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93. Symbolization Of Psychoses And Methods Of Treatment

We have seen from the previous section that the mass psychosis may affect clans and other units to such a degree that the unit can perish altogether. On the other hand, we have also seen that the Tungus are very susceptible to the individual condition which may be favourable for mass psychosis. But, we have also seen that the source of the psychosis may be pre-existing in the form of hypotheses and theories and alien influences, on the one hand, and probably physiological conditions due to physical causes, on the other hand. Since all these phenomena can be understood by the Tungus only in terms of spirits' activities, and since these Tungus explanations are sufficient, the symbolization of psychoses, and their classification, assume a great importance. This analysis of psychic phenomena and their classification constitutes one of the current needs of the Tungus, as without them they may easily become a prey of psychoses. Whether their hypotheses as to the spirits are correct from the point of view supposed to represent a scientifically established truth or not, is not important, if we want to make clear the mechanism of regulation of the psychomental complex and of fighting harmful phenomena. If the Tungus, with the help of their hypotheses, can classify psychoses, that occur among them and can fight for a restoration of psychic equilibrium, it shows that the Tungus solution of the problem is practically effective, and thus correct. One of the conditions of their success in this respect is that they regard these phenomena not as «pathological» cases, but as phenomena being in the order of «normal» things which ought to be regulated. When in the European complex we abstract a series of psychic phenomena, the regulation of which escapes medical art, and we separate a series of «pathological» phenomena which may be either treated or left as hopeless cases, there still remain a greater number of cases which have all the necessary symptoms of non-pathological conditions and on this ground are even not analysed and no «treatment» takes place, although the nature of these phenomena of mass psychoses is not less dangerous than that observed among the Tungus. I shall revert once more to this problem, because a comparison of the groups of the European complex with those of the Tungus may help us to understand that a «pathological» character of «mass psychosis» observed among the Tungus appears to be so only in the eyes of European observers, while analogous phenomena among the Europeans, assuming a new, previously unknown form, remain unnoticed, and the mechanism of self-regulation of the psychomental complex also remains little cognized, if at all. The substitution of «ideas», «movements», «philosophical systems», «fashionable psychological theories» and other phenomena for the Tungus spirits, and the substitution of conditions, in which no normal function of ethnical units becomes possible, for the mass psychosis, as described; as well as the substitution of other methods, hardly better understood than the shamanism — do not change the nature of the phenomenon. Forms are different, ethnographical contents are different; but the essentials remain the same. The complexity of the same phenomena among European groups is natural, for the groups are numerous and therefore the ethnographical complexes are naturally not as simple as among the Tungus.

It should be noted that, when the Tungus try to analyse and classify (symbolize) cases of mass psychosis, they do not realize that they are acting by the system of a self-regulating mechanism, but their activity must be explained by something less abstract. They try to find practical methods of ridding themselves from the influence of spirits or from the harmful psychological conditions symbolized in spirits. Still, the action will not be directed against the spirits in general, but, in every individual case, for helping the affected persons. There may be fighting against the complexes of spirits and against the individual spirits; the practical solutions will depend upon the character of the problem of the psychosis.

As to the process by which the Tungus reach this aim it is not simple, for there are many variations; but I shall now give only a rough idea of the process.

Case I. The spirits are known. The person is affected by a certain harmful complex manifested by symptoms: partial loss of consciousness, involuntary movements, «arch», pronouncing of known words and sentences, etc. Another spirit must be called in with the help of which the harmful spirit may be expelled, or the harmful spirit may be asked to leave the person alone, etc. If the result of influencing the spirit is positive, the diagnosis is correct, and then, without mistake, it can he used in other symptomatically similar cases.

Gradually a list of spirits with their peculiarities and the practical methods of their ejection is created.

Case II. The spirits are unknown. The person is affected by a certain condition with a combination of symptoms never observed before. The words pronounced are not clear (they may be e.g.. foreign words), etc. The possibility of a foreign spirit (a foreign language is used) suggests itself. If such a spirit is known among other ethnical groups, which must be found out through a direct inquiry, the case is treated either according to the practices known in other ethnical groups, or by methods of convincing the spirit, or of its expulsion with the help of some other, but well known spirits. If the operation is successful the method is used in other analogous cases. If it does not work, new variations of the known methods are made, or a new hypothesis as to the character of a new, unknown spirit is proposed. Its characters are defined, and various methods are applied. If one of them succeeds, it is incorporated into the complex. If none is effective, the case may be declared hopeless, until a successful solution is found, usually by the method of trial and error. However, some cases of psychomental troubles shown will be ascribed not to the spirits, but to the physical causes.

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest Tungus discoveries along this line was that of the mastering of spirits. How it was made, is difficult to say. Perhaps it was not a Tungus discovery at all, but a Tungus interpretation of some other complex, which could be used among the Tungus as «mastering». In fact, since a spirit may be mastered and must obey a human being, a case of mass psychosis caused by a spirit or a group of them may be easily treated by «mastering». If this is so, the persons affected by it may become liberated from their psychosis. This is a method of mass treatment. However, not all spirits may be mastered at once, for first of all, a good understanding of the character of the spirit and its ways is needed. Some of them may remain for a long time independent. Yet, the Tungus do not need to master all spirits, for not all of them are harmful and not all of them can be really useful, and at least a certain number of them, e. g. those symbolizing certain infectious diseases, are not mastered, but only summoned when needed. It may also be added that some spirits remain for a long time on the list of mastered spirits, but they usually manifest no activity. They remain almost inactive in the complex. The analysis of spirits shows that some of them have in all respects absolutely similar effects, and not all of them are used. Being already replaced by new spirits, sometimes borrowed from other ethnical groups, they remain on the list partly because of inertia, and partly because of theoretical presumption: the more numerous the spirits the more powerful the man who masters them. Whence, the Tungus usually gather a great number of them.

Of no less importance is another Tungus discovery, namely, a spirit can be used against other spirits, or a group of them against another group, as individual spirits. Therefore, mastered spirits may be used as a weapon against other spirits.

I need not repeat that most spirits are believed — and this is a hypothesis of great practical value — to possess human characters, and interests. Indeed, it greatly helps the operation with them. This is a very interesting fact, for, indeed, human beings may create spirits only reflecting their own psychomental complex. In this respect the Tungus analysis and knowledge of spirits, as seen from the spirits met with among the Tungus, are very near to the realities if we admit the fundamental proposition, namely, that of independent existence of spirits.

The question is now as to how the spirits can be practically fought. Extensive knowledge of the existing spirits within the clan and ethnical units, and even among the neighbouring groups, and the knowledge of symptoms indicative of the spirits' presence are required. On the other hand, a knowledge of the methods by which the spirits' activity can be neutralized is indispensable. It is thus evident that the Tungus are in great need of specialists who must be acquainted with spirits and methods of fighting them, and who must be good diagnosticians at the same time, not to speak of their possession of personal character which must be authoritative. Such a specialization is one of the conditions for success in fighting psychoses. The specialists dealing with these phenomena among the Tungus are shamans who perform a distinct social function in the regulation of the psychomental complex. In reality, such specialists are not at all recognized as such, but they do exist for this function, created, as a result of a long adaptation, chiefly by the methods of trial and error, but sometimes with a deep insight and foresight, which becomes evident, when the complex of the shamans is analysed and when the investigator becomes familiar with them as personalities.

However, as will be shown later on, and as it has already been pointed out in the section dealing with mafarism, the shamans meet with opposition and have to face hostility and «com-petition» on the part of other methods. These are the conditions of «normal» existence of social phenomena formed as a result of a certain system of equilibria. For an observer who would not penetrate into the functional mechanism of shamanism, the mafarism, the simple prayers and sacrifices, and other methods which partially compete with the functions of the shamans, may appear to have greater importance than they actually have in the complex, and they may cast a shadow on the actual functions of shamanism.

A quite distinct character of the shamans is that they «master» the spirits, they introduce them into themselves, by which operation they liberate the clansmen, or their co-villagers, and generally members of the unit to which they belong, from the influence of spirits. The shamans perform the whole operation of introduction of the harmful spirits without being possessed by them. Such a function may be compared with that of a safety valve [504], which will be clearer when we proceed to the details of the psychomental complex of the shamans themselves and persons who practise shamanism; but for the present I omit these details.

It would be erroneous to suppose that the shamans and shamanism are a cognized complex, although their functioning as safety valves is understood by the Tungus. In fact, shamanism has assumed, for its functioning, forms which conceal its function altogether. First of all, the assistance of shamans in the case of individuals affected by the spirits is an individual service; secondly, the mastering of spirits is done in the form of special psychic conditions of individual candidates; thirdly, the liberation of the units from the mass psychosis is not noticed: fourthly most shamanistic performances are made in such a manner that the aesthetic side is always attractive, both for the performer and the audience. As a matter of fact, such a form of self-regulating mechanism of the psychomental complex is not a phenomenon exceptional in its forms and absolutely unknown among other groups. Usually, the self-regulating mechanism does exist without being cognized by those who need it. Moreover, it may be supposed that its cognition would perhaps destroy its functional value for the regulation of a mass psychosis.

Instead of giving a conclusion of the present chapter, I want to touch upon a practical problem of policy towards the observed individual and mass psychoses. This side does not concern us, in so far as it is a practical problem, but it has its ethnological aspect too. As such, it deserves to be analysed. After a brief discussion of the psychomental conditions in the individuals and masses of populations, those who quite sincerely intend to interfere with the life of ethnical groups, such as the Tungus and Manchus, to their interest, would be inclined to accept the attitude which may be summarized as follows. Since the psychoses may be produced by the existing theories concerning the spirits, these theories must, first of all, be abolished, together with the complex of shamanism, which creates and maintains them. Such is the attitude of ethnical groups who have different complexes and, according to their conviction, have themselves reached a higher stage of «culture». The can be observed in both Russians and Chinese, and even partly among the Mongols, who wanted to liberate the Tungus and Manchus from their fear of spirits and «barbarous» practices of shamanism. In this respect, the communists who rule the populations of Siberia and who believe themselves to be free of «superstitions», are still more naive in their manifestations of interethnical pressure and its «scientific», «materialistic» and «marxian» justification. I shall revert to this question later on. Indeed, with the help of all modern methods of education, it is not difficult to destroy Tungus belief in the spirits. The substitution of a religion, like Christianity, for the Tungus beliefs is also practically possible, as well as the substitution of faith in the coming paradise of socialism. It is especially simple if the change of ideas can have some practical benefit for the Tungus (individuals). It is still easier to fight the shamans as carriers of functions, and shamanism as a complex. A series of «regulations» and governmental orders can do it within two generations. But the question is this: can the fundamental hypothesis — the influence of spirits on the psychoses — be accepted as a postulate, or not? If the belief in spirits is destroyed, as well as shamanism as a safety valve, will the psychoses disappear or will they take new forms, perhaps now unforeseen ones, and even forms which will not be recognized at once? These questions as has been shown, cannot now be answered. Therefore, there seem to be other reasons, why these ideas of enlightenment of «savages» and «barbarians» are so common among the «civilised» mankind. Certainly, other ethnical groups are not very much concerned, if under conditions of uncontrolled psychomental complex smaller groups should perish altogether. That such a possibility exists may be seen from the observed facts, viz. small ethnical units affected and left without assistance perish very quickly. Under these conditions a large group may pass much more easily through the period of psychomental disequilibrium, even when a self-regulating mechanism is not Yet worked out. In fact, a partial loss of resistance and a partial loss of population do not mean that the unit perishes; the unit with its internal differentiation may work out such a mechanism during the state of disequilibrium, and with the remaining resistance and remaining population it has a certain chance of restoring its interethnical position. However, a small unit, once shaken by the loss of power of resistance and population, cannot survive, and usually individuals who remain after the catastrophe are dispersed and join other ethnical units. This is one of the interesting aspects of the ethnical variation under always growing interethnical pressure, under which only large ethnical units and numerous ethnical colonies may create higher forms of adaptation and thus survive. Owing to this condition, the experiments with small groups are much more dangerous in the sense of threatening their existence, than the experiments with large, numerous groups. At the same time it is much easier for the large units to carry out an experiment on small ones, because the small units may be harder pressed than the large ones.

Actually this worry about the establishment of safety from mass psychoses by the abolition of beliefs in the spirits and shamanism (and other similar forms of self-regulating mechanism) is nothing else but a justification of interethnical pressure. Therefore, the question whether the spirits produce psychoses or psychoses produce spirits must first be cleared up from the ethnographical features, i. e. the influence of a justification of interethnical pressure.

One thing is evident: since ethnical units possess a system of spirits (beliefs) and an organized self-regulating mechanism of the psychomental complex, and since with the help of this mechanism the psychoses - which are not at all a privilege of those who have beliefs in spirits and shamanism — may be regulated, the units seem to he well adapted for survival in the given conditions. Indeed, the psychoses, beliefs in the spirits, and the safety valve mechanism cannot be separated, for they are only different aspects of the same functioning psychomental complex. In the forms, as described, can we really regard the psychoses as a «pathological» phenomenon, or is it safer to consider them as normal ones, in so far as they may be regulated by shamanism? This question is quite timely, for other phenomena of mass psychosis observed among the Europeans are not considered at all as «pathological» ones, but very often they even receive the name of «progressive movements». I am inclined to add that the greater number of European observations on «shamanism» and «psychoses» and the especial attention to the outer forms of these phenomena, which are sometimes exaggerated, are mere ethnographic reactions of Europeans on alien complexes. In the greater number of cases these reactions are badly affected by the «superiority complex» and the justification of interethnical pressure on weak ethnical groups, sooner or later liable to be destroyed by large ones. Within these limits ethnography, until now, did not go much further than other «humanities».

504. I have introduced this conception in my first publication on shamanism (1919, Essay, etc.), the conclusion of which in English was given in J.R.A.S. N.C. Br. 1923. vol. LIV pp. 246-249, and reproduced (1929) in SONT, pp. 364-366.

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