SHAMANISM OF THE AMERICAS


Native American Shamanism: Medicine Men/Women

Native American and First Nations cultures have diverse religious beliefs. There was never one universal Native American religion or spiritual system. Though many Native American cultures have traditional healers, ritualists, singers, mystics, lore-keepers and "Medicine People", none of them ever used, or use, the term "shaman" to describe these religious leaders. Rather, like other indigenous cultures the world over, their spiritual functionaries are described by words in their own languages, and in many cases are not taught to outsiders. Medicine man mediates with the spirit world on behalf of the community. Navajo medicine men, known as "Hata?ii", use several methods to diagnose the patient's ailments. These may include using special tools such as crystal rocks, and abilities such as hand-trembling and trances, sometimes accompanied by chanting. The Hata?ii will select a specific healing chant for that type of ailment. Navajo healers must be able to correctly perform a healing ceremony from beginning to end. If they don't, the ceremony will not work. Training a Hata?ii to perform ceremonies is extensive, arduous, and takes many years, and is not unlike priesthood. The shamanic apprentice learns everything by watching his elder teacher, and memorizes the words to all the chants. Many times, a medicine man cannot learn all sixty of the traditional ceremonies, so he will opt to specialize in a select few.

Santo Daime Church

Santo Daime, also know as the União do Vegetal or UDV Church, is a syncretic religion with elements of shamanism. They use a hallucinogenic substance called ayahuasca to connect with the spirit realm and receive divine guidance.

Mayan Shamanism

The Maya people of Guatemala, Belize, and Southern Mexico practice a highly sophisticated form of shamanism based upon astrology and a form of divination known as "the blood speaking", in which the shaman is guided in divination and healing by pulses in the veins of his arms and legs.

Peruvian Shamanism: Curaderos/Ayahuasqueros

In the Peruvian Amazon Basin and north coastal regions of the country, the healer shamans are known as curanderos. Ayahuasqueros are Peruvian shamans who specialize in the plant medicine ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic tea used for physical and psychological healing and divine revelation. Ayahuasqueros have become popular among Western spiritual seekers, who claim that the shamans and their ayahuasca brews have cured them of everything from depression to addiction to cancer. In addition to Peruvian shaman’s (curanderos) use of rattles, and their ritualized ingestion of mescaline-bearing San Pedro cactuses (Trichocereus pachanoi) for the divinization and diagnosis of sorcery, north-coastal shamans are famous throughout the region for their intricately complex and symbolically dense healing altars called mesas (tables). Sharon (1993) has argued that the mesas symbolize the dualistic ideology underpinning the practice and experience of north-coastal shamanism. For Sharon, the mesas are the, "physical embodiment of the supernatural opposition between benevolent and malevolent energies” (Dean 1998:61).

Tukano Shamanism of the Amazon

In the Amazon Rainforest, at several Indian groups the shaman acts also as a manager of scare ecological resources . The rich symbolism behind Tukano shamanism has been documented in some in-depth field works even in the last decades of the 20th century. For variations in shamanism among the several Tukano tribes, see: "Shamans, Prophets, Priests, and Pastors." For individual tribes of the Tukano, separate reports have been published, such as "Desana Shamanism".

Chile Shamanism: Mapuche Shamanism

Among the Mapuche people of South America, the community "shaman", usually a woman, is known as the Machi, and serves the community by performing ceremonies to cure diseases, ward off evil, influence the weather and harvest, and by practicing other forms of healing such as herbalism.

Argentinean Shamanism: Fuegians Shamanism

Although Fuegians (the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego) were all hunter-gatherers, they did not share a common culture. The material culture was not homogenous, either: the big island and the archipelago made two different adaptations possible. Some of the cultures were coast-dwelling, others were land-oriented. Both Selk'nam and Yámana had persons filling in shaman-like roles. The Selk'nams believed their /xon/s to have supernatural capabilities, e.g. to control weather. The figure of /xon/ appeared in myths, too. The Yámana /jekamu?/corresponds to the Selknam /xon/.

Other Shamanism of the Americas

The yaskomo of the Waiwai is believed to be able to perform a soul flight. The soul flight can serve several functions. A yaskomo is believed to be able to reach sky, earth, water, in short, every element. Shamanism among the Y?nomamö (of the Venezolano Amazonas and the Brazilian Roraima) is described in Tales of the Yanomami by Jacques Lizot. There is Asuriní shamanism of Pará, Brazil. Harakmbut shamanism (of Peru) involves curing by dream-interpretion. In contemporary Nahuatl, shamanism is known as cualli ohtli ('the good path') leading (during dreaming by 'friends of the night') to Tlalocán. Shamanic practices are also present in tribes in northern Canada, such the animism and shamanism of the Chipewyan and of the Cree.


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