Role of a Shaman

During the era of the Jomon society, shaman-style tribal chiefs were the norm throughout the Eurasian continent.

Relief masked human figure on Jomon pot, Kubo-ueno-taira ruins, Nagano prefecture

Relief masked human figure on Jomon pot, Kubo-ueno-taira ruins, Nagano prefecture

Masks, pottery figurines and ritual artefacts suggest that shaman-type leaders were also common in Jomon society. We can make conjectures about what a Jomon shaman or shamaness’s role was like by looking at modern day Buryat Shamans of Siberia. The Jomon people are determined to be genetically related to the Baikal Buryat people and to have shared the same prehistoric ancestors.

The shaman is an authority figure who first has to be accepted by the community by manifesting some evident individual talent and character associated with legendary ancestors. He has to be able to confirm his high position by performing a special character, display exceptional lexical knowledge and ability to create his autobiography and reflect about his life and interpret it in terms of ancestors.

Buryat shamans guard their secrets and control what kind of knowledge they can communicate to others.

The Buryat shaman is also the community’s richest repository for knowledge about ancestors and the relations with them through personal genealogies.

When the child is born in the Buryat family’s grand parents conduct a special ritual with a prayer for the future shaman child to inherit the characters of his/her ancestors.

Buryats need to keep the balance in society by helping people reach stable balance between forgetting and remembering: the remembering of ancestral genealogies through narrative story-telling and the forgetting of distractions or traumatic experiences in people’s lives so that they may better focus on their tasks in everyday life that involve high degrees of risk, such as hunting. To prepare the help hunters for their all important dangerous and risky tasks ahead, he also practices the role of the fortune-telling or divination through stones.

Shamanic rite is the technique to control and manage memories and dreams. Shaman is thus a specialist who as the authority and right to perform rituals and to restore, manipulate or interpret the lost memories (and dreams) of other people. The shaman connects the people to their ancestors and helps them remember their ancestors often by performing rituals of respect towards their ancestors. Since the shaman represents the character of the ancestors, he is thus secures his superior position as the most authoritative person in the society. Some shamans also conduct healing rituals.

Figurine portraying possibly the leader of a snake-worshipping cult, Kawashirinaka village, Kanagawa prefecture

Figurine portraying possibly the leader of a snake-worshipping cult, Kawashirinaka village, Kanagawa prefecture

Alcohol, vodka in the case of the Buryats, is a main sacrifice which is sent to the ancestors through drinking. It is believed that bodies of people are filters that clear the alcohol and transmit it to the spirits. Drinking is a very important part of the ritual, because it is in the process of intoxication that client and shaman switch from remembering to forgetting.

The Jomon people are believed to have had important shaman leaders who had similar roles as the Buryat shamans.

Abstract carving of human figure in feathered headdress on pottery. East Nagatoro ruins

Abstract carving of human figure in feathered headdress on pottery. East Nagatoro ruins

In excavated pit houses identified as having belonged to the village shaman, are often found ritual objects such the clay figurine, the phallic stone, a lamp-shaped vessel and often some pottery vessel that likely contained brewed wine or beverage from wild grapes or elderberries. Ritual masks associated with ritual events are also sometimes thought to be part of the shaman’s kit.

It is likely that Jomon shamans officiated or presided over ceremonies in the public areas of their villages and sometimes at the stone circle sites.

***

Further reading:

To read about the shaman material culture of Eurasia, refer to Coats of Many Spirits by Nicholas Breeze Wood

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