Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A critical review of Lee, Tedlock, and Krippner

This essay presents an annotated bibliography of three articles–‘The Epistemology and Technologies of Shamanic States of Consciousness’ by Stanley Krippner (2000), ‘Shamanism and its Emancipatory Power for Korean Women’ by Jonghyun Lee (2009), and ‘Zuni Scared Theater’ by Barbara Tedlock (1983).

Generally, the three articles examine concepts of shamanism such as its definition, the sociohistorical/ cultural context that shapes shamanism in different societies, the significance of rituals, the notion of continuity, and the importance of narratives in sustaining shamanism through time and space.

Not only does the word ‘shamanism’ take on a different form of meaning in the different articles, it also entails different social constructs that accompany it. In the article by Krippner (2000:108), he quotes Wilber (1983) who describes shamanism as a form of ‘religion’. In Lee’s (2009:187) article, he cites Eliade (1964) who claims that ‘shamanism is a religious phenomenon that is universal across many different cultures’. Although it is not explicitly explained in Tedlock’s article, it can be implied by looking at the whole phenomenon of Zuni Theater, which is sacred to the Zunis, and is held with great reverence and obedience by them. The word, ‘sacred’, has a similar vein of meaning to the etymology of the word, ‘religion’, in which the Latin term ‘religionem’ means ‘respect for the sacred’. Thus, shamanism, like any other mainstream religions, has its own followers who believe in the power and magic of its rituals, which bring forth healing, whether physically or spiritually.

While the Zunis in Tedlock’s article hold their metaphysical theatre with great reverence, the Koreans, generally, frown upon the shamanic practices in their country. The sociohistorical aspect in Korea explains how shamanism is dominated by Korean women who are marginalized in their society and are trying to construct the reality surrounding them. While the article by Lee (2009) delves deep into the sociohistorical background on how Korean women are marginalized, Tedlock’s article (1983:98) hardly has any references as to why Zuni theatre is male-dominated, as stated in the sentence: ‘The pairing between elder and younger brother kivas determines the selection of a chorus and of “female” dancers (since men take all the roles in kachina society masked dances), if a particular dance calls for such roles’. This begs the question as to whether women in Zuni society are suppressed or oppressed, or are unimportant. According to Tedlock (1983:97), in the past, the Zunis say that the Slayers would always take a woman with them to the valley of Death. Could it be because of this symbolic reason, women do not perform in the Zuni theatre?

The role that women play in both the Zuni and Korean societies is definitely different, given how shamanism in Korea empowers the Korean women and helps them in their healing process from the stigmatization and marginalization experienced. On the other hand, in the Zuni society, women hardly have a place in the theatrical performance, and this diminishes their roles in the metaphysical theatre.

Despite the different roles played by women in Korea and the Zuni society, the most pertinent point is how rituals in each society bring forth a powerful statement to the audience. According to Turner (1970:20), rituals become ‘a factor in social action, a positive force in an activity field’. This is a powerful statement on how rituals cannot be separated from its social context, and how influential it can be on the community. In Korea, according to Lee (2009:193), the kut is a ritual in which ‘the shaman dances in her flamboyant costume, sleeves fluttering in the air above, amid the clanging sounds of cymbals and he boisterous beat of the Korean double-headed drum’. The significance of the ritual extends far and beyond the musical extravaganza that the kut seems to portray–when the spirits descend, the words of empowerment strengthen the women and challenge the largely patriarchal circle in Korean society.

When the shaman goes into the altered state of consciousness, as seen in the kut ritual, the liminality is experienced when the shaman moves between the realms of the sacred and the profane (Lee, 2009). This liminality is also evident in the Zuni theatre, as stated by Tedlock (1983:94), when they ‘prepare themselves for the movement from ordinary profane reality to extraordinary sacred reality’. Krippner (2000:94) also emphasizes on the importance of liminality which ‘provide(s) a link between the ordinary world and those realms purportedly traversed by the shaman’. Thus, in all three articles, the journey from the profane world to the sacred world, and vice versa, is an important feature of shamanism.

Another important feature of shamanism that is evident in the three articles is the healing aspect. Krippner (2000:98) acknowledges how the shaman, upon reaching an altered state of consciousness, harnesses the knowledge of the ‘spirit world’ to ‘help and heal members of the social group that has acknowledged their shamanic status’. Lee (2009) emphasizes on how shamanism has given the Korean women a platform to heal their grief and suffering. While the ritual of kut somehow liberates the Korean women from the harsh verities of an everyday life of subordination and submissiveness to their male counterparts, the Zunis year-long rituals accompanying its metaphysical theatre serve to ‘unite the social, economic, political and religious aspects of the community’, as highlighted by Tedlock (1983: 93). The healing aspect in Zuni sacred theatre is implied through the symbolic significance of the Sun Father, who leads ‘the Zuni ancestors out from the dark underworld into his blinding daylight’, as described by Tedlock (1983:95). Just like the Korean women who are in the darkest despair, and are enlightened through the kut ritual, the Zuni ancestors are guided out of the darkness into the light, which represents renewal and life.

The idea of light versus dark should not be seen as two separate entities; rather they represent continuity from one realm to another. Life and death are also seen in a continuum, as shown in Zuni sacred theatre. To the Zunis, death is not final; rather, it is followed by rebirth, and follows a cycle, just like the celestial bodies of the moon and the sun. In Korea, the idea of continuity is seen when Korean women become shamans to help other women who are experiencing pain and suffering–a phenomenon that the Korean women shamans have experienced themselves before. The Korean women shamans are not detached from the women who come to them for healing; the very fact that they have been through the same suffering enables them to be more empathetic and sympathetic to the plight of the other Korean women. As cited by Lee (2009:195), not only would they feel a sense of relief after the shamanic ritual of kut, they would also ‘maintain harmonious households with prolonged prosperity’ (Kendall, 1985). The social good that is a result of the kut ritual is also a positive indication that Korean shamanism heals the individuals, and the society as a whole.

The idea of balance and harmony is also a recurring theme in the articles by Krippner (2000:102) and Tedlock (1983:99), as represented by the ‘four quarters of the universe’ and the ‘four cardinal points’ respectively. The four points generally cover the four directional bearings of North, South, East, and West. These four pertinent points mark the totality or the sum of the view of the world. Sarangerel (2000:8) highlights that in Mongolian shamanism, ‘awareness of the four directions is fundamental to the Mongolian view of the world’. The word ‘fundamental’ shows how important it is to have these important bearings in one’s life, especially one’s perception of the surrounding world.

The world of shamanism is alive and thriving up till this day because of the narratives that surround it since its inception. In Zuni sacred theatre, the rituals that the Zunis engage in are only possible because of the stories that are sustained through the elders, which are then passed on to the younger generations. According to Tedlock (1983:101), ‘the narrative recounts in detail each ritual activity the Council has engaged in since the previous winter solstice’. Just like the passing of seasons as represented in the Zuni theatre, the passing of stories from one generation to another ensures the continuity of the shamanic practice.

As Krippner (2000:98) says, he is ‘pleased that postmodernism points to the need for honoring multiple narratives, and becoming aware of the process by which narratives are constructed’. The different narratives only serve to enhance the storytelling, and should not be seen as invalidating the ‘real’ narrative. The ‘process by which narratives are constructed’ should be seen as an active and participative journey undertaken by members of a particular society–a journey of magic and wonder through the lens of storytelling.

Likewise, in Korea, the narratives take on the form of the kut, where it is a platform for the Korean women to express their life stories freely without any constraints. The kut not only offers a catharsis for the women, but according to Lee (2009:195), it also is a platform for the Korean women to tell ‘the stories that are never to be told’.

In conclusion, shamanism in different societies offers not only healing to the believers, but shapes the identity of a particular society, as seen by the examples cited in this essay. The shamanic practice, its significance, and its effect on the lives of its believers show how important shamanism is in the lives of its believers. And the narratives that accompany the shamanic practice of a society ensure its survival in the years to come.

Krippner, S. (2000). The epistemology and technologies of shamanic states of conciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7, 93-118.

Lee, J. (2009). Shamanism and its emancipatory power for Korean women. Affilia, 24(2), 186-198.

Sarangerel. (2000). Mongolian Cosmology Riding windhorses: a journey into the heart of Mongolian shamanism (pp. 1-20). Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.

Tedlock, B. (1983). Zuni Sacred Theatre. American Indian Quarterly, 7(3), 93-110.

Turner, V. (1970). Symbols in Ndembu Ritual The forest of symbols: aspects of Ndembu ritual, Ithaca (pp. 19-47). Cornell University Press.

Online references


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