Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Northern European Shamanism

Shamanism has come to be associated almost exclusively, in American popular thinking, with the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas. This not only inaccurately reflects the extent of shamanism's practice (it is found from Australia to the Arctic) but also, sadly, contributes to a neglect by those of European descent of the shamanic practices of their own ancestors.

One cause of this neglect has been the carefully fostered image of Europe as the wellspring of Western Civilization, by which tribal origins and traditional life are often glossed over. However, I was delighted to discover, when I examined ancient sources, that I did not need to borrow from other traditions; it is clear that tribal Europe had as strong a shamanic tradition as, for example, any of the American Indian tribes. It is fitting that other people, too, of European descent examine this European Shamanic tradition; it is a rightful part of our heritage so there need be no accusations of theft or exploitation, and its images and symbols ring more truly in our collective unconscious than those of other cultures.

This is a survey of a few shamanic elements that occur within Western shamanic traditions, obscured as they are by time and cultural discontinuity. I will be using material from many Northern European cultures, on the assumption that each one may have retained some element that the others have lost. The similarities between them all have convinced me that there actually was, once, a unified European system, and Hilda R. Ellis Davidson, in Myths and Symbols of Pagan Europe (1988), shows in depth how the Celts and the Germanic tribes were at one time, before the establishment of the Roman empire, one people.

See Northern European Shamanism

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