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122. Negative Reactions And Performances

The observation of a great number of cases of performances shows that the reaction of the participants differs. There are individuals who blindly accept the shaman's influence and that of the audience, and they may even do everything in their power to maintain it; there are individuals who indifferently follow the current behaviour of their milieu and passively submit to the shamans influence; further, there are individuals who remain skeptical and require «proofs». Included in the latter group are those individuals who show militant negative reaction.

The influence of negative reactions on the performance is great. We have seen in Case 4 (vide Chapter XXV, Section 112) that a performance could not succeed, because of the circumstances. We have also seen that potential negative reactions do occur, but may be neutralized by a conviction that the persons who remain beyond the shaman's and audience's influence are not fit. In consequence of foreign influence — the influence of Christianity and Buddhism, and of the Chinese, Russians and Mongol's who assume a skeptical attitude towards shamanism — there are strong currents of skepticism towards shamanism among the Tungus and Manchus. In a further chapter we shall discuss this question and its effect upon the variations of shamanism, but for the time being we need only point out that a skeptical attitude does exist, and probably, in one or another form, has ever existed, and that shamanism is a result of all these conditions.

The attitude of individuals showing negative reactions may assume various degrees or intensiveness. In the above mentioned case the teacher kicked the shaman, so that the latter had physical difficulty in carrying on a performance. Foreigners, especially Russian visitors — the local Cossacks, workmen, and traders -and the Chinese as well, often disturb the shamans, who are acting, by pulling at the dress, by placing obstacles in the way of the shaman etc. during the rhythmic moving, by causing confusion in singing, by making critical remarks etc. Such forms of active negative reactions are rarely observed among the Tungus and Manchus themselves, partly owing to the fact that they are socially disciplined people, partly because they cannot propose anything better than shamanizing and also partly because they are not quite sure in that there are no spirits. Their skeptical attitude is chiefly due to the critical attitude towards the shamans as persons and performers. Such an attitude can originate from the fact that the shamans may not exactly follow the usual common forms, while the individual may be of a militant conservative character. A slightly negative reaction is commonly observed among the Tungus and Manchus who cannot be influenced at all by the shaman and the audience. They remain beyond the complex of collective extasy and collective activity. Such individuals, even without any intention, may produce confusion in a smoothly running performance. Their presence alone may suffice for disturbing the audience in its attempt to reach extasy [630]. Moreover, if the audience includes too many individuals who are not susceptible to extasy, it may react too slowly to the shaman's suggestions, and the performance may therefore fail. It may proceed, but only as a series of well known actions, so that, while the performance would be carried out formally, it would not attain its aim [631]. Such failures can be actually observed, and very often the public opinion is inclined to see cause in the shaman, instead of in the audience. As shown, this is one of the reasons why the shaman sometimes produce various tricks, in order to gain an influence over the indifferent group of the audience.

Here it may be generally remarked that since an indifferent attitude of the audience towards the shamans and their performances is especially created, when an alien influence becomes strong, it may be necessary to have recourse to some method of gaining over an indifferent audience, such as the introduction of various tricks (psychological, as well as mechanical and physical) some of which may have been learned from the professionals and shamans of alien groups (e.g. as in the case of the Manchu mafarism. Vide supra). In this way shamanism may become saturated with elements which originally were merely means of controlling the audience, and the performance, as a whole, may be turned into a theatrical performance, as it is sometimes observed in the shamanism or ethnical units which have fallen under a strong alien influence. Therefore, one of the sources of essential changes in shamanism is the loss of an active sympathetic attitude on the part of the audience towards the acting shaman. This can be produced not only by a strong alien influence, but also by other causes to which I shall revert in further chapters.

630. A tactless persistence of an investigator, supplied with his fountain pen, camera, phonographic apparatus and other devices of a scientific investigation, may alone create around him an atmosphere of hostility. Interference by inquiries may disturb a performance to such a degree that it may turn into a simple ritualistic sequence of acts. This would be especially trouble some if the investigator were a representative of a politically superior group. Demonstrative behaviour of the «investigators-observers» may have quite the same effect, although the observers themselves might be quite benevolent and good-natured persons. A great number of such observers seem not to understand that they must be unobtrusive, attracting the least possible notice of the audience and the shaman, when a performance is going on.

631. The shaman finds himself in about the same difficult position when he undertakes a performance in a foreign milieu which cannot reach extasy. Indeed, such a «staging» of shamanism gives not only a distorted picture of the actual performance for there is no audience which cooperates with the shaman, but it is psychologically impossible for the shaman to succeed, for there is no purpose of shamanizing. The stage is not the usual milieu in which shamans perform, while the milieu is an essential component of the complex. Lastly, several elements, as for instance, smoking or incense, drinking of wine, incidental indecency etc. must be also omitted. Indeed, anybody who is familiar with the shamanistic texts (prayers) as well as tunes and «dancing» can reproduce them, but it will not be shamanizing, but rather a most vulgar farce. I once observed the staging of such a shamanistic performance in a very learned society, even in a special ethnographic section of this society. The meeting was attended by prominent ethnographers, dressed as for the theatrical performances and learned discussions. They were seated along the walls of the hall, the middle part of which was reserved for the performer. The performer was a native student of the local university. He was making his way; he was inclined to drinking and his supporters were not always satisfied with him; he did not miss the opportunity to create a sympathetic attitude on the part of his superiors, teachers and supporters. Since the performance might raise him in his social standing, he performed. He pretended to be a shaman, which was not true. I do not know who was the initiator of this theatrical performance, the actor himself or one of the ethnographers. The man could produce no extasy, only jumping and uttering some words incoherently (I believe there was no specialist who could understand him), making a noise with his staffs (which had been taken from a museum), singing something without the necessary assistance, while the ethnographers sat by, assuming an air of deep observers who would penetrate into the «psychology of shamanism» and draw very important conclusions. The performance was a mere farce in which the role of the native impostor was the smallest one, for the whole of the learned meeting was itself a staging of «ethnographical observation or a staged performance». On my part, I am certain that the native was laughing at seeing the serious, almost tragic, faces of the ethnographers. In so far as I know, similar performances were several times carried out in various societies. They are worse than the staging of the «life of savages» in exhibitions, zoological gardens, reserved territories (for the attraction of tourists), and «fetes foraines», for in all these cases there is no pretension of scientific observation. I have related here this case for it is a good demonstration of an erroneous idea as to the methods of investigation, admission of a possibility of observing ethnographical phenomena of so great a complexity as the shaman's performance, taken out of its sphere.

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