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I have found it good practice to look first to your own traditions. In the case of those of us with mixed Indo-European ancestry, the traditions may have become mostly lost, but records have also been left behind and there are always a few families which carry some of the older ways (although very quietly).
Such expressions as "the four directions", "the four winds", "the world tree", "the world pillar", "the Otherworld", "ascent of Soul", "descent "walking between the worlds", and "ecstasy" have a long tradition in the West. Under orthodox religions with their emphasis on form and the 'motions' and 'words' of ritual, much of the actual experience has gone underground. Having a working knowledge of the Classical Myths, of Norse and Celtic Mythology, with a dash of ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian lore can be very useful in providing a "symbolic bank" from which experiences might be recognized and interpreted. Expanding out to include the traditions of other Eurasian peoples among the Siberian and Uralic peoples we get the words "kam" noyete, tietja, and shaman. Please note that shaman is a word from Siberia. Many Native Americans honestly believe it is from North America.
There are also some surprising sources of information out there. For instance, if you are Roman Catholic, try taking a look at Carmelite spirituality, especially St. John of-the-Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. St. Hildegard of Bingen is also a fascinating study of a traveler between the worlds.
Finally, Take a look at Joan Halifax, Holgar Kalweit, Juha Pentikainen, Shirley Nicholson, and especially Mircea Eliade's SHAMANISM: ARCHAIC TECHNIQUES OF ECSTASY. (It makes good background reading, but is admittedly very academic.) Find out why, whenever the subject of Shamanism is raised, the first area of the world examined is Siberia and perhaps also Central Asia. Then, IMHO, other areas of the world can be useful in helping to fill in the gaps. By the time you get to this stage, when you go out to discuss you will find that you have much to share. Sharing stories opens many doors with traditional peoples because you do not arrive with empty hands, but with an open heart.
Yesterday I was able to get hold of an excellent overview of Shamanism around the world. It is printed on high quality paper and is wonderfully illustrated with many photographs which were not previously available.
"The shaman occupies a key role as a healer, mediating between the world of the living and the world of spirits, and is a potent figure in the increasingly important areas of alternative medicine and new religion. This book is a richly illustrated guide to the world of Shamanism today and in the past, from the snowscapes of Siberia to the jungles of the Amazon."
"Themes explored include visions, initiation rites, Shamanic chants, Shamanism and mental health, Shamanic use of plants, and the political and social background to the shaman's work, from the Stone Age to post-Communist Russia. Also covered are the links between the shaman's sense of unity in nature and the recent growth of ecological consciousness in Western societies. At the core of this book are key questions about the mysterious realities that fall outside the rationalist, scientific tradition."
"Illustrations include color photographs of modern Shamanism in practice in a variety of cultures around the world, records of Shamanic art and artifacts, and a wealth of historic archive images, including cosmological maps and other equipment. Many of the images are previously unpublished."
At the back of the book, on tinted paper, is a fascinating commentary on sources, as well as a useful index of addresses and a directory of peoples discussed in the text. In glancing through the book I found the description cited above to be accurate and strongly recommend this to anyone with a serious interest in Shamanic studies. This is destined to be a classic introduction to the study of Shamanic traditions. This is a good one to recommend to your local librarian.
He includes a lot of material on contemporary neo-Shamanism along with an excellent overview of traditional and historical Shamanism. In the thread "Er where to begin" the point was made that many older Shamanic lines are dying out around the world. There also seems to be somewhat of a re-emergence going on as well among traditional shamans. However, Vitebsky points out that Shamanism constantly adapts to changing situations and his observations on neo-Shamanism are worth a look.
Reviewed by Dean Edwards (a moderator on newsgroup soc.religion.shamanism).
Citations in the Magazine & Journal Articles database.
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