SHAMANISM IN A POSTMODERN AGE
A few decades ago it was generally held that shamanism in
The concept of modern has been one of the most frequently repeated keywords of the 20th century and consequently had almost magical power. It was imbued with positive content, in part because it was associated with development – mainly technical development – and in part because it meant rejection of the tradition of earlier periods: the repudiation, denial and destruction of tradition of all kinds.
The 20th century has often been called the age of revolutions and revolutionary change. But this label hid what was one of the very characteristic features of the process: modernity was always accompanied by destruction. In most cases, transformation meant the destruction of the earlier structures. Parallel with the technical development, the social structures changed, especially in those cases where the transformation was urged or even directed by political and ideological forces. It was perhaps folk culture that was most strongly affected by these changes. In the eyes of the militants of modernity, cultural traditions were the most hated enemy. This was especially true in
In short, the transformation that was carried out in the name of modernity and so-called development was directed against tradition. However successful this ideology of modernity may have appeared for decades, by the late seventies and even more in the eighties and nineties its shortcomings, failure and unavoidable revision became obvious. It was found that the forced industrial development had not only brought unquestionable achievements and created a certain degree of prosperity: it had also caused enormous environmental pollution. The disruption of the traditional local communities and the rejection of cultural traditions (religions and rites) resulted in moral uncertainty (and in rising crime rates).
As a reaction, a return to traditions can be quite clearly observed in the post-modern age. This is especially true in post-communist
A quarter of a century after the studies in Shamanism in
Two main classes of phenomena can be distinguished: one contains those cultures in which shamanism as an autochthonous phenomenon has survived more or less continuously up to the present, while the other group of phenomena consists of neo-shamanism (or urban shamanism) which has arisen mainly in an urban context. The first group can be divided into a further two subgroups. The first comprises the cultures where shamanism survived and was kept alive by tradition practically without interruption, while the second contains the peoples and forms of shamanism where the shamans had been almost eliminated but escaped at the last minute.
Perhaps the best point to begin with are the Koreans.
All aspects of Korean culture, including religion, are imbued with the ideology of Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism. Nevertheless a stratum – presumably originating from Central Asia – can be found underlying these: the institution of the king-shaman which can be traced back to the
It is interesting to observe that something similar happened in the field of cultural continuity in Manchuria, one of the regions of the People's Republic of
Recent ethnographic documentary film made in the early nineties (cf.: Hoppál 1992:191–196, and Shi 1993:49) show that this is a living tradition. A number of shamans appeared simultaneously at larger gatherings and the series of ceremonies were held in conjunction with clan prosperity. The fact that for centuries the Manchu shamans had hand-written ceremonial books (Pozzi 1992, Stray 1992) almost certainly contributed to the continuous preservation of the Manchu shaman traditions. (In 1993, I personally visited
On the other side of the
This example does not mean that shamans were not persecuted more strongly elsewhere. In the case of the Yakuts, for example, the matter of shamanism was treated as a political issue right from the earliest Soviet times practically up to the present (Balzer 1990, 1993). There is nothing surprising about this since the shamans were the ones who preserved their traditions, the old beliefs, oral epic tradition and mythology. By practising their art almost daily they ensured the continuous existence of folk culture, and therefore it is not by chance that from the thirties the local institutions of repression began to persecute them. Many hundreds of shamans ended their lives in concentration camps or forced labour camps (Gulags).
In spite of that, they were not entirely wiped out and when in the early nineties the restrictions of ideological repression began to ease, they immediately surfaced and while earlier they had only been taken to folklore festivals, in the last few years they have begun to work again, engaged mainly in healing. In 1992, when I visited the
We found similar phenomena in Tuva where, after long decades of shaman persecution, what could be called a renaissance of shamanism can be observed in 1995. The earlier communist political leaders, who are now the chief supporters of nationalism, support lamaism in the republic in the same way as the revival of shamanism. It should be noted that in the early thirties there were even more shamans than lamas working to preserve the spiritual health of the people (Djakonova 1978), although the two forms of religious practice coexisted peacefully.
The situation is especially fortunate in Tuva because the study of shamanism there has long been in the hands of expert researchers (V. P. Djakonova, S. I. Vajnshtejn and the local scholar-researcher M. B. Kenin-Lopsan – see his most recent works giving a general summary on Tuva shamanism Kenin-Lopsan 1993, 1996). A large body of collected material is available for further research, as well as for general enquirers. Mongus Kenin-Lopsan has played a considerable part in keeping this interest alive. He is not only an ethnographic collector but also a writer, one of those best acquainted with Tuva folklore traditions, a living classic, and president of the social organization known as Düngür. The drum used by Tuva shamans is called düngür, and this word was adopted as the name of the federation whose members are healing shamans working in Kyzyl, the capital, carrying out their activity of divination, diagnosing and healing in a perfectly matter-of-fact way in today's modern (post-modern or post-communist) urban environment.
Current Tuva shamans, many of whom I have had the good fortune to meet, are characteristic figures in the history of shamanism in
The situation is not so straightforward in the case of the Finno-Ugrian (Uralic) peoples living in the northern regions of the
The shaman tradition found among the Khanty, an Ob-Urgian people, has taken an interesting course in recent decades. While the earlier literature on the subject essentially regarded the phenomenon as no longer living, ethnographic documentary films made on the bear ceremonies of the Ostyak ethnic group, mainly the work of Lennart Meri (for a description, see Hoppál 1992:184–187) drew attention to one of the last surviving shamans. As a consequence, a number of researchers made trips to visit the family and a number of studies have been published from the research done (Kerezsi 1993, 1995).
A similar case can be observed with one of the renowned shaman families of the Nganasan, a small ethnic group living on the
The researcher has a tendency to proclaim that this is the last chapter in the history of shamanism in
Balzer, Majorie 1987. Behind Shamanism: Changing Voices of Siberian Khanty Cosmology and Politics. Social Science and Medicine 24:12, pp. 1085–1093.
Balzer, Majorie 1993. Shamanism and the Politics of Culture. Shaman 1:2, pp. 71–96.
Balzer, Majorie (ed.) 1990. Shamanism: Soviet Studies of Traditional Religion in Siberia and
Carter-Covell, Jon 1981.
Covell, Alan 1986. Folk Art and Magic: Shamanism in
Dioszegi, V. & Hoppál, Mihály (eds.) 1978. Shamanism in
Djakonova, V. P. 1978. The Vestments and Paraphernalia of a Tuva Shamaness. In: Dioszegi, V. & Hoppál, M. (eds.). Shamanism in
Dobzhanskaya, Oksana 1995. The Music in the Nganasan Shaman Ritual. In: Kõiva, M. & Vassiljeva, K. (eds.). Folk Belief Today, pp. 51–56. Tartu: Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Fu, Yuguang 1993. The Worldview of the Manchu Shaman. In: Hoppál, M. et al. (eds.) Shamans and Cultures, pp. 240–248. Budapest–Los Angeles: Akademiai – ISTOR Books vol. 5.
Gogoljev, A. I. et. al. (eds.) 1992 Shamanyzm kak religija: Genezis, Rekonstrukcija, Tradicii (Shamanism as Religion: Genesis, Reconstruction, Tradition) Yakutsk: Yakutskij Gos. Univ.
Guisso, Richard W. I. & Yu, Chai-shin (eds.) 1988 Shamanism: The Spirit World of Korea Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press.
Guo, Shuyun 1993. Social Functions of the Manchu Shaman. In: Hoppál, M. et al (eds.) Shamans and Cultures, pp. 249–257. Budapest–Los Angeles, Akademiai – ISTOR Books vol. 5.
Helimsky, E. A. & Kosterkina, N. T. 1992. Small Seances with a Great Nganasan Shaman. Diogenes No. 158, pp. 39–55.
Hoppál, Mihály (ed.) 1992. Ethnographic Films on Shamanism. In: Siikala, A. L. & Hoppál, M.(eds.) Studies of Shamanism, pp. 182–196. Helsinki–Budapest: Finnish Anthropological Society – Akademiai Kiado.
Hoppál, Mihály (ed.)1994. Schamanen und Schmanismus. Augsburg Pattloch.
Kendall, Laurel 1987. Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Kendall, Laurel 1988. The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Kenin-Lopsan, M. B. 1993. Magija Tuvinszkikh Shamanov. (The Magic of Tuva Shamans). Kizik: Novosti Tuva.
Kenin-Lopsan, M. B. 1996. Shamanic Myths and Hymns from Tuva. Selected and edited by Hoppál, M. Budapest: Akademai ISTOR Books vol. 6.
Kerezsi, Agnes 1993. The Eastern-Khanty Shamanism. In: Hoppál, M. & Paricsy, P. (eds.) Shamanism and Performing Arts, pp. 97–106. Budapest: Ethnographic Institute.
Kerezsi, Agnes 1995. Music Instrument in the Ritual Ceremonies on the Ob-Ugrians. In: Kõiva, M. & Vassiljeva, K. (eds.) Folk Beliefs Today, pp. 182–188. Tartu: Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Kõiva, Mare 1995. From Incantations to Rites. In: Kõiva, M. & Vassiljeva, K. (eds.) Folk Beliefs Today, pp. 215–236. Tartu: Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Pentikäinen, Juha 1995. The Revival of Shamanism in the Contemporary North. In: Kim, Taegon & Hoppál, M. (eds.) Shamanism in Performing Arts, pp. 263–272. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado.
Pozzi, Alessandra 1992. Manchu-Shamanica Illustrata. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
Sarv, Vaike 1995. The Complicated Role of a Soviet Shaman. In: Kõiva, M. & Vassiljeva, K. (eds.) Folk Beliefs Today, pp. 434–438. Tartu: Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Shi, Kun 1993. Shamanistic Studies in China: A Preliminary Survey of the Las Decade. Shaman 1:1, pp. 47–57.
Siikala, A. L. & Hoppál, M. 1992. Studies on Shamanism. Helsinki–Budapest: Finnish Anthropological Society – Akademiai Kiado. Ethnologica Uralica vol. 2.
Stray, Giovanni 1992. Das "Schamanenbuch« der Sibe-Mandschuren. Wiessbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.