Why did shamanism evolve in societies all around the globe?


EXCERPT: . . . shamanism is everywhere in the old ways of humans. Every tribal culture – alive or dead – has some broker of spiritual capital. The Indonesian Mentawai have their sikerei. The Inuit have their angakok. The Columbian Desana have their paye. The Mongolian Buryat have their böö. The American Sioux have their heyoka.

The sheer magnitude of our shamanic ancestry means one of two things: either shamanism originated once prior to the human diaspora some 70,000 years ago and has been preserved since, or it has arisen independently countless times in premodern human cultures. If we consider that preagricultural human societies are each experiments in how to run a village, with each competing in the evolutionary market of survival and reproduction, then we must ask: what good is shamanism?

The answer is a lesson in both the psychology of problem solving and the construction of meaning. In order to get there, we first have to understand what the prominent explanations of shamanism are in contemporary anthropology. These explanations all rely upon a common set of psychological and evolutionary principles, and these principles in turn explain the adaptive value of shamanism.

One explanation holds that shamans are beta-versions of modern healers. [...] A second prominent explanation is that shamans exploit human gullibility by taking advantage of psychological biases, such as the human fear of ‘dread risks’. [...] A third argument holds that shamans organise social groups around common beliefs. These, in turn, lead to better outcomes for the group as a whole. [...]

Here is a crucial clue: shamanism often arises among people exposed to uncertainty. A case in point is the recent rise of shamanism among the Buryat in Upper Mongolia. Following the collapse of socialism in 1989-91, the economic rug was pulled out from under the Buryat. This led to terrible poverty and starvation among a people whose cultural identity had largely been rubbed out over a series of generations. In this existential vacuum, the Buryat shamans blossomed like wildflowers as people sought new ways to control the uncertainty in which they had found themselves.

But shamanic powers are not seen as methods for defying the natural order, as one anthropologist found out when he tried to convince a shaman to engage in a rain ceremony, to which the shaman replied: ‘Don’t be a fool, whoever makes a rain-making ceremony in the dry season?’ Shamanism is not a method of controlling reality in defiance of one’s own experience. Shamanic peoples, just like the majority of Western Christians, prefer Western doctors when they can find them. Shamanism does not make one blind to the power of penicillin. Rather, it is only when visible technologies fail that people look for help from forces outside this world.

To understand what shamanism adds, let’s take a step back and take a look at how minds, especially human minds, work. [...] As a form of exploratory divination, shamanism uses these in-built associations to construct meanings for which the mind has a natural affinity. There is little that is as important as this constructed meaning. Research consistently finds that experiencing a coherent and meaningful life is one of the strongest predictors of our wellbeing. By meaningful, I mean having a story to tell, a higher reason as to why one thing happened and not another. This makes us feel good and helps us to act in ways that are consistent with our higher goals, instead of pursuing more short-term pleasures....

MORE: https://aeon.co/essays/why-did-shamanism...-the-globe
This is interesting. It seems that throughout history, humankind has grappled with the idea of a spirit life, beyond just the material. For many (for me) it brings a sense of comfort, so much of this article, resonates with me.
(Jan 14, 2019 04:34 AM)Leigha Wrote: This is interesting. It seems that throughout history, humankind has grappled with the idea of a spirit life, beyond just the material. For many (for me) it brings a sense of comfort, so much of this article, resonates with me.

As long as the path is constructive for both the self and everyone else involved, I feel it's usually best that a person not go against their grain (or at least return to it eventually). Though their "genuine" course can as much be what they uncover later about themselves rather than what they began with or grew up in.

Most things are subsumed by a broader category and have connection to a related generalization, so choosing to abandon a specific member of a set doesn't equate to having to forsake the whole collection, class, overarching template or guiding principle. There are surprising ways that an _X_ can be re-conceived so that it remains viable; and in some (rare?) cases what one initially considered the very opposite of the road one left can reveal itself to actually be just another (veiled) variation of the prior -- for worse, better, or the same, result-wise.


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