Shamans

The earliest variety of indigenous male sorcerer attested for the Greek world is the "shaman." This term is commonly applied to a linked series of figures celebrated in the Pythagorean and Orphic traditions. They flourished, supposedly, in the archaic period. The notices of Herodotus and the fragments of Empedocles demonstrate that the notion of the shaman-type had at any rate already become established by the early classical period. No doubt it was much older. The modern term "shaman" is derived from the Tungus medicine man of that name. He detaches his soul from his body in an ecstatic trance. This detached soul then speaks with the gods in their own language and cures the sick by retrieving their souls from the land of the dead or by defeating death-bringing demons in battle. He also attracts animals to the hunt with his music and by defeating the gods that preside over them with his soul. The Greek shamans are similarly characterized by the ability to manipulate their own souls, be it by detaching them temporarily from their bodies and sending them on voyages of discovery, suspending them from life, reincarnating them, or "bilocating." The principal figures in the series, with their supposed floruits, are as follows:

Orpheus: Trophonius:

Aristeas of Proconessus: Hermotimus of Clazomenae: Epimenides of Cnossus or Phaestus: Pythagoras of Samos: Abaris the Hyperborean: Zalmoxis of the Thracian Getae: Empedocles of Acragas:

mythical era mythical era early seventh century B.C. seventh century B.C.? ca. 600 B.C. 530s-520s B.C. sixth century B.C.? sixth century B.C.? ca. 485-35 B.C.

A number of further themes recur in the representations of the shamans: extended retreats into underground chambers (a symbolic death and descent to the underworld, from which they return with enlightenment); divination; control of the elements; association with the cult of Hyperborean Apollo; dismissal of pollution and pestilence. For another possible archaic shaman see 140; for later Greek "shamans" see 57-64.

iii B.C. (Hermippus); iii A.D. (Diogenes Laertius)

Diogenes Laertius 8.41; Hermippus of Smyrna FGH 1026 F24

Greek

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