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94. Origin Of The Term «Shamanism»

The term «shamanism», as a scientific term, is a derivative of «shaman», so that first we have to go to the original source. The term «shaman» was introduced into the western complex by the Russians who first met with the Tungus in the seventeenth century During the following century several travellers, for instance, Gmelin, Georgi and Pallas, also the historian Miller gave descriptions of practices performed by the specialists known among some Tungus groups under the names saman~shaman~haman. Into the western complex this term penetrated in the form of «shaman», doubtless borrowed from the Tungus of the western regions of their territory, who use the word s 'aman which was perceived by the Russians as saman. In Europe it made its appearance a little later than in Russia. Although it was introduced by E. Ysbrants Ides, it became familiar only at the end of the eighteenth century, through the works of Russian travellers. Indeed, the shamans were first understood as a kind of «pagan sorcerers», which meaning has persisted up to our days among laymen [505] and partly was responsible for hampering the understanding of the phenomenon itself.

The fact that the term saman which in the Manchu language, in observed original facts, referred to the different phenomenon «p'oyun saman». (vide supra) contributed to the acceptance and maintenance of the term «shaman» as a generic one designating specialists in dealing with spirits [506]. In this respect an analogy between the history of the term «shaman» and «Tungus» is interesting, for it reveals the presence of three facts, namely, «western tendency» to generalize with an inadequate knowledge of facts; a strong influence of «symbolism»; an incidental origin of terms. However, the difference between the history of these two terms is of some interest too. While a term of an alien origin saman, as will be shown, was assimilated by the Tungus before meeting European investigators, the terms «Tungus» and «tung-hu» were not introduced into the Tungus languages, both being of different origin and referring to different ethnical groups. The extension of the observation over other ethnical groups of Siberia, among whom the term saman was even unknown, brought the ethnographers to a generalized conception of a certain complex opposed to Christianity and other «religions», whence there was only one step to make from this generalization to a new religion, styled «shamanism». The ethnographical elements, of which the complexes styled shamanism consisted, were also found in ethnical groups living in different parts of the world, and on this ground «shamanism» received a still broader application, in reference to the complexes which could not be styled by one of the terms already in use, as Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Lamaism, etc. and various complexes known as ancient «religions» — of the Egyptians, Assyrio-Babybnians, Romans, Greeks and other historically known groups. On the ground that there are practices of medical art, known beyond the groups familiar with the above indicated «religious» complexes, various facts of medical art, even badly understood and sometimes interpreted in terms of «magic», were included under the same title of shamanism and thus the famous «medicine-man» was also included under the same general heading, which since that time has lost even its little scientific value and began to function as a collection of various strange and «primitive» practices, and horrible dictu, methods of thinking, serving as a screen on which the greatness of European civilization might be better demonstrated and ingenuity of authors' genius exercised. The result of such a trend of ideas was most disastrous for their authors — they were merely acting as formulators of the psychomental complex of large masses of the population, of ethnical groups among which they were living and working; but the scientific investigation into the nature of the phenomena styled «shamanism» did not go any further. On the other hand, gathering of facts, which were not so much in vogue as fabrication of explanatory hypotheses of a few of them known and their analysis, was steadily progressing. One by one these theories were proposed and rejected, so that we still are far from facing an accomplished construction, but have only fragments of facts and some rare extensive descriptions which do not allow us to make generalizations of an old type. «Shamanism» as a European creation has collapsed and we have to revert to the initial point of investigation — to the Tungus shamanism [507].


Tungus terms are met with a great number of modifications which may be easily brought to saman. In fact,.we have (1) saman (Nerc. Bir. Khin. Mank.) (Ur. Castr. Neg. Sch., Barguz. Nom. Poppe) (Manchu Sp. Manchu Writ.); (2) haman (Lam.) (Kirensk Tungus. Czek.; Vilui, M); (3)xaman (Turn.); (4) s'aman ~s«aman (Barg. RTM. Amur); (5) s' ama~shama~sama (Goldi groups, Schrenk, Schmidt) (Oroci, Sch.), i.e. all the known Tungus groups have one of the modifications of saman. In some records we meet with a distinction of the a which in the second group may be distinguished by an accent (Ivanovskil; in Dahur, the character of which is not indicated) and length (Poppe in Barguzin Nom.). In most of my own records I did distinguish a musical accent due to the higher tone of the second a. However, the Manchu sama (Manchu Sp.) is accentuated on the first syllable sama, which accent may be effected both by a protraction of- a, and by enhancing its tone (higher in tonality). The final n may change into ng (in Manchu Sp. Rudnev and in Dahur) commonly observed, and it may also disappear altogether (Goldi-Oroci groups). In fact, the final n in many Tungus dialects in this word seems to appear as a suffix, for it is subject to alteration and omission, e. g. the Barguzin dialect produces the plural in the form of s'amas'al; some other dialects may also produce it from the stem sama, i.e. n being considered as a suffix; while other groups give samanal, samansa, etc. These facts are interesting, for they show a considerable oldness of the word and its assimilation seen from the fact of suffix formation by analogy. This is supported by the derivatives of the type of samas'ik (Bir. Nerc.), hamayik (Lam), — «the shaman's costume»; sama (RTM), samdo (Bir) (a derivative from the Manchu samadambi—>samda), — «to perform shamanism»; by the side of hamanda (Lam), — ibid., — produced from the stem xaman. In all Tungus languages this term refers to persons of both sexes who have mastered spirits, who at their will can introduce these spirits into themselves and use their power over the spirits in their own interests, particularly helping other people, who suffer from the spirits; in such a capacity they may possess a complex of special methods for dealing with the spirits. Such a meaning is correlated in all Tungus dialects and languages and no other meaning is given, except in the Manchu language, in which, with the increase of the word p'oyun, it now refers to the specialists who perform prayers and sacrifices chiefly to the clan spirits, as well as to the specialists of the Imperial Court for the performance of rites required by the cult of the spirits in general. In the Tungus languages a great number of words are derivatives of sama(n), but besides these derivatives no word may be connected with saman, which remains an isolated technical term [508], so that one must apply to other possible sources of borrowing of this term, always keeping in mind the possibility of further semantic variations of the original.

As to other ethnical groups among whom saman is now known, they are confined only to the Dahurs who use saman (Ivanovskil), samang (Poppe). Historically this word is met with in the Nuichen language, as recorded in the Chinese transcription of the twelfth century read by P. Pelliot [509] shan-man and identified by him with saman. In fact, his translation of the Chinese text is as follows: «chan-man, en langue juchen, cela signifie une sorciere». It is thus likely that the word did exist in the twelfth century in Manchuria, and referred to the specialists who might have been called in Chinese «sorciere» [510]. In the Tungus meaning the word saman is unknown in other languages, where there are other terms for it [Kowalewsky gives the Mongol word shaman as a Manchu word (saman)]. Among the groups now living near the Tungus such terms are (1) buga, boga, buge, bu of the Mongols, used to express the same phenomenon as the Tungus shamans; it has been compared with Turkish terms for «sorcerer», «sorcery», etc [511]. (2) udagan (Mongol); odogong,udayang (Buriat); udoyang (Yakut), — «the female shaman» which has been adapted by some Tungus groups, e.g. idakon (Mank) (Ur. Castr.), odakon (Nerc), odoyan (RTM.), idokon (Barguz. Nom., Poppe) in the Mongol sense and evidently by the groups directly influenced by the Mongols (Buriats) and Yakuts; it should be noted that this term is not used by most of the Tungus groups of Manchuria (except RTM.), also by those of the Amur and Maritime prov [512]. (3) the terms based upon the stem kam are found among the Turk speaking groups, but they did not enter into the Tungus dialects. The Tungus dialects possess some other terms which will be discussed later on, but they have no such importance as saman, though they are technical ones.

B. Laufer connected the series buga with the Tibetan aba and the Chinese bu (wu «shaman?» S. Sh.), which, for the time being, I naturally leave as it is, for it does not concern us. The series udagan seems to remain with the Mongol speaking groups and Yakuts, for its borrowing by the Northern Tungus is evident, and so it is recognized by the Tungus themselves.

Several comparisons have been made of the Tungus word «shaman» with words of other languages, of which the first, namely, the indirect derivation of saman from the Sanscrit sramana, is correct. Putting aside the criticism of this parallel which can now have only a historic and ethnographic interest [513], we face only one difficulty, namely, that to show how a term can migrate from Central Asia to Eastern Asia [514]. As a matter of fact, we have no direct evidence for showing exactly at which historic moment and who could have carried it so far away and how its other function was substituted to its original one. However, the analysis of facts makes this difficulty not so great as it was usually pictured by the opponents, — such a migration of terms and ethnographic elements, even of complexes, is a common occurrence, and the facts concerning shamanism and shamans give us many instances of this kind. As a form of my final conclusion — it will be clearer when we go through all details of shamanism and the history of the spreading of Buddhism in Northern Asia — I may now state that the connexion between Central and Eastern Asia through the Kidans (Western Liao) and later through other Eastern Asiatic groups was maintained; the ancestors of the Manchu and Dahurs, who both now have the term saman, were also familiar with Buddhism; the shamanism is not a very old complex and it is saturated with elements borrowed from Buddhism (and Lamaism) which, in so far as the complex of spirits is concerned, has already been shown; it may be supposed that the term saman was introduced through these ethnical groups and it might have escaped its incorporation into the Mongol complex; the Chinese shan-men, is not responsible for saman.

As has been shown, we find among non-Tungus groups and even among the Tungus groups some different terms for the phenomenon we call here «shaman». The absence of the term saman will not prevent us from including the bearers of different terms into the group of shamans. Thus the term «shaman» will be used as a technical scientific term. From this point of view it would perhaps be better to exclude it altogether, in order to avoid a conscious or unconscious confounding of the complex here described with that already created in the minds. In other words, — the symbol (starter) «shaman» must perhaps not be given a new function corresponding to my interpretation of shamanism, based upon its study among the Tungus.

In discussions of this kind, a «symbol» may lead astray the whole discussion. However, I do not introduce a new term, because I hope that it will be possible to save the term «shaman» to be applied to the phenomenon here discussed. Without wearing out this term by the use in reference to very broad generalizations, and at the same time clearing it from various malignant tumors — theories which associated shamanism with sorcery, witchcraft, medicine-man, etc.[515] — the term «shaman» may still be preserved.

I shall call shamanism the Tungus complex which is connected with the shamans. This term may naturally be extended over other groups possessing complexes which, without a confusing generalisation, may be considered as similar ones, regardless of whether their similarity is due to the diffusion of a complex from a certain ethnical group, or might come to the same forms, as it is observed in the cases of parallelism. Naturally, we must first of all have an exact idea as to the methods of defining whether we are dealing with «shamanism» or not. Therefore, I shall now proceed to Xhe chief characteristics of shamanism, as it is observed among the Tungus.

505. P. Pelliot (cf. Saman, J. A. 1913, Mars-Avril, p. 466) literally gives the following definition «le terme de chamanisme, derive' de celui de «cha-mane» ou sorcier sibe'rien est aujourd'hui passe dans la langue courante de l'ethnographie religieuse. Le «chamane» le meme sorcier.....etc.». Evidently this definition is given for for the use of rather ignorant people, and it may be supposed as a result of P. Pelliot's desire of being better understood by his readers unfamiliar with ethnography.

506. It must be pointed out that the Manchu complex of dealing with the spirits, in so far as it could be seen from the rites, was not interpreted as «sorcery» but as an adaptation of Buddhism (cf. L Langles, op. cit. pp. 14 et seq.).

507. In the present description of shamanism the reader will find no references to a great number of publications dealing, both directly and indirectly, with the Tungus «shamanism». I shall refer only to those works which bear some originality of scientific thought, even though erroneous, and those which contain original and reliable facts. The reasons for my abstaining from quoting other publications (with the exception of those which may not have come to my knowledge — certainly, not numerous) will not all be the same. Some of these publications were premature attempts at generalization others reveal a striking lack of competence in the treatment of this complex phenomenon; still other are an incomplete digest of literature; fourthly, there are pretentious compilations on great subjects; fifthly there are journalistic speculations; sixthly, there are plagiarisms. To give a review of all these works is quite useless, for together with other similar productions, in other scientific fields, these works will soon be regarded as a useless wasting of paper, ink and human energy.

508. All etymologies, — and they are numerous, - proposed by W. Banzarow, Ch. de Harlez, J. Nemeth and maintained by their followers (e g B. Laufer, P. P. Schmidt) are mere misunderstandings. In my part of Sramana-Shaman (cf. p. 116, footnote 36) I give two Tungus stems which might be further misleading in setting forth premature etymological comparisons.

509. op. cit. p. 468.

510. As regards the limitation of the sex, it has no importance for the Manchus, and hypothetically their ancestors, might have used both sexes. 511. Etymological analysis of terms of this type, in so far as semantic variations are concerned, presents sometimes unsurmountable difficulties due to the translations of terms and their expression m terms familiar to the authors. Some of the authors do not distinguish the important difference which exists between «shaman», «sorcerer,», «wizard», «diviner», «fortune teller», «juggler» «clan priest», «medicine-man» ets., all of which in the translations of incompetent recorders and writers may occasionally be «generalized» as «sorcerers», and among the more learned of them as «shamans». However, not all of these terms may refer to the «shamans» in the sense used among the groups whose terms are compared and «translated». Indeed, these phenomena are «generalized» as a group of phenomena little known to the authors who oppose them to their own complex of «civilised scholars».

512. Udagan served to V. F. Troscanskii (op. cit., p 116) to show universality of the term udagan — «the female shaman», and hence to prove that originally the shamans were women, and male-shamans were established after the separation (hypothetic, of course,) of the Siberian groups.

513. The idea of such a parallel first occurred in the eighteenth century, in the writings of La Croze and Georgi (cf. B. Laufer, op. cit. p. 362). L. Langles definitely wrote in 1804, «quoique le Chamanisme ne soit reelement qu'une corrupation du Samaneisme il a deja 6te prodigieusement altere et defigur6 par ces Tatars grossiers et vagabonds» (op. cit. p. 16) P. Abel Remusat, J. Klaproth, P. V. Vasiliev, Max Miiller and A. H. Sayce maintained this parallel. Naturally, in many cases this etymology was a mere guess, for there are important differences between saman and sramana and, as well as between shamanism as a complex and the Buddhist sect as a complex. Indeed, no direct connexion is possible, but until recent times it was impossible even to connect the terms by means of diffused links and to establish an ethnographic causal connexion between these phenomena, which might be clearly demonstrated to those who could not grasp this idea by intuition or to those who, owing to different motives, did not wish to understand it. It was strongly opposed by W Schott who in three papers criticized this parallel on the ground, which is now out of date and etymologically wrong, that sam was the Turk kam, connecting saman with sambi (Manchu Writ) «to know» (recently this etymology was again maintained by P. P. Schmidt in The Language of the Negidals, p. 31). It was L Langles who pointed out that «leur (shamans) nom general et primitif, je crois, est chaman»......«Les Mantchoux ecrivent Saman, et Sama, enchanteur. Les Te1eoutes les nomment kam, kammea, ou Gham» etc. (op. cit. P. 18); D. Banzarov proposed a fantastic etymology (1846). Ch. de Harlez who accepted W. Schott's criticism, especially for the reason that there were no connections between India and China, on the one hand, and the Tungus, on the other hand, that the Chinese «sha-man» is distinct from saman, which is correct, but in a different sense, and he propozed his own fantastic etymology: saman is «drum» whence samdambi, etc. (cf. op. cit. p. 28 et seq.). J. Nemeth accepted W. Schott's hint sam~kam and went further in the formulation of a new «phonetic law» a~k etc. B. Laufer did not add to the positive contributions of the opponents' thesis, but hastened to adhere to J. Nemeth's view, introducing a journalistic style into the discussion, and reviewing the literature (cf. my part of Sramana-Shaman, Etymology etc.). What may be noted in this opposition is that all the opponents rejected the original parallel for various reasons, and all of them gave various etymologies, none of which can be considered as satisfactory from the point of view of the Tungus philology. This opposition did not help, but it greatly increased the literature regarding this etymology, making of it a kind of «great problem» in which the greatest impediment was what may be called learned obscurantism.

514. The fact of lack of parallels from Central Asia and the lack of facts regarding the nature and history of the spreading of Buddhism and Shamanism, served as a strong point for the seemingly reasonable discarding of this parallel. However, with the discovery of dead languages of Central Asia the situation greatly changed. A. Meillet was the first to point out the similarity of Tokharian samane and the Tungus word (cf. Le Tokharien, in Indogermanisches Jahrbuch, 1914, Vol. 1, p. 19). F. Rosenberg (Public. M. A. E. RAS. Vol. V, pp. 378-379, On Wine and Feasts in a Persian National Epic Poem) quite independently pointed out a possible parallelism of the Sogdian and Tungus saman. N. D. Mironov on two occasions (cf. his part of Sramana-Shaman; also his Kuchean Studies, R. O. Vol. VI, pp. 164-165) compared with Central Asiatic samane, saman, ssamana, which have originated from the Sanskrit sramana, whence the Chinese term shan-men, was also transcribed a fact known for a long time. In all these languages the indicated terms are used for the designation of a Buddhist monk identified with a certain sect introduced from India to Central Asia. Thus, we now know how sramana penetrated into Central Asia. During the first millenium it also spread to China, Western Asia and even Europe, where in variants it was known and associated with Buddhism among the ancient Greeks and Persians.

515. I might, perhaps, introduce such a new term, but I know two facts: firstly, that new terms generally meet with opposition when they are not yet adopted by «public opinion», and secondly, that, in professional circles, indulging in the creation of new terms, instead of new ideas, is a common phenomen, sometimes producing a new confusion of phenomena already known. I believe that the old terms must, as far as possible, be preserved, by assigning them new functions when they fall into disuse.

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