The spirit relations of shamanism are part of a broader animistic framework. Animism involves beliefs in a soul or vital principle animating entities and producing their behaviors and observed properties. Animism is exemplified in a universal anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics, particularly those associated with self and mind, to non-humans (Guthrie, 1993). This human tendency to animate the natural world involves a relational epistemology that situates humans in the environment and plays a fundamental role in the construction of personhood and communal identity (Bird-David, 1999). Spirits provide a language of intrapsychic and psychosocial dynamics and relationships, and consequently a system for manipulating self, identity, and relations with others.
The shamanic spirit world is a conceptual framework representing aspects of self; ritual symbolic manipulation of these spirit constructs can affect attachments and emotions by operating on structures functioning outside of conscious awareness. Spirits are the most fundamental cause of shamanistic illness, and are also fundamental structures of self and others, representing generic aspects of human thought. Ritual interactions with spirits elicit these primordial psychocognitive processes and forms of representation and communication that manage the relationships of self-concept, social "others," and emotional well-being.
Shamanistic meanings involve attributions to a spirit world, embodied in animism, the belief that spiritual beings motivate the behavior of humans, animals, and natural phenomena. Animistic meaning systems involve projected cognitive similarity—a belief that the world's unseen forces are like humans' cognitive, emotional, and social capacities. Spirits are attributions based in metaphoric extensions of the self for modeling the unknown other. Spirit beliefs reflect social structures, social and interpersonal relations, group and individual psychodynamics, and cognitive processes. Shamanistic healing makes maladies meaningful in the context of both cultural life, and in relationship to innate structures of self-perception. Shamanic healing uses psychobiologically based references for understanding personal psychody-namics in terms of a body-based system of meaning (Laughlin, 1997) and innate representational systems (Winkelman, 2000). These innate structures are entrained by symbolic processes, allowing satisfactory meanings to emerge from symbolic ritual manipulation of unconscious structures.
Spirits are symbolic systems, representing complexes, organized perceptual, behavioral, and personality dynamics dissociated from ordinary awareness, normal and social identity. These complexes are dissociated aspects of the personality. Shamanistic healing practices elicit a holistic imperative (Laughlin et al., 1992), a drive toward integration across levels of consciousness. These disowned, un-integrated or unconscious aspects of self are symbolically manipulated through spirit concepts, producing healing by re-structuring the interactions among personal and collective dynamics. The ritual elic-itation of the emotional unconscious and transference of control of intentional processes to the shaman and spirit world enables individual alignment with social expectations and meaning systems. Shamanic healing integrates the self through visual and corporeal processes, uniting conscious and unconscious information.
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