cover image SHAMANS THROUGH TIME: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge

SHAMANS THROUGH TIME: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge

, SHAMANS THROUGH TIME: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge

Surprisingly little appears to have changed in shamanic practices throughout the world in the last 500 years. Most rely on plant hallucinogens to communicate with otherworldly spirits for guidance and for enhanced perceptions of diseases and the identities of enemies. And most can choose whether to direct their energies for good or for evil purposes, an ability that provoked much hostility among their early observers. Scholarly treatments of shamanism, however, have changed dramatically over the centuries. In this excellent volume, anthropologists Narby (The Cosmic Serpent) and Huxley (Affable Savages) have collected observations about and interviews with shamans from more than 60 missionaries, botanists, anthropologists, ethnographers and psychologists spanning from 1535 to 2000. The contributors convey everything from fear, suspicion and condescension to respect, fascination and adulation. Many contemporary anthropologists lament shamanism's recent popularization and its likely degeneration in global culture. Anthropologist Michael F. Brown writes, "Tribal lore is a supermarket from which [New Age Americans] choose some tidbits while spurning others." As an example of shamanism-as-commodity, British anthropologist Piers Vitebsky cites a dumbed-down version of traditional healing that is part of a compulsory course for schoolchildren in northeast Siberia, where 50 years ago shamans were put to death. On the positive side, ethobotanist Glenn H. Shepard believes that shamans will become the ethnobotanists of the future. This first sweeping study of shamanism is sure to become a classic. (Apr.)