Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Origin of Shamanism

Once a fire was made, it was a matter of convenience for there to be someone to watch it, feed it, monitor it so that it didn’t become a threat, and re-start it if it died. The most likely candidate for such a job was a either a man who couldn’t hunt, because of physical weakness, deformity, or permanently crippling wounds, a similarly deformed woman, or one who could not mate and raise children. Such a person, considered inadequate as a male or female in so many respects, would previously have been killed. We may speculate that in some instances some such persons were saved by their mothers, and that those mothers who succeeded in convincing the others not to kill their weak children were powerful women within the tribe. The “mother’s helpers” would spend hours upon hours with little to do but stare at the fire and ponder its mysteries. Such “fire-watchers” were the the first shamans. They were physically and socially shunned by the rest of the tribe, yet they came to be at the heart of it. Physically weak, dependent, and fundamentally expendable in times of great need, the shaman justified his existence as the arbiter and nexus between his clan and the realms of mystery. He also became the repository of his clan’s medical knowledge, partly because heat was a necessary element in the preparation of herbal medicines, and the cauterizing of wounds.

These, the physically deformed, the epileptic, formerly outcasts, shunned yet to be edified, were probably the loneliest members of a tribe.

A lonely existence can bear within it some happiness; as one seeks the friend within one’s self, one dreams and deepens, one focuses more clearly on one’s inner visions and outward priorities, one defines. A new way of seeing may emerge, a universe transformed by new observation, the correct action but the union of a thought with its inevitable, quite naturally occurring result.

Through greater acknowledgement of his fears and of his own vulnerability to the many destructive forces around him, the shaman could forge an internal, psychological strength which he could use in his relationship to others because he could better detect and exploit such fears in them. The ultimate fears of all living things, of pain and death, he could comprehend in depth as he contemplated the fire as a microcosmic paradigm of all of the pain- and death-giving aspects of primitive man’s existence. Primitive man was surrounded by destructive forces which often overcame him, including famine, extremes of weather, predators (including other humans), and disease. The phenomena that surrounded him told him nothing about his origin or destination. Things which lived- animals and plants- brought forth young, and then died. Water and air seemed to last forever, and fire also lasted forever, in the sense that was always the same when reborn. Rock and soil might be tranformed, but it didn’t seem to care what form it took, and was thereby dead to death. How did it all come about? Was this short, hard life all that there was?

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky

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