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Piers Vitebsky


Voyages of the soul: trance, ecstasy and healing from Siberia to the Amazon

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

This is a popular, richly illustrated introduction to shamanism. It has five main sections: The Shamanistic World View, Regional Traditions, Becoming a Shaman, Shamans and Clients, and Understanding Shamans. Vitebsky has done a lot of field work and is prepared to take shamanism seriously. His view is that shamanistic experiences represent a basic function of the human mind.

Perhaps because the book is intended for readers who know next to nothing about the subject there is no real discussion of the difficulty of defining shamanism. And it is hard to know where Vitebsky is situated in relation to the 'reality' of shamanism. Carlos Castaneda is cited with no indication of any doubt about the authenticity of his research. A curious photograph of a rite in Nepal on pp.20-21 has some coloured bands of light which are supposed to show what the spirits look like to the shamans. To me, they look like an artefact produced by internal reflection, but Vitebsky simply comments that the photograph is published here for the first time, with the permission of the shamans. The possibility that it really does show spirit forms seems to be left open.

The book contains some interesting information but I found it less useful than I expected. For some reason the publishers have chosen to use coloured paper for a number of the pages, often with print that is hardly distinguishable from its background; this makes them almost impossible to read.

15 March 2009

%T The Shaman
%S Voyages of the soul: trance, ecstasy and healing from Siberia to the Amazon
%A Vitebsky, Piers
%I Duncan Baird Publishers
%C London
%D 2001
%G ISBN 1-903296-18-8
%P 182pp
%K ethnography
%O illustrated
%O first published by Macmillan in 1995

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