Report on The Second Conference of the International Society for Shamanistic Research, July 11—17, Budapest, Hungary

By John A. Dooley (Cyprus)


The International Society for Shamanistic Research assembles every two years in order to disseminate papers about the spirit world, and the sha-men and sha-women who preside over it. In 1991, in Seoul, their first theme was Regional Shamanism. In 1993, from July 11—17th, the conference discussed Shamanism and the Performing Arts. Not that we spent all the time listening to papers or watching videos. There was, for instance, the incredible banquet at the Gellert Hotel, as well as a number of other worthwhile receptions and performances. On one evening came the Seven Wine Mayors to preside over a gigantic wine-tasting session in the great hall of the Kulturinnov. The wines were superb, but were drunk rather than tasted, and it was fortunate the reception following was laid out on the landing adjacent to the said hall. Also much applauded was the farewell dinner at the Open-Air Museum at Szentendre. Then there was a Norwegian group performing ‘shamanic music and drumming’ very quietly with the rapport of the audience; and then another trio-full of bounce-played instruments which looked like bits of stuff they’d picked up on the way to the hall. They were all very musical and it was mind expanding! To polish off the conference we had a dance performance by Ronald Chavers who depicted a number of animal transformations of the shaman, a performance that lasted some two hours. This incredible show of enlightened energy was interspersed by slide-shows illustrating the various images of horses throughout the ages. This performance left me feeling as if I, too, had been galloping awhile.

The real business of the conference between Monday and Friday fell under a number of plenary sessions which were loosely defined under the various forms of shamanic performance. The opening ceremony was initiated with an address by Andras Kelemen, Secretary of State, and concluded with a talk: ‘Shamanism in Mythology’ by Åke Hultkrantz. Monday was to do with the ‘Performing Arts’ proper; though, here, an indication of the difference between everyday theatre and ritual performances would have been useful. Among the first speakers, Tae-gon Kim spoke on shamanic performance and the ‘arche patterns’ which inform this; patterns which embody the cosmic rhythms whose vehicle is the ‘eternal cycle.’ Despite diagrams, this lecture was difficult to follow because of the inadequate loudspeakers, and the tricky acoustics of the hall. Per-Arne Berglie’s account of the trance performances of Tibetan spirit mediums included observations that the healing part of the séance he watched was the most theatrical, while audience participation in such séances is decidedly sporadic–a phenomenon which poses the question of whether or not people become bored by being over-exposed to spirits. Daniel Kister’s paper on Korean shaman drama is a beautifully written account of a shamanic kut designed to bring peace to unsettled souls–in this case, the son; drowned on his first fishing trip–and the bereaved family. In the touching action of this rite can be seen all the basic elements of drama, even the dénouement of our own theatre, as a seven-looped white cloth is unfurled and then untied. Each of the loops symbolized the bitter frustration and regret in the hearts of the participants. Kister constantly invokes Antonin Artaud with a view to showing how close is ritual to theatre as we know it. But it should always be borne in mind that the ritual Kister describes is meant to work ‘directly,’ to work because of belief. The action of theatre works ‘indirectly’ because of the plot: a framed action that engenders make-believe. That is makes you believe in that one plot happening before your very eyes. And while the effects of ritual spill into life, the effects on the stage must remain separate from it.

Ruth Inge Heinze’s comparisons of the ‘ineffable’ in Singapore Chinese and Thai Ritual was a paper that–like Tae-gon Kim’s own offering–overran the conference’s stipulated time-limit by a good many minutes. In this case the pot was not going to budge the kettle, and the presiding Tae-gon Kim’s attempts to dislodge the speaker were unavailing. The problem here is that the audience’s attention is drawn to the tussle rather than the talk. On the other hand an academic who has spent much in time and money, wants to get his message across. An answer to the problem might be to have a series of pre-arranged time-slots and places where those interested auditors can go later to hear the end of the talk. Obviously it is also essential for speakers to have copies of their talk ready to give out. My own paper on Hamlet’s shamanic origins also ran into trouble because it was over long. Not having the courage of Heinze, I quitted the rostrum fairly promptly after a reminder–but then I knew my whole talk could be found in the Abstracts. Later that evening all the hassle was forgotten amidst the sheer gourmet variety of dishes at the Gellert Hotel. I must confess to this being one of the best banquets I have ever partaken of.

Tuesday saw papers delivered on ‘Shamanic Music’ in the morning, and on ‘Shamanic Song and Singing’ in the afternoon. During the first session Liu Guiteng gave a well-illustrated talk on shamanic instruments. In this he cites a number of misleading definitions of shamanism and the confusion they cause. The term wu, for example, appears to be part of the non-definition which takes in all Chinese folk beliefs. But is it such a useless word?: Eliade uses it to denote the spinning wu-priestesses who finally evolve into similarly whirling wu-tans in Peking Opera, where their shamanic origins have been so deftly uncovered by E.T. Kirby. Takefusa Sasamori’s musical expertise is demonstrated in his analysis of the sutras sung by the blind female shamans known as itako. One would be interested to know whether their tradition connects with Noh drama at any point. It is disturbing to hear these diviners and spirit intermediaries are slowly dying out. Elisabeth Wetzel’s notes on the effects of music on pregnant women and unborn children concluded there are effects on both the pre-natal and postnatal development of the child. These findings obviously go far beyond the pistol shots that the foetus–of old–rapidly learned to ignore.

The afternoon session included Neil Gunson’s paper on the shamanic elements in Polynesian song cycles. In these the old remnants of passage rites can be discerned in the fact that the stories are sung at times of birth and coming of age. Gunson also notes the universal tree symbolism which links Polynesia, Scandinavia, South Asia and Central America. Margarita Khrusheva’s paper on magic speech intoning was again one of those trenchant papers on rhythmic/recitative-declamatory song of the Finno-Ugric Udmurts which would have fared better with musical illustration. Again, one would be interested to know whether there are any connections between these utterances and those of ‘sing-spiel’ in 17th and 18th century opera. Yes, I would have like to know more–but how? Surely–as in the Seoul volume of abstracts–the addresses of the contributors could be inserted directly under each abstract. The afternoon saw also the first of the videos: Romano Mastromattei’s ‘Tamang Shamaness’ Séance.’ Mastromattei was well aware that the monotonous sequence of drumming as the shamaness worked herself into trance was over long. He cut much of this, and thus bared the more clearly, the rather grisly human drama that had occasioned the need of a séance. Takako Yamada’s paper describing how the Ladakhi shaman proves his oneness with the local gods by his performance is one of those gifts of well-documented ritual that the scholar can turn to time and again for those authenticising details which make it possible to see the glimmerings of a universal pattern of shamanic behaviour through all the particular rituals carried out. In other words the Ladakhi shaman appears to be perfectly universal in the pattern of his performance, he recites Buddhist sutras, sniffs the aromatic juniper to help himself into trance, and becomes the god himself with the donning of his head-dress. Like many shamans he sucks the disease out of patients. One needs these firm bodies of archetypal constants. Josiane Cauquelin’s detailed look at the mode of Puyuma spirit-shaman dialogue revealed conventions which are decidedly esoteric, limiting the dialogue to one between only shamans and spirits. Films, in the evening dwelt on trips to the exotic world or the Nanais on the Amur River, and to the Amarnath Cave in Kashmir. Juha Pentikäinen and Bo Sommarström respectively, were the lucky anthropologists able to bring us these images.

Wednesday: Veikko Anttonen lectured on the shaman as technician of the sacred: a superhuman being who is able to cut across the boundary lines of what Anttonen describes as ‘the separate entities of the phenomenal world’; as shaman he knows nothing of dogmas and philosophies. Also with a bent for definitions is Vilmos Voigt’s paper on ‘sha-women’ and ‘sha-men,’ it is a salutary reminder that both these terms should be used if it is apposite to the study in question. Salutary, too, is Éva Pócs’ observations on the cult of the dead, and the magic in European shamanism and witchcraft, much of which is connected with agrarian fertility. Historians of religion outside the shamanic camp will thus do well to remember that shamanism is not exclusive to hunting communities. More provoking argument was on the way in Roberte Hamayon’s paper that questioned Elidian enshrined terms like ‘trance’ and ‘ecstasy.’ She suggested that such descriptions hindered anthropological analysis by ‘devil-izing’ or ‘medicalizing’ the cultural phenomenon of shamanism. The paper provoked Åke Hultkrantz to staging a gallant rally in defense of Eliade’s traditional bastions. These exchanges did much for the morale and tone of the conference. Well done both! Diana Riboli’s paper on the Chepang shaman was another of the salient papers of the conference, dealing out as it does, some extremely interesting facts about this little known and threatened people. What with the drum as an alter ego, and the Chepang’s possession of a complex and complete language for communicating with the gods, it would seem essential that one should have got to the video Riboli promises in her paper. I heard no further mention of this, however–a maddening sense of loss. The role of the fool in shamanic rites in Nepal and Siberia was tackled by Anne de Sales. Her paper stitches in more patches of the counterpane first begun by Otto von Sadovszky’s analysis of the linguistic ties between the ritual communities of Siberia and California.

In the afternoon, Bill Brunton’s talk on the performative aspects of the Kootenai Spirit Lodge Assembly was well-received as a piece of pure objecting reporting. The deliberate estrangement of parts of the wilderness by the Indians, and the calling up of the spirits from these locations, is just part of the strange Kootenai spiritualism described. By now the various sub-themes of the conference had got a fair way from the original ‘Shamanism and the Performing Arts.’ Thus, the morning talks fell under the heading of ‘Shamanism and Religion’; those of the afternoon: ‘Shamanic Healing.’ Films on Sibe-Manchu music and prayer filmed by Giovanni Stary, and Cauquelin’s footage of shamanism in Taiwan were probably excellent, but, I fancy, the films–one of which–I must have freaked out in, for there were repeated scenes of the sacrifice of a squealing pig whose tones all too accurately communicated its desperation as it felt its life pulsing out simultaneously with the blood from its slit throat. The permission given by the beast for its own slaughter, the trick of obtaining this, was blandly macabre.

Thursday morning was the time for ‘Dance in Shamanism’: back once more on track! Theresa Ki-ja Kim’s talk endeavoured to link cosmogonic song with shamanic dancing patterns. This was in line with a number of other papers which either explicitly or implicitly suggest that the universal magic of ritual, theatre and dance performances owes its being to the cosmogony; the first performance that was the creation, a creation that is still powering recreations. Tina Hamrin’s talk on the dancing religion of Hawaii remains on track while summarizing the beginnings of a cult whose therapeutic dancing seems to eschew trance, and rather relies on hypnagogia, a form of relaxed consciousness. A more modern shamanic slant comes in Kyoko Fuchigami’s paper on exorcism as practiced in Korean Christianity. It is a missive that could well be scanned by Church-of-England clergy whose occasional attempts to exorcise devils have not always been the most successful. Fuchigami reports that the Reverend K. of the Baptist Church in Seoul interrogates the spirits who speak through the mouth of those possessed, giving details or their life and death, and the reasons for taking possession. The Reverend K. then browbeats the spirits by shouting, making those possessed fall backwards; an ultimate movement which signals the malevolent spirit has departed.

In the afternoon came Carla Corradi Musi’s report on the ‘shaman as actor’ in the Finno-Ugric territories. This was an interesting talk, though one which I felt, blurs the line which separates ritual and art in ways which are unwise, thus: "The magic technique which gives rise to the collective pathos of the shamanic séance is art, in so far as art is one magic technique." Again: "The performance of the shaman on the stage is that of an actor, whose ‘fiction’ is the representation of a special experience, the outcome of which is not foreseeable." In contrast, drama’s main principle: the plot, has a beginning, middle and end, and the latter is foreseeable. Among the other papers of interest was Mihály Hoppál’s paper on performance in Siberian rock art. In the Çatal Hüyük excavations in Southern Turkey, archaeologists have come upon a number of hand-prints in the caves, some showing that fingers have been amputated. Like megalithic monuments, surely the only approach as to their function is by building up a picture of the forms of ritual they would have accommodated. The absent fingers tell their own ritual story, just as the countless animals depicted speak for some depiction of an illud tempus, a time of origins. Two extra special films on this day were Laurel Kendall’s ‘An Initiation Kut for a Korean Shaman,’ and Mihály Hoppál and Marcell Jankovics’ ‘The Shaman in Eurasia.’ The first depicted the unsuccessful attempts of a young aspiring shamaness to get her spirits and initiatory act together. The second is a collection of images and commentary which constitute an excellent introduction to shamanism. This latter film–as far as cutting is concerned–is a model that video-film enthusiasts would do well to ponder.

The final General Meeting of the conference went with a swing. The first significant item was the choice of a venue for the next ISSR conference in 1995. Among others, there were offers from America; a future one from France, and one from the Yakuts. The last venue was finally accepted. However, whatever venue would have been decided, someone would have been put out. There was thus a certain amount of feeling among the Americans that it was their turn to host a conference; while, among the Eastern European members there was desolation at the thought they would simply not have the funds to fly long distances into Russia, put up at hotels, etc. Again there was a certain entrenching of positions wen it came to voting for a new president of the ISSR. Here, one could complain that those responsible for the agenda might have foreseen what could be friction at this juncture of the proceedings. But it was easy to be wise afterwards. The main thing is that a compromise was sensibly arrived at after the conference, and we presently have two presidents looking after manageable areas of the globe. As for the venue: there was an after-swing away from Siberia to Nara University in Japan. The move will no doubt content those who objected to the almost total lack of media at the Yakut Conference a year or so back; on the other hand this venue is scarcely convenient for the East European scholars. What is needed is a schema or rota which–drawn up by an ad hoc committee–could plot a rationalized series of venues giving, as it were, everyone a turn. That is anticipating ‘they’ will take on all problems that arranging a conference incurs. Thanks in any case to our Hungarian hosts for taking on the business of making us feel at home in their impressive capital; and for keeping up the momentum of intellectual debate that at no point seemed to slacken. This last is presumably what a successful conference must maintain.

(Published in Shaman 2/2. 182-187)



Minutes of the General Assembly of the International Society for Shamanistic Research, Held 16 July 1993, at the Kulturinnov, Budapest

By Keith Howard (London)


Chair: Prof. Åke Hultkrantz (Sweden).

1. The agenda was read by Mihály Hoppál (Hungary): a) to establish the ISSR b) to discuss the publication of a journal c) to discuss the place of the next conference d) to elect a council.

2. Mihály Hoppál referred to the proposed statutes of the ISSR which were previously distributed with the ISSR Newsletter. He read statutes 1 and 2, then asked members for objections, proposals and improvements to be submitted in written form.

3. The publication of a journal was considered.

3.1 Anna-Leena Siikala (Finland) noted that a journal with the title Shaman had been produced in Budapest, but that this was not yet recognized as the ISSR journal. Proposal: That Shaman be accepted as the ISSR journal. Passed unanimously.

3.2 The format of the journal was considered. Ádám Molnár (Hungary), as co-editor and publisher, proposed a twice annual publication of 96 pages or more. The journal will need at least 120 subscribers if it is not to make a loss; the first two editions will run a deficit and Ádám Molnár can only guarantee the publication of two editions. Manabu Waida (Canada) pointed out the journal has to compete with comparable publications. He considered it should be paid for from the subscription fee; a separate payment would make it too expensive. Mihály Hoppál thought the journal should include information previously carried in the ISSR Newsletter.

3.3 Considerable discussion centred around subscription fees, with several proposals that fees should be set differently for different countries and for professional members and students. There was general agreement that free or discounted copies should be distributed to those who cannot afford to pay a subscription. Agreement was reached that the subscription fee to the ISSR should include the journal, and that student fees should be set.

3.4 A proposal was tabled by Keith Howard (UK) to combine membership and journal subscriptions and to set a reduced rate for students. Proposal: That the subscription to the ISSR cover the subscription to the journal; that the annual subscription, for individuals and institutions, be $30, and that the annual subscription for students be $15. Passed by a majority.

4. The venue for the next conference was considered.

4.1 Is was suggested that the next conference take place in California. Ruth-Inge Heinze (USA) pointed out this would be expensive, at around $250 for five days, though lodging and venue were all available. She asked for a large deposit to be made now if preparations were to be begun.

4.2 It was suggested that the next conference take place in Paris. Roberte N. Hamayon (France) reported that she and her colleagues would be happy to welcome the ISSR, but would prefer to offer Paris as a 1997 venue.

4.3 Wendy Pond (New Zealand) reported that bi-annual conferences were too expensive; it would be better to hold conferences every 4 years. László Kürti (USA/Hungary) commented that scholars from the CIS and the former east Europe cannot afford to go to California. Anna-Leena Siikala indicated that Finland was also a possible venue, but would be better if organized in 1997 or 1999. Yakutsk was proposed as an alternative venue. Laurel Kendall (USA) noted that this meant ISSR will meet 3 times in Europe and 1 time in Asia in the coming years.

4.4 Colleagues from Yakutsk formally offered to host the 1995 ISSR conference.

4.5 After further discussion, Keith Howard tabled a motion either to accept Yakutsk or to refer the choice of venue to the elected ISSR council. Proposal: A: That Yakutsk be accepted as the venue for the 1995 ISSR conference; or B: That the choice of venue for 1995 be referred to the ISSR’s elected scientific committee, and that they should continue to consult with Berkeley, Finland, Paris, and Yakutsk. 25 votes were cast for option A and 7 votes for option B. Option A was thus carried.

5. The constitution of an ISSR council was considered.

5.1 Members were given a printed form on which positions on the council were marked. Romano Mastromattei (Italy) and Anna-Leena Siikala were appointed to count votes.

5.2 Yee-heum Yoon (Korea) stated there was a need to establish the relationship between the ISSR President and the next ISSR conference organizer. Therese ki-ja Kim (USA) queried what role the "scientific committee" had and why its membership appeared to be already chosen. Mihály Hoppál responded that the committee had been "acting" until an election could take place. There were several queries as to why names were to be printed alongside some positions on the election form. Roberte N. Hamayon commented that the ISSR would really start here in Budapest, 1993. Tae-gon Kim (Korea) countered that Seoul hosted the ISSR founding conference back in 1991. Mihály Hoppál asked if the ISSR needed elected officers; the general assembly agreed that it did.

5.3 There was some discussion of the role of regional offices. Mihály Hoppál pointed out that the Eastern Office under Tae-gon Kim had worked well, and the Western Office had been essential as the organizational headquarters for the 1993 conference. There was agreement that the Northern Office had been ineffective. Roberto Mastromattei proposed Anna-Leena Siikala be elected to head the Northern Office. Wendy Pond suggested the need for an Oceanic Office. Mihály Hoppál pointed out there was already a Central Asian Office. Manabu Waida suggested the Western and Northern Offices should be combined, and that only one office should serve all of America. Jim Berenholtz (USA) suggested there should be an African Office. Piers Vitebsky (UK) considered this should be put on hold given that we had no representation from Africa. He asked what function the Offices had; Mihály Hoppál replied that they helped organize conferences. Tae-gon Kim pointed out that the East has shamanism, the West has scholars. He thought that too many Offices would lead to too much regionalization, and asked for the maintenance of just an Eastern Office and a Western Office.

5.4 Roberto Mastromattei suggested the scientific committee be expanded to 7 members. Laurel Kendall considered an evolving committee could organize conferences, and this would be more appropriate than regional offices. Several members considered the offices could or should be disbanded. Proposal: Four options were tabled for voting on: A: Regional offices should be retained, and the scientific committee should be expanded to 7 members. B: Offices should be disbanded, replaced by a larger scientific committee with clear regional membership. C: Offices should be disbanded, replaced by a larger scientific committee and regional planning committees. D: The Eastern Office and Western Office should be retained together with an extended scientific committee. Option D was accepted with 27 votes; option C received 14 votes; options A and B were abandoned.

6. Elections were made to the ISSR Council.

6.1 There was discussion about the role of an ISSR president. Tae-gon Kim asked that there be an Eastern president and a Western president. Manabu Waida thought that, since the ISSR is still being established, no president was needed. Anna-Leena Siikala and Roberte N. Hamayon pointed out that there must be an elected president, secretary, and treasurer to conduct the day-to-day business of the organization. David Kister (Korea) suggested there be a president and a vice president. Anna-Leena Siikala asked that elections should be held at each general assembly. It was finally decided to elect 2 co-presidents.

6.2 Mihály Hoppál and Tae-gon Kim were duly elected co-presidents by clear majority.

6.3 Ádám Molnár was elected secretary. There was no other candidate.

6.4 No treasurer was elected. It was agreed that a suitable person be chosen by Mihály Hoppál and Ádám Molnár.

6.5 18 names were put forward for nomination to the scientific committee. Each member present at the general assembly was asked to nominate 7. The nominations were counted by Keith Howard, Anna-Leena Siikala, Romano Mastromattei and Yee-heum Yoon. In the event, 8 committee members were elected, since two tied in 7th place with an equal number of votes. The scientific committee duly elected is: Manabu Waida (Canada), Anna-Leena Siikala (Finland), Roberte N. Hamayon (Paris), Giovanni Stary (Italy), Ulla Johanson (Germany), V.N. Basilov (Russia), Piers Vitebsky (UK), Laurel Kendall (USA).

7. The ISSR has established a prize for scholarship on shamanism. This is to be awarded to a scholar whose work has created a legacy for fine data collection and ethnography. This prize was presented to Åke Hultkrantz.

London, 19 July 1993

(Published in Shaman 2/1. 93-96)