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134. Extasy

In the shamanistic performances I have observed different forms or degrees of extasy, so that it is not a phenomenon which may be defined in a rigid simple formula. In some cases it comes near to a condition which may be regarded as a simple hysterical fit, and in another extremely of variations it is a conventionalized ritualism in which the shaman's psychomental complex does not differ from that of his common behaviour — he is only a «performer».

First I shall give a description of the condition of the shaman during the performance, where there is no hysterical fit and when he is not simply a «performer».

In the description of performances we have seen that the shaman may start the performance after a sleep, during which the spirit comes into him, evidently as a continuation of his state during the sleep, when elements which constitute his «nor-mal» state were, at least partially, eliminated. In his condition the shaman believes that the spirit is in him and he acts and thinks as though the spirits were acting. Such a state is known to all those who can assimilate a different complex to such a degree that they may be able to describe it (this complex) in all details, and to act as persons who have this complex. Great dramatic and operatic artists, as well as great musicians, assume the complexes as they are known or as they are understood by them. «Talented» writers-psychologists, e.g. of the type of Dostoevsky, assume the complexes created by them (they may be stimulated by the realities, as well) and when they write and go into details, they only record their own states. A writer-photographer can also give a picture, but such a picture would not be «alive» and in the majority of cases would appear to be an «artificial creation». From psychiatry we know of cases of doubling personalities, and «splitting of a personality» into several personalities. Such a state may assume so heavy forms that the person affected by these conditions may become unable to act as a «normal» member of the community. The condition of abnormality consists in the fact that they do not assume other complexes at their will and do not change them at will, but the complexes «come» by themselves. There are also different degrees of eclipsing other complexes: when a talented writer assumes a complex to be described, he does not lose his power of recording, as if he were an observer from the outside. In the case of «doubling» one of the personalities may carry out an observation on the other personality, and even «fight» it. A good reason for the existence of «good» and «evil» spirits is conditioned by such a doubling of personalities, for which state the spirits serve as a mere justification and at the same time also as a means to neutralize harmful effects. The behaviour of persons affected by hysteria is of the same nature: it is supposed that, when there is a fit, the person must act according to a certain scheme, and the person, unconsciously and sometimes consciously, acts in the direction of bringing himself into a psychomental and physiological state in which such an acting would be possible; as known, this is neither easy, nor always physically pleasant. Moreover, a hysterical fit can socially disable the person, temporarily or permanently, and hysterical persons, in normal conditions of their lives, are also unable to control themselves. However, there is no absolute elimination of all elements of consciousness and perception; some of them function well during the fit [654].

In the shaman's extasy the degree of doubling and elimination of elements of consciousness, as well as the breaking of the existing ethnographical complex, are variable. However, there are limits on both sides, namely, the shaman's state must not turn into an uncontrolled hysterical and he must not suppress extasy; in fact, hysterical fits and suppressing of extasy to not permit to produce an involuntary self-expression of the doubles (spirits) and to render a freedom to the intuitive thinking. Within these limits various degrees of intensity and effectiveness of extasy, may be distinguished for producing such a state the shaman must possess special psychomental conditions. First of all, he must have the ability of doubling, perhaps even splitting personality, he must have a certain power of controlling his thinking mechanism, he must know methods of bringing himself into this state, and methods of maintaining and regulating this state as long as it is required for practical purposes of the performance, and always considering the presence of an audience and the aims of the performance.

A shaman who cannot produce the needed effects of extasy is considered as a bad shaman; persons in whom an extasy turns into a fit (who cannot control themselves) are considered as possessed by the spirits and therefore cannot become shamans — they must be treated; while those who cannot produce a real extasy cannot become shamans, but may become «clan priests», i.e. performers of sacrifices and prayers.

Physiological and psychic conditions of the shaman during the extasy reveal some interesting phenomena connected with the state, but it will be necessary first to give details as to the methods of producing a state of extasy.

We have seen that this may happen during the sleep, so that evidently we have here a case of strong self-suggestion, bringing about an action during the state of partial unconsciousness. However, a great number of shamans, even if they perform a «sleeping» before the extasy, practice preliminary acts for bringing themselves into extasy. At the beginning the shamans drums, continually increasing and decreasing the tempo and the intensity, with a definite rhythm empirically discovered, in order to produce a physiological and psychic state in which a suggestion — the coming of a spirit — made by the shaman himself, may have an immediate effect of «doubling». As soon as the spirit is introduced, the shaman must only maintain his state.

This is achieved by the continuous drumming, performed by the shaman himself or by the assistants, and the influence of the audience, which is «helping» the shaman by keeping the rhythm and intensifying the shaman's extasy by impressing him with their singing. Several shamans told me that they cannot perform, if there is no audience. One of them has clearly formulated: «all people helped me to go to the lower world (the Barguzin Tungus). We have seen that the audience is also continuously influenced by the shaman, so that a permanent current of influences, radiated by the shaman, is formed, accepted and intensified by a great number of individuals and sent back to the shaman for his further excitement. Whether we understand this state of the shaman — his relations with the audience, mutual hypnosis, suggestion, or even, in a physical form, as peculiar waves, the direct mutual influence of a continuous excitement is such, that the shaman and the audience become a complex -the shaman's extasy is maintained. For this reason the shamans do not like the presence of «spectators» who do not participate in this action. However, they do not object to the presence of persons who do not belong to the shaman's clan, even to such as belong to other ethnical groups, provided they do not destroy the harmony, of the shaman's audience [655].

The rhythmic dancing has the same effect, both for calling in the spirits and for maintaining them. The costume producing a complex noise is also used with the same aim. I have observed cases among the Manchus and other Tungus, when without the costume the shaman could not produce extasy. The shamans sometimes create in themselves a state, in which they want to perform (produce extasy), and thus can maintain extasy. Two methods are widely used, namely, smoking tobacco and drinking wine. However, the shamans usually neither smoke nor drink before the performance; but it is done when they change spirits and additional excitability is required, or when the shaman is tired. Usually these are supposed to be spirits which want to smoke or drink, but sometimes the shaman may do it in between two spirits. The smoking may be made either with an ordinary tobacco pipe, several of which the shaman may smoke quickly and without interruption -I have seen five and even six pipes smoked one after another. The shaman may also breathe the smoke of laedum palustrum or any other plant with a pleasant smell (all conifers are used), or even Chinese incense (among the groups which can get them, e.g. the Manchus, the Dahurs, and rarely the Tungus of Manchuria). The same effect is produced by the taking of alcoholic drinks, such as Russian vodka and Chinese wine. A strong person may drink more than a bottle of vodka during his performance. In some cases the shamans abstain from drinking, for they say that drinking does not help but makes them weaker [656]. As a matter of fact, when the shaman oversteps the limit of drinking needed for maintaining extasy, or as a stimulant, when he is tired, he may become intoxicated to such a degree that no extasy can be maintained. The audience would laugh seeing a drunken shaman.

During the extasy the shamans (I have observed several female-shamans) very often weep, so that the face is covered with pouring tears (Barguzin Tungus, Birarchen). The pulse is very fast, but at the moment of deep extasy, when the shaman's soul is supposed to be in the other world, the pulse slows down and becomes weaker and sometimes can be felt with difficulty (I have a great number of observations among all groups). However, when the shamans merely ritualize, there is no such effect on the pulse.

According to the shamans, they feel an extreme lightness of the body during the extasy. This feeling is seemingly also communicated to the sick persons, for the Manchus assert that when during the performance the shaman steps on the person lying on the ground, the shaman is felt to be very light. In fact the feeling of lightness, or in other words, the increase of strength, is a common phenomenon. As stated, the costume may weigh over thirty kilograms. Such a weight is not easy to wear, though it be evenly distributed on the body. An old woman, I saw one day among the Birarchen, could not lift it up and was literally unable to move, when the costume was put on her. However, when the spirit entered her, she moved with ease and at a tremendous speed. In another case I observed a shaman of eighty-six years who was half deaf and half blind (he could not walk alone and, being blind, shamanized at daylight); he was so weak that he could not move without being supported and was usually helped to mount his reindeer. The costume was extremely heavy (the old shaman gradually gathered a great number of iron parts) — weighing about forty kilograms by my estimation — and the old man, when dressed, lay on the ground until the spirits came in. Then there was a sudden transformation: he jumped and danced like a youth, his voice was as strong as that of his niece who was shamanizing with him.

In a great number of performances I saw shamans leap without a running start, or from the spot where they were standing (the wigwams being too small), which cannot be performed by the most able Tungus sportsmen, even without the additional weight of the costume. The Tungus assert that the shamans sometimes touch with their heads the upper smoke aperture of the wigwam, at a height of over three metres. I have not seen this (and this may be mere hallucination on the part of the Tungus!), but I have seen them jump to the height of about one metre. Indeed, for doing so there must be an enormous tension of muscles. The weight of shaman's costume is also an interesting fact which throws a special light. In fact, the weight of the costume must hinder the shaman in producing his extasy, so the shaman must make a special additional effort for neutralizing the inhibitive influence of the extra-weight. If the shaman cannot reach an extasy he cannot perform — the costume is too heavy; a heavy costume requires a further increase of extasy. In fact the shaman-beginners usually have light costumes, while the old experienced shamans have very heavy costumes. The Tungus say that a young shaman cannot wear a heavy costume. Among the Manchus, whose forms of shamanizing have been, especially lately, established, as well as among the Dahurs, the costume is not very heavy.

One of the shamans (the Birarchen) told me that each time when the spirit enters he feels very hot and there is a loud noise in the ears, he is unable to understand himself and cannot remember what the spirit says. This feeling of heat is seemingly a general phenomenon, for I myself felt the shamans to be much hotter during the performance (before their swift moving dance).

Among other curious phenomena the case of «sudden pregnancy» already discussed (vide supra) is to be noted. The assistant shaman is asked to «examine» the abdomen of the shaman; when the spirit leaves the female shaman, the abdomen assumes its former shape. The shamans also produce various experiments, e.g. by wounding themselves, bleeding, burning etc. without any harmful effects. The Tungus say that the shaman may cut his chest with a knife and the next day there will be only a red mark [657]. The shaman sits and after long concentration blood begins to drop from his forehead. The operation with hot iron, charcoal, etc. produces only a slight effect — on the next morning the hands are red, but not burnt. I have not observed myself these cases, but the Tungus assert that «good shamans» do it quite often. Spirits, the introduction of which may permit shamans to do this, are called by the special term balbuka (Bin).

If we leave aside doubtful facts, there will remain my own observations which clearly show that the physical power of a shaman increases enormously, that his physiological state is not like that of normal people. Extasy requires enormous energy, so that all shamans, whom I observed and who really had been in extasy, were unable to move after the performance and were covered with perspiration; the pulse was weak and slow, the breathing was rare and shallow. Some of them were in a state of half-consciousness, while at certain moments they might have been unconscious.

The Tungus say that during the shamanizing, especially when the shaman goes to the lower world, the death of the shaman may suddenly occur. Such cases, sometimes with details, were related to me on various occasions among all groups, except the Manchus. The Tungus explain that the shaman dies because his soul cannot return (the sign of its coming back is restoration of consciousness), being stopped on the way by other spirits and even by other shamans. Therefore special measures must be taken for calling back his soul, by all possible means. For this reason the shamanizing to the lower world is very rarely performed. The fact itself is not incredible, for if the shaman's heart is not strong enough and if he has, for instance, arteriosclerosis or other similar troubles, which require a quiet behaviour, death may occur because of the effort made during the performance. On the other hand, if cases of voluntary death are known among other ethnical groups (e.g. Australians violating taboo), the shaman's condition may be of the same type: he is convinced that his soul is captured and cannot return and he arrests the normal functioning of the heart and the breathing, the lowering of which is actually observed during certain moments of the performance. Among the Reindeer Tungus of Transbaikalia this form of shamanizing is believed to be so dangerous that there are very few shamans who perform it, and only once in three years or so.

The analysis of the shaman's psychology during the extasy and in ordinary time shows that, in so far as the shaman is concerned, the performance is only a special means to create a special condition which liberates the shaman's «thinking machine» from the influence of the existing mode of thinking. However, the shaman must remain on the dividing line between the state of «nervous» fit and perfect consciousness. The function of the assistant may now be better understood. The assistant really helps and directs the shaman's mental process by asking him questions, only partially perceived by the shaman who must not be brought back to complete consciousness. The assistant must also interpret, for the shaman usually does not remember what he has said, when the extasy is over and the persons who are not experienced cannot understand him.

The state of extasy is probably very pleasant, for as a rule the shamans like to shamanize with extasy, and sometimes they look for an occasion. Indeed, it should be kept in mind that the shamans, being socially needed, may have a social impulse to perform, as is actually rather often observed; but the cases when the shaman, being alone, brings himself into a state of extasy are very frequent, although not with all shamans. It seems to me that the shamans need extasy on the same ground as the hysterically behaving persons from time to time want to have a fit, and the persons liable to the state of creative extasy, e.g. poets, good musicians and others, want to have a «creative mood». The shamans say that before a performance, when none had been carried out for a long time they feel «heaviness in the heart and head» which may grow into a feeling of discomfort and even pain. Yet, on the next day, after the performance, they feel themselves «light and pleasant» i.e. exactly as may be observed in the above compared states [658].

It should also he pointed out that sometimes the shamans prepare themselves for shamanizing (extasy) by fasting during a certain period (given hours and days). This practice is known among the Manchus. Into the came group of phenomena may be included the limitation of sexual intercourse among the Manchus. However, these limitations may be a result of further application of the theory of spirits, as well as having some connection with the physiological and psychological state of the shaman. Indeed, the fasting and abstaining from sexual intercourse are only rarely observed, and they are rather individual methods. In some individual cases the fasting and the refusal of certain kinds of food was explained to me as a method of making the extasy easier. I should say, in these cases we have merely an alleviation of the stomach from undigested food. In fact, some kinds of food can be more or less easily assimilated. But some shamans explain this as a result of a special revelation of the spirits, which is a mere «rationalization» [659].

There are also special conditions when the shamans do not want to shamanize as a matter of fact, they refuse rather often, especially great shamanizing as shown, at least among some groups, a shamanizing to the lower world may be performed only once in three years. The shamans may refuse, in case they do not like the people personally, when they are too tired, or if a performance had been recently carried out. In all such cases the shaman would give as a reason that the spirits would not work. In the same line comes the abstaining from performance during the menstrual period, pregnancy and during a certain period after the delivery. In such cases an explanation is given: the spirits do not like jatka (Manchu) or ak'ipchu (Tungus) women. However, the Tungus and Manchu theories as to the spirits can be easily reconciled with this state of women — and it is done in other cases — while the real cause seems to be the impossibility for the shaman to bring herself into extasy and carry out a performance, when she is in a particular physiological condition, or when she is not yet strong enough after childbirth. It seems to me that the theory of spirits is mere rationalization on the part of the shamans, while actually during such a state the female shaman may be physically tired and, as known, may be more liable than usually to nervous fits, so that the extasy might turn into fit.

Another psychologically interesting condition is that the shamanizing (including real or supposed extasy) must be justified, i.e. there must be some «reasons» for shamanizing. As shown before, such «reasons» are help to the people, chiefly clansmen, so that for bringing himself into the state of extasy, when the shaman himself does not want to shamanize, there must be some reason, a stimulus.

I shall now give the description of a case which is interesting from various points of view. A Birarchen female shaman was asked by us to perform her shamanizing for making a phonographic record [660]. After a rather insistent request on our part, the shaman consented and was willing to do it. The chief objection on her part was that there were no sick people and there was no other reason for shamanizing. Then it was decided to make a sacrifice to the spirit of nine cups of millet and a bottle of «red wine» (a solution of alcohol coloured red and sweetened with sugar). The shaman was dressed as for a regular shamanizing. She tried to call a spirit, which did arrive, but protested against being disturbed without any serious reason — for jest. The angry spirit even used «bad words». In spite of that she was able to bring herself into the state of extasy, during which she wept and sang in a most doleful manner. After this there was a sudden change of mood which manifested itself in a violent forte presto. In fact, it was very difficult for her to bring herself into a genuine extasy, although she wanted it.

To complete the picture of this phenomenon it must be noted that, when the shaman becomes more experienced he does not always use his ability of bringing himself into extasy; he uses this method, so to say, economically. However, since the ceremonial of the performance is carefully observed by the shaman for influencing the listeners and people who need his attendance, the latter do not notice that there is no real extasy. Naturally young shamans cannot do this without a long practice and the penetration into the psychology of the audience. This may be compared with the performance of an artist who does not «feel» the part he is performing, but knowing all details of psychological effect of his performance, acts with perfect deliberation. The same is being done by experienced speakers who control the audience by a series of witticisms etc [661].

651. With the growth of the knowledge concerning chemical methods and microscopical analyses, new requirements as to these «performances» have arisen. Whether or not such analyses are needed, the patients require them and they must be carried out. Even when they are of no use to the doctor, he is bound to make them, because «theoretical» medicine insists upon such analyses.

652. The same may be represented in terms of «channels and strata».

653. It must not be forgotten that different ethnical units may have the same ethnographical complex, which may produce an impression of an independent existence of «culture», civilization, «science» and other abstractions, when they are treated independently of the ethnical units.

654. Among the Tungus, as well as among other groups which play with the complex of «doubling personality», the latter may assume quite dangerous dimensions of a mass psychosis. As a matter of fact, examples taken «from life» are not always equally understood and therefore they are not equally convincing in spite of this I shall now give a parallel widely observed among very distinct ethnical units of our days. After the discovery of the «pathological condition of doubling personality», professionally known to the psychiatrists, this «theme» has gradually penetrated among the laymen, first through the professional novelists and journalists, who used it with success as a «modern and interesting problem», and later through the vulgarizations of «talkies and movies». The effect of this «movement» is twofold. A part of youth finds a good justification for their acting contrarily to the existing «patterns» of social behaviour, but they remain «normal», while another part is actually disabled, being affected almost in the same manner as it was with the «classical hysteria». Perhaps, I should mention a third group, probably the most numerous, which is composed of youth who imagine themselves «doubled», but who are actually following a mere fashion, in order «to be up-to-date». Of course, by keeping their minds busy with useless things and pernicious experiments, they naturally make harm to themselves and thereby to the society where they live. The effects are still heavier when adult members of the society are affected by the same «movement». Ethnologically speaking, more parasites are living on this fashion, than on the hysteria of olden days. As the latter was passively regarded, the new fashion is now commonly regarded as a mere «literary movement», «modern psychology», etc. «due to the complexity of modern life», while actually it is one of the effects of the half-disintegrated organization of social control and a consequence of successful propaganda of mass-psychosis. Of course this is only one of many other harmful instances, lately produced by «civilized mankind» and taken for granted as a «normal phenomenon».

655. The state of the shaman, in so far as the audience may influence him, may be compared, but in a very rough manner, with that of a speaker who may establish a connection with the audience, i.e. the audience may follow him and he can see it in the changing expression of faces. With every new thought thrown to the audience he gets new stimuli for the continuation of his connection — he penetrates into the psychomental complex of the audience, and the audience penetrates into his complex. However, if there are too many dull persons who cannot follow the speaker, who cannot understand him, who remain either indifferent or manifest their scepticism, they cannot penetrate the speaker's complex and they deprive the speaker of stimuli. Indeed this is well known to all «speakers» and to the audience, as a means of «putting the speaker down». It should be noted here, that in a great number of cases such listeners quite consciously, because of various reasons which have nothing to do with the aim of the «speaker» to be understood, obstruct the formation of connection; but there is a still greater number of sceptics who do this because of their fear of the speaker, whose complex they do not want to understand, for fear it may eclipse their own one. The scepticism is rather characteristic of the mentally weak individuals who use obstinacy as a self-protective armour and refuse to understand other people. In shamanistic performances, particularly in the extasy, the connection between the shaman and the audience is still greater, and a hostile (sceptical) attitude is especially dangerous in shamanistic performances this element is also represented by foreigners, e.g. Russian gold mine workmen in Transbaikalia, and «modernized» Chinese in Manchuria, who do not understand the essentials of the shamanistic performance, who fear being influenced by it and who assume a hostile attitude of irony, supposed to be superior. (As a matter of fact in the descriptions of ethnographers we also meet, rather often, with this attitude.) Indeed, such individuals are a disturbing factor in the performance and they are not welcome.

656. Among the Birarchen I once observed a female shaman who consumed a great quantity of Chinese wine, and the performance was a failure.

657. In this connection I wish to quote Gmelin's account (cf. Reise, etc. Vol. 11 pp. 493-497) of his and Miller's experiment with a shaman (Yakut, female) who was compelled by them to perforate her abdomen with a knife. These naive travellers wanted to convince the Yakuts, that the shamans are cheating them. However, the wound which was so large that the omentum protruded (it was cut off, cooked and eaten by the shaman who was perfectly certain of a good end of her experiment), after two dressings, with resin and birch bark, was healed on the sixth day.

658. I give here a case which I observed in minute details. A Manchu (details of some interest regarding his activity vide SONT pp 113 et seq.) pretended to be a shaman of his clan (sakda), but he was not recognized. A man, rather healthy, inclined to good food and drinking, of a muscular complex, as a rule rather quiet, without being indifferent towards the milieu, was under observation several months, practically every day. From time to time he had a desire to shamanize, and then was not as in his usual mood; he became self-concentrated, excitable, of changing mood. On one of such occasions we advised him to go ahead, since he wanted to know through the spirits what was going on in his family (though his connection with his family was very loose). Then we procured a drum and bought some Chinese incense sticks. When everything was ready, he himself objected «All this is useless, the spirit will not come.» After a moral support on our part he decided to make a trial. At first he trembled and drummed, then the spirit came. He gnashed his teeth, took in his mouth burning incense (supposed to be the spirit of fire) furiously crying out «keku, keku». Before the spirit left, the man had a second «fit» (trembling etc.) and heavily breathing remained for a while lying on the stove-bed. After taking a rest he was very joyful and happy and declared that he had found what he wanted to know. This case is interesting, for the man was not a shaman, but he performed an extasy which, as far as I could see, was merely a nervous fit, but performed according to a certain model.

659. The analysis of the rare cases when shamans of different groups abstain from food is subject to great variations as to the reasons and kinds. No generalization is possible, except that probably the shamans with a poor digestion like to have their stomachs empty. The same is true in reference to the quantity of narcotics, alcoholics and smoking.

660. At those days I used an ordinary Edison phonograph which was not a very convenient apparatus for recording. It should be noted that our relations with this shaman were very good, sincere and friendly. She was always willing to give me all possible, details as to herself and as to her art of shamanism, which permitted me to approach her with such a request.

661. Some old professors in their lectures repeat from year to year the same «witticism and tricks» — sometimes even published ones! - so that the students who are not deprived of humour sometimes begin to laugh before the regular «wits and tricks» are performed. This may be regarded as an artless imitation of real artists turning it into a simple performance, which produces no effect upon the audience. Shamans lacking talent and imagination, as well as ability to control an audience are met with among the Tungus. However, the Tungus regard them as bad performers, and, of course, as poor shamans.

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