The term shaman entered English from other cultures (Flaherty, 1992) and has been attributed to practices around the world (Vitebsky, 2001). Shamanism received widespread academic attention following Eliade's (1964) Shamanism: Archaic techniques ofecstasy, which considered shamanism a worldwide healing practice involving ecstatic communication with the spirit world on behalf of the community (cf. Halifax, 1979; Hultkrantz, 1973). Whether shamanism is cross-cultural or regionally specific, and consequently an etic or emic phenomenon, is contentious. Some consider shamanism specific to Siberia (e.g., Siikala, 1978), while others considered shamans to be any practitioners who voluntarily enter altered states of consciousness (Peters & Price-Williams, 1981).
Cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research indicates shamanism is an etic phenomenon involving psychobio-logical adaptations to the adaptive capacities of altered states of consciousness (ASC) or the integrative mode of consciousness (Winkelman, 2000). Shamanism was a central cultural institution at the dawn of modern humans some 40,000 years ago (Clottes & Lewis-Williams, 1998; Ryan, 1999). Shamanism is a fundamental aspect of human evolutionary psychology that was transformed by sociocultural evolution, but persisted in other forms of shamanistic healing (Winkelman, 1992, 2000). This entry addresses both the specific aspects of shamanism and the universal therapeutic mechanisms of shamanistic healers, and focuses upon the generic aspects of, rather than the numerous, culturally specific forms.
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