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The Mystique of Shamanism

J.S. Bhandari

Edited by John T. Hitchcock and Rex L. Jones
Vikas, New Delhi, 1976, xxviii plus 401, 95.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 1 January-February 1977

Man throughout his existence has striven towards an adjustment with the forces of nature. Some problems were easily resolved by his scientific, matter-­of-fact attitude but there were others which were beyond empirical explana­tion. To harmonize with the forces beyond his comprehension, man evolved various assumptions and activities. These assumptions ultimately became the beliefs and the activities took the shape of rituals. Shamanism or spirit possession, the theme of this volume, is one such manifestation of man's quest to deal with t-hose exigencies of daily life which pertain to the realm of the super­natural. Shamanism is an aspect of reli­gious behaviour of a large number of societies around the world. It is, how­ever, pragmatic and functional, which means that shaman, the practitioner of this art, is capable of divining the future, diagnosing diseases and misfortunes and otherwise bringing aid and solace to his clients. Shamanism has been perhaps one of the central experiences of man­kind to cope with the uncertainties of the unknown. Spirit Possession in the Nepal Hima­layas contains contributions of sixteen anthropologists mainly based on the field work they conducted among diffe­rent non-literate ethnic groups in Nepal. Although each of the scholars was studying a particular problem, not necessarily the phenomenon of spirit possession, the editors of the volume requested them to write on this phenomenon which they might have recorded in the course of their field study. For this purpose the editors provided them a broad frame­work rather than a rigid definition of shamanism, because this is one of those terms that has not yet been defined by scholars to everybody's satisfaction. In fact, two papers in the volume deal with the problem of definition itself. The papers in the volume are broadly arranged on the basis of the geographi­cal focus moving from eastern to western Nepal. In addition to the geographical categorization there are two other sec­tions, one containing two definitional papers, the second including papers on the phenomenon of spirit possession in the communities with literate tradi­tions. In the opening paper, Rex Jones atte­mpts a definition of the term 'spirit-pos­session' on the basis of which he deve­lops a typology of the phenomenon as it is found in Nepal. He draws on the papers in this volume and proposes a four-fold classification of the phenome­non based on the dimensions of 'time' ...

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