ASIAN SHAMANISM

Siberia Shamanism

The word “shaman” is from the Tungus tribe of Siberia. Siberia is regarded as the locus classicus of shamanism. Many different ethnic groups inhabit Siberia. Many of its Uralic, Altaic, and Paleosiberian peoples observe shamanistic practices even in modern times. Many classical ethnographic sources of “shamanism” were recorded among Siberian peoples. Among several Samoyedic peoples shamanism was a living tradition also in modern times, especially at groups living in isolation until recent times (Nganasans). The last notable Nganasan shaman's séances could be recorded on film in the 1970s. When the People's Republic of China was formed in 1949 and the border with Russian Siberia was formally sealed, many nomadic Tungus groups that practiced shamanism were confined in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. These include the Ewenki and the Oroqen. The last shaman of the Oroqen, Chuonnasuan (Meng Jin Fu), died in October 2000.

Korean Shamanism - Mu-Dang

Korean, shamanism is known as Muism. Shamanism is still practiced in South Korea, where the role of a shaman is most frequently taken by women known as “mu-dangs”, while male shamans (rare) are called “baksoo mu-dangs”. Korean shamans are considered to be from a low class. A person can become a shaman through hereditary title or through natural ability. Shamans are consulted in contemporary society for financial and marital decisions. The Korean shamans' use Amanita Muscaria, another mushroom of the Russula genus was renamed as the Shaman's mushroom, "Mu-dang-beo-seot". Korean shamans are also reputed to use spiders over the subject's skin. In the Korean Shamanic Ceremonies and rituals shamans use, colorful robes, dancing, drums and ritual weapons. Korean shamanistic rites have included removal of "possession" by a spirit, also agricultural rites, such as prayers for abundant harvest. In order to gain good fortune for clients, cure illnesses by exorcising evil spirits, or propitiate local or village gods. Such services are also held to guide the spirit of a deceased person to heaven. Traditionally, people called a shaman when they faced bad things or misfortune because a shaman was believed to be powerful enough to prevent a misfortune. The shaman then came to their home and performed a religious ceremony. The Korean shamanic ritual ceremony is performed by dancing and shouting. The movement of the shaman dance is simple; there is just jumping and turning. If a shaman feels some ecstasy, she starts a special dance called “Dance on the Blade”. She dances on the blade of a sword, barefoot with no socks or shoes. The yonggo ceremony to invoke a supernatural force was performed on a poll on which were hung bells and a drum (yonggo - "spirit-invoking drums") for the shamanistic ceremonies. The shamanistic ch'on'gun ("Heaven Prince") carried out broad priestly and military leadership functions. Also part of them was the much'on ("Dance to Heaven.") A flat-bodied lute called a kayagum, which accompanied a singer who, with dancers, participated in the shamanistic rituals.

Laotisian and Thailand Shamanism

The belief and worship of spirits is widely practiced by the Laotian and also among many Southeast Asian. The ghost spirit (phii) could either be a good or bad one, but most of the time are dangerous and can be harmful to you, bringing sufferings to you or your family. The good spirits are known as thewada or pachaou who are like guardian angels living in heaven. It is believe that ghost or other evil spirits are the cause of misfortune, disease and natural disasters. A shaman would be called in to contact, exterminate or appease the malicious spirit. There are two people involved in contacting spirits. One person is called the Navon. His role is to chant and play the musical instrument in calling the spirits to come forth. The other person is called the Thi-Naung; the spirit will come into this person's body when the ceremony is conducted. For the shamans to perform this ritual, one needs to bring offerings, such as 12 pairs of candles, flowers, wine or dried pepper (as a cigarette). When the spirit has entered the Thi-Naung, he will ask for these the offerings. After he has had his offering, he will ask why they had called him. At that time, the family of the misfortuned or sick can ask questions about how to help or heal the suffering individual. The concept of the soul is very complex in Laos as it is in Thailand. Like the Thai, the soul is known as the khwan. The khwan comes and goes; there is a total of thirty two separated khwan within the body which associates with different parts of the body. For example, there is one for the eyes, hand, stomach, etc. Every human being consists of a total of thirty two all together and of the thirty two there is one strong khwan which is in the body which is known as the winjan. It is fixed within the body until the person dies, when the winjan slips out of the body. "The winjan is less the focus of interest and rites in life, but is the essence which goes on to a new existence after death" (Heinz, 1997). You may go to heaven or be reborn again, depending on what your life was like in that lifetime. The winjan becomes a wondering ghost or phii if the proper death ceremony is not performed. When you are not feeling good or when you are sick, it is believed that your soul is not all within your body. Therefore a sukhwan ceremony must be done to bring back the soul.

In Laos, the soul (khwan) is believed to wonder outside of the body when dreaming. If the soul meets with good spirits while dreaming, one will have a good dream. The khwan is believed to have all (total of thirty two) come back into the body when the person is awake and out of the dream. If all of the khwan doesn’t come back, it is believed that illness would overcome the person. If a sukhwan (Su-khwan) ceremony is not performed, it could leave the person in perilous condition, which could lead to serious illness or death. To perform any type of sukhwan ceremony, one must make a pakhwan (pa-khwan) which consists of many offerings. One chicken must be sacrificed for this ceremony, other foods and fruits are offered as well. The sukhwan is a string tying ceremony. With this type of sukhwan ceremony to call back the soul lasts approximately anywhere between twenty to thirty minutes. This sukhwan ceremony is never done in the morning but late in the afternoon anywhere between three to seven o'clock. The reason for it is that this is the time when the spirit is out wandering around. The person who is older is usually the one who conducts the ceremony. First he would call the spirit to come. Secondly, food offerings are given to the soul when it has been called back. The third thing you would do is tie the white string around the person's wrist so that the soul will stay inside the body. This white string insures that all your soul will remain in the body. The string is to be kept on the wrist for at least three days. All important events, like religious festivals, New Years, new babies, weddings, graduations, etc…, is celebrated with a sukhwan (string-tying) ceremony. The sukhwan for these types of occasions are done in the morning, when friends and families wish good health and prosperity by tying a white string on to each other’s wrist. Sometimes money is tied onto the wrist as a gift. Later on, the people celebrate with offerings of food and wine.

Tibetan Shamanism: Nyingma School

In Tibet, the Nyingma schools in particular, had a Tantric tradition that had married "priests" known as Ngakpas or Ngakmas/mos (fem.). The Ngakpas were often employed or commissioned to rid the villages of demons or disease, creations of protective amulets, the carrying out of religious rites etc. The Ngakpas should however, been grounded in Buddhist philosophy and not simply another form of shaman, but sadly, this was most often not the case. There have always been, however, highly realized and accomplished ngakpas. They were in their own right great lamas who were of equal status as lamas with monastic backgrounds. The monasteries, as in many conventional religious institutions, wished to preserve their own traditions, sometimes at the expense of others. The monasteries depended upon the excesses of patrons for support. This situation often led to a clash between the more grassroots and shamanic character of the travelling Chödpa and Ngakpa culture and the more conservative religious monastic system.

Japanese Shamanism: Nuru/Yuta

Shamanism is still widely practiced in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa), where shamans are known as 'Nuru' (all women) and 'Yuta'. 'Nuru' generally administrates public or communal ceremonies while 'Yuta' focuses on the civil or private matters. Shamanism is also practiced in a few rural areas in Japan proper. It is commonly believed that the Shinto religion is the result of the transformation of a shamanistic tradition into a religion. Forms of practice vary somewhat in the several Ryukyu islands, so that there is, e.g., a distinct Miyako shamanism.

Eskimo Shamanism

Eskimo groups comprise a huge area stretching from Eastern Siberia through Alaska and Northern Canada (including Labrador Peninsula) to Greenland. Shamanistic practice and beliefs have been recorded at several parts of this vast area crosscutting continental borders. Mediation is regarded often as an important aspect of shamanism in general. Also in most Eskimo groups, the role of mediator is known well: the person filling it in is actually believed to be able to contact the beings who populate the belief system. Term “shaman” is used in several English-language publications also in relation to Eskimos. Also the /a?li?nal?i/ of the Asian Eskimos is translated as “shaman” in the Russian and Englishiterature. The belief system assumes specific links between the living people, the souls of hunted animals, and those of dead people. The soul concepts of several groups are specific examples of soul dualism (showing variability in details in the various cultures). Like most cultures labeled as “shamanistic”, the Eskimo groups have several special features, or at least ones that are not present in all shamanistic cultures. Unlike in many Siberian cultures, the careers of most Eskimo shamans lack the motivation of force: becoming a shaman is usually a result of deliberate consideration, not a necessity forced by the spirits. Another possible concern: do the belief systems of various Eskimo groups have such common features at all that would justify any mentioning them together? There was no political structure above the groups; their languages were relative, but differed more or less, often forming language continuums. The local cultures showed great diversity. The myths concerning the role of shaman had several variants, and also the name of their protagonists varied from culture to culture. For example, a mythological figure, usually referred to in the literature by the collective term Sea Woman, has factually many local names: Nerrivik “meat dish” among Polar Inuit, Nuliayuk “lubricous” among Netsilingmiut, Sedna “the nether one” among Baffin Land Inuit. Also the soul conceptions, e.g. the details of the soul dualism showed great variability, ranging from guardianship to a kind of reincarnation. Conceptions of spirits or other beings had also many variants.

Malaysia Shamanism

There are different types of shamanism and animism practiced throughout Malaysia. Shamanism is practiced especially by the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia by people known as bomohs, otherwise also known as dukun or pawang. Most Orang Aslis are animists and believe in spirits residing in certain objects. However, some have recently converted into Islam. In East Malaysia animism is also practiced by an ever decreasing number of various Borneo tribal groups. The Chinese generally practice their folk religion which is also animistic in nature. The word "bomoh" has been used throughout the country to describe any person with knowledge or power to perform certain spiritual rituals including traditional healing —and as a substitute for the word "shaman". Generally speaking, Malaysians have deep superstitious belief, especially more so in the rural areas. witch doctors still practice their craft in Malaysia. The bomoh practice by Malays have been integrated into Islam and is not forbidden. They are also known as traditional healers and sometimes serve as an alternative to conventional modern medicine. However, the practice has sometimes been viewed negatively by Malaysian society as in some instances bomohs have the power to cast spells (jampi) and have used them on other people with ill effects. The number practitioners of bomohs has also dropped. The bobohizans of Sabah are also shamanistic and are traditional healers. They also act as a medium to communicate with spirits and play an important role in the rituals involved during Kaamatan. Recently there have been suggestions for the need and importance to preserve the practice of bomohs and other shamans as traditional healers and to complement or substitute conventional modern medicine.

Tibet Shamanism

Bön (Tibetan: ????; Wylie: bon; Lhasa dialect IPA: [p?ø˜`(n)]) is the oldest spiritual tradition of Tibet. Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, has recognized the Bön tradition as the fifth principal spiritual school of Tibet, along with the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug schools of Buddhism. The syllable-po appended to the name of any of the five main Tibetan spiritual traditions indicates a follower of that tradition; so, for example, "Bonpo" means a follower of the Bon tradition. Often described as the shamanistic and animistic tradition of the Himalayas prior to Buddhism's rise to prominence in the 7th century, more recent research and disclosures have demonstrated that both the religion and the Bönpo are significantly more rich and textured culturally than was initially thought by pioneering Western scholars. Among the important aims of Bön are cultivating heartmind to purify and silence the noise of the mindstream within the bodymind to reveal rigpa -- a transcendent natural bodymind where the obscuration of dualism and dukkha no longer entrance the Bönpo, and sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya are aligned and in sympathetic resonance. Trance and the energetic use of sound is accompanied by sophisticated possession induced trance dances where the practitioners carry the 'aspect' of the deity or thoughtform, or transform into the yidam, elemental process, or dæmon.

Filipino Shamanism

Hilot (/hee-lot/) is an ancient Filipino art of healing, commonly used today to relax stressed muscles. Masahista (Hilot practitioners) as well as arbularyos are usually cheaper alternatives to medical doctors in the Philippines, especially in very deep rural areas. Hilot employ chiropractic manipulation and massage for the diagnosis and treatment of musculoligamentous and musculoskeletal ailments. They also have been known to reset dislocated and sprained joints such as the knee, ankle, fingers and metacarpal bones. Hilot tend to be chiropractors while arbularyos tend to be herbalists. Midwives are also called hilots. The Mangkukulam (/mahng-koo-koo-lam/) is the Filipino version of witch or sorcerer, the name deriving from the word kulam. Other terms are brujo ('bruho' for warlocks) and bruja ('bruha' for witches ), which are from the Spanish language. The verb kulamin (/koo-lah-min/) means "to place a hex". And a curse in Filipino is a sumpa (/soom-pah/). The mangkukulam recites spells and mixes potions. Modern influences has transformed popular perception so that the mangkukulam now also uses the equivalent of a doll. The mangkukulam's curses is mitigated by finding him/her and giving bribes. Superstitious folks still attribute certain illnesses or diseases to kulam. This most often happens in the provinces, where an herbal doctor, albularyo (/al-boo-lar-yoh/), treats them. In some rural provincial areas, people completely rely on the albularyo for treatment.

Other Asian Shamanisms

There is a strong shamanistic influence in the Bön religion of some Central Asians, and in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism became popular with shamanic peoples such as the Tibetans, Mongols, and Manchu beginning in the eighth century. Forms of shamanistic ritual combined with Tibetan Buddhism became institutionalized as the state religion under the Mongolian Yuan dynasty and the Manchurian Qing dynasty. However, in the shamanic cultures still practiced by various ethnic groups in areas such as Nepal and northern India, shamans are not necessarily considered enlightened, and often are even feared for their ability to use their power to carry out malicious intent. Some practices also seem to have been preserved in the Catholic religious traditions of aborigines in Taiwan.

In Vietnam, shamans conduct rituals in many of the religious traditions that co-mingle in the majority and minority populations. In their rituals, music, dance, special garments and offerings are part of the performance that surround the spirit journey.


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