From the Editor – Spring 2004

By: Beebe Bahrami

Originally Published in 2004

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Key to understanding shamanism is recognizing that it is as much a technique as it is a worldview. What makes the study of shamanism all the more evocative is that it is a practice that can be participated in—for in shamanism, belief is secondary to experience. Consequently, the study of shamanism spans the complete spectrum from the entirely experimental to the entirely observational, depending on the lean and adventurousness of the anthropologist and the shaman with whom he or she studies.

Shamanism has been a part of the human experience for millennia. How far it may go back into the depths of our evo­lution is still debated but all agree it is ancient. Shamanic tech­niques and outlooks have appeared in many cultures around the world, throughout all of Asia, in Australia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

Certain aspects of shamanism in all these contexts, though culturally unique and specific, nevertheless possess some striking commonalities: First, the shaman takes a jour­ney to other worlds. Second, the journey is motivated by gaining information for a specific reason or problem, be it for the group, an individual, or the shaman. How the shaman journeys is quite varied. Nearly all shamanic tradi­tions use some mode of repetitive auditory stimulation, such as a drum or chant, but not all necessarily use consciousness-altering substances.

In this special issue on shamanism, we hear from some expert anthropologists and archaeologists in the field. This issue provides a sampling of the tremendous diversity of scholarship and points of view on shamanism.

Edith Turner, one of anthropology’s foremost experts on shamanism, religion, ritual, and the anthropology of consciousness, begins our journey with a solid overview of shamanism, as well as her research on shamanism among the Iñupiat of Alaska. Kenneth Lymer explores the archaeol­ogy of shamanism through investigating rock art motifs in the landscape of Kazakhstan. Elin Danien discusses horned shamans from western Mexico and reveals the shamanic content of two wrestlers in our Mesoamerican gallery. Peter T. Furst (pictured right) expands our understanding of the role of consciousness-altering plants in the practice of ecstatic shamanism.

A special feature from folklorist Deborah Kapchan illu­minates music, healing, and trance among the Gnawa of Morocco. Though not shamanic, Kapchan’s work also addresses shifts of consciousness during healing practices. A second special feature stays entirely in this world and journeys to Ecuador with Michael Harris, Valentina Martinez, Wm. Jerald Kennedy, Charles Roberts, and James Gammack-Clark. This interdisciplinary team investigates the relationship between culture and nature along the south central coast over a span of several thousand years.

The diversity of our Museum’s voices continues in this issue. Pam Kosty tells us about the Barrymore award the Penn Museum received last year. For those who enjoy a good yarn, Dori Panzer shares her work with modern-day Irish storyteller Eddie Lenihan from County Clare.


Cite This Article

Bahrami, Beebe. "From the Editor – Spring 2004." Expedition Magazine 46, no. 1 (March, 2004): -. Accessed February 24, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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