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Healing the Soul

Their first pupils became the ancestors of the later families of smiths.


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The smiths sacrificed a horse and tore out its heart. The animal's soul is said to have rejoined the celestial smith. Nine young men play the part of Boshintoi's nine sons, and the man incarnating the heavenly smith falls into a trance and relates how in olden times he sent his son to civilize human beings, then he touches the fire with his tongue.

It is an interesting fact that among many Mongolian and Turkish tribes, the term for 'smith' darkhan means both 'hero' and 'free horseman'. There is also a Mongolian tradition that Genghis Khan was originally a smith. In the mythology of many ancient cultures divine smiths forge weapons for the gods. Thus the Vedic Indian divine artisan Tvastar, the 'shaper or fashioner', is also called the 'earliest born' Rigveda 1, 13, He fashioned the sacrificial ladle and the chalice of the gods.

As early as BCE, the technology of metalworking in India was well established, as attested by the beautiful bronze figures dating from that time. The craftsmen themselves were highly respected members of the community. Certain metals are said to possess healing properties as described in Ayurvedic medicine. In Delhi there is a famous solid iron pillar, 7. European metallurgists were unable to make such large castings until the nineteenth century. Curiously enough the iron shows no signs of wear or rust - a fact that so far no one can explain.

The Egyptian god Ptah was the god of craftsmen, and the Babylonian Mummu personified technical skill, as did the Phoenician Chusor and the Greek Hephaistos. In Northern mythology, Thor has the sacred hammer which is the thunderbolt.

The Blood Shaman

The artisan Koshar forged clubs for Baal which could be hurled great distances. As smiths are able to make shamanistic ritual ornaments they must possess supernatural skills as well as 'peculiar fingers'. Trance, ecstasy and possession by spirits are the same thing in some forms of shamanizing. Students of religion call ecstasy trance and psychopathologists refer to it as ecstasy.


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Genuine ecstasy is a psychogenic reaction according to the dictates of the visionary's mind, so expressing the conscious and unconscious desires of the ecstatic shaman. The idea of 'flight', 'riding' and 'speed' with reference to shamans are all figurative expressions for ecstasy, which is controlled throughout the ritual in conformity with traditional prescriptions. Trance is not a non-conscious state: 'the shaman is in a non-ordinary psychic state which in some cases means not a loss of consciousness but rather an altered state of consciousness'.

The altered state is entered at will in order to gain knowledge and the power to help others. Furthermore, the shamanic trance does not resemble that of the Western medium who cannot remember what occurred within the trance state. There are many degrees of trance although the various types tend to merge. In its most extreme form 'it is a conventionalized ritualism in which the shaman's psychomental complex does not differ from that of his common behaviour, thus he is only a "performer" '.

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When the shaman experiences possession he either invites the spirits to enter him or they themselves seek to enter him. As they are socially approved of these spirits are regarded as benign. Possession always occurs with psychic dissociation when the shaman's own personality becomes submerged. Curiously enough in Christianity this dissociation paves the way for antisocial and antireligious forces in the personality, leading to demonic possession, as in the case of nuns and others during the Middle Ages when the Church succeeded in turning most of Europe into a madhouse.

When experiencing ecstasy the shaman's pulse races, but at the culminating moment of deep trance it is hardly perceptible. Even old men become agile and shamanesses gain the strength of several grown men. The excitatory mental states resulting from sensory overloading and emotional arousal require great physical and mental exertion by dancing, drumming and singing - such states of high emotion are caught by the audience, and somewhat resemble those of Christian revivalist meetings and the experiences of members of the charismatic churches.

The auto-hypnotic trance state is characterized by dissolving the boundaries of the mundane world in which everyday things are but fragments of existence artificially removed from the wholeness of being and then given 'a relative sense of meaning; entities that do not really exist for us except in a conditioned way'.

As a competent shaman can bring about and control ecstasy voluntarily it cannot be classed as a form of epilepsy since an ordinary patient cannot control the illness. Some minor shamans receive the god's commands in dreams, visions or by the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms such as the fly agaric or by narcotics. When mind-altering drugs are taken, the unconditioned world appears radiant, a fact attested by many individuals who have used such drugs.

Everything is experienced simultaneously independently of temporal sequence. Thus time is abolished. All colours are greatly enhanced. In Siberia the fly agaric induced ecstatic visions and a feeling of communication with the divine. The curious effects of this powerful drug were the basis of a number of traditional descriptions of the Christian and Islamic heavens. Sometimes alcohol, especially vodka, was used for the same purpose.

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The shamanic performances usually take place in darkness or semi-darkness which removes the distractions of ordinary reality. Thus the shaman can literally 'see' in darkness things and future events imperceptible to ordinary people. The Tsingala Ostyak shaman offers sacrifices to Sanke, a celestial shining god.

Then he eats three mushrooms and falls into a trance. Female shamans use the same method. Songs are sung to Sanke which contain information learned on the shaman's ecstatic journey to the supreme being, for songs penetrate the barrier between human beings and the spirit world. Sometimes the journey occurs during a cataleptic trance when he appears to be dead, his soul having left the body.

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The distance that the powerful durid dragonfly shamans of the Kets could travel in trance depended on the number of helping spirits who were arranged in rows, seven to a row. Frenzied dancing also causes trance accompanied by increased suggestibility, making the performer immune to all fears.

The Greek Maenads, worshippers of Dionysus god of wine, used alcohol and other drugs to achieve 'transformation'. They danced in violent abandon on the mountains accompanied by the persistent heavy beat of the tympanum, the eerie smoky light of torches and their own shrieks and yells.

Such intense erotic excitement also contributed to producing the final state of ekstasis standing outside oneself and enthousiasmos possession by the god. The Maenads saw visions and were endowed with supernatural strength, tearing live animals to pieces and eating the flesh. During the rite the women's personalities were temporally displaced by altered states of consciousness.

The animals embodied the god Dionysus, and eating them enabled the eater to add the animal's life to hers and to attain unity with the deity, for 'blood is the life' as the Hebrews believe.

Healing the Soul

Thus the essence of the Eucharist was undoubtedly the magical effect ascribed to the bodily communion with Christ by partaking, albeit symbolically, his body and blood. In some cultures it was highly regarded, in others devalued.

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In most early beliefs the supreme being was always connected with 'height' which itself was regarded as sacred. The supreme gods were called 'He on high', or 'He of the sky', although later the sky gods lost their predominance, but this did not nullify the religious symbolism of ascent. For wherever it is found it denotes the transcending of the human condition to reach higher planes. Sometimes the shaman uses a ladder with which he ascends to the sky. Gods and dead souls are said to descend to earth by means of ladders.

The Egyptian god of the dead states that 'I set up a ladder to heaven among the gods'. A number of amulets in the form of ladders have been found in the tombs of the early dynasties. Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching Heaven on which angels ascended and descended Genesis Similarly Mohammad saw a ladder with angels in the Jerusalem temple. It reached to Heaven and by it virtuous souls reached Allah. St John Climaeus symbolized the phases of spiritual ascent by a ladder. Ladder symbolism was also used by some Christian mystics.

The Altaians sometimes perform a horse sacrifice when the shaman is about to ascend to the sky. A new yurt is erected in a meadow. A young birch tree is stripped of its lower branches and placed inside.

Nine steps are cut into the trunk. A small 'fence' of birch twigs surround the yurt and a birch stick with a knot of horsehair on it is placed at the entrance. A light-coloured horse pleasing to the deity is chosen. A man holds the animal's head and the shaman shakes a birch branch over the horse's back to force its soul to leave its body and prepare for the flight to the celestial world of the god Bai Ulgen. The shaman enters the yurt, fumigates his drum and invokes his helping spirits to enter it. Each spirit is addressed by name and each replies: 'I am here, kamV The shaman appears to be catching the spirits in his drum and then leaves the yurt.

In ancient India and North and Central Asia there were a number of bird cults associated with local deities. In Vedic India the semi-divine goose hamsa was closely associated with the sun as it is in shamanism. The bird also represented knowledge and the life force or cosmic breath. The Egyptian sun god Amon Ra flew in the form of a goose over the primordial waters and its honking was the first sound ever made. The shaman pursues the soul of the horse which is supposed to have fled. With the help of the audience he drives the horse's soul into the fenced area and mimes its capture.

He blesses the animal and kills it, again with the help of the assembly, by breaking its backbone and without a drop of blood falling on the ground or on to the sacrificer. The skin and bones are hung up on a long pole and an offering is made to the ancestors and tutelary spirits of the yurt. The flesh is eaten ceremonially. The next evening the most important part of the ceremony is performed. The shaman offers horse meat to the Masters of the Drum, that is, to the spirits personifying the shamanic powers of his family. He sings and also addresses the Masters of Fire, eats the meat and distributes some to the assembly.

Then, as an offering to Bai Ulgen, he fumigates nine garments hung up on a rope which are donated by the owner of the yurt. The shaman sings, calling on many spirits and the members of Bai Ulgen's family. Finally, he invokes Markut, the mythical Bird of Heaven. He imitates its cry and drops one shoulder as if under the weight of the great bird.