The ancient origins and modern relevance of shamanism
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The ancient origins and modern relevance of shamanism


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From the book : Evolutionary Psychology 9 issue 1 : 45-46.



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Published 01 January 2011
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Language English
Evolutionary Psychology
www.epjournal.net2011. 9(1): 4546
Book Review
The Ancient Origins and Modern Relevance of Shamanism A Review of Michael Winkelman,Shamanism: A biosocial paradigm of consciousness and nd healing(2 ed.). Praeger: Santa Barbara, CA, 2010, 309 pp., US$52.50, ISBN 978 0313381812.Fred H. Previc, Department of Psychology, Texas A&M, San Antonio, USA. Email:.obal.netcis@cblgfrpve
Michael Winkelman is one of the leading experts on shamanism and related topics and it shows in his second edition ofShamanism, subtitledA Biosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing.Shaminismis a very scholarly work that ranges in scope from etymology to epistemology, from psychopathology to psychoneuroimmunology, and from neurochemistry to neurognosticism. As it traverses the landscape of shamanism, possession and ritual, it offers perhaps the largest single collection of references on religion and altered consciousness ever assembled. Winkelman embraces MacLean’s model of the triune brain (reptilian, paleomamallian, neomammalian) in an attempt to explain the purported uniqueness of the shamanic experience. According to Winkelman, altered states of consciousness in general stem from an unleashing of the paleomammalian brain, while shamanic consciousness is additionally associated with a transcendent experience (e.g., soul flight) that involves a greater integration of frontal lobe activity (hence, his term ―integrative consciousness‖).A major theme of the book is the parasympathetic dominance found in the integrated consciousness state, achieved either indirectly through activities that lead to collapse of the sympathetic system that maintains waking consciousness or directly through relaxed meditation. Another major theme is that shamanic states (and the integrative consciousness in general) are positive experiences that promote social cohesion and healing, in contrast to possession trances, which are associated with shamanistic mediums and can be associated with temporallobe pathology. One of the strengths of the book is its review of the evolutionary origins of ritual and shamanic consciousness. Winkelman forcefully demonstrates that while the ritual aspect of shamanism may borrow from earlier hominid group behaviors, the transcendental aspects of shamanic consciousness are uniquely human and probably emerged in the upper Paleolithic era. A reasonable neurochemical distinction would be that the social bonding during the group rituals involves opioids and other ―social‖ transmitters whereas the transcendental aspects of shamanism involve elevated dopamine and reduced serotonin transmission. However, Winkelman does not make this
Origins and relevance of shamanism
distinction and, in fact, implies that the opioids may mediate the transcen dental aspects as well. Winkelman stresses how, despite its prehi storic origins, shamanic consciousness holds great relevance for dealing with modern day psychosocial problems. In the chapter on ―Shamanistic Therapies‖, he reviews how the various aspects of shamanism—the social rituals, mystical experiences created by psychedelic drugs and other parasympathetic means, and invocation of spiritsall contribute to its healing effectiveness. To varying extents, the therapeutic benefits of shamanic rituals are tied to its ―psycholytic‖ (minddissolving) aspects, associated with the universal shamanistic theme of ―deathand.thrribeThis book is not for the uninitiated, as it requires a good knowledge of neuropsychology, psychology, anthropology and the respective jargons used by each. The book is short on examples of specific shamanic practices but extensive in its exposition of various concepts and theories pertaining to shamanic and other altered states of consciousness.Although Winkelman’s own theoretical position surfaces repeatedly throughout the book, he is very generous to the approaches and theories of others and does not try to force them into an overly tight theoretical mold, thereby allowing the reader to glean from each theory and attempt his or her own integration. This makes for a very rewarding experience for those who can readily grasp the difficult concepts upon which Winkelman expounds.
Evolutionary PsychologyISSN 14747049Volume 9(1). 2011. 46