Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Princeton, 1951)
[originally posted 5Jun2001]
I didn’t keep count of how many times during this survey Eliade says he’s just touching on the very surface of the scholarship of a given topic, or that in the limited space provided, he can only manage the barest mention of something. Eliade’s “few comments” (p. 511) and fifty plus pages of bibliography, if he is to be believed, are a quick overview on shamanism as it has been practiced for the past two and a half millenia, covering six of the seven continents and thousands of years.
Shamanism is a survey, not a new work; Eliade, here, only attempts to distill what he and others have written in the past, to give the prospective student or researcher an idea of where to begin on a specific topic. As such, the book may not be meant to be read all the way through. Taken as a whole, however, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking document about not only shamaism, but many deeper issues; the migration of man over two and a half thousand years, cultural “degeneration” (Eliade’s word), the Judeo-Christian tradition and its heavy borrowing from religions that pre-dated it, etc. While Eliade’s writing is often thick, it’s certainly understandable by the layman, as always (one of the things which made Eliade a consistently popular and well-read anthropologist). It requires a leisurely pace and a good deal of reflection, but is ultimately worth the time (in my case, five and a half months) it takes to finish. ***