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Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing

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What does the brain do during "soul journeys"? How do shamans alter consciousness and why is this important for healing? Are shamans different from other kinds of healers? Is there a connection between the rituals performed by chimpanzees and traditional shamanistic practices?

All of these questions--and many more--are answered in Shamanism, Second Edition: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing. This text contains crosscultural examinations of the nature of shamanism, biological perspectives on alterations of consciousness, mechanisms of shamanistic healing, as well as the evolutionary origins of shamanism. It presents the shamanic paradigm within a biopsychosocial framework for explaining successful human evolution through group rituals. In the final chapter,"the author compares shamanistic rituals with chimpanzee displays to identify homologies that point to the ritual dynamics of our ancient hominid ancestors.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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Michael Winkelman

15 books10 followers

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for S. Div..
Author 10 books103 followers
March 28, 2012
An excellent resource delineating neurological sources of ecstatic/shamanic experience from cultural or religious influence. Winkelman takes the elitist anthropological path of shamanism into the west and turns it upside down in this groundbreaking study of shamanic experience. The texts that introduced us to shamanism in the 50s and 60s lacked transparency, sensitivity, neuroscience, and in many cases, respect. Not skirting the strengths or flaws of those early studies, Winkelman builds on them with contemporary science and insight. This text provides an informed modern perspective on a timeless animistic path. Not an easy read, though a necessary one for any student of theology, psychology, religion, and shamanism.
Profile Image for Juuso.
9 reviews1 follower
July 5, 2018
Very dense, lot's of intresting ideas and very promising research paradigm. Was quite heavy reading, and at some points things were introduced quite quickly and without proper explanations. Still don't know what Winkelman exactly means with for example neurognostic structures.

The point in couple of words is to take seriously the experiental aspects of shamanic and contemplative traditions and explain these with materialism-compatible models. In Winkelman views extraordinary experiences provided by shamanism give us knowledge of our unconscious structures. This is very appealing claim. For most parts the book was plausible. Couple of times some bit vague and far-fetched ideas are used, and on the other hand at some times there is maybe even too strong urge to explain everything, every and all experience with neural psychointegrative dynamics. But many insight really are brilliant and beautifully combine neurobiological explanations and symbolic-constructionist perspectives without denigrating the first hand experience of shamans.

There is an attempt to connect these experiences to neural systems and dynamics. Lot's of weight is given to the concept of psychointegration, namely the ability of certain different ASC's to integrate the brain. In psychointegration certain theta-wave neural oscillation patterns start and the connections between deep structures of the brain (limbic system and brainstem etc.) and the connections between left and right hemispheres boost.

This psychointegrative dynamic can be induced by a variety of means. Shamanic techniques, meditative traditions and possession states are all covered. Shamistic techniques include especially routes which excite the sympathetic nervous system until collapse to a parasymphatetic dominant state occurs. Sensory overload by drumming and dancing, physical austerities and using of plant medicines are examples of shamanic techniques. Meditative traditions stress PNS-route with direct calming of the mind to produce states where similar psychointegrating neural dynamics appear. In possession states there also is evidence of similar dynamics.

Winkelman also presents a map of different shamanic healers and argues based on his cross-cultural studies conducted during 80's and 90's that shamanism is a valid etic phenomena. Although shamans are to be found mostly in hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies and agriculture and social complexity easily makes shamans to disappear.

Another important theme is that the various experiences encountered in shamanism mediate knowledge about the environment and inner realities. Visionary states and experiences are spoken as symbolic realities. Certain pre-language presentional symbolic elements in these experiences mediate knowledge about unconscious dynamics not normally available to the rational, thinking mind.

Here also lies the shaman's ability to healing. Via commonly adapted and experienced symbolic realities (spirits, animal familiars etc.) and associated strong experiences caused by variety of techniques for inducing ASC's shaman can affect the physiology and biology of ritual participants. Placebo-effect, psychoneurological responses etc. are conceptualised as this kind of downward causation where symbolic and experiental realities (mind) affects the body and biology (matter). Lot's of the insights of the book are based on school of anthropology called biogenetic structuralism or neurophenology. Many of the most intresting passaged citate the work of Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili.

Last chapter of the book is written ten years later than others and is more clear and better written. The subject is the evolutionary history of shamanic traditions and human rituals. Chimpanzee rituals are covered and it's argued how they might reflect common shared ritual tendencies of primate forefathers, including our own species. According to Winkelman evolution of mimetic capacity around 1 million years ago was a important precursor to shamanic cultures and for the human language. This metaphorical and analogical symbolic thought based on using body and voice as metaphors for communicating intentions was the cornerstone of further cultural evolution of human race. Many prior fruits of evolution were exapted, adapted to new purposes by cultural prosesses and allowed novel adaptive responses and in the process also created new environment for Baldiwian evolution to occur. This process accomplished new level of social and material culture and led in the end to development of highly refined shamanic rituals and verbal language (which was predated by former presentational metaphorical/analogical symbolic systems of communication). The chapter also gives so far the best argument for evidence of psychedelic plants in human evolution with comparision between human and other primate neuropharmacology. It seems that we at least have evolved to be able to metabolize these substances better and have a higher affinity for them than other primates.
Profile Image for B Sarv.
255 reviews13 followers
December 29, 2022
For me, this was the book that I have been waiting for. It gives a thorough explanation of all the different features that lead to modern day belief systems: sociological, biological, physiological and evolutionary. Be warned, it is an academic book. Therefore it is heavy reading, filled with jargon and acronyms.

The reason it took me so long to read it (18 months) is that I had it loaded on my most inconvenient device.

As 2022 came to a close, and I completed my goals for reading (75 books to put me over 1000 on record) I decided it was time for me to complete this book. I am glad I did. I took copious notes, but writing a review based on those is not in the picture right now.

If you are interested in the subject of shamanism and religion, I am not sure you will find a single source that provides any more detail than this book does. If you do become interested and read it I hope you get as much out of it as I did.
Profile Image for Taliarochminska.
154 reviews5 followers
November 14, 2020
an interesting perspective on how rituals may positively influence biomedical aspects of healing
37 reviews4 followers
December 3, 2014
At times a bit too dry, but very interesting read. Most of the main points of the book are summarized in the very last chapter - this chapter is also a newest addition(2010?)to the book.
For different perspectives on shamanism and critique of some theories presented in the book check this Book Review Forum journal: http://www.pitt.edu/~strather/Michael...
4 reviews
February 9, 2018
A very thought provoking book. Truly a new paradigm of what human religion is all about.
Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews

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