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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

shaman Originally referring to a Siberian or generally north or central Asian witch doctor, sorcerer, or medicine man, the term is now also used for anyone working for his social group to cast fortunes, go into trance to divine the future, diagnose illness, or perform other magical services. The trance can be brought about by fasting or by hallucinogenic substances. The purpose of the trance is to contact spiritual forces or entities, often in the form of animals.
      The shaman is essentially a “wise man,” one sought out for advice and healing. The position is often hereditary, though by experiencing certain “ecstatic” experiences, a tribal member can be elected to the post. When a youth becomes alienated from his family and tribe, wanders away and seeks solitude for long periods, or exhibits severe antisocial behavior, he may be expected to become a shaman.
      There are emotional and sociological problems common to all cultures, and it appears that some individuals subject to these differences find the position of shaman to be a release from the restrictions imposed upon other tribe members. The shaman is sometimes a socially inept or poorly integrated citizen, often homosexual, crippled, or epileptic, and the exalted station of shaman allows him to fit into the social picture and survive. This would seem to be an excellent method of providing for and accommodating those with disabilities and/or unique lifestyles.
      The shaman is an integral and honored member of most American Indian tribes, and as such serves an important function.



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