PERFORMING SHAMANISM: FROM WILD MEN TO BUSINESSMEN

Performing Shamanism

PERFORMING
SHAMANISM:

FROM
WILD MEN TO BUSINESSMEN

 

INTRODUCTION:

            In
the 1980s, affluent societies saw an emergence of a new type of a large-scale
tourist phenomenon�so-called �shamanic tourism��participatory spiritual
tourism, where the encounter between indigenous shamans and Western visitors is
mediated by tour guides and travel agencies. Westerners and shamans engage in
a form of exchange, the goal of which is to deliver an experience of an authentic shamanic ritual to the visitors.

In his classic book,
�The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class� (1976), sociologist Dean
MacCannell develops a new sociology of leisure by analyzing tourism as the
quintessentially �modern� activity. MacCannell�s basic premise is that in the
aftermath of the transition from industrial to post-industrial or �modern�
society, leisure is displacing work from the center of modern social
arrangements (MacCannell, 7). He defines tourism as a modern ritual-like
activity that comes about through the process of �sight sacralization. �Sight
sacralization,� the process of discursive and social production of a tourist
sight, consists of five stages�naming, framing and elevation, enshrinement,
mechanical reproduction, and social reproduction phases (42-44). MacCannell
argues that the mechanical reproduction phase is �most responsible for setting
the tourist in motion in his journey to find the true object� (45). 

While some of
MacCannell�s stages are best suited to the analysis of inanimate tourist
sights, such as museum objects and monuments, I believe at least three stages
in his sequence are widely applicable and could be successfully applied to
tourist sights involving people in addition to objects. In this paper, I would
like to explore what changes in the Western representations of shamanism
influenced the development of this industry, focusing on three of these stages,
namely naming, mechanical reproduction, and social reproduction.

The paper will consist of
two parts. Part I will trace historical origins of the Western notion of the
�shaman� (naming phase) and explore the creation of prints, photographs, and
films about shamans (mechanical reproduction phase). It will also briefly
address the final, social reproduction stage, when various groups and
individuals begin to refer to themselves as �shamans.� Part II will address the
phenomenon of shamanic tourism, focusing on the contested definitions of
�authenticity.� It will be argued that shamanism is always a process of active
re-creation, constituted by the global flows of people, ideas and images and
mediated by communication technologies.

PART I.

A. NAMING PHASE

From the time
Europeans started to make extensive contacts with the external world, they
produced reports of individuals claiming to be able to heal others by
contacting the spirits and producing elaborate performances. From a
mid-sixteenth century French priest who referred to these people as �ministers
of the Devil� to a Russian priest in the newly colonized Siberia who first used
the native Tungus term shaman in the
seventeenth century, from Enlightenment scientists� dismissal of the shamans as
jugglers and charlatans to the early twentieth century primitivists� and
contemporary New Age practitioners� glorification of the shaman, the image of
the shaman has undergone tremendous changes.[1] Despite the fact that
these representations were subject to a given epoch�s regime of knowledge and
truth, they exhibit a complex interplay of recurring tropes inevitably bound
with the notions of the �primitive,�
which helped the West define its own
understanding of what it means to be "civilized" and

"modern."

While the first
photographs of Siberian shamans appeared in the late nineteenth century[2]
and first films in the beginning of the twentieth century, they constitute a
continuation and subsequent transformation of the visualist tropes employed in
earlier textualist representations and non-mechanical forms of visual arts. Allison Griffiths argues that �of all the
human senses, sight assumed a position of unquestionable dominance in
nineteenth-century anthropology� (88). I would extend this argument to say
that well before the nineteenth-century, reporting strategies of travelers,
colonial officials, missionaries, and explorers relied primarily on what they
have seen
during
their adventures, complementing their accounts by drawings, sketches,
paintings, etc.

The earliest use of the word shaman belongs to the Russian conservative
priest, Avvakum Petrovich, a leader of the Old Believers (a large schismatic
group which separated from the Orthodox Church), who wrote one of the first
Russian autobiographies (
Narby and Huxley 18, further referred to as
N&H). In the late seventeenth
century, he was exiled to Siberia by the tsar, where he encountered Tungus
(modern Evenk) shamans, mentioned in his autobiography (shaman is reported to
mean �wildly excited, ecstatic man� in the Tungus language). The visualist
tropes employed by Avvakum Petrovich will prove particularly tenacious in both
textual and visual descriptions of shamans in the centuries to come:

That evening, this villain
of a magician brought a living ram over near my hut and started to practice his
magic on it: having turned it over, he wrung his neck and cast off his head.
Then he started to jump and dance and call the demons; finally, making piercing
screams, he threw himself on the ground and foam came out of his mouth.
(Avvakum Petrovich, 1672, quoted in N&H, 18).

A drawing entitled �Shaman or
Devil-Priest,� from a seventeenth century Dutch explorer, Nicholas Witsen,
portrays an Evenk shaman, performing a ritual with a drum against the backdrop
of conical teepees surrounded by Siberian taiga. This is a first known drawing
of a Siberian shaman (Hutton, 32). The front plan of the drawing depicts a
dancing shaman�half-human/half-animal creature with a human face and furry feet
with animal claws, clad in animal skin coat and headdress adorned with reindeer
horns. The shaman is depicted as wildly excited and howling; his eyes glare
just as he is about to leap and hit his drum. The scene looks odd because this
ritual seems to be devoid of any social function: the shaman is standing by
himself, surrounded by two dogs staring at him, while other members of the
tribe are bustling about their business on the background appearing to be
uninterested in the shaman�s activities. This image of the shaman represents
the late medieval European construction of the �magically savage and
animal-like �wild man�� (Taussig 77), who is mystically empowered due to his
animality. Taussig mentions a similar construction of a lowland shaman in
Colombia referred to by the word �auca
,� which presents a combination of colonial and indigenous
mythology: �ethereal intermingling of animal and human.� The image of the auca
produces a dialectics of both fear and
respect, which brings white colonists to shamans in search of healing while
despising and killing them for their savagery (Taussig, 99-100).

Illustration by Nicolas Witsen from his book, 1671.

 

The eighteenth century with its belief in
rationalism and scientific objectivity produced new forms of reporting about
shamans. The Christian perspective was gradually replaced by the view of
Enlightenment scientists who held that shamans were impostors and jugglers and,
therefore, did not really communicate with the devil. A famous eighteenth century
report on Siberian shamans comes from the Russian botanist, Stepan Petrovich
Krasheninnikov, in his Explorations of Kamchatka,
a report of a journey made to explore
eastern Siberia by order of the Russian Imperial Government
. While the book includes many drawings of
the natives, including meticulous details of their dress and dwellings,
Krasheninnikov did not seem not think of shamans as deserving a special visual
representation. He ridiculed the belief in the power of the shamans, calling it
�absurd� and �ridiculous� and referring to native people as �blinded by
superstition� (N&H, 29). A similar interpretation was given by Denis
Diderot in the Encyclopedie
,
which featured the first definition of a shaman.

A shaman is the name
that the inhabitants of Siberia give to impostors who perform the functions of
priests, jugglers, sorcerers and doctors
.
(Diderot, 1765, in N&H, 32).

Diderot
still made a difference between Siberian shamans and similar practitioners from
other parts of the world, more precisely, Native American medicine men whom he
called simply jugglers:

Jugglers (divination),
magicians or enchanters much renowned among the savage nations of America, and
who make up the profession of medicine men among them.
(Diderot, 1765, in N&H, 33).

However, this difference
was soon to be generalized. By the time anthropologists entered the scene in
mid-nineteenth century, the words �shaman� and �shamanism� were already widely
being applied to cultures outside Siberia. In 1903, anthropologist Arnold Van
Gennep tried to protest the use of the word �shamanism,� stating that
anthropologists inherited this �dangerously vague word� from eighteenth- and
nineteenth century explorers of Siberia, who �know almost nothing about
ethnography and general ethnopsychology and thought they had found a special,
characteristic form of religious belief and practice. Then the word gained
favor among the ignorant, general public and among amateurs of exotic
euphonism� (Van Gennep quoted in N&H, 52). Van Gennep stated that magico-religious
practices similar to Siberian ones exist all over the world and that�s why it
is pointless to borrow a Siberian word to apply it to similar phenomena all
over the �semicivilized world� (Van Gennep in N&H, 52). However, already
by the mid-nineteenth century, what MacCannelll calls the �naming stage� was
completed for shamanism. Since naming is a performative act, it simultaneously
identified and created the figure of the shaman. The completion of the naming stage coincided with the dawning of the
era of mechanical reproduction, which accelerated the process of shamanism�s
commodification.

 

 

B.
MECHANICAL REPRODUCTION PHASE

Nineteenth century was
characterized by popularization and transformation of shamanism in the Western
imagination. Flaherty points out that European middle classes have
�secularized the shaman and absorbed him into their concept of the artist as
bohemian� (Flaherty 214). Meticulous drawings by the eighteenth century
explorers were replaced by illustrations of shamans mixing fact and fiction.
Similarly to mid-seventeenth century drawings dominated by the idea of the
�animality� of the shaman, these drawings reveal much more about the Western
imagination rather than the people depicted. In popular books, Siberian shamans
resembled a mix of ancient Roman and Greek high priests, medieval sorcerers,
Celtic druids, and ministrels (plate 2-5 from Flaherty, 209-213). The fact
that Tungus, Yakut, and Tatar shamans on the images below hardly exhibit any
physical traits characteristic of these Siberian peoples proves that the notion
of the shaman as a universal primordial priest generalized in the Western
consciousness, detaching itself from its particular Siberian locus. Especially
striking is a drawing of a �Yakut priest,� a young man with vaguely European,
perhaps Mediterranean, features, dressed in medieval princely garb and holding
a �spirit��a miniature European-dressed man�on his arm.

 

It is against these
popular representations that the newly invented medium of photography was
embraced by scientists, including anthropologists, almost immediately after its
invention in the late 1840s. However, due to the unwieldiness of the
photographic equipment and financial and logistical differences, from the 1840s
to the late 1880, photography of native peoples was mostly practiced in
laboratories for strictly scientific purposes with few expeditions enlisting
the service of professional photographers (Griffiths 109). Most photographs of
native peoples during this period took the form of anthropometric photography.
While some anthropologists made a case for moving towards more naturalistic
fieldwork photography (e.g. Im Thurn�s classic 1893 article �Anthropological
Uses of the Camera,� where he suggested ways to use the camera �under most
natural conditions� (Griffith 100)), most fieldwork photography continued to be
staged, but in a different way than anthropometric photography. �Dehumanizing
anatomical studies� were replaced with �highly aestheticized pictorialist
compositions� where the natives� poses emulated the postures of Hellenic
sculptures (Griffiths 101).

         While
there might exist other late-nineteenth photographs of Siberian shamans
commissioned by the Russian imperial government, the earliest photographs known
to most researchers come from the Jesup North Pacific expedition (1897-1902).
Led by Franz Boas, the first landmark research project of the Division of
Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History was to be one of the
most scientifically important anthropological investigations ever mounted. The
ambitious goal of the Expedition was to shed light on the nature of contact
between the tribes of the Northwest Coast and Siberia in order to solve the
problem of the origin of the first populations to inhabit the New World.
Recruited by Boas and supplied with the most modern photographic equipment, the
anthropologists Berthold Laufer, Waldemar Jochelson, and Waldemar Bogoras
conducted ethnographic research and made collections in Siberia, Manchuria, and
on Sakhalin Island. The collections, written field notes, wax disk recordings,
and photographs were intended to constitute a comprehensive record of the
peoples they studied.

         Most
Jesup Expedition photographs of shamans are deliberately staged, as if already
prepared to become museum models. On two of Jochelson�s photographs of
Athanasy, a Evenk shaman who served as his guide (pl. 54-55 in Kendall et al),
the shaman poses in front of a white screen, wearing full shaman paraphernalia
and holding the obligatory drum. One of the photographs shows the shaman from
the front and the second one shows him from the rear, reminding one of
nineteenth century anthropometric photographs. This photograph is almost
indistinguishable from a photograph of a Sakha shaman�s coat worn by a model
and not actual shaman. (pl. l7 in Kendall et al.)

 

   Jochelson
wrote that Athanasy shamanized with �wild onomatopoeic screams, whistling,
grinding of teeth and terrible facial contortions� and that after this
flamboyant performance, everyone, including himself, were exhausted (quoted in
Kendall et al. pl. 54-55). Interestingly, while many pages of Jesup
expedition�s monographs include highly detailed descriptions of shamanic
performances, there are no photographs from this expedition that document
shamans in action. All of the photographs are excessively posed, rigid
portraits. One of the reasons for that could be that the bulky photographic
equipment of the time was most adapted to staged photographs. However, perhaps
more significant reason lay in the implicit relations between the
anthropologists and their subjects as well as the goal of the expedition, which
could be described as �salvage anthropology.� The expedition was concerned with
the meticulous documentation of the material cultures of the peoples that were
thought to be rapidly disappearing. The shamans were viewed as mute scientific
objects, and the researchers were most interested in documenting the minute
details of their costumes for the creation of future museum displays.

         Whatever
the reasons for their rigidity may be, Jesup expedition�s photographs and
monographs had an enormous influence on the next generation of researchers on
shamanism. The elaborate written description of performances and the lack of
actual visual evidence sparked the imaginations and fantasies of armchair
anthropologists and produced a plethora of interpretations. Having analyzed
the Jesup Expedition�s materials, the Oxford anthropologist Marie Antoinette
Czaplicka, came to the conclusion that shamans were not wild men, devil
worshippers or charlatans, but simply mentally ill individuals, suffering from
a particular mental illness, Arctic hysteria. Arctic hysteria, according to
Czaplicka, �lies at the bottom of the shaman�s vocation, yet at the same time
the shaman differs from an ordinary patient suffering from this illness in
possessing an extremely great power of mastering himself in the periods between
the actual fits, which occur during the ceremonies� (Czaplicka 1914, quoted in
H&N, 72). The view of shamans as mentally deranged became extremely
influential in the first half of the twentieth century. While Levi-Strauss, in
his famous 1949 essay �The Effectiveness of Symbols,� tried to reverse this
assumption by stating that shamans were psychotherapists rather than
psychotics, many influential anthropologists, such as George Devereux continued
to argue �there is no reason and no excuse for not considering the shaman as a
severe neurotic and even as a psychotic� briefly stated, we hold that the
shaman is mentally deranged. This is also the opinion of Kroeber and Linton
[both fellow anthropologists]� (Devereux 1956 quoted in N&H, 120).

         While
Devereux�s view may be viewed as extreme today, the notion of shamans as
mentally ill remains influential and appears to gain support from Narby and
Huxley, the editors of the compilation of primary sources on shamanism, much
quoted in this essay. They write, �it seems clear that some shamans are
somewhat deranged some of the time, to put it mildly� (119). Hayden White
writes that the notion of �wildness� belongs to �a set of self-authenticating
devices which include, among many others, the ideas of �madness� and �heresy�
as well� (151). Thus insanity as a trope used for characterizing shamans can be
seen as a part of the �wild man� complex, circulating in the Western world
since antiquity. Historically, the West has invented versions of the �wild
man� against which it defined its own �civilization� and onto which it
projected its own anxieties and fantasies. The first half of the
twentieth-century�s notion of the shaman as insane follows this tradition of
imagining, in which the career of the shaman started as devil-worshipper,
briefly progressed through Enlightenment�s sober view of the shaman as a liar
and juggler, and finally culminated in making the shaman insane, thus returning
to the �wild man� myth.

         However,
as any myth or symbol in any of the world�s traditions, the Western myth of the
indigenous shaman is multivocal and contains certain qualities that are polar
opposites. The �wild man,� for instance, has sometimes been thought to
represent what the Western self had to repress in order to ascend to a more
civilized state; or, conversely, the �wild man� has been taken to represent
what the West lost by abandoning a more �natural� way of living, hence
producing the idea of the �noble savage.� Paradoxically, the view of shamans as
�noble savages,� artists and creative individuals in touch with forces of
nature, started to circulate during the period that is considered to be the
triumph of reason and science. The illustrations of Siberian shamans as
princely pre-Christian European priests cited above are part of the
manifestations of supernaturalism and romanticism that runs throughout the
eighteenth century, which proves, according to Gloria Flaherty, that �the
eighteenth century was too deeply involved with the occult to have us continue
to associate it exclusively with rationalism, humanism, scientific determinism,
and classicism� (Flaherty 7). An idea of the Western artist as a shaman and a
magician that emerged with the Romantics has never completely disappeared from
the Western consciousness, but, on the contrary, reappeared in full force in
the late-twentieth century�s New Age fascination with shamans. I would contend
that this fascination and treatment of shamans as artists and artists as
shamans was present in the European imaginary from the very beginning of its
acquaintance with reports of shamans and constitutes a parallel discourse to that
presented by various �shamanologists��academic researchers studying shamanism
(anthropologists, psychologists, medical researchers, and others).

         Flaherty
argues that visual and textual information about shamanism gathered by
missionaries and explorers was readily available in the eighteenth century and
gained attention of such figures as Diderot, Herder, Goethe, and Mozart (16).
Based on careful archival research into the lives of the above philosophers and
artists, her study, �Shamanism and the Eighteenth Century� argues that they
immersed themselves in the literature on travel (132) and were eventually
attracted by the mysterious and charismatic figure of the shaman.

         The
fascination exerted by the exotic world of �primitive� cultures on artists and other
creatively inclined individuals endured throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth
and into the twentieth century. European artists, such as Gauguin and Picasso,
were influenced by art forms from Africa and the South Seas, while in Russia,
artists were inspired by ideas of Siberian shamanism. Although not usually
associated with �primitivism,� Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky was trained as
an ethnographer early in his career and has done fieldwork with Finno-Ugric and
Siberian shamanism, whose motifs are vividly present in his iconography (Weiss
xiv). In her book, �Kandinsky and the Old Russia: The artist as Ethnographer
and Shaman,� Weiss argues that the reason Kandinsky was not represented in the
MOMA�s 1984 landmark exhibition on primitivism is because Kandinsky was not
interested in formal resemblances (although she presents several of his
paintings with elementary lines and circles, similar to those featured on
Siberian shamanic drums), but in their �internal coherence� (Weiss, xvi).
While the eighteenth century artists mentioned by Flaherty promoted �artist as
shaman� trope through thinking of shamans as lonely individuals in contact with
divine powers, Kandinsky, who received some ethnographic training and had
first-hand experience recognized that the shaman�s primary role was first of
all social,
serving
the needs of the community. Similarly to the German artists of the eighteenth
century, he viewed the shaman as a powerful intermediary between the world of
gods and humans, but emphasized shamans� function of healing society through
their supernatural powers�something he thought the artists also did.

         While
extremely influential, the idea of artists as shamans, which could be traced
all the way to antiquity�s lofty ideas of the �magic of art,� remained the
knowledge of an intellectual elite. Moreover, most artists and
representatives of the intellectual elite were �armchair� appreciators of
shamans, a rare exception being the French surrealist Antoine Artaud who
undertook the pilgrimage to Tarahumara Indians in quest of visionary
experiences as early as the 1930s. The true democratization and globalization
of shamanism did not arrive until mid-twentieth century, when the age of
mechanical reproduction was in full force. Two unrelated factors contributed to
revolutionizing the popular perceptions of shamans. Strangely enough, the
first factor was participant observation method in anthropology. While
anthropologists praised participant-observation for several decades, none of
the researchers studying shamanism went beyond being an observer. Thus, when
starting in the late fifties, anthropologists started to participate in
shamanic ceremonies, this revolutionized the field. The second factor was
proliferation and the growing importance of the mass media. While photographs
and films of shamans were shot since the early days of both media, they were
available to a narrow circle of scholars and intellectual elite. In the late
1950s, anthropologists who went to the field to study shamans not only visually
documented their activities but also received a lot of attention (sometimes
scandalous) from the media.

         By
the mid-twentieth century, the most talked about shamans were no longer
Siberian shamans, who the Western world believed to have been exterminated by
the Soviet anti-religious campaigns. Instead, the shamans of Central and South
America have received scholarly and media attention. Anthropologists who went
to the field during this period generally reported about shamans as healthy
individuals, well-respected and needed in their communities, who were perfectly
well-adjusted when not performing their shamanic sessions. Anthropologists
just started to understand shamans as people possessing a specialized set of
skills and secret knowledge that let them wield much power over their
community. However, as it always happens with many disciplines, it was an
outsider, who finally brought shamanism �to the masses.�

         In
May 1957, an article appeared in the LIFE Magazine by the American banker and
amateur anthropologist, Gordon Wasson, about his experiences with a Mexican
shaman, Maria Sabina. For the first time, thousands of readers learned about
far-away shamans and Wasson�s titillating experiences, which included ingesting
hallucinogenic mushrooms and participating in strange rituals led by this woman
shaman. The article was entitled �Seeking the Magic Mushroom: A New York banker
goes to Mexico’s mountains to participate in the age-old rituals of Indians who
chew strange growths that produce visions.� Since Wasson was accompanied by a
New York society professional photographer, Allan Richardson, the article was
lavishly illustrated by more than a dozen of color photographs.

 

COVER TITLE ABOVE: GREAT ADVENTURES: THE DISCOVERY OF MUSHROOMS THAT CAUSE STRANGE VISIONS

         The
photographs taken in a dim room lit by leaping tongues of fire depicted the curandera
dressed in traditional clothes with
black scarf covering her head at different stages of the ritual. The picture
above is especially representative since it virtually recreates a classic image
of a wizened witch or sorceress preparing her satanic brew, as if taken from a
medieval drawing or an illustration to a brothers Grimm fairytale. The
photographer�s flashlight starkly emphasized black and white clothes of the
medicine woman contrasted with her charcoal black hair, thick eyebrows and
light brown skin, adding to the ethereal quality of the pictures. Other
pictures showed her praying with her hands raised in the air and chanting in
deep trance sitting on the coarse rugs on the floor. There were other, less
otherworldly, pictures and drawings by a French mycologist, explaining the
chemistry of the mushrooms used in the ceremony. This trip was only one in a
series that Wasson has undertaken over thirty years, accompanied by various
academics, which lent the article a great deal of credibility. However, the
subsequent scientific explanations of the ritual and action of the
hallucinogenic substances was of secondary significance for the mass audience.
These photographs completed another stage in the mythopoeic cycle of the shaman
in Western imagination. In the years to follow, droves of Western tourists
flooded tiny Mexican villages in their quest of shamanic participation. The
world of indigenous shamanism was finally open to the Western audience and the
era of shamanic tourism was thus launched.

         As
indigenous shamanism in Latin America was undergoing fundamental
transformations, being integrated into the mainstream of respective societies,
the interest in the West was increasing. If, in the 1960s, the travelers who
undertook a pilgrimage to Mexican shamans were mostly hippies, seekers and
other members of the counter-culture, by the 1980s, fueled by the New Age
explosion, shamanism was already properly packaged and promoted to the
mainstream. Interestingly, both in the 1960s and 1980s, key figures in this
popularization were two anthropologists-turned-practitioners. If the sixties
�psychedelic shamanism� exploded as a result of Carlos Castaneda�s writings, in
the 1980s, another former anthropologist-turned-shaman, Michael Harner, was
very influential in the development of shamanic tourism. Having studied the
Jivaro shamans in the Amazon, Harner have decided that shamanism was a kind of
universal ur-religion, detached from particular indigenous traditions. Having
distilled a number of traits, which he called �core shamanism,� he claimed that
they were available to all. By following a special method called �HMSC� (Harner
Method of Shamanic Counseling), anyone can learn to travel to the upper and
lower worlds for �soul retrieval� to heal themselves, thus becoming one�s own
shaman.

         These
once-esoteric techniques springing from the margins of anthropology became so
popularized that today almost any packaged tour to Central and South America
includes �shamanic counseling.� The Yahoo directory Travel and
Transportation>Tour Operators>Religious and Self-Discovery[3]

includes a list of shamanic tours, such as �Experience Peru. Jungle Tours,
Ancient Ruins, Shamanic Counseling� or a �Vision Quest Travel. Shamanic
Adventures to Equador.� A �shamanic tour� can be booked to such places as
Manchu Pichu or a remote Amazon jungle lodge.

 

 

As interest
towards shamanism increased in the late 80s, major TV channels started
dispatching crews to document the work and life of shamans around the world.
These TV documentaries, especially produced by channels such as National
Geographic and Discovery, became not only the main source of public information
about shamans but also modern myth-making devices, constructing the shaman for
the mass audience.          

         PART
II

         The
mechanical reproduction phase is �most responsible for setting the tourist in
motion in his journey to find the true object. And he is not disappointed.
Alongside of the copies of it, it has to be The Real Thing� (MacCannell 45).
Many researchers have pointed out similarities between tourism and pilgrimages
in traditional societies (MacCannell 1973, Cohen 1984): both are the quests for
authenticity experiences, similar to the �concern for the sacred in primitive
society� (MacCannell 1973: 590). In modernity,

�reality and authenticity
are thought to be elsewhere: in other historical periods and other cultures, in
purer, simpler lifestyles � The concern of the moderns for �naturalness,� their
nostalgia and their search for authenticity are not merely casual and somewhat
decadent, though harmless, attachments to the souvenirs of destroyed cultures
and dead epochs. They are also components of the conquering spirit of
modernity�the grounds of its unifying consciousness� (MacCannell, 1976: 3).

When MacCannell produced his groundbreaking 1976 study,
New Age tourism was still a relatively marginal phenomenon. Therefore when
MacCannell uses pilgrimage as a metaphor, he does so for a generalized tourist
experience in a multitude of settings. Strikingly, almost thirty years later,
when New Age tourism and, more specifically, shamanic tourism are clearly
becoming part of the mainstream, his metaphor of pilgrimage can be read
literally. Shamanic tourism can be viewed as a convergence of two distinct but
ultimately interrelated processes: globalization of shamanism and
spiritualization of tourism[4]. The construction of shamanism as we
traced it in the first part of the paper through the reproduction of stories
and images created a perfectly versatile myth of the shaman to be adapted in
the modern and urban world. The New Age movement further developed these
representations, creating its own version of shamanism, which selectively
incorporated certain indigenous techniques, fundamentally transforming what has
long been considered by researchers the main function of shamans: providing
healing for their communities. The New Age version, on the contrary, uses distilled
shamanic techniques (such as contacting spirit guides, journeying between
worlds, etc) mostly for self-help and individual development. However, as
meetings with shamans are rapidly becoming a component of mainstream packaged
tours, New Age adherents, for whom shamanic tourism is first of all a quest for
personal transformation, are no longer the main customers of indigenous
shamans.

         The
thrust of MacCannell�s work is to argue that tourists always fall prey to
�staged authenticity�. Using Goffman�s terminology of �back� and �front�
spaces, he argues that mass tourists are denied access to the back regions.
What they get instead are the �front� regions masked as the �back� ones
(MacCannell 1976: 98-99). This analysis implies that authenticity does exist hidden somewhere in the �backstage�
of society, but tourists� quest to find it is utterly futile. Following
MacCannell�s argument, contemporary shamanic tourism should be viewed as
�inauthentic� performances and healing sessions, a kind of cultural theater,
enacted by pseudo-shamans for the unwitting tourists. Later research argued
for the more dynamic view of authenticity, arguing for the �emergent
authenticity,� which enables relatively recent cultural products to be
recognized as authentic with time (Cohen 1988). Moreover, the issue of
authenticity is often hotly debated within the so-called �traditionally
shamanic� societies of which Siberia arguably presents an �ideal type.�

Interestingly, the first images of
Siberian shamans have come full circle when New Age tourists started expanding
their geography from Latin American to Siberia in the mid-1990s. The
publication in the Life magazine launched a steady stream of tourists into
small Mexican villages in the 1960s while Michael Harner�s work on Jivaro
shamanism and his ideas of �core shamanism� spurred South American shamanic
tourism in the 1980s. During this time, Siberia was largely off the map and
Siberian shamanism was considered to have disappeared under the Soviet
pressure, now belonging to dusty old ethnographies. However, in the late
1980s, rumors about re-emergence of Siberian shamans as powerful leaders of
local ethnic revivals once again sparked the imagination of shamanic
enthusiasts. Some time before that, Harner�s foundation created an honorific
title, �The Living Treasure of Shamanism,� which they bestowed upon indigenous
shamans around the world who they thought �authentic.� Once again, Harner was
in the avant-garde of the movement, venturing to visit the Siberian republic of
Tuva in 1993, where they identified a famous Tuvan shaman and designated him
�The Living Treasure of Shamanism.� The pictures of this �living ancestor,� a
68-year-old man from Tuva[5]�itself a mythical place featuring an
obelisk with the engraving �The Center of Asia�� dressed in colorful shamanic
garb beating his enormous leather drum appeared in Harner�s newsletter and was
quickly reprinted in other New Age publications.[6] After that, Siberian
shamanism once again gained hold on Western imagination, being described as the
�original� shamanism, from which later derived North and South American
shamanism. The view of Siberian shamanism as a �living ancestor� of the
American one is a peculiar primitivist trope, displaying characteristic
modernist obsession with origins. In mid-nineties, a number of small companies
were set up to take Euro-American tourists to the �heart of Siberia� on
custom-made tours, which necessarily included viewing shamanic performances and
undergoing healing ceremonies.

If we look at these tourist experiences
from MacCannell�s point of view, they can easily be dismissed as inauthentic
and �front staged.� However, in contemporary Siberia proper, the issue of
authenticity of shamans is one of the most highly contested as shamans vie for
power and recognition not only from their own clients but also from media,
academics, and tourists. Other researchers worry about commodification and
cultural imperialism (Nash 1978). Yet others decry shamanic tourism as
�ethnocide� and �shameless spectacle.�[7] These, however, are battles of
cultural criticism, which would seem highly irrelevant to the practitioners
themselves.

Taking small groups of Russian and
international tourists on customized tours around their native regions is not
only a source of significant income for shamans but also an avenue for them to
engage in cultural activism. Buryat shaman Valentin Khagdaev, who was my main
consultant during my fieldwork, created a special series of lectures for these
tours, which he changes slightly depending on the cultural background of his
visitors. These performances work to forge the new shamanic ideology, which is
an important vehicle of ethno-national revival in this region. Through
tourist performances, indigenous identity is produced interculturally
. The basic message of Valentin�s talks
are based on the view of shamanism as the most ancient world religion,
alerting his listeners to the recent and, most importantly, foreign origins of
their own religions. As Marjorie Balzer, who works on shamanism in Siberian
republic of Sakha, noticed, �religion has become an idiom through which
competing definitions of homeland and national pride are being shaped. Fighting
with symbols, multilevel proselytizing and spiritual experimentation are among
the many reactions� (Balzer 2003). Below, I quote three excerpts from
Valentin�s introductory comments during three of such tours, attended by a
Russian, Turkish, and German tour groups respectively.

           Excerpt 1. Russian tour
group

A Russian Tourist: Is your religion similar to
American Indians?

Valentin: Of course! Our shamanism and shamanism of
American Indians and Brazilians and peoples of Africa and Australia, they are
all similar: there is the cult of the ancestors, masters of the land, cult of
sun, sky and earth. Same in ancient Russia � Iarilo � god of the sun,
Zaria-zarianitsa, Perun � god of thunder. This is the native religion, born by
the Russian people, in Russian forests and oak groves! There are no cities of
Moscow, Kiev, Riazan in the Bible! Neither it mentions Russian names, Mstislav,
Rostislav… Paganism is the real native Russian religion. As your ancient
epic says, �And Holy Russia was baptized by the sword, fire, and blood.�

Excerpt 2.

Turkish tour group.

Valentin: We are the Mongol and you are the Turkish
branch. We used to have the same proto-culture. We have one culture, we are
nomads and you used to be nomads! But somewhere in 7-8th century,
you received the faith in the Allah from the Arabs. Before you had the same
faith as we do�faith in the ancestors.

Excerpt 3.

German tour group.

Valentin: Like you have your great heroic
pre-Christian German epic �Song of the Nibelungs,� we have our heroic epic
�Geser.�

 

Researchers have
previously pointed out that contemporary indigenous peoples are not ignorant of
the primitivist formula, but consciously employ it as a counterhegemonic
construct (see Prins 2002). In this case, the Buryat shaman plays on the
modernist obsession with origins, presenting shamanism not only as his own
religion but as the original religion of
the rest of humanity. The audience is getting a first-hand introduction to a
living tradition, which is at the same time a timeless one, and is invited to
rediscover traces of this ancient wisdom in their own past.[8]

         CONCLUSION

         A
particular feature of contemporary indigenous societies is that indigenous
people continue to use and to be defined by representational forms devised by
the dominant society. This paper provided an analysis and historiography of
Western representations of shamanism and traced their influence on
globalization of shamanism, expressed not only in the West�s appropriation of
indigenous shamanism but also in shamans� appropriation of Western knowledge in
their encounters with academics, media, and tourists. In the last 500 years,
shamanism has gone a long way from being first glimpsed by intrepid travelers,
studied by industrious academics, internalized by romantically inclined
artistic and intellectual elite, and, in the last fifty years, appropriated and
reinvented by the wider public. The emergence and growing importance of
shamanism in the Western imagination was concurrent with the development of the
mass media: while the printed book involved only a small portion of the
population in imagining shamanism, television and internet enabled an immense
number of people to appropriate and creatively reinterpret this knowledge. Thus
rather than being a static phenomenon, shamanism could be thought of as an
ongoing production, inseparable from its representations. It is constantly
being created and re-created through memory, fantasy, narrative and visual
media, distinguished not by its authenticity but by the style in which it is
imagined and by whom.

 

Bibliography

 
Atkinson, Jane
Monnig, 1992. �Shamanisms Today.� Annual Review of Anthropology
, Vol. 21: 307-330.

 
Balzer, Mandelstam
Marjorie, Nikolai Petro, and Lawrence Robertson, 2001. Cultural
Enterpreneurship in Russia�s regions. In Fragmented Space in the Russian
Federation.
Eds. Blair
Ruble, Jodi Koehn, and Nancy E. Popson, John Hopkins University Press:
Baltimore and London, 219-171.

 
Cohen, Erik, 1984.
�The Sociology of Tourism: Approaches, Issues, and Findings� Annual Review
of Sociology
, Vol. 10,
373-392.

 

Cohen, Erik, 1988.
�Authenticity and commoditization in tourism.� Annals of Tourism Research, 15, 371-386.

      Flaherty, Gloria, 1992. Shamanism
and the Eighteenth Century
.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

     
Griffith,
Alison, 2002. Wondrous Difference.
Cinema, Anthropology, and Turn-of-the-Century
Visual Culture.

Columbia University Press: New York

  Hoppal, Mihaly, n.d. �Changing Image of
the Eurasian Shamans.� In Drum and Camera. Shamanism and Beliefs in
European Photography
:
exhibition catalog. Finland, 1997.

  Hutton, Ronald, 2001. Shamans :
Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination
. London: Hambledon and London

  Levi-Strauss, Claude. �The
Effectiveness of Symbols� in Structural Anthropology, Anchor Books: 1967.

     
Kendall,
Laurel, Mathe, Barbara and Miller, Thomas Ross, eds, 1997. Drawing
Shadows to Stone. The Photography of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition,
1987-1902
.
American Museum of Natural History.

  MacCannelll, Dean. 1973. �Staged
Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings
.� American
Journal of Sociology

79, no. 3: 589-603.

     
MacCannell,
Dean, 1976. The Tourist. A New Theory of the Leisure Class. Schocken Books: New York.

     
Narby,
Jeremy and Huxley, Francis, eds. 2001. Shamans Through Time. 500
Years on the Path to Knowledge.
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam: New York.

     

Nash,
Dennison. �Tourism as a Form of Imperialism� in Hosts and Guests:
The Anthropology of Tourism
,
Valene L. Smith, ed.

     
Taussig,
Michael, 1987. Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. University of Chicago Press.

     
Weiss,
Peg, 1995. Kandinsky and the Old Russia: the Artist as
Ethnographer and Shaman.

New Haven : Yale University Press.

      White,
Hayden, 1978. Tropics of Discourse.
Essays in Cultural Criticism.
John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore and London.


[1]

Some of the people this sentence refers to11

1. Some of the people this sentence refers to are: 1. French Franciscan priest Andre Thevet who spent some time in Brazil living with the Tupinamba Indians; 2. Avvakum Petrovich, a leader of Russian conservative clergy; 3. Enlightenment scientists Denis Diderot and his colleagues (See Narby and Huxley’s anthology Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge ).

2.

It is possible that there are earlier photographs of Native American shamans.   The earliest published photographs I came across were those of the Siberian shamans from the Jesup expedition.

3.

http://dir.yahoo.com/business_and_economy/shopping_and_services/travel_and_transportation/tour_operators/religious_and_self_discovery/

4.

Thanks to Barbara Kinshenblatt-Gimblet for providing this useful insight (personal conversation).

5.

The newsletters did not mention that this �living ancestor� also holds a PhD in History and is a renowned writer and scholar of folklore.

6.

Harner also trained some of the Siberian practitioners in his �shamanic counseling� method, which some of the shamans now combine with traditional healing techniques.

7.

This point of view was expressed to me by some Russian ethnographers, studying shamanism (personal conversations).

8.

It has to be noticed that the majority of these tourists are no longer New Age seekers who conduct a pilgrimage to a shaman in quest of personal transformation, but a regular mainstream audience on a package tour, where the talk with the shaman is listed on their tour program alongside bird-watching and horseback-riding.

 


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