Introduction: Dark Shamanism
Neil L. Whitehead & Robin Wright
Shamanism is a burgeoning obsession for the urban middle classes
around the globe. Its presentation in popular books, tv specials, and on
the Internet is dominated by the presumed psychic and physical benefits
that shamanic techniques can bring. This heightened interest has required
a persistent purification of the ritual practices of those who inspire the
feverish quest for personal meaning and fulfillment. Ironically, as Fausto
points out in his essay in this volume, given the self-improvement motiva-
tions that have brought so many into a popular understanding of shaman-
ism,twodefiningaspectsofshamanism inAmazonia—blood(i.e.,violence)
and tobacco—have simply been erased from such representations (see also
Lagrou, this volume). Such erasure is not only a vain self-deception but,
more important, it is a recapitulation of colonial ways of knowing through
boththedenialofradicalculturaldifferenceandtherefusaltothinkthrough
its consequences. This volume is intended to counteract that temptation.
All of the authors whose works are presented herein are keenly aware of
the way in which salacious and prurient imagery of native peoples has ser-
viced the purposes of conquest and colonization over the past five hundred
years. In missionary writings, for example, ideas about ‘‘native sorcery’’ and
the collusion of shamans with ‘‘satanic’’ forces meant that such individuals
were ferociously denounced and their ritual equipment and performances
were banned from the settlement of the converts. In this context no distinc-
tion was made between the forms and purposes of ritual practice: curers as
well as killers were equally persecuted. Thus, the rehabilitation of shaman-
ism as a valid spiritual attitude and a culturally important institution that
has taken place over the past twenty years through the enthusiastic, if ill-
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