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Thread: The term "shamanism"... borrowed or appropriated?

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    Member sionnach's Avatar
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    The term "shamanism"... borrowed or appropriated?

    I do not like the term Shamanism. It was borrowed ( stolen if you like ) to describe and altered state of consciousness in a religious ritual of the Tungusic tribe where a Shaman would use the altered state of consciousness in their religious act. Anthropologists identified similar activity across the world and in all probability in the ancient Germanic and Celtic world. But they should have kept it as altered state of consciousness with the associate pattern for each particular group. Using the word Shaman was a mistake as it became seen as something you could be. I believe we can use altered states of consciousness but that does not make everyone a Shaman. Now I have seen psychologists offering classes to become a Shaman to help you patients by calling on their guiding spirits. You pay for the classes and books and in only a few weeks you to can become a Shaman to help others. Sorry but it was a mistake to apply the word the way it was instead of just describing the technique with the explanation that it is in association with other ritual practices specific to each tribal beliefs.

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    Nihilistic Goddess Medusa's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    uhoh........
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    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by Medusa View Post
    uhoh........
    Technically, he's mostly correct.

    At the very least we should actually say 'neoshamanism'. It's one of the major points of dissention amongst the neoshamanist community. Trust me... shamanists have argued this point FAR more than non-shamanists have.

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    Technically, he's mostly correct.

    At the very least we should actually say 'neoshamanism'. It's one of the major points of dissention amongst the neoshamanist community. Trust me... shamanists have argued this point FAR more than non-shamanists have.

    I think of it like this: What do Kleenex, Band-aids, Tylenon, Motrin, Xerox, and Coke (among others) have in common? Here in the US, the brand name isn't necessairly used to indicate the brand name per se, but the entire product--tissues, peel and stick bandages, acetomenophen, ibuprophen, copy machines, and soda. (These are pretty US specific brands so it may not translate exactly)

    English is a borrowing language. There's no handy word in our language for the phenomenon we've organically "decided" to call "Shamanism" after the actual Shaman of a specific culture, so we borrowed the term. Sort of like beserk from beserkers and ninja-ing something from ninjas and assassins... I don't have a problem with the evolution of language in this manner--borrowing terminology from other languages to describe something your own language has no word for is pretty universal. It would be different (IMO) if we already had a word that filled this function.
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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    I think of it like this: What do Kleenex, Band-aids, Tylenon, Motrin, Xerox, and Coke (among others) have in common? Here in the US, the brand name isn't necessairly used to indicate the brand name per se, but the entire product--tissues, peel and stick bandages, acetomenophen, ibuprophen, copy machines, and soda. (These are pretty US specific brands so it may not translate exactly)

    English is a borrowing language. There's no handy word in our language for the phenomenon we've organically "decided" to call "Shamanism" after the actual Shaman of a specific culture, so we borrowed the term. Sort of like beserk from beserkers and ninja-ing something from ninjas and assassins... I don't have a problem with the evolution of language in this manner--borrowing terminology from other languages to describe something your own language has no word for is pretty universal. It would be different (IMO) if we already had a word that filled this function.
    I think the idea of borrowing is both true and false regarding Shaman and Shamanism. Figure the early anthropologist started using Shaman and Shamanism as an academic word to group similar concepts together. Didn't matter if the group being observed had unique words for the practice or not. However, today within academia it is more frowned on than accepted. In that regards it is the same as Totemism and how it to is equally frowned upon.

    The problem I think lies within the pagan community itself. Many within what might be recognized as shamanic like practices tend to use neo-shamanism or distance themselves from Shamanism as a title all together. Yet the general pagan community found it as a buzz word and now it's used in such a broad sense that it means nothing really.

    In that regard it has little to do with being introduced into English as a concept other than a new buzz word or filler material for the many 101 books that sought out something new to make them different. In some regards no different than the English academic notion of "Medicine" and how it was equated to North American supposed shamanic practices. So today you see the word medicine frequently used with totems, power animals, spirit animals and guides, etc.

    Not because of being introduced into general language but because some author tried to add an extra buzz word and the academic definition is implied even though not used. In comparison I think it not much different than the current infusion of "Tulpa" as a word for though constructs that has taken hold. It was found to be foreign and added a mystical aspect that Though Form or construct didn't have. Yet they are the same thing.
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    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa192393
    There's no handy word in our language for the phenomenon we've organically "decided" to call "Shamanism" after the actual Shaman of a specific culture, so we borrowed the term. Sort of like beserk from beserkers and ninja-ing something from ninjas and assassins... I don't have a problem with the evolution of language in this manner--borrowing terminology from other languages to describe something your own language has no word for is pretty universal. It would be different (IMO) if we already had a word that filled this function.
    While I agree with your general premise, this is not entirely accurate.

    We actually have hundreds of words for 'shaman'... each form of shamanism has it's own terminology from within that culture to describe both it's practices and it's practitioners. Even if we look at a purely English practice, the term 'hedgerider' describes an English folk 'shamanist'.

    Michael Harner is responsible for bringing the buzzword 'shamanism' into the neopagan community. I don't deny that it's a useful term which helps neoshamanists recognise each other... and it's certainly useful for helping non shamanists understand what it is that we do. But the ONLY shamanic practice that doesn't have it's own terminology is core-shamanism, as popularised by Harner.

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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    While I agree with your general premise, this is not entirely accurate.

    We actually have hundreds of words for 'shaman'... each form of shamanism has it's own terminology from within that culture to describe both it's practices and it's practitioners. Even if we look at a purely English practice, the term 'hedgerider' describes an English folk 'shamanist'.

    Michael Harner is responsible for bringing the buzzword 'shamanism' into the neopagan community. I don't deny that it's a useful term which helps neoshamanists recognise each other... and it's certainly useful for helping non shamanists understand what it is that we do. But the ONLY shamanic practice that doesn't have it's own terminology is core-shamanism, as popularised by Harner.
    I think, because of the specific examples used, Thalassa was referring to a general, generic term for a set of items with certain elements in common. The "...hundreds of words for 'shaman'... each form of shamanism has it's own terminology from within that culture to describe both it's practices and it's practitioners" is specific. Useful for a specialist or an anthropologist (who would already be using those terms), but not particularly useful in general conversation where the average person would not be expected to know (or need to use) the specific, technical term.
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    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by B. de Corbin View Post
    I think, because of the specific examples used, Thalassa was referring to a general, generic term for a set of items with certain elements in common. The "...hundreds of words for 'shaman'... each form of shamanism has it's own terminology from within that culture to describe both it's practices and it's practitioners" is specific. Useful for a specialist or an anthropologist (who would already be using those terms), but not particularly useful in general conversation where the average person would not be expected to know (or need to use) the specific, technical term.
    Which is exactly why I agree with the general premise and think that it's a useful term for helping neopagans know what we're talking about.

    But that doesn't change that fact that the statement that we have no existing terminology and therefore had to borrow it is not entirely accurate. If you take away core-shamanism, the term 'shamanism' is not one that is particularly useful or accurate to traditional or extant practices. Before Harner popularised core-shamanism and the buzz word (to borrow MonSno's wording) spread within the neopagan community, people used the term that was specific to their practice. It wasn't until core-shamanism that we actually required a word that described a more general concept of these practices... because it wasn't until core-shamanism that we had a non-specific set of practices that were removed from their cultural context (and therefore removed from their original cultural terms).

    Obviously, I use the terms 'shamanism' and 'shamanist' myself... they are useful terms within the modern neopagan community. But I am also very aware of the history of the terminology and of the controversy within the neoshamanic community. The reality is that the terms are now ingrained within our modern neopagan usage, and I don't necessarily think that should change.

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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Pagan Pet Peeves

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    Which is exactly why I agree with the general premise and think that it's a useful term for helping neopagans know what we're talking about.

    But that doesn't change that fact that the statement that we have no existing terminology and therefore had to borrow it is not entirely accurate. If you take away core-shamanism, the term 'shamanism' is not one that is particularly useful or accurate to traditional or extant practices. Before Harner popularised core-shamanism and the buzz word (to borrow MonSno's wording) spread within the neopagan community, people used the term that was specific to their practice. It wasn't until core-shamanism that we actually required a word that described a more general concept of these practices... because it wasn't until core-shamanism that we had a non-specific set of practices that were removed from their cultural context (and therefore removed from their original cultural terms).

    Obviously, I use the terms 'shamanism' and 'shamanist' myself... they are useful terms within the modern neopagan community. But I am also very aware of the history of the terminology and of the controversy within the neoshamanic community. The reality is that the terms are now ingrained within our modern neopagan usage, and I don't necessarily think that should change.
    I agree that it has become a term now ingrained in modern neopaganism I just wish it hadn't become so broadly defined by it. It's such a cover or generic term now days that it's not much different than how Wicca has become a generic term for any practice that even faintly resembles certain perspectives and assumed applications. You could place a whole dam full of definitions or presumptions of what a person means behind that wall now regarding what a person means when they say shamanic like practices or procedures.
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    Member SonoftheWaters's Avatar
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    Re: The term "shamanism"... borrowed or appropriated?

    You know, I have been studying a very long time and this argument on Shamanism/Shaman being the correct term or not has been coming up only over the last few years, what does it matter if it gets the message across? I grew up on the Res and all the shamans and elders I have ever talked to just said shaman unless they were speaking their native tongue, which most don't anymore, this goes for the ones in Alaska and the ones in Oklahoma. Where did this argument really come from in the first place?

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