Re: virus: How Does a Shaman Pay?

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Mon, 11 Aug 1997 12:01:43 -0700 (PDT)

Wade says (quoted text is mine):responds to writes:

>I'd say every field has its uncertainties, and to the degree
>someone claims to control them (and is believed), he or she is a shaman.

Yes. Still, a shaman is a shaman here, but not there. A scientist (yes,
even a doctor) is a scientist here, and a scientist there....

I do not like them, Sam I am, I do not like shamans and sham.

I respond:
You have missed my point. I am saying that a scientist, to the degree
that he or she claims knowledge of things which are uncertain, is a

Wade writes:

I am in a complete state of innocence regarding shaman, since I have no
reason to either approach or reject them. They do not exist within my
culture. I am trying to understand why they would in any culture. To that
effect I have only accounts and anthropological studies- no immersion in
any aspect of a culture which accepts the magical.

I am asking for a disinterested examination of shamanism, which is all I
can pursue.

In a way then, I am taking the agenda position of extra-cultural
investigation. To me this would be a proper memetic examination of the
phenomenom as well.

And in no way can I see my rejection of the magical as a role-play for a

I am certainly not trying to generate fear, but to dissipate it through

Did none of this transmit?

You are making a very sharp distinction between science on the one hand
and religion or magic on the other. While I agree that they are not the
same thing (I do consider the scientific method a valuable tool), I am
unwilling or unable to draw such a distinct line. You should remember
that chemistry grew out of alchemy, and astronomy out of astrology. I
think a field is considered magic when it has produced descendants in
which more is certain. But that certainty is built on a base of magical
work, work by people delving into complete mysteries. It's only later,
feeling sure of our modern abilities, that we can look down on the
original practitioners and sneer at their ignorant superstitions. I see
more of a continuity of practice between stone-age magicians, medieval
cunning-women (witches), and modern psychoanalysts, diagnosticians, and
economists than you apparently do. Note that parts of the practice of
modern and ancient shamanic pracititioners have been shown to be effective
by modern science: some herbal remedies, psychological techniques, and
physical practices really do work, for reasons we now understand on our
own terms. Others may work for reasons we don't yet understand. Under
most circumstances, I would rather have a modern AMA-approved doctor
treating me for a recognized illness than pay, say, a Vodoun priest to
uncurse me. But for maladies that modern American science does not
recognize or for which it has no effective treatment, they might be on
equal footing.

Wade says:

Well, recreation is a valid part of an economic model. Yes, I am
surprised to see an equality for the shaman, a role I certainly see as
anachronistic, or at least fading fast. The valuation of 'spiritual'
resources in any economic model is troubling, though, yes? We have the
additional problem of 'community' in this model. It may be asking too
much of an economic model to bother with these terms. The resources paid
to a shaman I certainly view as parasitic.

Hmm...Shamans are traditionally the preservers and interpreters of a
culture's history, religion, and other lore. As such, are they not the
key to memetic integrity for the culture? Remove them, and you have taken
out a vital part of the system. You have denied the value of stories as a
part of culture, which seems like the last thing a person on this list
would want to do.

Wade says:
Yes, I think the shaman, within my definition, does indeed claim to use
'magic' and expects to be paid for this. The shaman is never
'misunderstood' by _his_ culture. So this part of your question I view as
irrelevant. But- influence and power are certainly intangibles in many
instances, although I think we have contained 'non-physical' to mean the
'spiritual'... or 'magical'.

The shaman will always, and intentionally, be 'misunderstood' by the
reasonable. It is not in his interest to be understood.... He uses
'secrets' after all. That the shaman is tolerated is the paucity of a
culture, IMHO. Or at least the degree of toleration.

I reply:
Shamans in traditional low-tech societies are generally simultaneously
respected, feared, and considered strange. They hold a position of power,
but somewhat outside the rest of the society. Because they deal with
forces beyond usual human comprehension, they are themselves perceived as
something other than ordinary human beings. I'm not sure whether you'd
say this constitutes being misunderstood or not.

(who is off to lunch now to look for more library books, esp. _The Mind of
the Bible Believer_, which she started reading yesterday at a friend's
house 'cause it was on her list anyway)