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97. Shamanism

When we combine together the formal and psychological characters outlined in the previous two sections, we may form an idea of shamanism as a complex. In this definition, and only in this one, I shall treat shamanism as an ethnographical phenomenon observed among the Tungus and Manchus. It will now be clear why I wish not to extend it over the groups in which some of the above enumerated characters are not found at all, or are found in different functions of the different psychomental conditions. In fact, if we include under the same heading the complexes, like mafarism, observed among the Manchus and Dahurs in its mature forms, and if we cover with this term complexes of the Chinese elaborate system of fen-sui, with good reason treated as one of the fundamental conditions of Chinese rural complex, and if we mix up with it professional «magicians», «medicine-men», European witches, etc. none of these would gain in clearness, and no light would be thrown on these phenomena. Such a pseudo-scientific generalization, even though supported by the abstraction of common elements, would not differ very much from the old-fashioned descriptions of «popular superstitions^ «pagan customs and usages», «animism», «primitive mentality» and so forth.

I do not indulge in the hope that this point of view will be accepted by all readers and I expect that there will be suggestions as to treating shamanism as a particular case of a more general phenomenon. As a matter of fact, it may be easily identified with a complexly built-up art of fighting psychomental troubles and even many diseases treated by medical art. Hundreds of facts may be brought forth for the support of this identification, the logical conclusion of which would be that shamanism is a «primitive form of medical art». This would only partly be true, for shamanism has other functions as well, e.g. a general regulation of the psychic stability of the units, which is not a function of medical art, but of «good government». Shamanism, as a complex, also includes many facts which form the primary milieu, and in its theoretical setting of the problems of milieu it explains a great number of phenomena of milieu in general. It might thus be styled a system of «philosophy». In fact it has been done. However, such an identification of shamanism would not be formally correct, for as has been shown, shamanism is a further complication and a consequence of «philosophy» in which it cannot be included as a component. Moreover, the practical side of shamanism cannot be included in shamanism treated as «philosophy». Finally, by a number of authors and perhaps by the majority of ethnographers shamanism is treated as a «primitive religion» and shamanistic practices are regarded as a «religious phenomenon». If so, either «religion» is understood in a sense including medical art, regulation of psychic conditions, «Naturphilosophie», etc., because these elements are found in shamanism, which would evidently be inconsistent, or shamanism is treated narrowly in the sense of a complex of spirits, including the theory regarding their nature. But in this case «religion» would be deprived of the ethical element which is perhaps its most important and sometimes its only element. As a matter of fact, as a complex, shamanism has nothing to do with ethics, its most essential element is a regulation of the psychomental equilibrium by the above described methods, as well as the medical art. Indeed, some of the functions of shamanism in other ethnical groups may be taken up by entirely different elements which are never considered as «religion». An approach to shamanism as to a «religion» among religions finds expression in the opposition of shamanism to other religions. However, such an opposition cannot be made, because shamanism may perfectly well survive side by side with the religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, as they are understood by the ethnical groups recently converted. In fact any religion which does not oppose the idea of spirits and the possibility of their independent existence is not in conflict with shamanism [518].

By emphasising the impossibility of a complete identification of shamanism with «medical art», «philosophy» and «religion», and by pointing out that shamanism includes some elements characteristic of these complexes, I do not want to say that shamanism is an undifferentiated complex, a kind of primeval and primitive complex, which was the point of departure for differentiated complexes of «medical art,» «philosophy», and «religion». In fact, such an approach is employed by many writers on «primitive» people, but it is a mere hypothesis which does not serve to clarify the phenomenon, merely allaying one's mind with some explanation of the «unknown». Indeed, shamanism is not an initial complex in a chain of an «evolving» process, but a complex of secondary formation, such an inference is drawn from the analysis of this complex, element by element, and as a whole, from the standpoint of its actual functions, and from that of the cognition of the owners of this complex. Indeed, the inferences made from such an analysis might be erroneous, but historic evidences relating to shamanism in general and its elements fully support the result of our analysis, pointing to a secondary character of shamanism.

518. For the Tungus, many of whom were baptised, the refutation of shamanism seems to be an inconsistant requirement. The most curious symbiosis of Christianity and shamanism might be observed among the Nomad Tungus of Transbaikalia who are admitted intothe Cossack military organization (groups living near the Mongolian frontier, in East Transbaikalia, particularly on the banks of the Argun River) Since these Tungus were formerly Orthodox Christians, shamanism was not allowed to be practised, but they did use shamans for the needs of cattle breeding; they pointed out that «the shamans are better then the Orthodox priests in so far as the care of cattle is concerned».

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