Shamans of the modern age


37 Responses to “Shamans of the modern age”

  1. Marius Beceanu says:

    We really are heading for a new dark age, aren’t we.

    • Heteromeles says:

       Not really.  Korean shamanism has been around for a *long* time.  For the last 500 years or so, it has been  largely a women’s spiritual practice, and provided an absolutely essential counterpoint to the male-dominated Confucian system that ran the country.  I just finished reading Laurel Kendall’s excellent Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life, and I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to know more.

      The other thing I’d say, from reading the book, is that at least some mudangs (e.g. the ones documented in the book) will tell their clients to seek medical aid when appropriate.  Their job is more about curing bad luck, which they conceptualize as  problems in relations between humans and the spirits that surround them.  They see themselves as part of a care community, and just as American social workers send sick people to doctors, they tell people to go to Buddhist temples, pharmacists, doctors, Chinese doctors, or the hospital, depending on the issue. 

      • John Maple says:

        Korean shamanism has been around for much longer than 500 years. It predates the Three Kingdoms Period easily. The Kendall book is a good read too.

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      Eh, it would appear to me that an epistemologically troubled tradition with superior psychoactivity is regaining some ground against a different epistemologically troubled tradition whose psychoactive efficacy has proven unsatisfactory…

      It’s not as though there is some rationalist Camelot in the background here. There was the dictatorship doing the modernization-through-repression thing and Team Jesus doing the our-competitors-are-just-demons thing. It would appear that(unshockingly enough) modernity proved to be psychologically strenuous and unpleasant, and the incumbent metaphysics monopoly got fat and lazy and lost some of that zealous edge.

      • Wreckrob8 says:

        In addition to which dancing is good for anyone and however they justify that to themselves is a personal matter.

        • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

          In case I wasn’t clear: while I have a great deal of difficulty mustering anything but contempt for religious practices as a method of truth determination, I have considerable respect for the efficacy of (surviving) rituals in serving psychological objectives.

          In the (often rather brutal) competition for adherents and resources between different flavors of ritualists, only the ones that get results last. In this case, the local shamanic tradition has been hanging on pretty stubbornly for some centuries, so I would very much expect them to have some good tricks.

          • Wreckrob8 says:

            Absolutely. For me the physical and collective participation in ritual seems to be the psychologically essential component.

            Traditions can only survive if they evolve.

            Les blancs pensent trop.

          • Marius Beceanu says:

            I have much more respect for Sophocles’s plays, olympic games, non-religious holidays and carnivals, etc., which have thankfully lost or never had a religious component, than for such unabashedly religious practices. At least the former wear their commercialism on their sleeve.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Sophocles’ plays and the original olympic games most definitely had religious significance.  Oracular consultation and the concept of fate were both religious concepts and the Greeks were a pretty damned religious people (why was Socrates sentenced to death again?).  The modern Olympic games retain events like the opening relay that had religious significance in the original games.

            Besides that, the original purpose of astronomy was to facilitate and improve astrology.  Modern pharmacology and surgery traditions arose out of European folk magic that hybridized Catholocism and paganism.  Agriculture goes a little further back but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t reified and ritualized at some point in prehistory.  Edit: How could I forget the origins of modern chemistry in the occult traditions of alchemy?

            We got modern science because a lot of people were willing to be flexible about their interpretations of reality.  Maybe we’re not at some hyper-rational end point of intellectual history.  Maybe we can do even better if we keep our minds open.  Traditions like this survive because they embody wisdom.

        • Marius Beceanu says:

          Still, you could admit that the image of Korean politicians (or politicians anywhere) dancing is quite funny:
          “But today, visiting a mudang – shaman priest or priestess – is so common that politicians consult them seeking answers to questions such as whether they should relocate their ancestors’ remains to ensure good luck in the next election. Shaman characters have also featured in popular television shows.”
          I actually much prefer that politicians go to shamans and religious advisors for answers, instead of prostituting science in their service. Shamans are probably more accommodating, too.

      • Marius Beceanu says:

        It looks like Christians are a minority in South Korea and were persecuted in the past. As for a rationalist tradition, Koreans seem to have a notable one, which goes back a long time:
        Even if they didn’t, science itself has a long tradition and traditionally does not stop at the border.

        • John Maple says:

          Marius, modern Christianity in South Korea is a major political force to be reckoned with. There are many self-styled Christian sects that are more of a cult than a religion as well. A church there can be owned by one person and is often used to avoid taxation of profit. Personally, I consider Christianity there to be largely an unethical enterprise due to corruption. About 40 percent of the population is Christian though Cristians there are apt to inflate those numbers.

    • zombiebob says:

       Don’t be so snotty, native religious practices have always been around (and I’m not talking about phony re-constructions of false history as bent by ideology, meaning wicca etc), despite the attempts of the big three, and now atheists like yourself, to suppress them. They still survive, because there is truth in them, and because many of them can effectively help people with their everyday problems. As for their power, if you don’t believe, go find a palero or santero ( though there are phonies posing as such) and insult or mess with one of them, and you’ll quickly see your life go to shite in ways that can’t be explained in a lab.

      • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

        No True Shaman is a Wiccan?

        • zombiebob says:

           I don’t really understand what you are saying, but to clarify what I was saying: Wicca is a made up religion ans spiritual system, a false looking backwards ,whereas what is written about above is something that organically developed.

          • Eric S. Riley says:

            To be fair, all religions are made up spiritual systems.  Wicca just happens to be the new kid on the block.  You could just as easily say that Mormonism is Christian fan-fiction, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant as a religious movement.  Same with Wicca.  Just because folks picked and prodded through a romantic vision of the archaic Britain and came up with something cobbled together via Masonry and nudism, doesn’t mean it’s any less of a religion.

          • Mike The Bard says:

            I feel like I need to defend myself briefly.

            Wicca is a made up system designed to provide structure of separate basic truths.  I don’t think it’s a “false looking backwards”, so much as a coherent retelling of universal mythology and spiritual tools. While there is a certain amount of romanticizing the past (but seriously, show me a culture where there isn’t), the overwhelming majority are quite up front about the fact that we’re generally trying to incorporate the lessons of the past into an evolving present.

      • Marius Beceanu says:

        I don’t necessarily want to anger such evil, dangerous people, just as I don’t want to anger the Mafia (which also cloaks itself in a veil of mystery, survives despite suppression attempts, and sometimes helps people with their everyday problems). Perhaps I actually prefer to stay well clear of them (go back to my lab, if I had one).
        On the other hand, I do think that much of their power is drawn, in both cases, from people’s belief in their power. We really are heading toward a new dark age, as such belief increases.

      • Marius Beceanu says:

        Just to make it clear, I think such powers as you describe are absolutely real and terrifying:
        I also think these people have the power to do good when they feel so inclined.
        All I deny is the supernatural origin of their powers — as unwise as it may be.

      • townandgownie says:

         They survive because of a) ignorance of the practitioners and b) ignorance of people like you. You have a funny idea of truth. And if you really believe some curse placed by a santero (a real one, not some phony although how one could tell the difference I don’t know. Similar to a real psychic vs a phony psychic I guess) is going to put you life into the “shite”, you need more help than I can give in a little box.

    • townandgownie says:

       In reality, yes. When people defend senseless neolithic practices born out of ignorance, it’s a sad day. That goes for the rest of the “acceptable” religions as well.

  2. Koocheekoo says:

    Great story – stunning photo at the top too. 

  3. zombiebob says:

    for an interesting read, check out wikipedias section on the native religions of Burma, they venerate pre-buddhist spirits there, though now those spirits have been mythologically woven into the local budhist beliefes.

    • wysinwyg says:

       Interesting.  The same thing happened with Shinto when Buddhism was imported to Japan from what I recall of an undergraduate Japanese history class.

      • dnebdal says:

         Same thing in other Buddhist countries, too, I believe – it’s very much like hinduism in how it can adapt in local beliefs. (Though ISTR that the general idea is that while gods can help you with practical matters, they can’t help you attain nirvana.)

        • Warren Grant says:

           And to be fair the same thing happened with Christianity in many parts of the world, former pagan religious figures (defining Pagan as “non-Christian” which is what Christians tend to view it as) have entered the Christian world as various saints etc. Many elements of Christianity occurred in other religions that pre-date Christianity etc.
          All religions seem to do this. If someone converts to a new religion, when the old religion was a major part of their culture, its only natural to adapt some elements of what you used to believe into what you now believe.

    • John Maple says:

      Same thing in Korea too. Search for Sanshin, dokseong or Chilseong.

  4. benher says:

    Ah, but will the Shaman welcome Lady Gaga to the peninsula?

  5. Mister44 says:

    Ah! I love The Shamen. I’m glad Korea has such good taste.

    • Wreckrob8 says:

      Thank you.

      (Of course as psychological problems are problems of meaning a good shaman would quite logically say if you try to analyse the psychological content of a message it will no longer work or make you sick.)


  6. mrfixitrick says:

    Excellent story! 

    Modern shamans do exist in most parts of the planet.
    The bright ones use the tools of the current culture, including technology, to do their essential work.

    In North America, for example, a shaman could use dance, music, artwork…or a computer and gaming as a method of teaching.
    One such shaman is EJ Gold, sometimes known as “The High-Tech Shaman”.
    Gold is a top game player in Diablo and Team Fortress, and creates games with the GODD gaming engine.

    Gold is developing a non-shooter game called,”Prosperity” to help folks attain more abundance and a better life, and for learning about out-of-body experiences. For more on the Prosperity Path, go to

    “In addition to amazing life wins, you can learn to operate from outside your body–right through to another dimension.” – EJ Gold

    •  Thanks so much for this link. I’m fascinated by computer games’ capacity to alter your physiology in numerous ways and I’ve thought occasionally about trying to put something spiritually motivated together myself, and though I’ve received a lot of interesting insights into the nature of the social and spatial construction of reality from computer games unfortunately none of it involved actually figuring out how to make one. Looking forward to trying it and looking a bit deeper into EJ Gold :)

  7. SamLL says:


  8. Fenrox says:

    I forget, A shaman is considered to be someone with a direct connection to some kind of “god”, vs say a preacher who has an indirect connection. Mormonism is a shamanistic religion.

    • AlexG55 says:

      I thought that was a priest- priests have special powers to communicate with a god or gods, whereas preachers are just educated community leaders who are good at talking about religion. A shaman is specifically someone who enters an altered state of consciousness (often through drugs, dancing and/or drumming) in order to communicate with supernatural powers.

      As far as I know, Mormons don’t do that.

      • Wreckrob8 says:

        Drugs, dancing and drumming are (essential) tools for communication with ‘supernatural’ powers.

        Even better would be to say to understand the evolution of the brain, body and language as motivated by quantum mechanical processes and the development of a sense of intuition (or meaning).

        We now only have a neurological/coding problem and not an ideological one.

  9. cycle23 says:

     I submit to you this video of Mormons drumming:

    (Yeah, I’m just trying to have fun but I did think in some minor way this was contributing to the thread..)

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