Monday, October 24, 2011

Shamanism quasi-bleg

I have reason to believe that the group International Authors would not be wholly averse to receiving an essay on the subject of Wittgenstein and shamanism for publication in a future issue of the journal Emanations. If you think you might have something interesting to say on the subject please let me know, and I'll see about putting you in touch with them.


  1. I'm not the one they are looking for. In fact, I can't remember ever having thought of this as one subject before. But if anyone does have something interesting to say about it, I'm all ears.

  2. Yes, it's not an obvious subject. If I were writing about it I think I would focus on mysticism. To what extent was Wittgenstein a mystic? To what extent is shamanism like other kinds of mysticism? But then, is shamanism really a form of mysticism at all? Here's Wikipedia:

    Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. To quote Eliade: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy." Shamanism encompasses the belief that shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community. Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment

    The reference to ecstasy might help make a connection with mysticism. Here's Wikipedia on that:

    Mysticism (from the Greek μυστικός, mystikos) is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with the Supreme Being.

    So I think it would be OK to link shamanism with mysticism, and of course Wittgenstein gets called a mystic from time to time. The obvious thing would be to argue that Wittgenstein was not only not a shaman but not a mystic at all. But it would be more interesting to find something good in shamanism to talk about. I don't think I have time to look into it now though. Hence my resort to Wikipedia.

  3. But it would be more interesting to find something good in shamanism to talk about.

    Yes, that's what I was thinking. I can't remember having read Wittgenstein on shamanism (it's been a while since I last read his comments on The Golden Bough, so maybe I have), but a wittgensteinian investigation of shamanism could possibly be interesting, I think.

    Wittgenstein gets called a mystic from time to time.

    From time to time even some kind of oracle or shaman! I have seen his lectures being described as séances, because of his unusual lecturing methods (long periods of silence and Wittgenstein with his eyes closed, mumbling to himself, etc). Such descriptions are, no doubt, always meant as negative critiques of both the man, his powerful influence over students' lives and his philosophy.

    His being called a mystic isn't necessarily meant as an objection. People sympathizing with his philosophy have used that label. But I'm with you, I doubt that they can make it stick. Though, whether this is a preposterous idea or just questionable depends, I guess, on what they mean by mysticism. Calling Wittgenstein a mystic in accordance with the Wikipedia quote, belongs in the first category alongside Wittgenstein the oracle. (Not even powerful arguments would convince me of otherwise: this sort of mysticism simply doesn't fit in with the rest of his life.) On the other hand some people have read The Tractatus as expressing belief in ineffable truths. Ray Monk, among others, reasons along those lines (I think in this program). Whether this qualifies as mysticism, and whether the author of Tractatus fits that description depends on whether this reading is true or not. It isn't obviously wrong, certainly not preposterous, but it is questionable.

  4. Horrible mix-up at the end. Of course it doesn't depend on the Tractatus whether ineffable truths qualify as mysticism or not!

    This is how it should have been:
    "Ray Monk, among others, reasons along those lines. This might be called mysticism. But whether the author of the Tractatus was a mystic of that sort depends on whether this reading of the book is true or not..."

  5. Yes, that all (including the corrections, of course) sounds right to me. Wittgenstein might have had some respect for shamanism. It would be worth looking into what form this might take 9or have taken). It would also be worth looking at what shamanism is and whether it really is worthy of respect or not. If I ever have time I might do it.

  6. It's an interesting double conversation, because the term Shamanism has been redefined for this era, and means something entirely different than it used to. Tom Wright

  7. Thanks. Yes, it would certainly make a difference what kind of shamanism we were talking about, or what sense of "shamanism" we had in mind.