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4.1 out of 5 stars15
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 19 April 2010
I don't normally write reviews for books but felt the one review giving one star for this book to be so unjust that it deserved a more balanced addition.

This book is a scholarly meticulously researched study of the various practises of shamanism throughout the world. It does not provide you with a description of the techniques of how to be a shaman, nor how to have an ecstatic journey, nor how to have an out of body experience, which is presumably what the one star reviewer was looking for. Instead it provides a detailed description of shamanism as it was and is practised.

There are over 50 pages of reference works on which Eliade drew in order to provide this summary, which groups his findings by region as well as by certain common practises - parallel myths symbols and rites.

There are descriptions of the 'rebirth' experiences of shamans [the genuine near death experiences, not the common interpreation now used of born again]; the practises of healing, the travels of the shaman in out of body experiences, their roles as psychopomp and their practise of healing via 'soul retrieval'. He also describes 'soul loss' and what it means to each group.

The amount of carefully researched detail that is provided is astonishing, it is almost a life's work but carefully organised into this relatively compact volume. It draws on the work of anthropologists and the better and more serious researchers of religions, as such it is also reliable in its findings.

Personally I found this book to be a treasure house of information - but then I bought the book knowing what it contained and what I was going to use it for.

To summarise - an invaluable scholarly work on shamanic practises throughout the world over the ages .
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on 23 September 2012
Eliade's book is a classic for a reason, the first cross-cultural study of shamanism ever, it inspired many both in academia and amongst the general public to explore this topic further. The West's fascination with shamanism has long been a two-faced beast veering from immense curiosity to repulsion. Eliade introduced the west to a romanticised and universal form of shamanism that moved away from the view of shamanism as madness, but simply does not exist outside of his very biased Christian imagination. Eliade never carried out field research and is commonly termed an armchair scholar. His views were heavily influenced by his Christian bias and he suppressed the darker side of shamanism and elevated more Christian themed practices over others that he considered to be sorcery, or devilish. His work is inspirational, but perhaps more interesting as a reflection of developments in anthropology than as an authoritative text on shamanism.
If you want a more up-to-date view of shamanism check out some of the latest academic offerings. Thomas DuBois' Introduction is noteworthy and although Margaret Stutley's Introduction is not perfect it is superior to Eliade's work. If you're interested in Neoshamanism, Graham Harvey and Robert Wallis lead the pack in accessible and intelligent material.
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on 26 August 2011
Originally written in 1964, and a translation. A difficult read, but if you are studying anthropology or shamanism, your bookshelf will not be complete without the works of this author. Considered a source book and often quoted from, this is an academic work of some importance, despite being published over 40 years ago. A longer book and broader in content than "Rites and symbols of initiation". Contains examples and comparisons from many cultures of the central themes of shamanic practises, such as initiation, recruitment and regalia.
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on 21 December 2012
This is probably the most comprehensive amalgamation of shamanism there is. This is a vast and broad subject that has been tackled very well and is a great piece of scholarship.

Anyone who has even a passing interest in what shamanism is all about should really read this piece of work. Needless to say there are many books out there that possess the the concept of shamanism in the title but they generally tend to err towards a ideological meaning and skirt around the real content of what shamanism is essentially about.

A great piece of work for people interested in society, psychology, religions origins and anthropology. The only area it seems to be lacking in is a neurological view of shamanism (which is understandable given the date of the book).
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on 11 June 2016
In an era where westerners are encouraged to learn shamanic drumming, discover their animal guides or go on spirit journeys, it is probably difficult to realise that shamanism was once considered to be an aberration in religious history, the province of ethnologists’ curiosity and the object of psychologists’ dismissal as a form of psychopathology. It was the great achievement of Mircea Eliade to rediscover its fundamental role in the history of religions as an ‘archaic technique of ecstasy’ based on an “exemplary model of initiation”, as he describes it in his Autobiography.
Of particular interest to the general reader is his exploration of the way that shamanic myths and practices survive ‘camouflaged’ in better known religions: in his Journal he wrote that he wanted the book to be read by poets, playwrights, literary critics and painters, who he felt would derive more benefit from it than would specialists.
There is also much interest nowadays in the use of hallucinogenic drugs to achieve ecstasy; and so the question arises as to what extent this has always been an essential part of the shaman’s repertoire. Eliade is clear that the use of such substances is “a recent innovation and points to a decadence in shamanic technique. Narcotic intoxication is called on to provide an imitation of a state that the shaman is no longer capable of attaining otherwise.” A more recent study of shamanism, by the historian Ronald Hutton, supports this view (although it has been suggested elsewhere that Eliade modified his opinion towards the end of his life), but is less kind about his methodology, criticising his tendency to ignore data that did not fit his overall thesis.
This thesis is only spelt out at the end of a long book which threatens at times to overwhelm the reader with ethnographic data. In essence, Eliade argues that underlying shamanic practices is the myth of the separation of humankind and the Supreme God, what Christians call the Fall: The Sky God retreats from Earth and humans can no longer attain easy connection with the heavens. The shaman uses ecstatic techniques to bridge that chasm, re-establishing connection with the Otherworld; and it is this ability to break on through to the other side that enables him to become a healer and a champion against spiritual darkness. He is both warrior and artist, preserving the divine vision by re-connecting his community with the pre-lapsarian paradise.
So it is not surprising that Eliade’s ideas have been taken up by creative thinkers, just as he hoped; for they are the new technicians of the ecstatic imagination.
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on 24 February 2012
This is a substantial work on Shamanism, most particularly in Central Asia and including specific nuances in tribes and variations of, also extending to other regions.

Eliade's text remains the classic. Although written some years ago now, it is very thorough and well-referenced, gathering together much ethnographic material.

My only issue with it is Eliade's bias / judgment of the use of entheogens which Eliade regards as a less "pure" form of Shamanism amongst ancient tribes, than the use of pure sensory deprivation, sweat houses and drumming and dancing as a means of achieving the ecstatic state. To this end, Vitebsky's text is a useful balance.

Highly recommended for any scholar researching shamanism.
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on 6 August 2013
This is in fact a great book. It teachs us what is a shaman , what's his roll within his tribe. We learn here what were their 'practices' in Europe, Asia, America and Australia. Africa is not mentioned, because (in my opinion), there was a clash , a mixure of cultures, myths and 'sorceries', that made african shamans lose its true meaning. The writer is very precise and logic, I loved it.
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on 8 February 2003
Eliade's wide-ranging study of shamanism is a classic in shamanic literature. This historic and academic thesis is perfectly complemented, in my view, by Ross Heaven's book, The Journey To You, which makes this shamanic perspective accessible and useful in modern life. Eliade shows how shamanism is powerful and useful in all societies, while Heaven makes it a vital practice to the modern urban West.
Eliade's is one of the best books i have read in terms of content, though it can be a long read! But well worth the effort.
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on 25 August 2014
thoroughly enjoyable and a great book
easy to read and provides excellent information
highly recommended
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on 9 December 2015
haven't finished reading but seems very interesting!
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