and misfortunes of life, using the key characteristics of religious practice which are identified by scholars such as Smart” (Chryssides, 1999, pp.14-15).

However, whether such people wish to regard themselves as a religious group or not is another matter, as is evident from the widespread fear of the word that seems to prevail within certain circles these days. Although the shaman was believed to possess the power to shape-shift, the ordinary man was basically uninterested in such questions and “accepted the interpretations of the shaman in his capacity as formulator just as he accepted the fact that the shaman alone possessed the power of transforming himself into an animal” (Radin, 1957, p.206). As Eliade points out, wherever the immediate fate of the soul is not at issue, wherever there is no question of sickness (= loss of the soul) or death, or of misfortune, or of a great sacrificial rite involving some ecstatic experience, the shaman is not indispensable[to the shamanist] as a large part of religious life takes place without him” (Eliade, 1989, p.8).

It can be seen from this example how shamanism differs from the more universally accepted religions, in that the shamanist rarely participated actively in religious life, unlike a regular churchgoer, for example. A case can be made for regarding both shamanism and neo-shamanism as a way of life, so making it possible for people of any religious persuasion to make use of the techniques. The cynic would say this has the added advantage of providing the means for such practitioners to attract larger fee-paying audiences to their workshops. The way in which shamanism can be practised alongside other religious beliefs, in the manner described in the following quote, gives further support to the case for regarding shamanism to be more a way of life than a distinct religion:

[In the case of the Kazak-Kirgiz baqca, the shamanic séance] begins with an invocation to Allah and the Moslem saints, and continues with an appeal to the jinni and threats to the evil spirits. The baqca sings on and on. At a certain moment the spirits take possession of him, and during this trance he “walks barefoot over red-hot iron” and several times introduces a lighted wick into his mouth. He touches the red-hot iron with his tongue and “with a knife, sharp as a razor, strikes at his face, leaving no visible mark.” After these shamanic exploits he again invokes Allah: “O God, bestow happiness! Oh, deign to look on my tears! I implore thy help! …”Invocation of the Supreme God is not incompatible with shamanic healing, and we shall find it again among some peoples of extreme northeastern Siberia (Eliade, 1989, pp.219-220).
[The quotes are taken from “Magie et exorcisme chez les Kazak-Kirghizes et autres peoples turcs orientaux,” by J. Castagne].

In view of the fact shamanism has no catalogue of doctrines or index of moral declarations, no buildings in which to honour its deities, no prayers to be recited, no hierarchy of power, and there is no devotion to a messianic cause, in the eyes of many it is doubtful whether it can be called religious. Hultkrantz, however, believes that since the supernatural world is the world of religion, shamanism can be said to play a religious role. On the other hand, the Hungarian researcher Mihaly Hoppal proposes a more secularized interpretation of its practices. “Shamanism is a complex system of beliefs which includes the knowledge of and belief in the names of helping spirits in the shamanic pantheon, the memory of certain texts (sermons, shaman-songs, legends, myths, etc.), the rules for activities (rituals, sacrifices, the technique of ecstasy, etc.) and the objects, tools and paraphernalia used by shamans (drum, stick, bow, mirror, costumes, etc.). All these components are closely connected by beliefs given in the shamanic complex … [Shamanism is] an overtly altruistic ideology which, in our egoistic and materialistic times, contains a decisively positive program for life (Nicholson, 1987, p.95).

So Hultrantz believes shamanism plays a religious role and Hoppal refers to it as an ideology. From this it can be concluded shamanism both is and is not a religion and we are left even more confused than before. On the one hand it stands apart from institutionalized religion, and yet at the same time it participates in an ancient mystical tradition that possibly predates all others.

If it is agreed shamanism is more a set of techniques than a philosophy and organization, which is currently the most commonly held view, it would perhaps be inaccurate to describe it as a religion per se. There remains, however, another possibility, yet to be considered, which is that shamanism, particularly in its classic form is not a religion, methodology, a way of life or a set of practices but a religion of ritual observance, centred on the dramatization of the death and resurrection of the shaman (rather than the figure of the King as in Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Canaan) in whom the well-being of the client and of the whole community rests.

It is customary for religions to involve some sort of ritual observance, such as the sacraments of Christianity, the five daily prayers facing Mecca of Islam, or the elaborate rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. Indeed, as Gray (2004) points out, a strong case can be made for the fact that the heart of spiritual life is not to be found in doctrine but lies in practice in ritual, observance and sometimes even mystical experience. If we consider some of the major religions for example nothing as simple as a creed can be extracted from the complex practices of Hinduism, Buddhism has never attached importance to doctrine, and in Judaism priority is given to practice rather than belief and this applies to some Sufi traditions too.

The phrase religion of ritual observance has been used in particular to describe Shinto – “a religion not of theology but of ritual observance” (Driver, 1991, p.38)1. But it would seem to me that much the same could be said of shamanism. The advantage of this description is that it is more likely to be acceptable to New-Agers who might consider the word religion on its own to be an unacceptable way of describing what they practise, as well as to members of the predominant religions who might consider, for various reasons, that shamanism should not be included among their number. Having considered the various options, it is this description that will finally be settled on.

Other religions, apart from Shinto, could also be listed under this heading, Wicca for example. As in the case of Shinto, there is no one bible or prayer book in Wicca and the primary concern is not ethics, dogma, or theology. Rather, it is a religion of ritual practice. These practices include marking eight holiday sabbats in the wheel of the year, falling on the solstices, equinoxes and the four cross quarter days on or about the first of February, May, August and November. Many Wiccans also mark esbats, rituals for worship in accordance with a given moon phase (such as the night of the full moon).

The Australian Aborigines can be said to practise a religion of ritual observance too as James Cowan expressively conveys [T]he Aborigines have made the face of the earth their Bhagavad Gita, their Torah, their Bible or Koran. Indeed ‘the Dreaming’ is the Aboriginal Ark of the Covenant which they have been carrying about the Australian continent since the beginning of time” (Cowan, 1992, pp.2-3).

According to William James, personal religious experience has its basis in mystical states of consciousness and these can be recognized by the four qualities they share. First of all, such states are ineffable – in other words, they have to be directly experienced as they cannot be imparted to others in any other way. Secondly, they have a noetic quality in that they appear to those who experience them to be states of knowledge. Thirdly, they are transient and do not last, and fourthly their passivity. For although the oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, once the state has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance and held by a superior power (see James, 1982, pp.379-381). By this definition, the genuine ecstatic shamanic state is clearly mystical.

It is also the case that Shamans … “are separated from the rest of the community by the intensity of their own religious experience. In other words, it would be more correct to class shamanism among the mysticisms than with what is commonly called a religion” … A comparison at once comes to mind – that of monks, mystics, and saints within Christian churches (Eliade, 1964, p.8). Consequently, it might in fact be more correct to describe shamanism as a mystical form of religion of ritual observance. Moreover, as Joseph Dan points out “A unique characteristic of mysticism that is opposed, in most cases, to ordinary religious experience is the denial of the languages’ ability to express religious truth … [with mystics claiming] that truth lies beyond any possibility of expression by terms derived from sensual experience or logical deduction” (Dan, 2006, p.9). No doubt the majority of shamanic practitioners would share this view, based on the difficulty encountered in conveying to others in words what they experience on their “journeys”, another reason for incorporating the word “mystical” into the definition.

In regarding shamanism as a religion, I am not a lone voice. Albanese (1992) sees such groups as forming a kind of religion too in that they have cultus, code, creed and community, and so fulfil the criteria she deems necessary before a religion can be classified as such. Further evidence to support the case for classifying shamanism under the heading of religion can be found in the following extract from an article by Ripinsky-Naxon (1992). “The essential core of shamanism or any religious institution, for that matter, can be described by the fact that it consists of a system of rituals and beliefs – not necessarily a codified corpus of dogma which defines its mystical character. … Ancient and classic shamanism was not characterized by a common object of worship (e.g. a sun-god or a Buddha) or by a codified body of scriptures. Traditional shamanism has consisted of specific techniques and ideologies that could be used to address issues and problems of spiritual concern. … From time to time, a voice is heard challenging shamanism as a religion on the grounds that it lacks a body of scriptures and a priestly hierarchy, in contrast to the recognized world religions. Such claims, however, cannot divest genuine shamanism of its ritualism, spiritualism, magico-mythic elements, and eschatology–all the essential ingredients of a bona fide religious complex. … Any genuine numinous and mystical experience of the preternatural, be it highly personal or structured by codices, must be recognized as part of a religious phenomenology. As such it must fall within the domain of religion.

In Altaiskii shamanism (1991) Popatov makes out a strong case for regarding shamanism as a religion too. He suggests that to make a judgment about a religion, we need to look into its content and argues that the foundation of shamanism is a specific shamanic world view that incorporates universal religious canons which are also characteristic for many other religious traditions. These include the concept of a threelayered universe with its heavenly, earthly and underworld spheres, a socalled
world tree that connects the different spheres together, and the universal concept of the world mountain (see Znamenski, 2003, pp.211-213).

If we define religion as “a category label used in [modern] Western societies to cover belief in transcendental power or deity, rituals expressing that belief, a group’s worldview or cosmology, and myths explaining the works of the power or deity and associated beings” (Kehoe, 2000, p.25) and if we accept that organizations or communities in which these sorts of behaviour can be practised and taught are labelled religions, we can thus conclude there are religions with cosmological systems that incorporate the use of shamanic techniques, just as there are religions with cosmological systems that incorporate the use of Christian practices, scattered around the world. And by classifying shamanism as a religion in this manner, we can avoid the devaluation of its significance and function and thus ensure it is treated with the full consideration and respect it deserves.

According to Krippner (2002) “those writers who call shamanism a ‘religion’ ignore the fact that there are Buddhist shamans, Christian shamans, Muslim shamans, pagan shamans, and so forth”. But are there? Does anyone claim to be a Christian shaman? It is much more likely such a person would claim to be a Christian who makes use of shamanic techniques. And even if they were to call themselves Christian shamans, I doubt whether the church authorities would approve of the way they chose to describe themselves. What we can say is there are certainly shamans who make use of Christian rituals and the names of Christian Saints such as the curanderos in Spanish speaking South America or the practitioners of macumba in Brazil, but that does not mean they are necessarily Christians. What we call shamanism, what we consider it to be, will clearly affect its standing in both the popular and the academic world.

The fact of the matter is that in any study of contemporary Western spaces the problem of religion is likely to arise. “The terms ‘religion’, ‘religious’, and ‘religions’ … will be heard repeatedly, and will be brought into play by actors and commentators eager to name, claim, or denounce people, things, events, and places, and to explain their nature” (Knott, 2005, pp.82-83). By attempting to show shamanism can indeed be classified under the heading of religion, it is hoped this work will contribute to the advancement of knowledge by showing it consequently deserves to be taken seriously. It should not be forgotten, however, that “concepts are products of scholars’ cognitive operations to be put to work in the service of scholars’ theoretical interest in the objects of their research. Concepts are not given off by the objects of our interest” (Braun & McCutcheon, 2000, p.9). Indeed, religion itself can be regarded as nothing more than an intellectual invention of modernity.

Another reason for associating shamanism with the word religion is that [I]findigenous religious perspectives continue to be ignored, or at least marginalized in academic circles, a highly significant portion of the world’s religious adherents will be excluded from scholarly research and teaching in religious studies” (Cox, 2007, p.1).

To qualify as a world religion, a faith must in some sense be comparable to Christianity, either by possessing components that can be translated into Christian terms, like scriptures, doctrines or festivals, or by mounting a strenuous challenge to Christianity, such as occurred in the proselytizing activities of Islam or that became evident as Westerners encountered the intellectual sophistication of philosophical Hinduism. In each case, the success of the non-Christian religions elevated their status within Western renditions of history (Cox, 2007, p.47). However, Shamanism, like Wicca, is a non-scriptural faith, which helps to explain why it is marginalised.

For Cox, religion focuses on “non-falsifiable alternate realities that are postulated by and legitimated within identifiable communities through the transmission of an authoritative tradition” (Cox, 2007, pp.92-93). He goes on to add that through this, a religious community is able to collectively share in acts of remembrance of the past and these give meaning to the present. This definition can be applied to Shamanism, in the same way as it can be applied to the so-called world religions. Consequently, it can be argued that it deserves the same kind of status.

Through active involvement in organisations such as the British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR), the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR), and Pagan Federation International (PFI), by attending and / or giving papers at Conferences, writing books and / or articles and, above all, by the way we conduct ourselves as representatives of what we believe in and practise, we can help to bring this about. For surely, all religions in a comparative sense, deserve equal scholarly treatment and it is up to us to make sure that they do.

Is shamanism a genuinely polytheistic religion though? We could simply say that what shamans practise, whether they call themselves indigenous, urban or neo-shamans, is what shamanism is, but such an explanation is of little help to anyone. Instead, the following definition is proposed… A shaman is understood to be someone who performs an ecstatic (in a trance state), imitative, or demonstrative ritual of a séance (or a combination of all three), at will (in other words, whenever he or she chooses to do so), in which aid is sought from beings in (what are considered to be) other realities generally for healing purposes or for divination–both for individuals and / or the community.

As for the practice of shamanism, it is understood to encompass a personalistic view of the world, in which life is seen to be not only about beliefs and practices, but also about relationships–how we are related, and how we relate to each other. In shamanism the notion of interdependence “is the idea of the kinship of all life, the recognition that nothing can exist in and of itself without being in relationship to other things, and therefore that it is insane for us to consider ourselves as essentially unrelated parts of the whole Earth” (Halifax in Nicholson, (comp.), 1987, p.220).

And through neurotheology, this assertion so often heard expressed in neo-shamanic circles that all life is connected, can now be substantiated. This is because it has been shown that during mystical ecstasy (or its equivalent, entheogenic shamanic states [states induced by ingesting hallucinogens]), the individual experiences a blurring of the boundaries on the ego and feels at “one with Nature”; the ego is no longer confined within the body, but extends outward to all of Nature; other living beings come to share in the ego, as an authentic communion with the environment, which is sensed as in some way divine (Ruck, Staples, et al., 2007, p.76).

Further justification for the belief that all life is connected can be found in the fact that the elementary particles that make up all matter, by their gravitational, electromagnetic or nuclear field, are coextensive with the whole universe, and as man is composed of these particles, he is thus in union with the entire cosmos (see Eliade, pp.285-286). Whether he wants to be or not is immaterial. Now if all life is connected, then the implication is that all life is one, and we become part of the godhead. If that is the case, however many spirit helpers or teachers in other realities a shaman may have, they are part of that whole too. So can we say that shamanism is truly polytheistic? Probably not, if we agree that this is the case.

Consider, for example the beliefs and practices of the people in Abkhazia, in the Caucasus. “The ‘god of gods’ in the Abkhaz pantheon is Antswa, the creator, in whom all the other gods are contained … The first toast still to be given at feasts is one to Antswa, in the form of “Antswa, you give us the warmth of your eyes” “(Rachel Clogg in Hewitt, 1999, p.213). A similar situation prevails in Armenia. Neo-pagans in Armenia call themselves Arordineri Ukht, which means the Order of Children of Ari, with Ari being the main god in their pantheon. Interestingly, other members of this pantheon are not separate gods but rather different qualities of Ara, or qualities generally existing in the world. Since the name of their main god is Ara, neo-pagans use the similarity of this name to the word Armenian to draw a straight line which connects them with the divine power, and claim that the Armenian nation is special among others. Namely, they claim Armenians to be the first nation and the only one to descend directly from Ara; they explain the meaning of the world Armenians as ‘god-men’; and situate themselves above other nations, seeing them as constructed and secondary. “Not only are origins of Armenians extraordinary, but so is the place on Earth where they live. Thus the Ararat plain is considered as the most important point … where cosmic energy is gathered and where the “memory” of our planet is preserved” (Siekierski, 2009).

The above are just two of many such examples that could be given. Consequently, whether Shamanism is truly polytheistic or not is clearly open to question, and perhaps something that needs to be reconsidered.


The main texts connected with the Shinto tradition are the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan). They were both written in Chinese in the early eighth century to help legitimate the position and the prestige of the Imperial Court so neither can be considered to represent a theology as such. The former is basically a quasi-historical account of the early Japanese Emperors, and the latter is a Creation Myth recounting the formation of Japan and its people, and their descent from the Kami. It is in the textual reproduction of rituals and of the prayers (norito) that any unifying foundation approaching canonical status may be found in Shinto sacred writings, and many of these can be found in the Engi Shiki, a tenth-century collection of government ordinances.


Albanese, C.L. (1992) America: Religions and Religion, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Backman, L., & Hultkrantz, A. (1978) Studies in Lapp Shamanism: Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion, 16. Stockholm, Sweden: Almquist & Wiksell International.
Braun, W., & McCutcheon, R.T. (eds.) (2000) Guide to the Study of Religion, London: Cassell.
Chryssides, G. D. (1999) Exploring New Religions, London: Cassell.
Cooper, J.J. (ed.) (1997) Brewer’s Book of Myth & Legend, Oxford: Helicon Publishing Ltd.
Cox, J.L. (2007) From Primitive to Indigenous, Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Cowan, J. (1992) Mysteries of the Dream-time: The Spiritual Life of Australian Aborigines, Bridport, Dorset: Prism Press.
Driver, T.F. (1991) The Magic of Ritual, New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Drury, N. (1982) The Shaman and the Magician: Journeys between the worlds, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Durkheim, E. (2001) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press (originally published in 1912).
Eliade, M. (1957) The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, New York: Harper & Row.
Eliade, M. (1989) Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy, London: Arkana (first published in the USA by Pantheon Books 1964).
Gray, J. “SRM-Atheism – Fanatical Unbelief” Prospect Magazine – November 2004.
Halifax, J. (1991) Shamanic Voices, London: Arkana (first published in 1979).
Hamilton, M. (1995) The Sociology of Religion, London: Routledge.
Harner, M. M. (1990 3rd Edition) The Way of the Shaman, USA: Harper & Row (first published by Harper & Row in 1980).
Heelas, P. (1996) The New Age Movement, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Hewitt, G. (ed.) (1999) The Abkhazians: A Handbook, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press
Houston J. (1987) “The Mind and Soul of the Shaman” in Shirley Nicholoson
(ed.) Shamanism. An Expanded View of Reality, Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House, pp.vii-xiii).
Hultkrantz, A. (1988) “Shamanism: A Religious Phenomenon?” In Doore,
G. (ed.) Shaman’s Path: Healing, Personal Growth and Empowerment, Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications.
Ingerman, S. (1991) Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self through Shamanic Practice, San Francisco: Harper.
—. (1993) Welcome Home: Following Your Soul’s Journey Home, New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Jakobsen, M.D. (1999) Shamanism: Traditional and Contemporary Approaches to the Mastery of Spirits and Healing, New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.
James, W. (1982) The Varieties of Religious Experience, Harmondsworth Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd. (first published in the United States of America by Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902).
Jones, R.A. (1986) Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Jung, C.G. (1977) The Symbolic Life, London and Henley: Routledge & Keegan Paul.
Kehoe, A.B. (2000) Shamans and Religion, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.
Knott, K. (2005) The Location of Religion: a spatial analysis, London: Equinox.
Krippner, S.C. “Conflicting Prespectives on Shamans and Shamanism: Points and Counterpoints”, [accessed 31/3/05].
Muller, M. (1873) Introduction to the Science of Religions, London: Longmans.
Nicholoson, S. (ed.) (1987) Shamanism. An Expanded View of Reality, Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House.
Otto, R. (1958) The Idea of the Holy, Oxford: Oxford University Press (first published by Oxford University Press, London 1923).
Popatov, Leonid P. (1991) Altaiskii shamanism, Leningrad: Nauka, Leningradskoe otdelenie.
Radin, P. (1957) Primitive Religion, Dover Publications Inc. (first published in 1937 by the Viking Press.
Ripinsky-Naxon, M. (1992) “Shamanism: Religion or Rite?” The Journal of Prehistoric Religion, Vol. 6, pp. 37-44.
Ruck, Carl A.P., Staples, B.D., Celdran J.A.G., Hoffman, M.A. (2007) The Hidden World: Survival of Pagan Shamanic Themes in European Fairytales, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.
Siekierski, K. (2009) ‘Religious and National Identities in Post-Soviet Armenia’ (unpublished).
Smart, N. (1998 Second Edition) The World’s Religions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (first published 1989).
Vitebsky, P. (2001) The Shaman, London: Duncan Baird (first published in Great Britain in 1995 by Macmillan Reference Books).
Walsh, R. N. (1990) The Spirit of Shamanism, London: Mandala.
Weber, M. (1963) The Sociology of Religion, London: Methuen (first published in Germany in 1922).
Znamenski, A.A. (2003) Shamanism in Siberia: Russian Records of Indigenous Spirituality, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers

Michael Berman

Michael Berman

Michael Berman

Michael Berman’s published work includes The Power of Metaphor for Crown House, The Nature of Shamanism and the Shamanic Story for Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Shamanic Journeys through the Caucasus and Shamanic Journeys, Shamanic Stories for O-Books, Journeys outside Time for Pendraig Publishing, and Tales of Power for Lear Books. A Bridge to the Other Side: Death in the Folk Tradition and Georgia through Earth, Fire, Air and Water are both due to be published by Moon Books in 2012. For more information please visit


You may also like...

Leave a Reply