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96. Psychomental Conditions Of Shamanism

Indeed, the primary condition of shamanism is a recognition of the existence of spirits as they were described in Part Two. From this point of view a special system of animism lies at the basis of shamanism, for not every animistic system can serve this purpose; e.g. Lamaism in its practise dealing with the spirits cannot be used for this purpose. The same is true of other systems which practically, in the understanding of the laymen, deal with the spirits. Here it must be pointed out that whether the theory recognizes such spirits or not is of secondary importance for the ethnical groups, for what may actually concern them are the spirits with whom they are familiar and whom they represent in their minds according to their own ideas, and not according to the formal theories of these systems. The reason why Lamaism cannot be used is that the spirits are not mastered by the lamas and it distinguishes benevolent and malevolent spirits, while the Tungus are rather sceptical as to the potential benevolence of spirits and at the same time they believe that the most malevolent of them can be mastered, and in this way they solve the problem of the «good-evil» complex. This attitude reveals quite a different psychomental behaviour of the Tungus complex. Yet, the complexity of the moral teaching of Buddhism, which intrudes into the system of spirits dealt with by Lamaism, remains beyond the Tungus interest, and at the same time it confuses the rather simple problem of playing on the equilibrium between the benevolent and malevolent spirits, according to the Tungus, practically treated by the lamas. The same is true of other systems based upon the recognition of two forces in the play and their moral formulation. The methods used by the Chinese Taoists also do not cover the Tungus requirements. The Tungus would say: the Chinese have different spirits and the Chinese do not know how to deal with Tungus spirits. The popular representatives of this complex, who incidentally appear among the Tungus, are unable to solve psychological problems faced by the Tungus. The latter accept these monks, and those who pretend to be monks, as imposters, as mere and simple mafa or even jugglers, and often treat them as dishonest persons who try to fool «the poor ignorant Tungus». To the problem of Tungus reaction on alien complexes I shall revert in other places.

Possibility of mastering spirits is the second important condition of shamanism, without which shamanism can not exist. The Tungus and Manchus are conscious of these two conditions when they say that only Tungus and Manchus themselves can manage their own spirits and these are numerous.

It is safe to suppose that the state of extasy, observed among the shamans and among the candidates, who may be very numerous, cannot be created without a certain individual instability. In fact, among the candidates extasy usually turns into a half-delirious hysterical condition; among the shamans it remains on the very dividing line between the two: normal stable state and abnormal unstable state. A candidate who would not know how to bring himself into a state of extasy, would never be credited by the people to have shamanistic power, and could not become a shaman. It may thus be stated that, in so far as the beginning of shamanistic practice is concerned, it presumes that the people who choose this function are subject to the intentional or unintentional psychomental conditions which, when observed in the European complex, cannot be regarded as absolutely «normal». This is an important psychic condition of shamanism. As we have already seen, a great number of spirits are supposed to be responsible for conditions which may be generalized under the heading of adaptive instability of individuals and groups which may be expressed in a lack of «correct» (i.e. usual in the given ethnical milieu) response to the milieu and the situations, in a lack of self-protective behaviour, etc. They are also held responsible for pathological conditions due to infections and for cases of serious disturbances of mental and nervous complexes taking forms of violent insanity. As will be shown, the psychomental instability among the Tungus and Manchus is subject to variations. The latter may be more and less intensive and they may affect smaller or larger groups of people. Of course, I have here in view chiefly those disturbances which are not due to organic troubles, as the effect of diseases affecting the brain, which are not subject to periodical variations, as well as cases of senile marasmus understood by these groups as a «normal condition of senescence». As a matter of fact, this psychomental instability sometimes becomes so intensive and such a large group of people is affected by it that the existence of the whole group may be seriously threatened. Indeed, these conditions are greatly due to self-suggestion, they may be treated by the same psychological method. Such methods are: firstly, a treatment by the shamans with the help of special spirits and in view of expelling the spirits that produce the trouble; secondly, a concentration of all spirits in one place and their mastering, which is achieved by the election of a shaman from among the candidates. As soon as the shaman exists, the spirits are not free to do what they like, and consequently they leave the people alone, — the people cannot be sick, for there is no more cause for it. As a matter of fact, the troubles which affect a great number of people disappear and peace is restored. Such a mechanism may reasonably be understood only in one possible way, namely, we may suppose that it has been created, absolutely unconsciously, as a result of the adaptation of the ethnical units, where the individuals had to adapt themselves to their own psychomental condition and to regulate it. In this sense shamanism is a result of the functioning of the self-regulating psycho-mental complex, and the shamans are a kind of safety valve.

In so far as I could see from the fragmentary description of shamanism among the groups which had not been known to me personally, both Tungus and others, this aspect and the function of shamans and shamanism are not confined to the limited group of Tungus and Manchus investigated. They may of course be veiled with the complexity of conventionalistic forms of performances and theoretical side may be less developed than among the Tungus [517], but the essential of the complex in most cases is the same.

I do not consider the phenomenon in question as an «abnormal» one which may occur only in the conditions of ethnical disintegration and decline. The facts which we possess would not agree with this supposition. Ethnical units which were not declining at all, e g. the Manchus in the seventeenth century, and perhaps some Buriat groups, were greatly inclined to the shamanistic practices. The Tungus groups, which might successfully resist interethnical pressure, as most of the groups here described, and which, in spite of unfavourable conditions, might keep their population on the old level, also practised shamanism. Having before our eyes these facts, we cannot say that shamanism has resulted from the condition of ethnical decline. On the other hand, there is no little doubt that psychomental instability may be one of the aspects of the decline of ethnical units, and instability is a favourable ground for shamanism. Another question is how and with what effects shamanism functions among the groups in decline and whether it may be organized as an accomplished system or not. Thus, the existence of shamanism does not directly depend upon particular and specific conditions of intensive growth and intensive decline of ethnical units, but it depends upon the above described psychomental conditions of units and the existence of shamanism as an ethnographical complex, already known in its final, accomplished form, or in the forms which might hint at the creation of this complex. It should be noted here that among the Tungus and other groups which show a decline of their population and loss of culture, and which in general are visibly declining units, shamanism usually appears in its declining aspect, while the individual psychomental complex may be quite stable and thus there will even be no ground for shamanism, in so far as the appearance of candidates is concerned.

The above mentioned internal conditions of units are also essential, and for completing the picture of the complex of shamanism it will be safe to add that there must be units in which this complex may exist, for it is essentially a result of group-adaptation and, moreover, there must be groups organized and possessing some traditional mechanism. This condition, as will be later shown, is of great importance for the understanding of shamanism, which cannot be treated as an abstraction.

Thus, the psychomental conditions of shamanism can be characterised, as formulated above, in four aspects: (1) the shamanistic practices, which presume the existence of shamans, may originate only on the susceptibility of falling into the state of extasy; (2) shamanism may exist only in ethnical units among which there is a need of treatment of harmful psychomental conditions in a particular form affecting a great number of people; (3) shamanism is the mechanism of a self-regulating psychomental complex; (4) it is essentially a group phenomenon; yet, still more narrowly, it is an ethnical phenomenon on which depends both the variable psychic conditions and the theoretical background which exists in the given units.

517. Regarding the degree of development of the theoretical part of shamanism in ethnical groups I must point out that the finding of it is not easy at all, for this presumes great familiarity with the people and language and such relations between the people and the investigators which would not hinder a friendly attitude of both sides.

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