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Explain How Shamans Differ From Priests or Any Other Religious Leaders

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Shamans represent humanity’s most ancient forms of healing, spirituality, and community ritual. In Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964), Mircea Eliade characterized the shaman as someone who enters ecstasy to interact with spirits on behalf of the community

Although some have challenged his suggestion of the universality of shamanism, the cross-cultural research of Michael Winkelman has established the universal validity of the concept of the shaman, as well as the characteristics of Shamans, particularly their differences with respect to other types of magico-religious practitioners.

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Shamanism is a huge factor in most traditional religions, some of which include the Africans, Native Americans, many parts of Asia, as well as other cultures. Although the definition of a shaman differs from one region to the next, the general dictionary definition of a shaman is “A member of certain tribal societies who acts as a medium between the visible world and an invisible spirit world and who practices magic or sorcery for purposes of healing, divination, and control over natural events.” The term “shaman” originated in the Mongol and Turkish area and is translated literally as “one who knows” which connects to their knowledge of the ways to manipulate spirits and magic. With Shamanism being involved in so many different cultures, it’s difficult to give it just one definition, so in this paper I will go through a few of the cultures and explain their specific definition of shamanism and the different aspects involved in African traditional religions. There are many different aspects to African shamanism. The main definition of shamanism in Africa has a good connotation and usually involves manipulation of spirits or earthly substances to heal, direct, or do beneficial work for others. Some of the specific names of these shamans are rainmakers or heaven herders, herbalists or medicine men, and diviners. Not all people use their sources for good works, and when a shaman begins using his or her techniques for evil doings, they then acquire the name of witch or sorcerer. Such is the case in most other cultures as well. There are two distinctive traditional religions in Africa-Zulu and Yoruba. They have many similarities as well as differences. The Zulu stick mostly to the hills because of their geographical location, and in turn consider hills to have spiritual significance. Because hills have such special meaning, the Zulu build their towns, or kraals, on the hillsides in a circular formation with the gates facing east (do to significance of the sun), the herd in the center of the kraal, and the headman, known as the umnumzane, is on the west side of the kraal. The umnumzane has a lot of influence on the tribe

He holds the political, social and religious leader roles over the whole tribe, and is often a diviner. “The headman of each Zulu kraal is the chief official of the village and also that person most directly responsible for the performance of the ritual acts expected of all Zulu, especially those that address the ancestors.”Besides solving disputes or making decisions within his kraal, one of the umnumzane’s main roles is contact with the ancestors. He will perform all the rituals and such things to please the ancestors for everyone within his kraal. The ancestors play a huge part in Zulu beliefs and so the role of the umnumzane is very important. The people want to keep the ancestors happy so that they will continue to have good fortune in their lives. According to most African traditional religions, the ancestors do not cause misfortune, but other people do.

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Because ideas about the supernatural are part of every human culture, understanding these beliefs is important to anthropologists. However, studying supernatural beliefs is challenging for several reasons. The first difficulty arises from the challenge of defining the topic itself. The word “religion,” which is commonly used in the United States to refer to participation in a distinct form of faith such as Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, is not a universally recognized idea. Many cultures have no word for “religion” at all and many societies do not make a clear distinction between beliefs or practices that are “religious,” or “spiritual” and other habits that are an ordinary part of daily life. For instance, leaving an incense offering in a household shrine dedicated to the spirits of the ancestors may be viewed as a simple part of the daily routine rather than a “religious” practice. There are societies that believe in supernatural beings, but do not call them “gods.” Some societies do not see a distinction between the natural and the supernatural observing, instead, that the spirits share the same physical world as humans

Concepts like “heaven,” “hell,” or even “prayer” do not exist in many societies (O. Soffer, J. M. Adovasio, 2000). The divide between “religion” and related ideas like “spirituality” or even “magic” is also murky in some cultural contexts. To study supernatural beliefs, anthropologists must cultivate a perspective of cultural relativism and strive to understand beliefs from an emic or insider’s perspective. Imposing the definitions or assumptions from one culture on another is likely to lead to misunderstandings. One example of this problem can be found in the early anthropological research of Sir James Frazer who attempted to compose the first comprehensive study of the world’s major magical and religious belief systems. Frazer was part of early generation of anthropologists whose work was based on reading and questionnaires mailed to missionaries and colonial officials rather than travel and participant-observation. As a result, he had only minimal information about the beliefs he wrote about and he was quick to apply his own opinions. In The Golden Bough (1890) he dismissed many of the spiritual beliefs he documented: “I look upon [them] not merely as false but as preposterous and absurd.” His contemporary, Sir E.B. Tylor, was less dismissive of unfamiliar belief systems, but he defined religion minimally and, for some, in overly narrow terms as “the belief in supernatural beings.” This definition excludes much of what people around the world actually believe.As researchers gained more information about other cultures, their ideas about religion became more complex. The sociologist Emile Durkheim recognized that religion was not simply a belief in “supernatural beings,” but a set of practices and social institutions that brought members of a community together (Edward B. Tylor, 1871). Religion, he said, was “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set aside and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”

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In sum, a prophet is an individual who receives divine revelation concerning a restructuring of religion and usually of society as well. They call for dramatic change while priesthoods usually act as conservative forces in preserving long-standing traditions. Not surprisingly, prophets are usually outside of the priesthood and are seen by priests as irritating, disruptive trouble-makers. It is not unusual for prophets to come from humble or unknown origins. When Jews and Christians think of prophets, people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel usually come to mind. However, the most striking example of a biblical prophet was Jesus. He essentially came out of nowhere as prophets often do and insisted on a radical restructuring of Judaism

If a prophet is successful in convincing enough people that he or she is right, a new religion is usually established. That was the case with Mohamed and the beginning of Islam. Likewise, Joseph Smith's divine revelation and subsequent prophetic teaching in the 1830's and early 1840's led to the creation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons).

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Jean Clottes, Cave Art (London: Phaidon, 2010)

O. Soffer, J. M. Adovasio, and D. C. Hyland “The ‘Venus’ Figurines: Textiles, Basketry, Gender, and Status in the Upper Paleolithic” Current Anthropology 41 n. 4 (2000):511-537.

James Frazer, The Golden Bough (New York: Macmillan and Company, 1958[1890]),vii.

Edward B. Tylor, Primitive Culture (London: John Murray, 1871).

Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, tr. Joseph R. Swain (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1965[1915]),

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