A Concise Introduction
Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
This book provides what its subtitle implies: an overview of shamanism for readers who know little or nothing about the subject. There are nine sections: (1) Male and Female Shamans; (2) Trance, Ecstasy and Possession; (3) Shamans' Paraphernalia; (4) Deities and Spirits; (5) The Shaman's Costume; (6) Divination and Healing; (7) Soul, Ancestor Cults and Death; (8) Images and Idols; (9) Were Animals. This is a lot to pack into a little over 100 pages, but the writing is clear and appealing. What the book lacks is much critical discussion of the concept of shamanism itself. All we get of this is found in a few pages of introduction. where some divergent opinions on the subject are touched on briefly.
Stutley states as a fact that "recent research indicates that shamanism represents the earliest basic religious experiences of mankind and therefore is important for the understanding of all human culture, including Stone Age beliefs, and for the symbolism of the ancient rock paintings of Eurasia, dating from about 30000 BCE to about 100 BCE." (p.4). And a little further on she says unequivocally that "the rock paintings of Lascaux and those of Siberia were part of the magico-religious activities that took place on the sites … The figures depict ancestors, spirits, heroes, shamans and animals." The unwary reader may be misled into thinking that all this is firmly established rather than a speculative interpretation that is the opinion of only some of the scholars who have studied the matter. The earliest reports of Siberian shamanism go back only to the sixteenth century and reports of shaman-like activity elsewhere in the world only to the thirteenth, so extrapolations to the "Stone Age" are uncertain at best. As a result, the picture of shamanism that emerges is somewhat tendentious.
19 March 2009
%S An Introduction
%A Stutley, Margaret
%C London and New York
%G ISBN 0-41527317-X
%P vii + 134pp
%O paperback edition also available
19 March 2009
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