Passing Through the Plastic Shaman

September 24, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

Here is article I wrote about shamanism. It’s actually about shamanism as it was depicted in an exhibit in an apartment gallery over the summer. In some way that show became a vehicle for me to think about whether or not it is possible for a Contemporary (Urban? Though I’m not sure that makes a difference…) American can appropriate/incorporate shamanic practice (though shamanic could stand in for any kind of ritualistic practice embedded in another culture) without sacrificing a degree of potency or, in this case, collapsing under ironic influences….I don’t know. I feel like it’s dangerous to draw a conclusion wherein one’s access to foreign cultural understanding is limited, but it seems just as dangerous to assume that one is capable of fully understanding a community (particularly it’s spiritual habit) by virtue of possessing/recreating its signifiers. The latter feels a little imperial. The former could lead to the celebration of biggots. Neither is ideal.

Regardless, you can read the essay by going here.

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4 Responses to “Passing Through the Plastic Shaman”


  1. Caroline,

    I t seems to me you have very clearly defined the problem. The term “shaman” has many meanings, and many anthropologies. I’m not certain there is a useful definition for it.

    At the same time, many people have found themselves in some relationship with the land and the spirits. Many have found teachers, even in urban environments, who can help them make sense of the competing worlds they inhabit, and the competing demands of materialism and spirituality. Some teachers are First Nations, others are not. A few are hucksters.

    Given the lack of community in urbanized settings, shamanism seems to be transforming to something else. Maybe shamans will continue to work on behalf of small, self-selecting communities. Maybe shamans will simple try ti aid the strangers who come to them. Probably the practice will evolve to something that incorporates both.

    And, of course, there is the problem of cultural appropriation…..

    • urbesque Says:

      For sure. I think you’re right. Does that mean we should devise new terms for these offices? Does the history of “shamanism” have any relevence? Perhaps it is something entirely different in our culture. I also always end up wondering about the distinction between public and private, somehow: are those gestures/practices which remain personal and, in some sense, exclusive somehow more “authentic” than those which advertise a certain embedded symbology. and of course, another on-going question: is it possible to appropriate gestures from other cultures? while i feel like my response will shift, at the moment i feel like there is a responsibility that comes from being a part of a given culture, being raised within its ideology, and one has to contend with that…right?
      it’s all confusing to me, but i love thinking it through….
      c


  2. [...] Carolyn Picard addressed issues of cultural appropriation in a different sphere: [...]

    • jenniekristel Says:

      Carolyn,
      Shamans in Asia perform very public rites. The same for traditional cultures here. I’ve stopped trying to sort it all out, and now just speak about shamanisms – that there are many forms of shamanism. As to appropriation, I do not favor it, and know that even that discussion is fraught with linguistic and philosophical challenges.


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