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Shamanic Practices in All of Asia

Shamanic Practices In All Of Asia
Image Source: Anthony Kuhn/NPR

A Shaman is a healer or diviner who enters an altered state of consciousness to gain access to the spiritual world. Even though Siberia is thought to be the origin of ancient Shamanism, the practice eventually spread to multiple cultures around the world, each with their own variations fused with their cultures. This article will discuss some of the most popular shamanic practices in all of Asia.

Shamanism in Korea
Korean Shamanism is based on animism and the belief that numerous gods watch over human affairs and creation as a whole. The Koreans refer to rituals as Gut and view them as the meeting point between human beings and deities. The Shamans, or Mudang, would work as a bridge between the two worlds and ensure peace in society. Village rituals would prevent the disruption of harmony within the community. In contrast, private rituals included healing rituals, prayers for longevity, and ceremonies to ensure the dead went into the underworld peacefully.

Agriculture was the main economic activity in ancient Korea; without it, the dynastic rule would be unstable and chaotic. Mudang would conduct rituals to show gratitude to the gods for a good harvest or pray to them for favor when hunting for food. Despite their immense influence on society, Shamanism came with its fair share of stigma and pressure. Korean Shamans would live in isolation on the outskirts of the village.

Shamanism in Japan
Let’s look into the Shamanic practices in Japan.

Shamanism among the Ainu of Northern Japan
The Ainu were the first inhabitants of the Northern Islands in Japan. The male Shamans were responsible for healing and divination. They also took on leadership roles in society. Over time, gender roles among the Ainu Shamans developed. The women would handle the spirit world while the men would perform sacrifices and ceremonies to appease the gods.

Rituals and ceremonies among the Ainu involved the entire community and would mostly last the whole night. The villagers would produce an altered state of consciousness for the Shamans in Japan by chanting, playing musical instruments, singing, and dancing. Once the Shaman entered this altered state, he would have the ability to fly, prophesy, transform into an animal, and help the natives during warfare, hunting, and fishing.

Shamanism in China
Among the Manchu-Tungus nomads, a shaman is a word that describes a frantic or highly troubled person. We wouldn’t say they were wrong because once a Shaman entered a trace, they would perform deeds that no ordinary human could achieve. These diviners could also leave their physical bodies and travel to alternate worlds.

Common places where Shamans would perform rituals included mountain tops, village homes, and traditional shrines. Shamans would perform rituals known as Li at ancestral shrines or during meetings with influential leaders to promote peace within the community and talk to the spirits. It was not uncommon for diviners to wield jade ornaments that would help them summon spirits and ancestors. These ornaments would contain divine markings that helped the Shamans communicate with particular supernatural beings.

Shamanism in South Asia
Historians point to South Asia as among the three cradles of civilization, alongside West Asia and China. Ancient inhabitants of the Indus Valley domesticated cattle, goats, and sheep alongside agricultural activities such as growing wheat and barley. By the time the potter’s wheel came into existence, pottery was already a significant economic activity in the region. Shamanism in Nepal is as diverse as its culture, language, and geographical features.

In the highland areas of Nepal, humans and spirits would walk the same paths. Shamans believed that if a person fell ill, it was because they had wandered off to spirit territory, causing an angry spirit to assault them. Ritual practitioners in Nepal were known as Dhami-jhakri and would embody the spirits of the deities they were trying to contact. Shamans would typically use special equipment such as a drum or dhyangro, belts of bells around their waist, a unique costume, and a headdress to help them gain access to the spirit world.

Shamanism in South East Asia
Shamanism is most dominant in the Malay Peninsula of SouthEast Asia. The Shamans would seek help from celestial spirits to heal the sick in the community. They would also wield quartz crystals to help them conduct their healing ceremonies. Later, the Indo-Malayan beliefs began to influence the community, eventually leading to a noticeable change in Shamanism in the area.

Malay Shamans would call upon the spirits of the tiger and enter into a trance or a lupa. Once the animal spirit possessed the diviner, they would enter into an alternate state and respond to the villager’s questions. The Ngadju-Dayak people believed that hermaphrodites were the bridge between the spirit and the human world because since possessed both male and female sexual organs. The female organs represented the earth, or the feminine element, while the male organs represented heaven, the masculine element.

Wrap up
Shamanism was traditionally key to existence since the diviners provide a direct link between the human and spirit worlds. In most parts of Asia, Shamanism has endured the test of time, a feat well illustrated by the 50,000 shamanic ceremonies held every year in greater Seoul! In modern Asia, there is a divide between those who see shamanism seen as a vibrant cultural treasure and those who view it as an embarrassment. All in all, its appeal still endures!

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