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Shamanism, Animism & Traditional Medicine

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Siberian Female shaman.
18th c Russian Rococo Sculpture

RUSSIAN Anonymous (active before 1000 - present) Primary
18th c
St. Petersburg. Russia.
New York. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Shamans' powers were not limited to men, as we see by this 18th century Russian representation of a Siberian female shaman dancing and playing her drum. She seems to be conducting a healing ceremony for the child at her feet. This graceful porcelain figure, so different from the other images of shamans that we will see, was part of a series of the "Peoples of Russia" commissioned by the Czar from the porcelain factory in St. Petersburg. Campbell traces the diffusion of the Paleolithic shaman across a northern transpolar route from Siberia into the Americas. Modern researchers have documented that into the early 20th century, Siberian shamans, wearing a certain type of gown, would beat on a drum until the spirits took possession of them and spoke through them as oracles, or until the shaman's soul departed on a visionary journey. They recorded the details of many of these journeys. Apparently the belief system traveled with the early migrants to the New World who crossed the land bridge that linked Siberia with Alaska and spread down through the territory that was to become British Columbia, the United States, Mexico and finally to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. The same sorts of rituals and visions are recorded among shamans from all these regions. Campbell lists the typical features of shamanism that have been identified in the shamans of Tierra del Fuego, features that echo those identified in the shamans of Siberia: • The summons received in solitude from spirits of the wilderness • An association of song with this enchantment • Its compulsive character, illness and death ensuring if it be disregarded • The especial association of a spiritual familiar with this call • Its healing by way of a long season of intensive spiritual training • The sense thereby of an inward physical transubstantiation •The gaining thereby of supernatural powers • Reliance on dreams for information and warnings • The use of a drum in accompaniment to shamanistic rites The powers the shaman gained were: • To see and to move through barriers and across distances • To mediate between man and the supernatural • To advise and guide in the search for game •To heal, whether by massage and suction, or by spiritual flights to the heavenly sources of the ill will; for example, the moon • To injure by occult means: projecting stones and other objects into enemies • To perform magic by sleight of hand or by actual necromancy • To assume the forms of animals or of mountains • To influence the weather Many of these same beliefs and practices were found in the Bushmen of South Africa. Campbell believes that these features, surviving among widely separated people today, reflect a common Paleolithic heritage. He also notes that the annual flight of Santa Claus in his reindeer-drawn sleigh at midnight of the winter solstice was originally inspired by tales of the flights of the shamans of Lapland.

Caption: RUSSIAN | Siberian Female shaman. | 1780-1800 | Russian | Rococo

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