Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Outlaw drums: evidence of the suppression of the shamanic worldview

image: Replica on display of a Saami rune drum, confiscated by government agents in 1691. Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post presented the argument that the shamanic worldview is an integral part of the shared history of all humanity, but that this worldview has been deliberately stolen and suppressed, beginning at a specific time and place in Western Europe and that the suppression spread from there.

For the purposes of the discussion, this concept of the "shamanic worldview" can be broadly defined (as it was in that previous post) as:
the awareness of an Other Realm (sometimes variously referred to as the realm of the gods, the "seed realm," the realm of the implicate, the realm of potentiality, the hidden world, the Dreamtime) in addition to the world of ordinary reality, and the practice of techniques for actually traveling between the realm of ordinary reality and the Other Realm, in order to obtain knowledge or effect change not possible to obtain or effect through any other method.
While it is no doubt possible to fine-tune and improve the above broad definition, the general components mentioned are arguably some of the most characteristic distinguishing features of the shamanic worldview as it has manifested itself in different cultures around the globe and throughout the ages.

Some readers might wonder at the assertion that this shamanic worldview has actually been deliberately suppressed, and might additionally wonder what possible motive there might be for such suppression throughout history. After all, most criminal investigations demand that some motive be suggested, when someone (such as Sherlock Holmes, or Scooby Doo and the gang) comes up with a theory regarding the perpetrator or perpetrators. 

Any theory alleging a deliberate campaign to stamp out the shamanic worldview, across enormous geographic areas and down through a long series of centuries, should be able to offer some evidence that such targeting has in fact taken place, and to suggest some kind of motive behind such a long-standing campaign.

In fact, the evidence down through the centuries of such suppression is overwhelming. 

It can be seen in the ancient world, with decrees issued by the Christian Roman Emperor Flavius Theodosius shutting down the rites of Eleusis in AD 392, and ordering the destruction of the famous oracular temple at Delphi two years earlier in AD 390 (these are just two extremely important examples: many others could be offered). 

It can be seen in the middle ages, for example with the aggressive destruction of the Irminsul trees and poles of the Germanic peoples by Charlemagne and his armies (these have a direct connection to the World Tree of Yggdrasil, the site of Odin's shamanic self-sacrifice, and to shamanic poles generally, which are an important shamanic symbol worldwide, and may well be directly related to the Djed-column and Ankh-cross). Charlemagne and his armies are widely acknowledged in contemporary records of the period to have "converted" many non-Christian people to the dominant form of literalist Christianity at the point of the sword, as well as to have put to death thousands of men, women, and children in acts of wholesale slaughter, sometimes in the middle of the sacred groves themselves, in the middle of their worship, while the men were unarmed.

And it can be seen all down through the centuries after the middle ages, when shamanic peoples have been violently persecuted, and shamanic cultures have been horribly destroyed. The record of persecutions and attempted cultural suppression runs from as far north as the Saami people of far northern Norway, Sweden and Finnland (sometimes called Lappland) to the far south of Australia, and from as far "east" (from a European perspective) as the shamanic cultures of Mongolia and Siberia to as far "west" as the Americas and out into the islands of the Pacific.

Often this persecution of shamanic cultures has come at the hands of literalist Christianity, aided by the military power of secular authorities and armies. Sometimes it has come at the hands of totalitarian governments. In either case, it is clear that the shamanic worldview was perceived as an extremely potent threat -- to the point that possession of a shamanic drum has in almost every case been outlawed, and a policy of confiscation and destruction of drums implemented.

The sameness of this policy of outlawing drums, whether for ostensibly theological reasons (in literalist-Christian cultures) or political reasons (in officially atheist and communist regimes), and its persistence through several centuries and in many different nations, is astonishing and notable.

Here is a webpage from the site of the University of Texas which describes some aspects of Saami culture, and in particular the Saami drum as it relates to the particular manifestation of the shamanic worldview among the Saami from time immemorial. After extended discussion of the importance of the drum, and its role in inducing a state of ecstasy or trance, the site discusses the response of Christianity when it arrived in the Scandinavian region:
Christianity harshly persecuted those who held to the Sami religion. "From the end of the 17th to the middle of the 18th century much of the confrontation between indigenous Saami religion and Christianity was focused on the drums" (Ahlback and Bergman 29). The church burned most of the confiscated drums; therefore, few drums remain today. "As a powerful and very visible part of the Sami religion, the drum was one of the main focuses of the Christian attempts to eradicate their religion, so most of the older Sami drums have been crushed or burnt by Christian missionaries and their armed escorts" (Jarving). The Sami gave up many of the drums to avoid persecution. Persecution took on many forms, from being questioned and forced to deny the Sami religion, to being put to death as a heretic. 
After this passage follows a block quotation in which a court was convened by the Lutheran authorities for the "witch-trial" of an "old Sami shaman, Anders Poulsen" (who was apparently 100 years old at the time his drum, a replica of which is displayed above, was taken from him and he was put on trial in 1692).

Nearly three hundred years later, in the former Soviet Union, shamans were similarly persecuted, and the shamanic drums were targeted in almost the exact same way. Numerous first-hand accounts exist from those who lived through the period in which the possession of such a drum was forbidden. Here is a link to an article discussing aspects of shamanic culture among the Khanty people of modern Siberia. On page 3 we read that by 1926, "the crime-prevention committee in the Tobolsk region decided to consider shamanism as a crime," and turned militias on shamans. On the same page the author declares that "every manifestation of shamanic culture such as owning a shaman drum was declared illegal and subjected to persecution." 

Here is a link to a different article containing quotations from practicing Tuvan shamans in Mongolia, who were persecuted after their country became part of the Soviet Union in 1944. The article states that prior to being absorbed into the Soviet Union, there were 725 shamans among the Tuvan, with "just under half of them women," but that after annexation shamans were persecuted and often killed.

The shamanic revival of the Ghost Dance among Native Americans of the Pacific northwest and the western plains, and the subsequent brutal massacre of Ghost Dance participants by elements of the US military at Wounded Knee in 1890 is beyond the scope of this particular post to examine properly, but it can clearly be seen as an example of a similarly violent policy of official suppression of the shamanic worldview by the United States government, and evidence that such policies in modern times are not simply a manifestation of "atheistic communism," as some might propose.

Such examples from history should be more than sufficient to establish the presence of a longstanding and deliberate campaign against the shamanic worldview, and one that transcends boundaries of geography, culture, nation, and even century.

But what motive can be offered to explain such terrible suppression? 

The answer may perhaps be suggested by the striking antipathy that shows up over and over regarding the possession of a shamanic drum. 

The reader is no doubt astonished at such a policy: it is almost as though drums have been considered to be more dangerous than guns, and their confiscation more noted in the history than any confiscation or outlawing of any weapon of physical defense.

The same page linked above, from the University of Texas website, discussing the Saami culture and in particular the Saami drum, notes its importance in achieving the trance state, and cites several accounts from different sources regarding its use:
By hammering the drum, the noaidi beat out a rhythm that inspired ecstatic excitation; this then allowed the shaman to achieve a trance state. "In a non-active state -- in a dream, trance or coma -- a free soul may leave the body and take on another form outside the person. The noaidi had the skill to reach this state at will. It is described in different ways. The noaidi in a trance leaves the body and moves as a spirit or breath of wind. They have the ability to change into a wild reindeer or hide under the reindeer's neck or hoof; they can fly over the treetops or travel under the ground; they may swim in the shape of a fishl; and the Sea Sami recount they may even move mountains" (Lehtola 28). This type of shamanistic travel dates back even before any of the existing drums. "In the well-known report of an ecstatic Saami shamanistic seance in Historia Norvegiae, written down in c. AD 1170/90, there is a description of a drum, like a sieve and with some simple figures painted on the drum skin: a whale, a reindeer, a ski and a small boat with oars. With the help of these, the 'gandr' of the shaman, his free soul, could travel over fell and fjord" (Ahlback and Bergman 85). This obviously describes a Sami shaman using a frame drum to achieve a trance and free his spirit to travel along the surface of this world.
What we can surmise from the campaign to impound and destroy shamanic drums is this: that travel to the other world can in fact enable the traveler to obtain knowledge and effect change in this world, or at least it was seen as being able to do so by those who wanted to stamp it out. 

The ability to transcend the apparent boundaries of our material and physical world may, in fact, be extremely threatening to those who want to control or suppress others -- as historic literalist Christianity is clearly shown to have a history of doing (in the above quotations, for sure) and as the totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union was also doing. Previous posts have explored the fact that controlling people through the creation of artificial realities (and thus by mind control, rather than physical control) is far more efficient and ultimately far more effective than controlling them by brute force alone (although most if not all regimes which utilize mind control as the primary means of control are ultimately backstopped by brute force).

Those who are able, like the Shakespearean clown, to reveal the artificiality of these social constructs (most of which are constructed out of words and out of language), can be extremely dangerous to such a system of mind control.

The shaman, with his or her drum, goes one step even further.

The shamanic worldview suggests that, at some level, all of the reality that we experience is in some way a kind of "artificial reality." The shaman's ability to actually transcend the boundaries of the apparently unyielding physical world that we inhabit is even more subversive, and the shaman's ability to alter this reality (and to create new realities) by actions taken or information obtained in the other world is potentially even more threatening to those who wish to control or to oppress. 

If a contemporary movie reference is possibly not inappropriate when discussing a long-running persecution of such violence and ill-intent, perhaps the metaphor of the "divergents" in the popular novels (and now films) of the same name (Divergent) might be helpful to understanding the motive to stamp out shamans and their boundary-transcending techniques. In particular, in this case, the parallel is to the ability of divergents to see when they are in a "simulation" that "isn't real," and then to "alter reality" as needed within the simulation. The shaman is like this, except that the shaman sees that our entire projected material "reality" is in a sense "not real" and even "a simulation," and having seen this the shaman can bend the boundaries of the "simulation" in certain ways that "non-divergents" can neither understand nor believe. In the Divergent movie and novels, those with this ability were seen as a terrible threat and were targeted for elimination.  

The identity of those who have most sought to suppress the shamanic worldview through the centuries, and to seize and destroy the shamans' drums, is most revealing. Those who believe that literalist Christianity is for the most part on the side of individual freedom and self-actualization might want to investigate further as they ask why it appears to have been primarily either oppressive totalitarian governments or ostensibly "Christian" governments (or, in the case of the US in the nineteenth century, "Manifest Destiny" governments) which appear to have been the most active persecutors of the shamanic worldview in history.

At the very least, the information above should cause every reader to ask whether they wouldn't want to  obtain a shamanic drum of their own, and to learn how to use it.