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On the basis of archaeological evidence, shamanism is probably the oldest form of religion. Because occultism and esotericism are related to religious phenomena, it is also the oldest form of these as well.

The word “shaman” is derived through Russian from the Tungusic šaman in the language of a Mongoloid people of eastern Siberia. The shaman is a specialist in healing and out-of-the-body soul journeying (“magical flight”), a communicator and manipulator of the spirits. He is by no means the only religious functionary in Tungusic society, but his is a role of great importance.( In other languages of Central and North Asia, the same kind of functionary is known as a büga (Mongolian), udoyan (Yakut), or gam (Altaic).

The Tungus are a formerly nomadic Mongoloid people of northeast Asia who are linguistically and culturally closely related to the Manchus, Mongolians, and Yakutsk people of the same general area. Their shamans are distinguished for their elaborate costumes, their drumming, and their hypnotic chants. By no means all so-called “shamans” are exactly like them. Moreover, Sergei Shirokogoroff, the Russian anthropologist who studied them, found that some of their myths and rituals seemed to show derivation from Tibetan/Mongolian Buddhism. There was once a huge Buddhist temple at the mouth of the Amur River, and Shirokogoroff holds that at least some of their rites and beliefs were based on the teachings of bhikshus or Buddhist monks based in this temple. Indeed, the term šaman itself may originally have meant “Buddhist priest” in the Tungusic language. This Buddhist influence dates from the fourth century C. E. In other respects, the Tungus appear to have borrowed heavily from their neighbors, the Manchus, Mongols, and Yakuts.

Mircea Eliade defines shamanism as “a technique of ecstasy” since the shaman is a visionary who characteristically enters a trance state, and in this state frequently embarks on soul journeys to upper and nether regions with the guidance of helpful spirits. Here he communicates with deities such as the Altaic Erlik Khan, god of the Land of the Ancestors, and returns with messages to convey to his people. He acts with the aid of animal spirits which anthropologists call “familiars,” either to benefit his people or else to do harm to their enemies.

In the strict sense, shamanism is a religious phenomena encountered only in Central Asia and Siberia. However, many anthropologists and scholars in the field of religion, such as Mircea Eliade, have extended the term shamanism to identify the same kind of phenomena throughout the world.

Prehistoric Shamanism

Archaeological evidences of shamanism occur in prehistoric cave sites. In recent years, several prehistorians such as A. Laming-Emperaire in La Signification d’art rupestre paléolithque (1962) and Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams in The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magis in the Painted

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