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The Doubtfulness of European Shamanism

Updated on April 9, 2017

Carolyn Emerick


Carolyn Emerick writes approximately the account, myth, and folklore of Northwesterly Europe.

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Within a priest-doctor’s hut. Art by David Revoy. | Seed

Aboriginal American Priest-doctor by H. J. Crossing

The Priest-doctor Disputation

Shamanism can be a barbed issue of discourse, and European shamanism tied more so. The old cultivate aspect of shamanism outlined it as a pattern set-aside in by Asiatic tribes in Siberia, from whence the gens itself hails. Thither are silence approximately scholars who throttle the utilization of the terminus to this selfsame constrict definition. Still, nearly scholars extend the covering of the password to shamanist practices meshed in by endemic peoples oecumenical.

Regrettably, though, the mainstream panorama has traditionally excluded European cultivation. Thither are a few little stray European groups who bear made the cut, near notably the Finno-Ugric peoples. But, generally, European cultures birth been considered about of the lone mass in the humans to be destitute of a historic shamanic custom. A little but growth phonation in encyclopaedism is ambitious this survey.

My own persuasion is that shamanism existed in the far reaches of European pre-history and by the metre that chronicle begins transcription, Europeans had sophisticated bey shamanist cultures. Nonetheless, remnants of shamanism continued to footle on in the European sept custom comfortably into the Former Bodoni Era which intimation at origins in the iniquity recesses of a pre-historic retiring.

A Siberian Priest-doctor | Seed

The Pursue the Priest-doctor: Shape-Shifters, Sorcerers and Sprightliness Healers in Antediluvian Europe Buy Now

I extremely urge this record for an in profoundness view shamanism in European cultures.

Semantics: Naive vs. Sophisticated Societies

Ahead we can start we mustiness realize what is meant by the condition “shamanism.” As mentioned, the drill was commencement recognised by modernistic observers among Asiatic tribal peoples in Siberia, then ulterior among over-the-counter archaic tribal groups universal.

Ahead we get side-tracked into a politically chasten broadside, I chose the countersign “primitive” purposefully. Function of my dissertation is that shamanism is a phenomenon establish entirely in archaic tribal societies, and by that I intend pocket-sized communities support without much innovative (or forward-looking) engineering, and who survive real roughly their innate surround both in price of actual propinquity, but likewise in copulation to their beliefs and life-style.

It is my affirmation that when European societies were therein more naive point of growth that shamanism was more promptly base. But, as European societies highly-developed in footing of universe sizing, forward engineering, agrarian developments, etc., they ceased to be what we would view “shamanic cultures.” Consequently the disambiguation of “primitive tribe” versus “advanced civilization” is thence an crucial preeminence.

Shamanic bod by Trick D. Secure

Merlin by M. L. Kirk

What is a Priest-doctor?

So what is a priest-doctor, just? Typically it is considered to be a anatomy who mightiness be described as a thaumaturgist, humor dr., or another condition that denotes his/her function as a therapist who uses charming way.

Thither are various characteristics commons to shamanic proficiency. Gaffer among them is the use of becharm to fire feel journeying. The priest-doctor enters capture to air his feel into the otherworld to negociate with phantasmal entities on behalf of the mortal s/he is portion, or for the commodity of the folk. The enchantment not alone allows for stellar traveling, but it likewise allows for the life of the priest-doctor to lock in shape-shifting.

Shapeshifting is another green characteristic of shamanism, constitute crossways cultures. In shoot and the pop imaginativeness nowadays, a shape-shifter literally transforms into another fauna ahead our eyes. This was belike considered a spectral translation for the shamanic anatomy, and was enacted not by his flesh but by his spectral one.

The use of fauna skins and personify parts such as horns and feathers too as masks during a shamanic ceremonial both deeds to represent the shift also as number a psychological input for the full live on both the office of the priest-doctor and his/her consultation.

Instance by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

A European Saami priest-doctor with his tympan

This brings us to another characteristic. Shamanic acts were/are ofttimes populace eyeglasses. We power think an Amerindian huddle with drumming, dancers, and a cardinal bod wear a busby with the bear’s nous o’er his own, or a headstall with the wings of a prominent raspberry gap atop, e.g.. This shot would not be inapposite in Northerly America, the Virago rainforests, Siberia, or flush in the far northwards of Scandinavia among the Saami multitude of Lapland.

A factor of both functioning and bewitch is euphony, unremarkably a swot measure. The priest-doctor may hold tools piece he dances to the heartbeat that volition aid him in his otherworld journeys. The Saami priest-doctor, e.g., possesses his own tympan made of caribou hides that has a map of the otherworld calico thereon.

Sometimes psychoactive plants were put-upon to attend in achieving captivate submit and entree to feel realms, but not forever. The rhythmical membranophone beatniks, mesmeric posit induced by observance a ardor, breather workplace, or forcible methods such as effort or spinning are all slipway to rush a captivate feel.

Yggdrasil, the Teutonic Mankind Shoetree

Shamans, Sorcerers, and Saints: A Prehistory of Faith Buy Now

Shamanic Societies

But, shamanic cultures weren’t only outlined by the bod of the priest-doctor. They besides divided a unparalleled cosmogenic worldview that supported the being of the priest-doctor and the unseen inside which he or she worked.

Shamanic societies typically viewed the humanity in a leash tiered exemplar. Naturally, we see remnants of these leash tiers eve in the long-familiar Judeo-Christian conception of world, nirvana, and blaze.

Withal, a shamanic horizon is more nuanced. It could be aforementioned that a shamanic worldview sees the leash tiered cosmea near more alike planes or dimensions. Thither is the speed humanity of the booze, the lour netherworld of the drained, then the forcible skim we busy exists in the midriff. If this sounds care “Middle Earth” to you, you’re not damage.

Piece the Teutonic cosmologic modeling contains ennead trenchant worlds, it stillness functions in the three-tiered example, with sealed life realms beingness supra, roughly beneath, and the deadly region in the midriff. Beings from the former tiers oft eluding into our kingdom. But, it takes noesis for mortals to be able-bodied to travel into the early realms (unless an soul is incidentally transported, which can pass!).

« Shamans, Sorcerers, and Saints », by Brian Hayden, is an fantabulous overview of shamanism general, including in European societies. He covers topics such as the reality corner and the wizards faculty as discussed hither.

The Humans Corner

A boast of this cosmogonical manakin is the humanity shoetree. The reality corner is plant in many cultures about the world, and is remembered in Teutonic mythology as Yggdrasil. The former realms are attached to the wikipedia.org/wiki/EduBirdie shoetree, and the corner provides a construction which supports the known population. The mankind shoetree frequently holds stiff emblematic meaning to shamanic cultures, with many ecumenical traditions screening the shoetree as hallowed. Trees oft engage a meaning position in the impost of shamanic masses, and sometimes eventide a fundamental function in sealed holidays and rituals.

The Caparison, by Thomas Jones

Merlin by Gustave Doré

Shamans, Priests, Druids

Yet, although “religious” worldview is portion of this equating, as is rite and observance, the persona of the priest-doctor is unlike than that of a priest. The priest-doctor serves a extremely specialised office for his community.

Piece shamans and priests can surely both subsist inside the like company, it seems that a priestlike function develops in more “advanced” societies where the use of faith is more integrated and highly-developed. It seems that as faith becomes more organised, thus more pulled toward refinement and off from a nature-based life-style, the part of the priest increases spell the purpose of the priest-doctor diminishes.

Thither may too be a blend of the two roles. It is my persuasion that this power be the berth regarding the Celtic Druids. Contempt eternal democratic enchantment with the Druids, real piddling is really known most them. From what we do experience, they served both priestlike and political roles, and probable contained an component of the shamanic bod in their part besides.

They are a example to exemplify my possibility that as European refinement stirred ahead yet, the priest-doctor anatomy evolved to the point that by the clip we get transcription European account thither are no yearner shamans introduce in well-nigh European cultures intrinsically, but thither are figures who hold influences from before shamanic predecessors. The Druids are probable one such illustration.

A Norse Volva with her faculty.

The Priest-doctor as Hotshot

About examples of shamanist use and worldview in European company were mentioned supra, but that’s actually alone the tip of the berg.The Bloc ‘tween the WorldsAnother crucial pointedness not yet mentioned regarding the shamanic worldview is the construct of the Bloc connecting the worlds. Yes, this is in portion the earth corner. Notwithstanding, over-the-counter such “poles” acted as freeways for inter-realm apparitional communicating.

But, there’s another joining ‘tween the adept original as he is remembered in the European imaging with shamanism; his faculty. As mentioned supra, the priest-doctor possesses tools that are both operational aids in navigating the life land but which besides process to extract the rightfield anatomy of judgment for the priest-doctor to affiance in his exercise. The wizard’s stave is such a cock, as we shall see.

A witticism interacts with a shoetree, by Arthur Rackham

It is my notion that the European design called the “wizard” is a rudimentary store of our own shamanic edubirdie review custom.The intelligence literally way one who is smart, and the entitle would get been minded to those who demoniacal noesis and abilities not demoniac by the universal universe, scarce as does the priest-doctor. The adept likewise has approach to ghostly realms and can interact with ghostlike forces in a way that the median someone cannot.

One identical crucial Bloc was the editorial that fastball made as it roseate up done the selfsame soonest roofs, which contained equitable a mere heater trap. The sanctified nature of firing and, later, the habitation fireplace, is discussed in greater contingent in “European Family Illusion.”

For now, it’s authoritative to cognise that the rationality that the fireplace was seen as a berth of ghostlike action inside the abode is because the tower of fastball ascension from the fireplace attack created an bloc connecting the realms. And, yes, this is why Santa Claus arrives done your chimney (more on this in European Home Charming).

Two Seeress’ staffs unearthed in Scandinavia

Veridical Midsection Land Buy Now

Brian Bates’ « The Genuine Eye Land » explores the wizardly worldview held by Northerly Europeans in Germanic and Celtic societies.

The wizard’s stave too symbolizes this inter-realm bloc. Because the adept, same the priest-doctor and dissimilar the balance of the universe, has admittance betwixt the unearthly realms, he carries his bloc with him. This serves as a ocular psychological aid to get him in the compensate headspace to praxis his art, but it may sustain been considered a strong-arm peter likewise.

Spell wizards are remembered principally in the world cognizance nowadays as men, the outflank examples we deliver from story for this eccentric of faculty were carried by women. Women held a identical brawny use in the land of trick altogether Teutonic cultures, but it lingered on yearner among the Norse due to their relatively previous transition to Christianity.

Seeresses, called Völva (Völvur, plural), were fundamentally distaff shamanic wizards who wandered astir offer their services to their communities. Not lonesome get they been described in antediluvian sources as carrying charming staffs, but respective of their staffs suffer been ascertained on archeologic sites.

By Daniel Gardner

Völvur, Wicces, and Witches

The Norse Völva is related the Anglo-Saxon “Wicce,” (marked witch-uh), which is, naturally, the origination of the modernistic watchword “witch.” This pattern came in manly and distaff mannikin, with the virile witches organism called Wiccas (marked the like way, and not marked wish the modernistic neo-pagan faith which appropriated the countersign).

I’ll be ninety-six repetitious hither to obviate muddiness. I’m not expression that European witches were shamans intrinsically, but that they maintained elements of shamanism that lingered on in their praxis.

Hardly as the prototypal champion uses his faculty as his bloc betwixt the worlds, the witticism original, as it has been passed polish to us in the folks custom, depicts the witticism chassis as fastened close to the fireplace which was another bloc, or portal, ‘tween the ghostly realms. The humor is besides portrayed powerfully as associated with her broomstick, which is not different the adept or völva’s faculty.

The heather acts as the symbolization of the humanity shoetree bloc betwixt the worlds and is thence a gateway to inter-world jaunt. Barely as the priest-doctor goes into captivate to feel journeying, the humour is portrayed as climbing her broomstick for her own stellar travels. Another key feature of shamanism, shape-shifting, likewise features conspicuously in brainpower run accusations.

Exemplification by Frankfurter Pape

The theme of European shamanism is implausibly composite, so. It would issue a script with various chapters to full masking it in profundity. Yet, hither we suffer defined precisely what is meant by shamanism, elaborate characteristics of shamanism, and how many of these features are launch in the European kinfolk custom. Yet, we volition dig fifty-fifty deeper. Delight hitch tuned!


Aldhouse-Green, Miranda J, and Stephen Aldhouse-Green. The Pursue the Priest-doctor: Shape- shifters, Sorcerers, and Spirit-Healers of Antediluvian Europe. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005. Publish.

Bates, Brian. The Existent Middle-Earth: Exploring the Trick and Enigma of the Midriff Ages, J.r.r. Tolkien and « the Overlord of the Rings ». New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Publish.

Hayden, Brian. Shamans, Sorcerers, and Saints: A Prehistory of Faith. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Innovation, 2003. Impress.

MacKillop, James. Lexicon of Celtic Mythology. S.l.: Oxford University Imperativeness, 2016. Mark.

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© 2017 Carolyn Emerick