Tapati (tapati) wrote,

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Misuse of the Word Shaman

I would like to draw everyone's attention to the widespread misuse of the word shaman, originating not from Native Americans but Siberia! Nor does shaman mean "medicine man" or "tribal holy man" or almost any of the ways people use it nowadays.

Native Americans are finding many of the current uses of the word, and its being erroneously linked to their religious practices, offensive.


A "shaman" is a specialist and master of the ecstatic trance-journey, not a synonym for tribal healer, holy person or medicine man. "Shamanism" is the practice of ecstatic trance-journey, and the typical beliefs and techniques that arise from and support it. Shamanism is not a catch-all term for indigenous religion, earth-based religions, spiritual healing, or beliefs in totems, animal guardians or nature spirits. These misconceptions about shamanism are promoted by both well-meaning and fraudulent teachers, books, periodicals and web pages. They need to be corrected both for the preservation of traditional Native American cultures, and for the advancement of spiritual learning in the West.---endquote---


Meanwhile, I had to finally jump in and try (in vain, probably) to educate some readers over at http://somehavehats.typepad.com/ after several derogatory references to Native American spirituality were made by the blog owner in relation to an interfaith ceremony in L.A. at a Catholic cathedral. Apparently this inclusiveness to honor a new mayor was too much for the conservative Catholics in the area, and they proceeded to mock everything about the ceremony. They were also angered by the pro-choice stance of the new mayor, Villaraigosa, who is himself a Catholic.

Since it may be deleted at some point, like my comments in defense of religious freedom for pagans and other non-Christians were previously, I will repeat my comments here:

Regarding Native Americans as being pagans, references to the North American Martyrs, etc., do you think that there were no atrocities committed against Native Americans to suppress their religious rights? Or doesn't that count as long as you don't see their religion as the one true way? Do you know the history of efforts to prevent Native Americans from speaking their languages or practicing their faith? It's actually a miracle any of them managed to retain any knowledge of their own rituals and beliefs.


Perhaps the most suppressive laws regarding religious freedom were those promulgated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Indian Courts, known as the Indian Religious Crimes Code. These laws were first developed in 1883 by Secretary of the Interior Henry Teller as a means to prohibit Native American ceremonial activity under pain of imprisonment. Teller's general guidelines to all Indian agents ordered them to discontinue dances and feasts as well as instructing them to take steps with regard to all medicine, men, "who are always found in the anti-progressive party . . . to compel these impostors to abandon this deception and discontinue their practices, which are not only without benefit to them but positively injurious to them." (endquote)




Pupils were required to attend Sunday school and services off campus and to perform church-related service. Students who did not attend church were subjected to corporal punishment, e.g. whippings. Amulets and other items of Native religious significance were confiscated and their possession could result in severe punishment. Pupils found practicing a Native religion often were beaten to the point of severe bodily injury sometimes requiring medical treatment.
And, not at all surprisingly, many of these Native children were sexually abused by their "Christian" mentors. (endquote)


same page:

Many state laws added restrictions on the practice of Native religions. Not until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 was passed by Congress did First Americans once again have a right -- with limits -- to practice their religions. (endquote)

I might also recommend:


Finally, symbolism behind feathers in Native American tribes:
Feathers, depicted in many, many ways, are symbols of prayers, marks of honor or sources of ideas. They represent the Creative Force, and are taken from birds connected with the attribute for which they might be utilized: goose flight feathers to fledge an arrow because of the long flights of the geese; Eagle feathers for honor or to connect the user with the Creator, Turkey feathers to decorate a kachina mask. As design elements, they may appear plain, banded, barred, or decorated. (endquote)

Just about any symbol from any culture can easily be mocked when one doesn't understand the reasons behind its use.

Posted by: Tapati | July 7, 2005 05:19 AM

For some history regarding the North American Martyrs, in fairness:


However, this history has nothing to do with the California tribe involved in the interfaith ceremonies pictured on this blog. Native American tribes ought to be seen as separate nations, and these particular nations were thousands of miles apart.

Posted by: Tapati | July 7, 2005 05:26 AM

Chipping away at ignorance...
Tags: politics, religion

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