Report on the Fourth Conference of the ISSR, Chantilly, 1st—5th September, 1997

John A. Dooley (Manciet/France)


The ISSR held its IVth Conference at the Centre culturel Les Fontaines, Chantilly, France from the 1st—5th September, 1997. The theme of the conference was Le chamanisme: perspectives religieuses et politiques, which meant, in effect, that participants could offer any paper they wanted to as long as it was about shamanism. In fact the majority of papers could be divided under such headings as Aux marges du bouddhisme et autres religions orientales, Rituel et société, Représentations des esprits et des relations avec les esprits, Chamanisme et possession. This deliberate diversifying of themes encouraged a number of significant and unusual papers.

A somewhat delayed opening resulted in a pleasantly long welcoming drink, after which the conference was opened by Mihály Hoppál, President of the ISSR, Roberte Hamayon, Chairman of the Conference’s Organizing Committee, and Ádám Molnár, the Secretary of the Society. There were greetings, and news that one had to dine early in our august establishment, and that on the morrow some papers would be delivered in French. Our early dinner was, like most of the meals at Les Fontaines, succulent and inviting; while those who served the meal were incredibly willing and quite inclined to lend a kindly ear to requests for an extra bottle of wine. Also to be commended was the presentation to each delegate of the five volumes of papers due to be given at the Conference.

On this Monday evening two video films were shown. The first of these showed a healing session of a Japanese gomiso at work on an insomniacal Hoppál. I shall review this session below. This video also showed some strange sequences of "pot ascetic practice", where the same shamans sit in pots of boiling water- a triennial event, of all things! A second video entitled Burning Incense was beautifully shot in Inner Mongolia. This depicted a troupe of shamanic dancers executing a healing dance for a patient who was sequestered in another room. Not least was the revelation of an obviously better-off client being able to openly spend his money on what the "Party" would once have seen as unacceptable superstitious practices.

Tuesday morning opened with Sophie Archambauld de Beaune’s paper on the prehistory of shamanism. The concision and breadth of her survey of those theories contributing to this prehistory were admirable; many of these maintaining that the horned human figures depicted in caves are shamans. Åke Hultkrantz objected that rather than shamans, they were masters of the animals. I should be indebted to know the difference between the two.

In the section devoted to the Fringes of Buddhism, Hyun-key Kim Hogarth examined the power struggle going on between Buddhism and shamanism in Korea today. While outlining the religious synthesis developing here, Hogarth kept well within the human sphere. Her delineation of the diverse postures of the praying Buddhist and shamanist, and the way these postures give the lie to those Koreans too ashamed to admit they are shamanists, was just one of the details highlighting her talk.

Henri Limet, meanwhile, was presenting his paper on the magic and transgressions which attended the Sumerian deity, Inanna. This account describes the transformation of beasts into men, and the entry of Inanna into Hell as a nobody. As Limet remarks, the Jewish tradition of Ishtar evolves from this. Her "harrowing of Hell", as I recall it, with all its stripping and levelling motifs, was- some authorities maintain- the scenario from which Cinderella was drawn; For Ishtar is rescued from Hell by a Prince Nin-subur, a Hell which for Cinderella becomes her slavery in the kitchen, from which she is saved by another prince. The shamanic connections of the early myth, as described by Limet, are most welcome.

Tina Hamrin’s look at Odaishisan in Kona on Big Island Hawai’i takes in the social background of mediums who, when a patient is seen to be a serious case, endeavour to cure the whole community. This question of community care is taken up by the gomiso who Takefusa Sasamori and Mihály Hoppál interview in Japan. Their paper is an interesting extension of Sasamori’s studies of the itako. The gomiso treating Hoppál, Kimie Abo, who I refer to above, diagnosed her patient’s insomnia as accumulating from a number of spirits on his back. These spirits, according to Abo, are unplacated souls of the war dead of Europe who cannot enter Nirvana until they have undergone the rite of koyo. There is a strange logic in this as Western war veterans continue to suffer from what once was called ‘shell-shock’, but now is known as "combat stress". Treatment for this condition is usually by psychologists who seem, in the main, to be unaware that the suicidal depressions of these men–to take just one symptom of the condition–could be possession; and that their patients, far from needing drugs and rationalizations need much more, what Frazer referred to as "man-slayer rites". It is the cleansing action of the latter, together with the enactment of rites of incorporation like koyo, that keeps the balance between earthly and spiritual powers.

Presentations on the Americas came under the same Christian heading. Didier de Laveleye’s talk dealt with the contribution of Afro-Brazilian cults and popular Roman Catholicism in the shamanism of the Negro-Caboclos in Brazil. The therapeutic practices of the latter is called pajelance, and includes calling up the gods of the forest and rivers and requesting they straightway remove the source of the patient’s sickness. Commenting on the shamanism of the Tsachila of equatorial Mexico, Ventura i Oller stresses what is the presently enlightened Franciscan environment of these people, who are left to conduct their cures in a wholly unpretentious fashion.

Moving from the Christian to the Prehistoric Section was to find Flora Blanchon’s elegantly elaborated description of the various masks used by the Chinese divinities with protuberant eyes. I wish I had been present to see the slides which accompanied this paper. In Are the Deerstones Cosmological?, Michael Opitz argues as to why the tripartite divisions painted on Siberian and Mongolian drums may be compared to similar divisions on the deerstones. Opitz concludes that the steles were probably set up by the Scythians around the 9th century BC. A pretty piece of detective work! Sergei Arutiunov’s paper on the beliefs of Asiatic Eskimos reveals that these people believe that every working object has a soul which transmigrates to another world if it is destroyed. Presumably for them, the sight of a vandalized telephone in a Western capital would evoke only a pleasanter vision of more phones in Heaven Meanwhile, under the Christian heading, Shirish Jain talked about the Chohowas: shamans working in the Indo-Tibetan Himalayas. These practicioners always treat the spirit-related cause of the disease, and like their Hawai’i colleagues, treat the whole community if the illness is serious.

After lunch, Carla Corradi-Musi began the proceedings with Les échos des croyances et traditions funèbres dans la France du XVIIIe siècle. This is a paper which should be read with reference to Éva Pócs arcane contribution–see below. Corrado-Musi’s subtle exposition of the role of the vampire touches on the early activities of these and other supernatural grotesques in an "anti-universe". It is difficult to see how one’s approach to the "horror" genres of the arts can remain unaffected by the knowledge that the blood drunk by the vampire not only fuels its life, but is also "the vehicle of his soul". Following this came the first of a number of telling comparisons between Christian and shamanic ritual as Danièle Dehouve demonstrated how close the conversion of St. Paul is to the initiation of the Mexican shaman.

Next came Sylvie Pédron-Colombani’s report on Pentecostal trends in Guatemala where, for example, the Bible teachings legitimize what are the traditionally malign spirits of the old Mayan religion. Giovanni Pizza’s communication entitled: The Virgin and the Spider: Revisiting Spirit Possession in Southern Europe was given in English, but for some reason, despite the excellence of the delivery, I found it difficult to understand. Reading Pizza’s twisting hermeneutical arguments explained my difficulties. Clearer to me were his probings into the therapeutic goings-on of virgins, spiders, toads and peripatetic pudenda- they make for mesmerizing reading. Éva Pócs article on shamanism and witchcraft is a study which outlines to what extent the "holy seers" communicated with the dead in earlier times. It will be interesting to see if Pócs’ newly forged connections between European cults of the dead and shamanism bear any resemblance to those similar rites in Korea.

Continuing the theme of Christian and shamanic parallels is Diana Rey-Hulman deals with Guadaloup shamans called "unmentionables" and sets about describing the gadedzafe, the "sleeper", a man who manages the spiritual consultations necessary to heal, in the course of which he is ridden by a saint in much the same way as the officiants of voodoo are ridden by the loa. Bernard Roussel, in his study of the Calvinist rite of the Last Supper and the call to the spirit, posits the notion that had there been no fruits of Christ’s work on earth, then the Bible would be a dead word. Pablo Isla Villar’s offering comes in the form of a Freudian analysis of the work of the shamanic brujo in Peru. The paper notes the number of striking similarities in the conditions Freud outlines in his essay on the uncanny, and those which are insisted upon by the brujo when conducting a healing seance. It is good to see Freud’s brilliant essay being so aptly resorted to after the withering fire he has lately been subjected to by academics. Virginia de Véricourt’s paper I found rich in the parallels she draws between the Bolivian shamans and the Christian mystics. Lightning, symbolic death, and sexual ravishment appear to be elements shared by both parties The very singular nature of the elements compared make any talk of coincidence unconvincing.

The afternoon Buddhist session saw Elena Revunenkova outline the Modern Shamanic Terminology of the Telengits (South Altay). The provision of this inventory of shamanic types is timely, most items having been contributed by the elderly who have lived through the years of Soviet repression of their belief system. Natalia Zhukovskaia gives that necessary depth to shamanism by providing an interesting slice of localized shamanic history that paints in the realities, as they exist, in a Tunka village in Buryatia. More modern realities are sketched in by Beatrice Kumin, who describes a recent Buryat initiation which seemed all set to go wrong but then happily straightened itself out, as the impulse to believe is slowly resuscitated in the participants of the ritual. The situation with regard to the shamanic objects collected on the ‘Stötzner Expedition’ to Manchuria from 1927—1929 is set out by Tatiana Pang. She gives a concise account of the German’s work during a time in which he collected a number of rare shamanic objects now stored in the Museums of Ethnology in Berlin and Dresden.

In her paper The Nature of a Shamans Sacred Power, Tatiana Skrynnikova reminds one of the difficulties inherent in drawing distinctions between the black and white shamans of the Buryats and other East Asian cultures–but see D.S. Dugarov’s reference to this problem. Albina Girfanova’s report on the preservation of shamanic practices among the Udeghe had also presented difficulties with these people, there is a reluctance to enact their ritual before strangers–a disadvantage if you are trying to report on it!

Wednesday, September 3rd, saw Åke Hultkrantz give notice of the changes to the shamanic ritual of the Shoshoni as they have been brought by Christianity. With some sadness, I thought, he elaborated on the gentle slide of the Shoshoni Plains Indians from shamanism to Christianity as it is happening in the field of medicine. Thus the pursuit of the errant soul is no longer undertaken; and a Shoshoni shaman has "blacked" the training of medicine men at rock-drawing sites. Sometimes it seems the present brings not so much change as dissolution. Tatiana Bulgakova’s shows some other disadvantages that accrue when religions become syncretic Take the example of the Nanai shamaness whose "shaman-spirit" deserts her because she has hung a crucifix up amidst her shamanic paraphernalia.

Danièle Geirnaert recounts the history of a Christian conversion in Simba, and the sudden cessation of the divinatory dreams of the ancestors as an aftermath. Continuing the Christian theme, comes Daniel Kister’s paper which compares the ritual symbolic acts of Korean kut and Roman Catholic ritual. From this exercise it can be seen that the two religions aim–in uncannily similar ways–to effectively transcend, in certain broad areas, the chancy ruck of everyday life. In another report, Nathalie Luca describes the shamanic elements in Korean messianic religion. In their need to render their beliefs into a living symbolism, believers organize football matches in which the players symbolize the living; the spectators, the dead. Incidentally, this fundamental symbolism of spectator/player can be found in Grotowski’s theatre production of Acropolis in the l960’s. It is very much a millennial image. Still on a Christian theme, Juha Pentikäinen describes the old Russian faith and its adherents in his talk on the Old Believers. During the Soviet repression of their old Russian faith, they either fled Orthodox Russian persecution or committed suicide. Elena Stroganova continues the theme of converging religions by describing the complex mix of Buddhism, Christianity and shamanism followed by the Tunka Russians.

In the Islamic section Devin DeWeese was giving his paper on the Yasawi Sufi tradition and it’s problems with shamanism. His is a useful account of the shamanic myths of the Yasawi and the manner in which they were originally incorporated into shamanic ritual patterns. Following this came Vladimir Basilov’s short biography of Malike-apa. Born in 1923, she marries and soon divorces a quite vindictive husband. After a bout of initiation sickness, Malika, with some training, edges out into the local world of shamanic healing; a world which possesses all the hallmarks of universal shamanism. It is difficult not to see the husband as an instrument of the gods, driving Malika towards her destiny.

Anna-Marie Vuillemenot relates a number of tales in her paper about the ritual dances of the Sufi-Kazakh. One of these involves a shamanic combat in which a talking snake is sent as the champion of one of the warring shamans. The shaman in human form, however, is he who wins the day, swelling up as he does, like a classical berserker at the start of the fray. Thierry Zarcone continues the Sufi quest as we have it in Turkish parts of the world. Again he deals with metamorphosis, this time the way we find it in the crane dance. Bertrand Hell’s paper deals with possession as it affects the Gnawa of Morocco. As a study it conveys the niceties of possession by genies, or spirits, the rites which form the alliance with these; all as a means of confronting the vicissitudes of life. A similar Islamic theme of genies is examined in Liliane Kuczynski’s study of the contemporary Parisian scene where encounters with potentially menacing spirits are commonplace in the lives of the expatriate Marabouts.

Marjorie Balzer opened the Shamanism and Ethnicity presentations by surveying various trends of thought and feeling in her paper dealing with shamanism and nationalism as she presently sees it in the Sakha Republic. In this we have a first hand account of the movement back to old shamanic forms of ritual, healing and art. It is perhaps as well that the return of these traditions is not allowed to proceed without due–and what often appears to be–constructive criticism. Takako Yamada, on much the same trail, neatly catalogues a number of shamanic activities of the Sakha–formerly known as the Yakuts–in the early days after the Soviet ban on shamanism had been lifted. The Republic seems all set for a spiritual comeback.

Continuing in this section, Seong-nae Kim examines the Nanai claims for self-determination arguing that the Nanai environment would be better seen as a landscape: the former promising the exploitation of resources, the latter, special knowledge and the promise of a future. Takashi Irimoto similarly reviews the Ainu People’s movement towards a self-determination which would pursue a non-centralized course.

Karl Johann Gurt’s work on the shamanic call and initiation of the Nun-Chah-Nulth of Vancouver Island is a detailed account, not only of the shamanic call, but also those phenomena like animals and trees which are invested with either good or evil qualities. It is also dangerous to approach the spirits in this world, a realm which gives the impression of being a spirit-minefield. Bernard Saladin d’Anglure and Françoise Morin review the question of mystical marriage among the Peruvian Shipibo and the Canadian Inuit, and propose that the shamans of the latter do indeed have real sexual union with spirits, and that these often result in the conception and birth of progeny who may grow up to be shamans. These strange relationships have been frequently cited in this conference, and one would like to know how they square with the recorded parthogenetic conception of the Virgin Mary, who like the women of the Shipibo and Inuit, would also seem to have conceived without knowing a man physically?

The afternoon was taken up by a round table discussion on Shamanism and Possession. The chairperson here was Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan; those participating in the discussion were Ioan Lewis, Luc de Heusch and Gilbert Rouget. Olivier de Sardan, in fact, spoke first–in French–on L’opposition chamanisme possession reconsidérée. Both this, and Rouget’s later paper appeared to be missing from the texts we had been given. Lewis’ paper Possession and Shamanism: The Continuing Discussion was both printed and delivered in English. Finally, de Heusch gave his paper, Pour en revenir à la trance, in French. It was also included in our conference papers. Unfortunately there was no interpreting of those papers delivered in French, and the upshot of this was a steady exodus throughout the session of those scholars who, like myself, presumably, could not satisfactorily follow the proceedings. This was regrettable given the insights that a good multi-national discussion would have occasioned. As it was, the final issues were aired almost entirely in French, for mainly French participants. Roberte Hamayon’s defense of her own theories on trance, and the crisp exchange she had with Lewis, showed how much more interesting the proceedings might have been had English been the order of the day.

The same evening matters were redeemed to a great extent by the intervention of Marie-François Guédon, who nobly offered to summarize the afternoon’s proceedings. Hence, after supper, some half a dozen of us were treated to a resume of the theories and discussion we had missed out on. Not all of those who had complained about the afternoon’s events were present, however, and it is to be hoped that Guedon’s competent summarizing of these might be published in some form or other at a later date.

The afternoon brought–under the aegis of Representations of the Spirits, an initial paper by Jean-Jacques Nattiez on shamanistic chanting games that take place in the circumpolar–wherever that may be. In this he examines the competitive nature of the Inuit chants in which the motif is chosen, begun and changed without warning. If one of the two women contestants gets out of breath or breaks the cheerful routine, she loses. More specific matters come in Galina Sychenko’s Shaman Singing of the South Siberian Turkic Peoples and the Entrance-into-Trance Technique, a nicely technical paper full of those precise musical terms that you can never find when you want to use them. Peter Knecht tells us what a spirit really says in a kuchiyose session, giving us a more detailed account of the itako’s role in controlling the spirits by means of the rhythms in which she speaks. Thus, although she may lose her rhythm in the excitement of the seance, she will snap back into it as a matter of course. Which reminds one that good narrative–to be believed–needs have the same ineluctable rhythm.

Béatrice David, tells how the manmaipo in China is brought in to both to create and play the divining spirit that finally possesses her, thus opening up a series of symbolic actions that help, for instance, the young man being sued for debt. Christine Bergé illuminates a formal and therapeutic European ritual enacted by mediums in Lyon. In that it calls back the dead, it would appear to be analogous to certain Korean, Japanese and Siberian rituals of this type. But which tradition does the Lyonaise ritual stem from? How old is it? Are the mediums operating today?

Christine Gaenszler’s paper deals with divine presences on ritual journeys in East Nepal, and hers is an account laden with details about the shamanic journeys charted through the landscape of origin myths and the divinatory dividends accruing from these. Gaenszle’s deliberate eschewing of the word "trance", and her frequent use of the word "performance" makes for an innovative touch to the paper. More literary in tone comes Worlds Apart: Representation of Spirits in a Nepalese Novel by Marie Lecompte-Tilouine; a paper which gives a thoroughgoing shamanic interpretation of the work. In the latter, the satire on the British Raj appears to be even more deadly than much of the political satire we find in Swift. The literary theme is continued by Nicole Revel’s paper on the epic and its relation to Philippino shamanism. Her article draws together those parallels common to both epic and utterances in shamanic initiation ritual. The catechism which proceeds the shamanic voyages has the same singular tones of those catechisms which take place before the voyages of the soul in The Egyptian Book of the Dead, where secret answers in the memory would have created an invincible bridge between this world and the next. Brigitte Baptandier’s paper reports on the soldier spirits of Taoist ritual as it is practiced in Lushan, outlining the topography which is drawn symbolically on the presiding shaman’s own body in order to cure by such rituals as the "manifester les Soldats". The process is complex and includes judging and condemning the demons responsible for the illness.

Bertrand Didier’s report, in the section entitled Ritual and Society, gives us a trenchant and detailed outline of Cambodian cults of possession. It is interesting to note that because the due rites were not conducted for them, the spirits of the Pol-Pot war-dead returned in order to raise the money necessary for their performance. Laurel Kendall’s paper gives us a tightly-knit commentary on the see-sawing fortunes of Korean shamanism amidst the jostle of Christians, politicians and the police. The politicians of today appear to have cleverly formulated a "theatre of shamanism" which stultifies shamanic ritual at the same time as it makes it acceptable. Monique Selim’s contribution, is a wide-ranging account of the Laotian spirit world and its relation with the once dominant Buddhist world and the present communist government. While Buddhism "desacralized" the spirits so they fitted into the reigning political system, the present government tried unsuccessfully to repress them by sending in the military who were duly cursed and became ill because of this.

Aleksandra Kim takes a look at the descriptions of the various forms of Selkup sacrifice. The study is linguistic, searching, and useful. Finally, Martine Wadbled’s puts together the widely diverse marquetry that constitutes the Thanh religion, comprising as it does of Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian elements together with Guardian spirits, demons, mother name only a few.

Thursday afternoon’s offerings under the rubric of Representations of the Spirits began with. François Gründ’s study on the Kerala shamans. In this she limns in what appears to be a parallel shamanic divinatory ritual to the Kathakali theatre of the region. Both these forms of enaction employ macabre forms of costume and makeup to achieve their ends. Would the existence of this shamanic ritual argue for Kathakali theatre having shamanic origins? My own paper arguing for the presence of shamanic elements in Japanese Noh theatre followed: The comments that followed this were extremely helpful. Theresa Ki-ja Kim’s paper on a Korean healing session of an unbalanced young woman, relates that she is whipped with literally hundreds of peach branches in order to exorcise the spirit possessing her. The treatment–unlike the Western therapy that preceded it–was successful. However, it is generally known that a proportion of those undergoing such whippings, die from them. With real liveliness and wit, Irit Averbuch revealed the different possessions, maskings and reversals that take place in Japanese kagura dance performances. Finally one has to ask who is possessing who: the god, man; or the man, god? Surely all dancers perform in trance, though, light though it may be?

Jarich Oosten’s Shamanic Play maintains that shamanic play is an integral part of universal play as Huizinga and Bateson define it. Play can be fun; it can also be a terrible activity, for play is pervaded by paradoxes. Oosten analyses the various forms of play without ever implying he expects his words to be the last on the subject. Heonik Kwon’s The Bear and the Shaman in East Siberia sets out a series analogues of hunting and marriage which helps to neatly dovetail Eliade and Sternberg’s conflicting priorities of these two activities. In turn, Martino Nicoletti describes the rituals of the Kulunga Rai in East Nepal. These people celebrate a now defunct hunting scene with a ritualized version of this, one that has transformed itself into a voyage of pilgrimage into the forest where everyone hopes to share in a magic form of prosperity. Véronique Duchesne looks at an Ivory Coast society called the Anyi, and describes the relationship between certain invisible spirits called boson and the initiands of their cult: komian. The latter either emulate their beloved spirits or are punished accordingly, sometimes fatally. Frédéric Laugrand and François Trudel’s paper is a brief description of the spirits resorted to by the Inuit through their shamans on Baffin Island–all this being contained in a century old list compiled by a linguistically gifted British missionary.

In the afternoon, Ritual and Society became the subject for discussion; the first paper being Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière’s description of a Burmese cult in which initiated men and women (naguedo) marry spirits called Naq. The spirit’s marriage to a woman allows it to incarnate itself into the community. Next came Josiane Cauquelin’s account a series of Taiwanese Puyuma myths which elaborates on the movement of these people from hunting to agriculture, even while still remaining shamanistic in their belief system. This is just one of a number of papers which would repay study by folklorists and those interested in the origins of art.

Robert Crépeau analyses Kaingang and Bororo shamanism, and sets about making sense of the systems of moeities, the disposition of shamanic forces and the contrasting layouts of these people’s homes and villages. Pierre Lemonnier describes the fairly gruesome rites of the ombi, or spirits who–in New Guinea–feast on the putrescent flesh of the dead. That shamans can be found to oppose such monsters, even when helped by a team of spirit familiars, is in itself a miracle. Jong-won Shin’s presentation of the hazards of shamans working in China at the time of the Three Kingdoms is a quaint document: "Towards the end of the Packjae dynasty, they happened to excavate a turtle, on its back...(was) written, Packjae is like a full moon, and Silla like a new moon." The king asked the meaning of this. Mu (the shaman) answered, "The full moon will wane ... a new moon will wax. The king became angry and killed him." One would have liked to know more about how events turned out. Giovanni Stary’s writes about the Manchu clan-registers and their relevance to Manchu shamanic practices. The list provides an interesting list of does-and-don’ts that presumably were incorporated into the name register of the clan. These registers are somewhat reminiscent of the seemingly tedious list of politicians provided almost daily in the Chinese Press, although the Chinese and the China-watchers know that changes in the order of names and the frequent omission of them, spell out the true state of the nation.

The evening brought a beautifully filmed initiation rite of a young Ivory Coast woman. Her body covered white with flour or ash, surrounded by a cheerful crowd, her ordeal came when she had finally to choose one of two upturned buckets, one of these concealing the packet she was supposed to find. Several feints, and then that last fateful run, the swooping grip on ... the right one! The laughing crowd converges on her. And if she had chosen the wrong one? Well, they rarely did; but when it did happen the girl was taken off to the jungle Her fate was not made particularly clear to me.

Friday saw a host of papers given on neo-shamanism, the first of these being Danièle Vazeilles’ wide-ranging survey of the various neo-shamanic movements, though one wonders whether all of these can, or even should be called shamanic, except in the case the American Indian medicine men. K. P. Köpping’s paper brings to light the very real prophetic life of the Japanese lady, Mrs. Kitamura, whose self-and-spirit dialogue on tapes suggests a current rather than ripples of knowledge concerning the future Her ordeals, possession; her gradually developing vision and peculiarly shamanic initiation make one realize what has to be withstood in order to become a true founder of a religion.

Boudewijn Walraven gives us a good idea of what the new-style shaman of Korea is up to; notably, publishing more academic works to do with shamanism. These authors are also resorting to other media like TV and radio to spread their message. Keith Howard and Francesca Tarocco’s report on Korean state sponsorship of shamanic rituals and performance tends to confirm Kendall’s views about the unpleasantly ambiguous, even treacherous course, the Korean shaman is trying to steer between sacred and profane activities. One possible answer would be to set up a shamanic institute and then create committees which would draw up two separate codes of practice for shamans; one covering the sacred sphere: rituals and such like; the other covering the profane: entertainment, and communication through the media. Surely without such codes a Korean shaman will never be quite sure to what court he is playing. Magali Demanget’s paper is about the entertaining mix of tourists who descend on a Mexican Indian village; about the curanderos, or local shamans; the cult of the Champignon Sacre, and what she terms the reconstruction of shamanic space.

The afternoon began with Nikolai Sukhachev’s evaluation of Mircea Eliade’s main works which was probing, but succinct. That Eliade was happy that the literati would read his Le Chamanisme helps one to see why the book is so deliberately literary and beguiling, without the edginess that usually marks the scientific classic. Claire-Claude Kappler sets out the criteria for deciding on whether neo-shamanism exists within our Western society, but perhaps wisely arrives at no hard and fast conclusions. One looks forward to an expanded version of her paper.

Ruth-Inge Heinze, in asking if shamanism has become something else in our time, gives a fine, pungent summing up of the dangers of so-called shamanic workshops. Her timely interventions in cases where the trance or pseudo-shamanic procedure has run dangerously out of control make one wonder whether the ISSR could not itself set up an advisory committee for those groups which would, in return for the advice, agree to refrain from calling themselves shamanic. To wind up the conference came Lucia Kilian’s report on the rarefied shamanic beliefs in Pachiquiyla where dreams and black and white shamans play out weird scenarios in order to keep the peace in this naturally communist community.

Thus ended a conference which was extremely rewarding in the depth and scope of the papers given, the discussion, and the human contacts made. Difficult though it is to discern any particular trend of themes, it seemed to me that there were more papers which related shamanism to Christianity and other religions. There was also a constellation of papers about spirit marriages. One needs to know more about the nitty-gritty of these relationships for they are difficult to envisage, embedded as they are in the irrational sphere of sex.

The General Meeting of the Society which, due to the early departure of certain delegates, had to be convened at short notice on the Thursday, was meagerly attended. During the proceedings it was decided that the next ISSR Conference would be held in Siberia, and that the Society’s reasonably augmented membership fee would also include the subscription to Shaman. This arrangement should surely have been put in place years ago. Finally thanks must go to the Organizing Committee whose members worked so hard to make the Conference a success: Roberte Hamayon, who seemed to be everywhere at once, and to forget nothing; Josiane Cauquelin who–with an incredible show of energy, rustled up the video-films each evening; also Ann de Sales who found time during all else she was doing to welcome colleagues to what was a distinguished conference.

Tae-gon Kim was mentioned by many and missed by all.



Report on the General Assembly of the International Society for Shamanistic Research, Chantilly, 4 September 1997, 12.00 pm

Keith Howard (London)


1. Presidential Report by Mihály Hoppál

a) Society history. The ISSR was formed in 1988 in Zagreb, and has held conferences in Seoul, Budapest and Nara (1991, 1993, 1995).

b) Kim Tae-gon, our late co-president, died in early 1996; two Russian colleagues, and one Finnish colleague have also died. (A moment of silence was observed.)

c) Financial report. The Budapest conference (1993) balanced income and expenditure. In Nara (1995), 24 people paid membership dues (total $240); these were used to pay for secretarial support. To produce and distribute the newsletter cost $800; 5 cheques have been received since then, but a deficit remains of around $300. Newsletters and five books have been published, funded partly by Akadémiai Kiadó, but these publications are really activities of the ISSR.

d) To overcome the difficulty of funding the organisation the subscription to ISSR will from now onward be incorporated into the subscription to the journal Shaman. Shaman, then, is the official journal of the ISSR.

e) The ISSR must continue to help those colleagues who come from ethnic minorities, particularly from the former Soviet Union and China.

f) Plans.

i. The publication programme will continue the production of Shaman (supporting minority scholarship) and the Bibliotheca Shamanistica series (the planned sequence comprises collected Diószegi papers, Hoppál papers, then other manuscripts).

ii. To open the Diószegi archive, which included extensive materials collected from USSR in 1950s—1960s, to scholars. At the same time the collection of submitted works from scholars around the world will be made available for research, and it is hoped to put much of the holding on CD-Rom.

iii. If these plans are followed through, they amply demonstrate that the ISSR has a role in the future.

g) Proposal. UNESCO has launched ‘Living Human Treasure’ scheme throughout the world. ISSR should be involved, to promote shamans and their survival through nomination as ‘Treasures’.

2. Venue of the 5th ISSR Conference (1999)

Prof. Dulam proposed Ulan Bator, Mongolia, as the venue for 1999. He expressed a hope that UNESCO funding could be obtained to assist with the organisational costs, since the economic situation in Mongolia is difficult. He outlined historical connections and the timely nature of choosing Mongolia: Genghiz Khan has been cited as greatest figure of the last millennium; 1999 brings in the 99th Heaven in Mongol cosmology. His proposal asked for one person each area of the world to act as local coordinator, thereby facilitating networking.

There were no other proposals; Prof. Dulam’s proposal was accepted by a unanimous show of hands.

3. Election of President

Laurel Kendall presented a nomination on behalf of the scientific committee to re-elect Mihály Hoppál as ISSR President. Clarification was sought on the term of office: the president is elected for 2 years, and must then stand for re-election. The membership voted to re-elect Mihály Hoppál.

Prof. Balzer suggested that in principal all members of society should be invited to all conferences; practitioners should not be excluded and the ISSR should be more liberally inclusive. Prof. Hamayon explained the discussions lying behind the organisation of the Chantilly meeting, and particularly the need to restrict discussions to academic debate in order to qualify for French institutional funding.

4. Propositions and Proposals (any other business)

a) Prof. Hamayon was thanked for her hard work and successful organisation of the Chantilly conference.

b) Ádám Molnár was introduced to the membership as the responsible editor for the journal, Shaman, to whom subscriptions and papers should be sent.

c) 33 people were present at the general assembly; the meeting closed at 12.47pm.

(Published in Shaman 6/1. 79-93)