Accepted Paper:

Ritual embodiment and crisis in neo-shamanism: a converging system  


Denise Lombardi (GSRL)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper aims to analyze neo-shamanic rituals developed for Europeans in search of new forms of spirituality. In this context I have observed the role of body and crisis as the point of convergence between contemporary neo-shamanic practices and the contingent world of participants.

Paper long abstract:

During the last four years I have been involved in participant observation in practices held by European and Mexican neo-shamans whose offer is addressed to Europeans. These practices concern the use of shamanic knowledge to reconnect people with a "lost" state of nature, and healing personal and universal troubles. The concept of Shamanism in this context becomes a synonym of "ancestral" and "original" cosmologies.

Neo-shamanic rituals are based upon acting that creatively works out religions, philosophic traditions, fictitious ethnicisms and exotic imageries with the purpose of weaving bonds amongst participants.

I often witnessed during these neo-shamanic activities (seminars, stages, pilgrimages) the creation of small and ephemeral communities sharing the same time and space, which give life to a whole of close, and egalitarian relationships where people drop masks used during daily life and reveal themselves.

In such environment, I observed participants taking actively part in the rituals and manifesting their presence through physical crises (with trance, cries, paroxysm of tears). Under these circumstances the body ends up being a genuine protagonist of the ritual through the upcoming participants' mental and physical crisis; furthermore, in a ritual context founded on relationships, embodiment and crisis represent the medium which drives the neo-shamanic construction.

I observed that neo-shamanic practices are intrinsically founded on vagueness and are in search of credibility, and the body with his crises becomes the point of convergence between the alleged neo-shamanic world and contingent world.

Panel P069
The sensory experience of suffering and healing