Although the title of this book leads one to expect a book on shamanism, this is somewhat misleading, because there is no real discussion of it as a phenomenon, let alone any attempt to define shamanism. It is odd to find a book, ostensibly about shamanism, which does not even list Mircea Eliade in the index. But, in fact, so far as there is a coherent theme, it is more that of religion than of shamanism, although there is quite a lot about animals as well.
There are four main sections: Early Inner Eurasia, the Turks, the Mongols, and the Tunguz and Manchus. In each there are numerous rather disconnected short sections outlining various features of beliefs and practices. A lot of the material is anecdotal and consists of summaries of reports by travellers and historians from earlier times. The relevance of some of this is uncertain.
It is not easy to see whom this book is intended for. Anyone wanting to find out something about shamans will not get much of a picture of the subject here, but it is not a scholarly study either. There are some interesting items here and there but I did not get much more from it than that, though in a rather ambitious concluding chapter the author seeks to show the relevance of Inner Eurasian religion for world literature in general. He thinks that its influence on Islam has been greater than on Christianity, and that the legacy of shamanism is apparent in the 'fighting mystical brotherhoods of Islam', whatever these may be.
19 March 2009
19 March 2009