Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Sex Lives of Shamans

Last month I wrote about a pastor who was indicted for attempting to rape out a lesbian demon. Is this some modern perversion of religion, a diseased mutation descended from the purity of old-time paganism, when man lived close to nature and shamans worked selflessly to connect their people to God?


Robert Wright, author of the recently-published book The Evolution of God writes:

What I do doubt is that these earnest, selfless spiritual leaders were any more common in the heyday of shamanism than today, or that the spiritual quest was any less corrupted by manipulation and outright charlatanism than today, or that there was a coherent philosophy of shamanism that makes more sense than the average religion of today.


While it's difficult to study the writings of prehistorical societies to examine their religious beliefs (since by definition, they don't have any writings--that's why they're called prehistorical), anthropologists have done the next best thing. They've studied current hunter-gatherer societies that haven't been influenced by the modern world to examine how we might have lived before the rise of Western modernity.

What they've discovered is that shamans do what they do primarily for money and sex.

In exchange for treating a patient, a shaman might receive yams (in Micronesia), sleds and harnesses (among the Eastern Eskimo), beads and coconuts (the Mentawai of Sumatra), tobacco (the Ojibwa of northeastern North America), or slaves (the Haida of western Canada)...

[A]mong some Eskimos, "A forceful shaman of established reputation may denounce a member of his group as guilty of an act repulsive to animals or spirits, and on his own authority he may command penance. … An apparently common atonement is for the shaman to direct an allegedly erring woman to have intercourse with him (his supernatural power counteracts the effects of her sinning)."

Despite other observations of outright fakery and extortion, Wright observes that not all shamanism is bad. Natural Selection has made us to be "self-absorbed, with a wary sense of separation from most of humanity. And it's true that various shamanic techniques—fasting, for example—can improve things in this regard." But don't be fooled into thinking to today's neo-pagan shamanism can lead us back to a golden age of spirituality. That age never existed.

In fact, one could perhaps formulate a rule regarding the shaman and his people: The more superstitious the group, the more likely they will be hoodwinked by their shaman . . . and be compelled to have sex with him.

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