Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Summaries and Critical Reflections......Lauren Scheiwe

Being Changed by Cross Cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience. Goulet J-G. & DE Young 1994

This article by Goulet and Young (1994) aims to explain dreams, visions and trance from an anthropological perspective. It draws on empirical data gathered through anthropologist’s experiences of these occurrences.
They begin by discussing how between the 17th to the 20th centuries Western intellectuals, scholars and psychologists pushed to eradicate and suppress shamanic practices and rituals (Goulet J-G. & DE Young 1994). From there they discuss their findings and experiences.

Their method is an interesting form of research and therefore a fascinating read and seems to have much value. However, the question for me is how impartial and fully responsive to the process anthropologists can be bringing with them to the experience, their worldview. I feel that there would be a degree of separation and perhaps confusion, mystification or perplexity during their participation in these rituals and practices. Two factors emerge here for me. Firstly whether or not the anthropologist can necessarily experience these physiological and spiritual happenings in the same way a shaman or member of the community would. With their Western worldview and education. Furthermore it seems reasonable that these experiences could be subjective. So when experimenting with or researching these practices or substances that result in trance or visions, we would all experience and interpret things differently. Within the same community and culture let alone very different perspectives.

Secondly, I think it can be argued that perhaps in the translation of these experiences to academic reasoning something is lost. Perhaps some things are better to be felt, tried and experienced rather than read. Still it is preferable I think to do empirical
research rather than simply ethnographic onlooking. Such as the next article.

Education for Transcendence. Kratz R, 1976

In his chapter Education of Transcendence Kratz explores the trance practices of the !Kung. Called !Kia, it is an intense trance practice where energy called N/um is activated (Kratz R, 1976).
Despite finding this an intriguing article I couldn’t help but become distracted and wonder whether in our overly developed, technological, materialistic, capitalist world we have lost almost all connection with the earth and the other realm. Western logic seems to afford little space for such experiences and connections. This seems overwhelmingly tragic to me because rituals and trance such appear to be so empowering whilst connecting with the surroundings.
Usually !Kia is performed in the absence of drugs however, there is an indigenous drug sometimes used for preparation of !Kia (Kratz R, 1976). This I found fascinating because for many types of trance, drugs such as ayahuasca and peyote among many others are used for the trance itself. One participant described it as bringing feelings of release and liberation but together with profound feelings of pain and fear (Kratz R, 1976).

The psychology of shamanism is a relatively new discipline as it was traditionally not valued by psychologists. However according to Walter and Neumann Fridman (2004) “Shamans appear to be the first psychotherapists, first physicians, first magicians, first performance artists, first story tellers and first weather forecasters.
If this is the case then how vital these members of the community must have been. I find it difficult to fathom a society without people to perform these functions and services. Furthermore I find it difficult to imagine on person performing all of these functions simultaneously. I wonder how many of these characteristics can be found in modern ritual and practices.

The Magic of Ritual: Our Need for Liberating Rites that Transform Our Lives and Our Communities. Driver TL, 1991

In his chapter Transformation, Driver addresses the difference between shamanistic culture and the scepticism of the west. He looks at magic and how it is interpreted in a western context but also how it is linked to ritual. The term magic is one I hadn’t expected to see in this type of article. However Driver explains that he uses the term as Ronald Grimes used it. “‘Magic’, as I use it here does not refer only to other peoples rituals but to ours as well. It is not a pejorative term.” (Driver TL, 1991).
Driver discusses in this chapter, ritual and magic within religion but also in daily life such as social and political life. He explains that this is the case because of the ceremonies and rites involved. Driver’s work in itself is partly a review of others contributions to the topics discussed in the chapter. He disagrees with Wittenstein, Bateson and Frazer who in defence of religion denigrate magic. Driver turns to van Gennep’s position linking magic and religion together believing that without magic religion is powerless. He argues that this loss of magic is the reason Western liberal religions numbers are declining and that religion is becoming metaphysics (Driver, 1994).
Turner then goes on to examine two examples of magic through ritual. He describes his experiences witnessing a cure for blindness in Korea and an exorcism (of Apartheid) in South Africa. For both he describes intense physical and spiritual transformation. He describes also many role-play situations, costumes and props. Arguing that these do not discredit the rituals or spirit possession but like as if they’re almost accessories.

The thing that struck me most about all 3 of the articles and chapters I chose to focus on for these summaries and critical reflections, was how polarised modern Western culture is to the Indigenous shaman culture. This is not to say that shamanism does not exist outside this context. Though I do wonder where ‘we’ have lost track of this particular way of interacting with our surroundings.


Driver, TL, 1991, The Magic of Ritual: Our Need for Liberating Rites that Transform Our Lives and Our Communities, New York, HarperSanFrancisco.

Goulet J-G. & DE Young, 1994, ‘Theoretical and Methodological Issues’, Being Changed By Cross-Cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience,. Peterborough, ON, Broadview Press.

Kratz R, 1976, ‘Education for Transcendence’, in R Lee & I DeVore, Eds, Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers, Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

Walter MN & EJ Neumann Fridman , Eds, 2004, Shamanism: An Encyclypedia of World Beliefs, Practices and Culture. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO.

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