Friday, February 18, 2011

Shamanism As Evolutionary Medicine


Although it appears that our paleo ancestors inhabiting temperate and tropical ecosystems had no modern diet-related diseases, they did suffer dis-eases, and universally had "medicine men," also known among anthropologists as "shamans."   As a medical system, shamanism maintains that many apparently physical dis-eases have spiritual causes.  Indigenous/shamanic tribal cultures “believe” that spirits exist and play roles in individual, tribal, and ecological health. Shamanic interventions address traumas affecting the soul/spirit through direct interaction with the spiritual realm, achieved through altered states of consciousness that provide entrance to a non-ordinary reality.

All this talk of spirits certainly makes anxiety for modern “scientific” atheists and some Judeo-Christian religionists alike.  The former will dismiss such talk as mumbo-jumbo without empirical basis, a threat to rationality and logic.  They will tend to dismiss shamanism as dealing with non-existent “supernatural” entities.  Some of the latter believe that for some odd reason the One True God chose to reveal himself and the Rules for the Right Way of Life only to the members of several middle Eastern desert tribes, leaving everyone else in the dark. Some of these also believe that their God gave these chosen people not only the right but the duty to convert all other tribes to their faith and way of life, if not by persuasion then by force, perhaps basing their belief on some passages in the Bible such as these found in Deuteronomy 12:1-4:

"1-These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the LORD God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth.

"2-Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree:

"3-And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place."

These people call non-believers by various names like heretic, infidel, heathen, pagan, and so on, and some of them have called shamanic culture "demonic." 

In either case, shamanism directly competes with the “authorities.”  Atheists may consider shamans a threat to the authority of "reason," science, and scientists, and some religionists certainly consider shamans a threat to the authority of their faith, dogma, and priests.  Shamanism comes from non-hierarchical tribal culture in which no one has ultimate authority over another, and thus it conflicts with civilization and all types of authority.

To illustrate the modern discomfort with shamanism, in 1892,  in a speech at the Smithsonian Institution, John Bourke called shamans “an influence antagonistic to the rapid absorption of new customs”  and said “only after we have thoroughly routed the medicine men from their entrenchments and made them an object of ridicule can we [whites] hope to bend and train the minds of our Indian wards in the direction of civilization.” 

Shamanism as Experimental Science

Khakas Shaman. Source:  Wikipedia
Shamanism refers to a universal conceptual framework found among indigenous, uncivilized (i.e. politically unstratified), tribal humans.  It includes the “belief” that nature (the world) has two aspects, the ordinary world,  accessed through ordinary consciousness, and the spiritual world, accessed through an altered state of consciousness, or “trance,” induced by shamanic practices such as repetitive drumming, fasting, or herbal drugs.   According to shamanic theory, the spiritual and ordinary worlds interact continuously, and a shamanic practitioner can gain knowledge about how to alter or to guide interaction with ordinary reality by taking direct action in the spiritual aspect of the world.

Importantly, according to the shamanic perspective, the spiritual realm is NOT what both atheists and theists would call "supernatural."  The spiritual realm described by shamans does not lie outside of nature or experience.  On the contrary, just like gravitational force and the subatomic realm of quarks and photons, also invisible in ordinary states of consciousness, the shamanic spiritual realm occurs as part and parcel of nature.

I put the words “belief” in quotation marks because, unlike modern religious beliefs, the shamanic “belief” in a dual aspect world is not faith-based.  Rather, it arises from direct and replicable experiences induced by specific, repeatable procedures.  That makes it an experimental science, not a faith system.

To wit, the indigenous belief in a spiritual realm and spiritual entities is no more “mystical” than the belief that the typical modern educated individual has in quarks and other subatomic particles.  In fact, it may be less so. 

The typical modern person’s belief in subatomic particles is based on hearsay and authority, not on direct experience.   To get anything like a direct experience of subatomic particles, you have to go through a certain procedure.   You have to complete adequate training in the conceptual framework known as modern physics, which will prepare you to perform certain types of experiments and supply you with the conceptual tools you will need to interpret certain types of data (e.g. particle movements in a cloud chamber) as evidence of the existence of quarks.  Very few people have completed the required training and experiments, which makes modern physics a type of non-ordinary knowledge of a non-ordinary reality accessed directly by only a few people, the high priests of physics.  The rest of us accept their description of subatomic worlds on faith.

In contrast, the typical tribal human’s belief in a spiritual realm inhabited by spiritual entities is based on personal direct experience of that realm and those entities by following certain experimental procedures, i.e. inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness using shamanic techniques such as repetitive drumming, fasting, vision quests, dreams, or herbal drugs. Thus, we should not confuse neolithic religious belief with paleolithic religious experience. The average modern believer in God does so not based on experience, but on doctrine or hearsay.  In contrast, shamans don't "believe" in spirits, they actually know and work with them directly in altered states of consciousness.

I want to emphasize that the shamans' claims about a spiritual realm are as scientific as the physicists' claims about quarks.  They are open to confirmation by experimental procedure.  If you have not performed the experiments yourself, you really are not in a position to deny the claims of the shamans or the physicists.  Similarly, if you want to confirm (or dispute) the claims made on basis of these experiments, whether shamanic or modern physics, you will have to do the conceptual training and the experiments yourself.

The rub here is the personal difficulty and discipline involved in replicating shamanic experiments compared to physics experiments.  I mean, performing basic physics experiments does not involve anything as physically or mentally arduous as extended fasting, vision questing, or controlled entrancement.  But you can't be an armchair shaman any more than you can be an armchair subatomic particle physicist. 

Although called by some “trance,”  I put the word “trance” in quotation marks because it is typically taken to imply a “false” state of mind, when it does not.  In fact, people enter “trances” regularly as a part of ordinary life.  If you have found yourself so engrossed in an activity that you had an altered perception of time, you have been in trance.  If you have ever driven somewhere, then, upon arriving, wondered at how you did not remember doing the driving, you were “entranced” during that drive.  If you have ever experienced “the zone” of peak performance, you have been entranced.

In fact, shamanic "trance" differs from the usual "trance" in that the practitioner must tread into "trance" territory without losing control of his intent.  It is this need to harness the ordinarily quite restless mind that makes shamanic experimentation with "trance" more difficult and arduous than physical experiments which require control only of isolated physical events.

Shamanic Experiences Versus Cognicentrism

In fact, we have absolutely no way of determining which of the many waking states of consciousness we experience is the "real” state.  Michael Harner, an anthropologist who specialized in studying shamanism, wrote a book  The Way of the Shaman in which he discussed the hostility that 'authorities' express toward shamanic knowledge of alternate realities such as presented by Carlos Castaneda in his series of books reporting his experiences under the tutelage of don Juan, a Yaqui “sorcerer:”

"To understand the deep-seated, emotional hostility that greeted the works of Castaneda...one needs to keep in mind that this kind of prejudice is involved. It is the counterpart of ethnocentrism....But in this case it is not the narrowness of someone's cultural experience that is the fundamental issue, but the narrowness of someone's conscious experience. The persons most prejudiced against the concept of nonordinary reality are those who have never experienced it. This might be termed cognicentrism...." 

Natural Selection of Shamanic Practices

Using the principle of natural selection as a guide, Harner also addresses the prejudice that the ordinary state of consciousness (OSC) is real reality, while the altered shamanic state of consciousness (SSC) is illusion:


"Some might argue that the reason we spend most of our waking lives in the OSC is that natural selection intended it that way because that is the real reality, and that other states of consciousness, other than sleep, are aberrations that interfere with our survival.  In other words, such an argument might go, we perceive reality the way we do because that is always the best way in terms of survival. 

But recent advances in neurochemistry show that the human brain carries its own consciousness-altering drugs, including hallucinogens such as dimethyltryptamine.  In terms of natural selection, it seems unlikely that they would be present unless their capacity to alter the state of consciousness could confer some advantage for survival.  It would appear that Nature itself has made a decision that an altered state of consciousness is sometimes superior to an ordinary state. 

We are only beginning in the West to start appreciating the important impact the state of mind can have on what have previously been too often perceived as questions of purely 'physical' capability.  When, in an emergency, and Australian aborigine shaman or a Tibetan lama engages in "fast traveling"--a trance or SSC technique for running long distances at a rapid rate--that is clearly a survival technique which, by definition, is not possible in the OSC."


Since shamanic practices and knowledge are human universals, I conclude that evolution by natural selection favored the survival of shamanism.  In other words, the fact that shamanism occurs in all tribal cultures indicates that it enhances survival.   If shamanism didn't enhance survival then the people who relied on shamans would have died out, not spread universally.  As a corollary, shamanism must tell us something important about the constituents of the world/nature, or it wouldn’t have survival value.  

On the same evolutionary basis that we expect ancestral diets to have therapeutic effects for diet-related diseases, we can expect ancestral medicine--i.e. shamanism--to have strong clinical efficacy when appropriately applied.  This would also apply to interventions having strong similarities to shamanic practices, such as hypnotherapy, biofeedback, and other psychophysiological interventions exploiting the mind-body relationship.

Shamanic Intervention Clinical Trial

Shamanism maintains that physical dis-ease may arise from disturbances of the spirit, and consequently that by addressing the traumas affecting the soul/spirit through direct interaction with the spiritual realm, we can restore health.   If efficacious, this would make it an important medical method to apply in cases that do not respond to dietary, physical, or chemical treatment.

According to shamanism, dispiritedness can cause dis-ease.  In case an individual exhibits signs of dispiritedness, a shaman will take steps to restore the spirit through shamanic interventions including direct interaction with non-ordinary reality. 

Vuckovic et al  decided to put the shamanic perspective to the test.  They recruited 23 women suffering from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) who had not responded to conventional treatment.  They randomly assigned each woman to 1 of 4 shamanic practitioners.  Each woman attended 5 shamanic healing sessions.

The team evaluated the outcome using several measures  including change from baseline to posttreatment in diagnosis of TMDs by Research Diagnostic Criteria (RDC) exam and participant self-ratings on the "usual" pain, "worst" pain, and functional impact of TMDs subscales of the RDC Axis II Pain Related Disability and Psychological Status Scale.  They performed evaluations at 1, 3, 6, and 9 month follow-ups.

As a result of this intervention, of the 23 women who started the study, only 4 had a clinical diagnosis of TMD at the end of the study, an 83% cure rate.  Self-rated usual pain and worst pain declined by about 50%, and functional impact of the pain declined by about two-thirds.   

Keeping in mind that these individuals did not respond at all to conventional medical therapies for TMD, shamanic intervention had an astounding cure rate. In fact, given that most of conventional medicine only achieves chemical management or surgical removal of a diseased process or tissue, not cure, this shamanic intervention may actually have greater therapeutic power than the conventional approach focused on 'physical' reality.  Its like the difference between managing diabetes with medications, and curing it by use of a paleo diet.   

Thus, it appears that shamanic practices, like paleo diet, may qualify as evolutionary medicine, that is, the medicine to which humans are naturally adapted. 

37 comments:

The Tiny Homestead said...

great post topic! I know very little about shamism, but I did see a shaman once for a chronic issue I was having and just 1 session fixed me up for several months, whereas acupuncture was needed almost weekly and conventional medicine required a daily pill.

Greg said...

Great perspective! And what a great study!

I don't think we can say that shamanism solely through experience is at the same level of science as particle physics. A physicist has tools (independent observers) that are detecting the results. The physicist must interpret those results (as indicating particles), but at a minimum we can be certain that there is an unbiased machine at work collecting the data. If we had reproducible CAT scans of brains when they enter a shamanic state, then we would have an independent tool collecting data, and a scientist interpreting it, similar to physics. But we would also have an individual experiencing it, greatly enhancing the data.

Don said...

Tiny,

Interesting.

Greg,

"...and a scientist interpreting it, similar to physics."

there you said it, "a scientist interpreting it." There is no escape from subjectivity, or better, intersubjectivity. Machines do not make things more objective, because we always have a subject interpreting the machine data. There is no essential difference between the physics and the shamanic experience. If two people use the same procedure and report similar results (experiences) from a shamanic procedure, we have the best we can get, an intersubjective confirmation.

Dominic DiCarlo said...

I certainly agree that shamanism ruffles the feathers of the scientific community and the community of believers, at least in the Judeo-Christian camp.

The authorities of religion -especially missionaries - made it their goal to exterminate the practice. Even early on, Buddhism competed with the tradition; and Daosim has its roots in shamanism. Shamanism is the most primal of experiences & has an extensive history up to the 20th century. In fact, the history of Europe is filled with sidebars on the occult, an underground movement that really plagiarized the shamanic tradition to suit their purposes. Once travels to lands outside of Europe began in earnest, colonialism became the shaman's terror. And it worked both ways -the Jesuits were terrified of what they experienced in these primal communities. Nonetheless, the Judeo-Christian authorities had issues of their own with their own underground movements - the mystical tradition. It became too much for them when that tradition morphed into witchcraft - more terror followed. And remember, the emerging science in Europe also terrified the religious authorities.

The world of shamanism, from the inside, appears to be organized and rational. To them the world of the European man is irrational & mechanical - it is devoid of spirit.

Healing, therefore, is approached differently - holistically. Funny how these days Christians practice faith healing and scientists (both perennial enemies of shamanism) praise & admit the efficacy of placebos.

To what extent the shaman understood the placebo effect I don't know. And even if "altered states of consciousness" are mental states to the psychologist or out-of-body experiences are tricks played by a confused mind - a study reported today at a conference in Washington said so - the shaman's use of them are legitimate within the construct of his "world" - the placebo effect can be explained from within that worldview but is a puzzle to science.

While the study by Vuckovic attests to the shamanic intriguing approach to healing, yesterday over at Richard Nikoley's blog (Free the Animal) a similar case was raised in admitting that the mind is its own healer. Remove the fear and anxiety about your pain, and suddenly it disappears. A study today from England showed that by expecting a painkiller to fail it will fail -the mind is also its own reverse placebo. That's shamanism.

portland_allan said...

That placebo therapies (including surgery!) are often efficacious, I think, applies to this thread. I'm just not sure how. :-)

Tony said...

And all of a sudden thanks to the opening lines of your article, the work of Pierre Janet, his work on dissociation, traumatic memory and the effects of hypnosis, ties in into the grand evolutionary tale. Having an shaman was an evolutionary advantage and we have evolved to take advantage of it. I previously thought along the lines of "Why the heck would we have evolved something like the ability to by hypnotized???", I regarded it as some kind of travleing show trickery, some outlier of the human psychology. Well, here you have it, we evolved to be shamatized.

Toban said...

Interesting article, but I must say that, as a scientific atheist, I balk at the concept of a spiritual realm. But couldn't shamanism just be based on psychology, without needing to appeal to a spiritual realm? When someone has a vision, the vision is a phenomenon occurring privately in their mind—it's not publicly observable by others, i.e., it doesn't exist outside of that mind. Seems to me that a psychological explanation would be sufficient. The mind affects the body and altered states of consciousness have different effects—no spirits required.

The study is intriguing. But were there any controls? What if it was a placebo effect?

In any case, while I'm skeptical, I don't rule out the possibility that shamanism can be useful, even if it were just a placebo effect.

Paolo said...

Great article. I immediately went to Amazon to buy one of the book you proposed.

I'm not english mother tongue so it's not easy to express what I have in mind, but I'm absolutely convinced that, at least in the field of nutrition and cronic desease, shamanism is by far more reliable than a classic randomized study. Shamanism takes its knowledge from direct experience, and doesn't have the late answer time that is typical in a randomized study. Shamanism is not arrogant and doesn't refuse previous knowledge, while classical science is so arrogant in changing what our ancestors believed as true (think for example at the lipid hypothesis).

Thanks again, you opened my mind :-)

Bryan - oz4caster said...

Very interesting and believable perspective! We know that the mind is a very powerful influence on health and the "placebo" effect is a good example of this interaction. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping and acupuncture may also be related influences, as well as various types of meditation. Thanks for sharing.

Ravi said...

As you describe it, Don, Shamanism would be a reflection of the non-agrarian society in which we evolved, and there would also not be the hierarchy that demands the frequent "wars" to prop up their structures made necessary (via agriculture) to defend possessions of material wealth and land. My first eye-opener in this direction was Daniel Quinns "Ishmael" where he proposes that ancient HG groups never sought to wipe each other out, and even generally friendly neighbor groups sometimes went into a serious conflict over an issue, only to later kiss and make up - something that has been observed today still, i believe, in Papau New Guinea (reference anyone?)

I have oft wondered where my personal distaste (bordering on repugnance) for "authority" and hierarchy had come from since i personally have never seriously suffered from "authority" - more than we all do just being in such a system.

the antagonism of modern science and logic towards shamanism is also, i believe, a result of the very fact that this route of coping with unexpected or unexplainable facts of our reality has been summarily dismissed and removed from our modern consideration, leaving us with a void that organized religious belief or pure science can only fill via multiple layers of priests, authority and the holy grail of "education" - which is significantly comprised of indoctrination in this very line of thinking.

sadly, we have, as a society/culture, lost and essential tool in our existence due to the greed and power-hunger of those most lost in the void, no?

Catholic Life said...

I would like to point out a few inaccuracies. The first is the following statement,

"They (Judeo-Christians) also believe that this God gave these chosen people not only the right but the duty to convert all other tribes to their faith and way of life, if not by persuasion then by force."

With regards to the Roman Catholic Church (which falls under the Judeo-Christian heading) it is false to say that it teaches that believers are duty bound to convert by force (if persuasion is not able to acheive it). You can consult the Cathecism of the Catholic Church (can be found easily online) if you want clarity on what the Church teaches on this or anything else for that matter.

The next statement,

"... because, unlike modern religious beliefs, the shamanic “belief” in a dual aspect world is not faith-based. Rather, it arises from direct and replicable experiences induced by specific, repeatable procedures."

With regards to the spiritual world, the Catholic Church does not teach that it lies outside of personal experience. Fasting and prayer are some of the ways used by Catholics to connect to the spiritual world and as a source for potential change in the physical world. Once can experience all of these things if they lived out their life in this way. And so it is false to caricature the Catholic approach as completely "faith"-based, as the quoted section seemed to.

Andy

Don said...

Dominic,

I substantially agree with you and appreciate that you saw the connection with Daoism and Richard Nikoley's post.

Portland,

Nice that you mention surgery as a placebo therapy. You probably know that a study comparing "real" arthroscopic surgery of the knee with 'sham' showed them equally efficacious at removing knee symptoms. Sorry, don't have the link.

Tony,

Glad my post clarified the hypnosis question for you.

Toban,

I appreciate your perspective, and suggest this: In order to determine whether we need the concept of spirits to explain the phenomena experienced in shamanic states of consciousness can only be determined by people who have entered those states of consciousness, not by anyone who has not. The situation is just the same as with physics, i.e. I can't tell whether the concept of quarks is sufficient to explain certain phenonena observed in certain experiments unless a) I get trained in physics and b) I do the experiments myself. This is where I reject "armchair" explanations. People who have not had shamanic states of consciousness are not in a position to tell me whether the spirits exist, just as people who have never been to France are in no position to tell me what kinds of things exist in France.

Don said...

Paolo,

I agree with you that shamanic perspective incorporates the perspectives of the past, whereas the modern "scientific" perspective basically asserts that our ancestors were stupid for believing what they believed on the basis of what they experienced.

Don said...

Ravi,

If I get your drift, you are saying that as humans we have experiences which can not be satisfactorily explained by either science or religion. The shamanic perspective explains these phenomena, but it is rejected by both science and religion, leaving it out of our tool box for adaptation to the world. This leaves us dysfunctional in a respect.

Don said...

Catholic,

I didn't specifically make any claims about the Catholic church, but I don't really care what your Catechism says, as a matter of historical fact, some Catholics, specifically the Spaniards, certainly forced Catholocism on the Central American natives with the full blessing of the Church. Regardless of the claimed doctrine of Catholocism, the history of its people clearly shows that those people were NOT opposed to using force to impose Christianity on 'primitive' people, where force includes herding them onto reservations, forbidding people from performing 'evil' traditional shamanic practices, preventing them from using herbal drugs, and so on. History clearly shows that the Catholic Church used the force of nations to enlarge its influence.

As to your second point, how many Catholics believe Catholic doctrines solely because of experiences from fasting and prayer? Do you really expect me to believe that all or even most Catholics believe that Jesus is their savior because of some experience that every one of them had while fasting or praying?

My point: I call Catholicism faith-BASED because most if not all Catholics accept most if not all Catholic doctrines on faith, not experience, which doesn't exclude the possibility that some Catholics might have some experience-based 'religious' beliefs. I call shamanism experience-BASED because shamans and tribal members have most if not all of their beliefs based on direct experiences from altered states of consciousness, although they may also have some 'faith' elements.

I don't get why people think "X-based" means "X-only". Faith-based religion doesn't mean faith-only relgion any more than "plant-based diet" means plant-only diet, or "grain-based diet" means grain-only diet. A "base" is the foundation. Catholicism is based on faith but may have some experience-derived elements, and Shamanism is based on experience although it may have some elements based on 'faith.'

Nancy said...

Greg, up near the top, said something about reproducibility. This is the common objection to anything spiritual in the world. I thought Rudolf Steiner always handled this the best way. He recognized that it was ridiculous to demand that everyone doing the same spiritual "experiment" should get the same results. His claims were based on the idea that there is a spiritual world and, hence, spiritual beings who operate in that world. So, we can take our common world experience as an example. Consider this: If I walked out on a busy sidewalk and asked 10 different people the same question, I might get 10 different answers - even if the question is an objective question (like, for example, what's the capital of Zimbabwe?) Even more so if I ask a subjective question like, for example, how is their day going.

So, if I travel into the spiritual realm and encounter spiritual beings, are they going to react to me the same way they react to you? It would be absurd to think they would! Wouldn't how we perceive that world or the beings in it relate to our own development, thoughts, imaginations, and many other subjective factors?

The point is that the movement into the spiritual realm is reproducible, not necessarily the observation of what happens there. So everyone wants to apply a scientific framework around the process as if science is not flawed! If science was a perfect study that always gave the right answer, I might buy into this. But scientific studies are so laced with subjectivity and multiple uncontrollable inputs and circumstances that the idea of reproducibility is not, in my mind, evidence of any truth.

Don said...

Nancy,

I like your/Steiner's analogy. Of course if I walk out on to the street in 10 minutes I might meet one person. If I go at another time, I will likely meet someone else. If you go, the same. Still, we have a procedure. Shamanic procedures apparently give many different people access to a single "spiritual" world, which all travelers describe in similar terms. But each traveler to that experience reports something a little different...just as each traveler to Canada will report different specific experiences (e.g. I went hunting and shot a bear, you went to the lake and swam). It is all real even though we can't replicate every single experience, only the basic experience of traveling to Canada (or the world described by shamans) is replicable.

Catholic Life said...

Don,
With regards to your statement,

"I didn't specifically make any claims about the Catholic church, but I don't really care what your Catechism says,.."

Well you kinda should care what the Catechism says if you're interested in making true statements about what the Catholic Church teaches. When you said, "They (Judeo-Christians) also believe that this God gave these chosen people not only the right but the duty to convert all other tribes to their faith and way of life, if not by persuasion then by force." you are making a statement about the Judeo-Christian belief system, and given that the Catholic Church is the largest group under the heading "Judeo-Christian" it's fair to say, by extension, that you were making a statement about what the Catholic Church teaches in this regard.

With regards to your statement,

"as a matter of historical fact, some Catholics, specifically the Spaniards, certainly forced Catholicism on the Central American natives with the full blessing of the Church."

What evidence do you have to conclude that the forced conversion of Central American natives came with the full blessing of the Church? This is false. It has always remained the teaching of the Catholic Church, from its beginning, that no one is to be coerced into believing. Have Catholics (Spaniards in this case) always practiced what they preached in this regard? No. Have people that subscribed to other belief systems, whether monotheistic, polytheistic or pantheistic ever been guilty of living out their lives in a way that is contrary to what their belief system demanded of them? Yes (I can come up with examples if you like.). All these cases imply hypocrisy on the part of the people who lived in a way that was contrary to what their belief system taught (whatever it is) and does not necessarily implicate the belief system itself. To implicate a belief system you have to look at what it teaches and go from there.

Catholic Life said...

Don,
A few more points,

"Regardless of the claimed doctrine of Catholicism, the history of its people clearly shows that those people were NOT opposed to using force to impose Christianity on 'primitive' people, where force includes herding them onto reservations, forbidding people from performing 'evil' traditional shamanic practices, preventing them from using herbal drugs, and so on."

In order to be objective, it should also be noted that many Catholic missionaries distinguished themselves for their heroic defense of Indian rights. Many of the European powers regularly punished the countless priests, nuns and laypeople for speaking out in defense of the natives. It was in fact these voices that prompted Pope Paul III in 1537 to issue a formal proclamation (Sublimis Dei) that declared, "The said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ." As I mentioned earlier, the Catholics that were involved in the injustices you mentioned above were hypocrites and were acting in ways that were contrary to their belief system. Quite simply, greed and power became more important to them than the teachings of their faith.

As to the following statement,

"History clearly shows that the Catholic Church used the force of nations to enlarge its influence." Your bias is setting in here. You are implying negative motives, like "influence", to the Church's evangelization because you don't believe what the Catholic Church teaches. From the point of view of the Catholic Church, it evangelizes because it was commanded to do so from Jesus himself (so that others could know him).

Then you said,

"As to your second point, how many Catholics believe Catholic doctrines solely because of experiences from fasting and prayer? Do you really expect me to believe that all or even most Catholics believe that Jesus is their savior because of some experience that every one of them had while fasting or praying?"

What I'm saying is the majority of Catholics that live out their faith in a way that includes regular time spent in prayer and fasting will have spiritual experiences. They don't believe because they have had these experiences, but they have these experiences because of belief coupled with spiritual practices. Do the majority of Catholics live out their faith seriously in this way? I would say probably not, which would explain why the majority of Catholics have not had these experiences.

Ken Matesz said...

@Catholic Life:

It is my understanding that the "rule book" of the Catholic Church is not the catechism, but the Bible.

In the Bible, God directs the Israelites to spread themselves throughout the world and in Deuteronomy 12:1-4, Moses writes:

"These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the LORD God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth.

2Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree:

3And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.

4Ye shall not do so unto the LORD your God."

If you believe that the Catholic Church does not abide by this, then, indeed, the Catholic Church does not abide by the Bible. For surely it was Jesus Christ himself who said, in Matthew 5:17-20:

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus himself warned the Catholics and anyone else who would like to lay claim to a place in heaven that they shall have no such place if they have not followed his commandments - even the least of them, like overthrowing their "altars, and break their pillars" and utterly destroy them. For these are the statutes and judgments which you shall do in the land God gives you. And, as Jesus observed, this shall be the law until heaven and earth pass.

Sounds to me like Don is right, the God of the Bible wanted His people to drive out the pagans and heathens and occupy their land. Well, for the most part, that has been done.

Victor said...

Great post Don. Truly.

By some stroke of serendipity, I am reading books of energy medicine & healing (The Energy Healing Experiments, The Genie in Your Genes) while making my way through Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design.

I particularly appreciate the distinction you make between shamanism and faith-based religions. Shamanism works an repackaged with western aesthetics in mind, it appears to be described as energy medicine.

Thinking through these issues, I wrote a blog post tying in psychology, placebos, neuroscience, using the mind to heal the body through gene expression here:

http://fitafter40vancouver.blogspot.com/2011/01/can-mind-influence-gene-expression.html

To cap it off, I picked a TED video by the skeptic Michael Shermer explaining the basis of human faith linked to patternicity and agent-icity for evolutionary survival.

Victor

Don said...

Catholic,

To reiterate, in the original article I did not make any claims about Catholic doctrine or the Catholic church or "the Judeo Christian belief system." I made a claim about beliefs of Judeo-Christians, i.e. beliefs of people who identify themselves as Christians, not about Catholic doctrine. If you can't distinguish between a statement about Judeo-Christian people and a statement about Catholic doctrine, I can't continue this discussion.

Moreover, I seem to remember something called the Crusades...Wikipedia describes them here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades

"The Crusades were a series of religiously sanctioned military campaigns, waged by much of Roman Catholic Europe, particularly the Franks of France and the Holy Roman Empire.... The Crusades were fought mainly by Roman Catholic forces (taking place after the East–West Schism and mostly before the Protestant Reformation) against Muslims who had occupied the near east since the time of the Rashidun Caliphate, although campaigns were also waged against pagan Slavs, pagan Balts, Jews, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites, Waldensians, Old Prussians, and political enemies of the various popes.[1] Orthodox Christians also took part in fighting against Islamic forces in some Crusades. Crusaders took vows and were granted a plenary indulgence."

From this it appears the Crusaders were NOT hypocrites, they were using force against infidels including pagans (indigenous people) and fully sanctioned by the Pope of the time, even granted indulgences for their "sins."

Don said...

Catholic,

From your pleas I get that Catholic doctrine has changed since the Crusades. However, even your quoted Pope stated that the natives "are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property" but stops short of saying they are not to be deprived of their customs or religious practices.

As I said, I'm not talking about Church doctrine, I'm talking about what history shows that Christians have done, whether or not it had the stamp of approval of the Catholic church.

According to http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/spanish-conquistadors.htm:
"The Spanish explorers / soldiers saw their mission to conquer new lands as a natural extension of the Medieval crusades. Roman Catholic Priests and Friars always accompanied the Spanish explorers who were expected to convert heathen natives to Christianity."

"The people of Spain adhered to the Catholic religion. Many were fanatical about their religion - the Spanish Inquisition was an example of this. The idea of spreading the Catholic faith to heathen races was seen as a primary reason for the Spanish Conquistadors to undertake voyages of discovery."

In other words, the Spaniards thought, well, since the church endorsed the Crusades, it will endorse forcibly converting new world heathens.

Wikipedia's discussion of the Conquistadors states:

"The Laws of Burgos, created in 1512–1513, were the first codified set of laws governing the behavior of Spanish settlers in America, particularly with regards to Native Americans. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, and endorsed their conversion to Catholicism. The laws were never truly enforced and had little impact."

In other words, despite the laws, the natives were maltreated by Judeo Christians, specifically Catholics.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conquistadors

Wikipedia on the laws of Burgos: "These laws authorized and legalized the colonial practice of creating Encomiendas, where Indians were forcibly grouped together to work under colonial masters...It also ordered that the Indians be catechized, outlawed bigamy, and required that the huts and cabins of the Indians be built together with those of the Spanish. It respected, in some ways, the traditional authorities, granting chiefs exemptions from ordinary jobs and granting them various Indians as servants."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_Burgos

It seems clear that Spanish Christian Catholics felt they had the right to forcibly control and convert "heathens" to Catholicism via Crusades, Inquisitions, and conquest of the Americas. Pope Paul III apparently wrote something against this but only after-the-fact. Call them hypocrites if you like, but history supports my assertion, which again is about the behavior and beliefs of Christian people, not about the doctrines of the Catholic church.

It all stems IMO from something you yourself supplied, i.e. that Jesus "commanded" his followers to spread "the Gospel." Moreover, the Bible has at least several passages that command the followers of Yahweh to convert or destroy or enslave unbelievers. Thus, if they follow the Bible, Christians are duty bound to spread Christian beliefs even using force. There is no parallel in Shamanism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or many others. None of these groups have any "command" to spread their beliefs. It is that command that leads to the Crusades etc. we have so sadly seen.

Catholic Life said...

@Ken Matesz:

You said "It is my understanding that the "rule book" of the Catholic Church is not the catechism, but the Bible."

Your understanding is incorrect. Catholics are required to follow what the Magisterium says and not their own personal interpretation of the Bible. The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church, accomplished by the Pope and the bishops in union with him. What the Magisterium says can be found in the Catechism, which is why I brought it up.

With regards to your interpretation of your selected citations from the Bible and what you believe they imply, it is exactly that, your interpretation. Your certainly entitled to it.

The Bible can be interpreted in different ways by different people. This helps to explain why we have so many different Christian denominations. For a Catholic, it is the Magisterium that interprets the Bible authoritatively. If you don't like/agree with the Magisterium's interpretation, you can of course choose to believe your own -- you just can't honestly call yourself Catholic anymore.

Don,
I will try to respond to your comments by tomorrow.

Don said...

@Catholic Life,

Interpretation? Those words from the Bible seem quite straight forward to me. Moses calls upon his followers to destroy the religious artifacts and practices of other tribes. What needs interpretation?

I will grant one thing, my original words were too broad, seeming to imply that all Judeo-Christians believe that they have a right and duty etc., and neglected to mention that the Bible appears to sanction destruction of the practices of other tribes. So I will edit that part for greater accuracy.

Catholic Life said...

Don,
With regards to the Crusades, I believe you wanted to show that they were an example of where the Pope fully sanctioned the forced conversion of non-believers.

This is false and I will attempt to explain why.

The Crusades were a direct and belated response to centuries of Muslim conquests of Christian lands. The very core of the Crusades were directed at Jerusalem. As a result of it being the location of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, Jerusalem was the most sacred site of pilgrimage for Christians from the earliest centuries on. Muslims took control of the Holy City in 638. In 1010 the Muslim caliph ordered the destruction of all Christian shrines and churches. In 1071 the Muslim Turks cut off the pilgrimage routes, thus setting the stage for the declaration of the first crusade.

The papacy wanted, above all, to reclaim the Holy Land, rebuild shrines and churches, and re-establish and protect pilgrimages. Having said that, the recapturing of the Holy Land was only one aspect of the general crusading effort.

 It was not only the Muslim occupation of the Holy Land that worried Christians. Islam had steadily conquered the area around the Mediterranean since its inception in the early 600's, and by the second millenium it occupied all of Northern Africa, southern Spain, and much of Asia Minor. The Christian West felt itself caught in an ever-encroaching Muslim advance. In this respect, the Crusades in Western Europe were a defensive war.

Although the popes proclaimed the crusades, they had great difficulty controlling the crusaders. As a result the behaviour of the Crusaders during the campaigns was often less than admirable. Having said that, there were never forced conversions of Muslim inhabitants when Muslim land was conquered. This should be contrasted to the treatment of inhabitants when Muslims conquered. For those that were not Christians or Jews, the choice was to convert to Islam or die. For those that were Christians or Jews, the choice was to convert to Muslim rule and Islamic law or die. A little different from Christianity, which has forbidden forced conversion from its beginning.

Catholic Life said...

Don,
I will try to respond to some of your other comments.

You said,

"From your pleas I get that Catholic doctrine has changed since the Crusades."

Catholic doctrine with regards to forced conversion of unbelievers has remained the same since the beginning of Christianity.

Then you said,
"However, even your quoted Pope stated that the natives "are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property" but stops short of saying they are not to be deprived of their customs or religious practices."

To me "not being deprived of their liberty" implies that they are not to be deprived of their customs or religious practices.

You then said,

"As I said, I'm not talking about Church doctrine, I'm talking about what history shows that Christians have done, whether or not it had the stamp of approval of the Catholic church."

Although the history of the Spaniards during this time period are indeed a part of the history of Christians, it is a stretch to suggest that this behaviour was a recurring theme in the 2000-yr history of Christianity.

Ken Matesz said...

@CAtholic Life:

Show me ANYWHERE in my previous post where I interpreted the Bible to my own liking. I QUOTED the Bible; ther is a vast difference.

But, since the Catholic Church, according to you, does not use the Bible as a rule book, the Bible is irrelevant. . . I guess.

Oops! So much for the ten commandments! I guess we don't need those anymore either!

This is great! I've never learned so much in one blog post! Thanks!

Catholic Life said...

Don,

You said,

"It all stems IMO from something you yourself supplied, i.e. that Jesus "commanded" his followers to spread "the Gospel." Moreover, the Bible has at least several passages that command the followers of Yahweh to convert or destroy or enslave unbelievers. Thus, if they follow the Bible, Christians are duty bound to spread Christian beliefs even using force."

For the first 1400 years of Christianity very few Christians even owned a Bible much less read it. Christians were instructed about their faith from priests, monks and nuns. Hence they would have been taught Catholic doctrine. That doctrine would have been "yes" to evangelization and "no" to forced conversions.

You say that "if they follow the Bible, Christians are duty bound to spread Christian beliefs even using force." Problem is you can't find any Christians that believe that. This implies your idea of what the Bible (the whole thing not just select citations) teaches Christian believers is incorrect.

Don said...

Catholic Life,

So let me get this right. If I understand you correctly, then the none of the people who enslaved Africans in America, conquered and removed Native Americans from their lands, did the do witch hunts, or destroyed Celtic culture were Jews or Christians or Catholics. I guess your argument is that the people who did those things were not really Christians, Catholics, or Jews even though they identified themselves that way. Thanks for "clarifying" history for me.

So-called witch-craft or sorcery is part of indigenous "pagan" beliefs. According to Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt

"In the Judaean Second Temple period, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach in the 1st century BCE is reported to have sentenced to death eighty women who had been charged with witchcraft on a single day in Ashkelon."

"Pope John XXII had authorized the Inquisition to prosecute sorcerors in 1320,[10] but inquisitorial courts became systematically involved in witch-hunts only in the 15th century."

"In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued Summis desiderantes affectibus, a Papal bull authorizing two inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to systemize the persecution of witches.[12] As a result, the notorious Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1487, at the very end of the medieval period, ushering in the period of witch hunts in Early Modern Europe which would last for the following two centuries."

"The Malleus Maleficarum[2] (Latin for "The Hammer of Witches", or "Der Hexenhammer" in German) is a famous treatise on witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and was first published in Germany in 1487."

So I guess according to you those two popes weren't Catholics or Christians, and that rabbi wasn't a Jew. As I said, it seems you "save" your faith by simply stating that any self-described Christian or Catholic who did anything evil simply was not a Christian or Catholic. Fine.

Sorry, I won't continue this discussion here. It is doing nothing to enhance the discussion of Shamanism as Evolutionary Medicine.

Don said...

Catholic Life,

So let me get this right. If I understand you correctly, then the none of the people who enslaved Africans in America, conquered and removed Native Americans from their lands, did the do witch hunts, or destroyed Celtic culture were Jews or Christians or Catholics. I guess your argument is that the people who did those things were not really Christians, Catholics, or Jews even though they identified themselves that way. Thanks for "clarifying" history for me.

So-called witch-craft or sorcery is part of indigenous "pagan" beliefs. According to Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt

"In the Judaean Second Temple period, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach in the 1st century BCE is reported to have sentenced to death eighty women who had been charged with witchcraft on a single day in Ashkelon."

"Pope John XXII had authorized the Inquisition to prosecute sorcerors in 1320,[10] but inquisitorial courts became systematically involved in witch-hunts only in the 15th century."

"In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued Summis desiderantes affectibus, a Papal bull authorizing two inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to systemize the persecution of witches.[12] As a result, the notorious Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1487, at the very end of the medieval period, ushering in the period of witch hunts in Early Modern Europe which would last for the following two centuries."

"The Malleus Maleficarum[2] (Latin for "The Hammer of Witches", or "Der Hexenhammer" in German) is a famous treatise on witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and was first published in Germany in 1487."

So I guess according to you those two popes weren't Catholics or Christians, and that rabbi wasn't a Jew. As I said, it seems you "save" your faith by simply stating that any self-described Christian or Catholic who did anything evil simply was not a Christian or Catholic. Fine.

Sorry, I won't continue this discussion here. It is doing nothing to enhance the discussion of Shamanism as Evolutionary Medicine.

Bodhi said...

I liked the post. I think what bothers me is that shamanism can be abused in the same ways that other religious leaders and gurus do their followers. Also I think to truly be a science shamans should be able to teach the majority of the population to access the spiritual dimension, otherwise it is just all in their head.
You mentioned herbs in your post, but I would have also like to see a mention of psychedelic drugs. Timothy Leary and Ram Dass seemed to be able to access other worlds like the shamans when they used psychedelic drugs.

Don said...

Bodhi,

Shamans do teach and help other people access the "spirit realm."

Anything, including conventional science, can be abused/used to control followers. However, I am not aware of any cases where shamans abused tribal members. In our evolutionary process, if anyone did not like a shaman's antics, s/he could easily just walk away. Very difficult for shamans to 'control' tribal members since shamans did not have control over supplies of food or shelter.

I didn't mention drugs because they weren't part of the human evolutionary journey or used by ancient shamans.

Bodhi said...

Thanks for the responses Don. Grok On!

Victor Venema said...

The difference between science and other thinking is not that science is difficult and takes years of study. The difference is that scientific theories are formulated so precise that they are falsifiable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiable

Even if it may be a matter of interpretation whether a scientific theory is refuted (see Thomas Kuhn), that it is possible to do so is the distinguishing quality of science.

Talking to shamans and trying to understand their world view, I have often asked to explain how things really work, how their concepts are exactly defined. I am sad to say, I never got a satisfying answer.

Still, these ideas are intriguing and can be an inspiration for scientific theories. Even if it would only be an evolutionary optimised placebo effect.

#Paolo, just as any "previous knowledge, ... our ancestors believed as true". However, a scientist would not take any old idea at face value, but would try to make it exact (testable) and then test it.

odrareg said...

Dear Don:


I need a list of shamans and their specialties, because I want to consult them for my medical and also emotional and mental or psychological problems.

Please furnish me their contacts, or refer me to people who have contacts with them as to be able to share their contacts data with interested people like yours truly.

Right now I have more eye discharge (rheum) than I think normal. plus eyestrain, but otherwise my eyesight is on my own observation normal, and not any worse than others -- but I don't claim to enjoy very clear pure eyesight, and sometimes I think perhaps a cataract surgery might make my eyesight very very clear but that is not on my own ‘educated’ evaluation a wise idea.

I heard from someone who was talked on by a doctor to have cataract surgery, but she is not as happy with her eyesight now as before the cataract surgery, she now has floaters in her left eye, and the other eye is not seeing any better than before.

Please, I am serious, I truly want to have contacts with shamans, so that I can avail myself of their medical and other skills in living life.



Odrareg

Marlon said...

Great article! I'm actually doing my thesis on shamanism and the placebo effect and I found this very well written and insightful. It actually captured a lot of what I've been trying to say on the issue. In the mean time, here is just one link to an article demonstrating the power of the placebo effect during "sham" surgery: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa013259