Mircea Eliade wrote an incredible book on shamanism. He describes shamanism as, “A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism= technique of ecstasy”. Shamanism cannot be explain in a simple sentence, but this is the safest one, without being incorrect according to Eliade. Even though his book is fantastic and loved by many, its problematic. He describes shamanism using unreliable sources, he never got involved with shamans, and he did not do research on any tribe.
Other scholars and researches disagree with his findings. Eliade claims that his writing is truthful due to all the references he provides, however he fails to realize that his work is not completely credible, and many scholars step up to unveil the truth. Eliade was incredibly popular for writing Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, a book deeply explaining the origins of shamanism among other related information. People that analyze his book can agree that there are faults in his writing. What he says about shamanism is not entirely true.
A reader should not trust what Eliade claims to be true, but rather examine his writing to detect his flaws. For example he uses resources that come from articles written by other scholars, often times in languages other than English that can potentially be unreliable. “The Yamana shaman, who also employs suction to extract the yekush (the “trouble” magically projected into the patient’s body), at the same time has recourse to prayers. The quote above was originally taken from an article titled Died feuerland indianert written by M.
Gusinde. There is hardly any way for the reader to determine if this source and countless others cited in this book are trustworthy, nevertheless they appear to be convincing. Beck Kehoe the author of Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in Critical thinking also critiques Eliade’s work. “Someone just as Eliade, who lists pages of source books in German, French, Russian, even Turkish, and articles published I many rather obscure academic series, is likely to impress the readers familiar only with English. People assume that Eliade is a intelligent man for using different sources of information, not knowing that some references are bogus. The ability to critique Eliade’s sources is important for understanding the credibility of his book. Mary Douglas explains the anthropological problem, “… Douglas asserts that notions of pollution and taboo are no more than rules which protect men and societies from ambiguity and dissonance… “. Eliade does a fantastic job on putting this into practice.
Shamanism is a huge taboo in western societies, we use taboo in our favor to disregard the misconception that are included in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Our culture is programmed to accept that what we do is normal. Others cultures daily doings are rejected, giving us a free ticket from considering the ambiguity in Eliade’s work. Since we do not have the appropriate knowledge on shamanism, he exercises the belief that we will not look further into his sources to investigate their credibility.
Eliade experience on shamanism is almost nonexistent, he definitely does not have the qualifications that make him legitimately knowledgeable on the subject. “His experience of non-Western societies was limited to three years in his twenties when he studied philosophy and religion in India. He wrote a book on Australian aborigine religion without ever going to Australia. “. He never visited any tribe, or became involved in religious ceremonies. All the information in the book were obtained by using other scholar findings ,and then created his perfect notion of shamanism.
Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy hit the postwar market of younger educated adults rebelling against their parents’ adulation of “scientific” sterility and scheduling”. When he wrote the book, it fit with the current issues going on in the 1950’s. He clearly knew his audience. Eliade was involved in the traditionalism movement before he started writing famous articles. Not all his readers knew that he was part of the movement, if they knew their perspectives would change. “A “traditionalist” may be no more than a conservative, possibly a nostalgic person who hankers after the customs of his or her youth”.
The article by Mark Sedgwick titled Against the Modern World, explains that Eliade did not want people to know his writings had traditionalism inspiration. Eliade wanted to incorporate traditionalist ideas without having to cite his sources. “He also published scholarly book and best-selling novels. That he was addressing a general audience had several important consequences for his work. one was that the Traditionalist authors were rarely cited… ” Traditionalist often times failed to provide reliable sources, and ignored factual evidence.
It clearly shows that Eliade followed some of the footsteps of the traditionalist when writing Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy. The way he approached indigenous tribes had a lot to do with his roots of traditionalism. “A regular Traditionalist would study various traditions as a believer in them all as expressions of the Perennial Philosophy; Eliade instead studied archaic religions as if a believer, “on their own place of reference”. Eliade never mention that he agreed with the information given in the book, but expected people to believe his claims.
In Decolonizing Methodologies written by Linda Tuhiwai Smith gives us a different perspective on indigenous people, not constructing them as primitive. ” It galls us that Western researchers and intellectuals can assume to know all that it is possible to know of us, on the basis of their brief encounters with some of us. It appeals us that the West can desire, extract and claim ownership of our ways of knowing, our imagery, the things we create and produce, and then simultaneously reject the people who created and developed those ideas and seek to deny them further opportunities to be reators of their own culture and own nations. ‘Eliade always perceived indigenous people as “archaic”, not highly knowledgeable. He took the pleasure to define meanings for their rituals and methods.
This quote below gives a clear example, “To sum up: South American Shamanism still displays a number of extremely archaic characteristics: initiation by the ritual death and resurrection of the candidate, insertion of a magical substance into his body, … Shamanic healing by suction or research for the patient’s soul… . We are in no position to judge indigenous people. Their practices are just as normal to them as our practices are to us. Not knowing about their culture, and practices, does not mean they are archaic.. Their societies and beliefs differ from western societies, however we should not be quick to judge. Indigenous people are highly knowledgeable in their own way. We have seen Eliade deliver a well thought out explanation on Shamanism, however his book has unreliable sources that puts his credibility in jeopardy.
We should never believe everything we read until further research has been done. It is critical to determine the root of the source, and confirm the truthfulness in any written text. Most importantly we need to stand our ground and not get persuaded into believing that indigenous people are archaic. Yes, they are different; their practices are a taboo, still they are intelligent human beings that created a culture that works for them.