History of Shamanism
Shamanistic practices are thought to predate all organized religions, and certainly date back to the neolithic period. Aspects of shamanism are encountered in later, organized religions, generally in their mystic and symbolic practices. Greek paganism was influenced by shamanism, as reflected in the stories of Tantalus, Prometheus, Medea, Calypso among others, as well as in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and other mysteries. Some of the shamanic practices of the Greek religion were later adopted into the Roman religion.
There is a strong shamanistic influence in the Bšn religion of central Asia, and in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism became popular with shamanic peoples such as the Tibetans, Mongols and Manchu beginning with the eighth century. Forms of shamanistic ritual combined with Tibetan Buddhism became institutionalized as the state religion under the Chinese Yuan dynasty and Qing dynasty. One common element of shamanism and Buddhism is the attainment of spiritual realization, at times mediated by entheogenic (psychedelic) substances.
The shamanic practices of many cultures were virtually wiped out with the spread of Christianity. In Europe, starting around 400 CE, the Christian church was instrumental in the collapse of the Greek and Roman religions. Temples were systematically destroyed and key ceremonies were outlawed. Beginning with the middle ages and continuing into the Renaissance, remnants of European shamanism were wiped out by campaigns against witches. These campaigns were often orchestrated by the Catholic Inquisition.
The repression of shamanism continued as Christian influence spread with Spanish colonization. In the Caribbean, and Central and South America, Catholic priests followed in the footsteps of the Conquistadors and were instrumental in the destruction of the local traditions, denouncing practitioners as “devil worshippers” and having them executed. In North America, the English Puritans conducted periodic campaigns against individuals perceived as witches. More recently, attacks on shamanic practitioners have been carried out at the hands of Christian missionaries to third world countries. As recently as the nineteen seventies, historic petroglyphs were being defaced by missionaries in the Amazon.
It has been postulated that modern state campaigns against the use of psychedelic substances are the offshoot of previous religious campaigns against shamanism.Today, shamanism, once universal, survives primarily among indigenous peoples. Shamanic practice continues today in the tundras, jungles, deserts, and other rural areas, and also in cities, towns, suburbs and shantytowns all over the world. This is especially widespread in Africa as well as South America, where “mestizo shamanism” is widespread.
Many recent efforts have been made trying to link shamanic practice and knowledge with Western, scientific beliefs. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby has proposed that shamans take their consciousness down to the molecular level, working with DNA and viruses that they see as the twin serpents or malicious “darts”. The holomovement theory proposed by David Bohm is often seen as an approach to create a scientific foundation for concepts such as parallel worlds and alternative ways to traverse time and space.