Shamanism and Belief

Beliefnet has become so large and complex that it can be hard to find things -- and sometimes things move around. The old Shamanism Debate forum has now become the new Discuss Shamanism forum; the old Shamanism and Learn About Shamanism forums, and the old Shamanism Archive, have now been consolidated in the new Shamanism forum.

The shamanism forum is one of many grouped together under the heading Faith Communities. I must confess to being troubled by the apparently politically correct expression faith community, which seems to me to have a built-in bias toward a Christian way of looking at spiritual traditions. Belief is very important among Christians; it is the kind of thing Christians have fought wars over. Comparative religion texts often show the same bias: they will have individual chapters on the Big Religions, each with a section headed something like What They Believe. Indeed, look at the name of Beliefnet itself.

Shamanism, I think, is not faith-oriented in the same way. When shamans gather, they do not argue over the ontological status of the deer spirit; they talk about shamanic practice -- what skins make the best drum heads, what experiences they have had, what plant mixtures have the best effect. And gossip, of course -- who has worked love magic on whom, who is secretly a sorcerer, what patients have been difficult and ungrateful. Shamans seem to speak rarely about metaphysics.

Thus shamans, unlike some other traditions, are not a faith community; rather, they are a community of practice. Shamanist cultures have certainly fought each other -- over land, over women, over accusations of sorcery, over power and status. But not, as far as I know, about beliefs.

No comments:

Post a Comment