Woman in the Shaman’s Body
The apparently overwhelmingly powerful need to control women which some men appear to have is painfully expressed yet again in a form which is recorded by anthropology professor Barbara Tedlock’s research for her 2005 book Woman in the Shaman’s Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion & Medicine. Granddaughter of an Ojibwe midwife and herbalist, and a noted shaman in her own right, Tedlock traces the roots of twentieth century anti-feminine rhetoric in shamanistic research — from psychoanalyst Geza Roheim’s disparaging descriptions of Hungarian women shamans as “witches… just pretending to be healers” (Tedlock quoting Roheim, 28), his profound influence upon religious historian Mircea Eliade’s startlingly misogynist work, and the subsequent deliberate downgrading of feminine shamanic paths by ensuing (male) researchers and historians.
Indeed, Eliade’s deceptive and biased language reveals a truly unscholarly distortion of empirical data in order to force it into his chosen interpretive framework: the shaman as a solitary male practitioner self-initiated into techniques of ecstasy. As Tedlock notes, Eliade worked under a number of serious self-imposed limitations: “he never met a living shaman and went out of his way to deny shamanic status to women, calling them ‘sorceresses'” (Tedlock, 64). Within Eliade’s biased paradigm, masculine shamanism was limited to “soul flight — which he regarded as not only transcendent but also phallic” while the “penetration” of possession was “immanent and assigned to women” (Tedlock, 72). In this misogynistic perspective we can still see the active, strong threads of ancient Greek prejudice regarding male as active penetrator, female as passive receptacle.
In contrast, Tedlock’s work is remarkable for the transparency of her hermeneutics of interpretation; as she herself notes, “At the heart of shamanic practice is the active pursuit of knowledge” (Tedlock, 23). At no point does she attempt to hide behind a false objectivity to cloak her research in a more mainstream pseudo-scientism — her skillfully related personal narratives are vivid and engrossing, revealing the experiential nature of her emotion and intuition. Equally, her prodigious scholarly evidence is both fascinating and impeccably meticulous, disclosing a keen grasp of standard science’s argumentative intellectual reasoning. Through discussion of modern research regarding both neuroscience and the biochemistry of healing and altered consciousness, the author smoothly links her reclamation of the feminine in both religion and medicine, to support her assertion that women are considered to have special powers which men do not. She grounds that female shamanic primacy in women’s physicality, as elucidated by actual women shamans speaking on the sacrality of menstruation and its ensuing isolation.
Tedlock also fascinatingly compares the relatively individualized “heroic” questing nature of male shamanic training with the more deeply interpersonal orientation of the feminine shamanic tradition, following up with a strongly egalitarian discussion of women warriors and prophets, as well as the intriguing and compelling thread of gender shifting in shamanic beliefs. Women shamans were effectively erased from man’s chauvinistic version of history, but in this important book Tedlock beautifully repossesses their important spiritual role and examines the gifts of the feminine shamanic path: intuition, empathy, and compassion in the dramatic life-events of birth, death, and healing.
Comps Essay Conclusion
The selections for this comprehensive essay track the deleterious effects of patriarchy upon women, matrifocused societies, and our world. While it would be incorrect to refer to patriarchy as a religion, its followers are often frighteningly zealous true believers, and its tendrils intertwine insidiously throughout cultures, profoundly affecting and twisting lived human lives. The totemic category of Man — and white men in particular — is dogmatically reified through oppression and devaluation of all that is not-Man, such as women, people of color, and nature. This essay therefore initially reviewed theories regarding the origin and viral spread of patriarchal dualism, women’s continued struggles and resistance to it throughout history, and the blindness of privilege which allows men to unthinkingly ignore the damage which invariably follows the destructively hierarchical patriarchal modes of thought. Following that was a review of women’s cultural history, including a wide variety of far more healthy cultural alternatives both past and present, as well as theorizing on potential matrifocused futures. The paper closed with a review of works wherein women are at the forefront of healthy cultural change, tracking both cultural reclamations of earlier matriarchies as well as new social alternatives which resolve long-standing patriarchally-created damage.
Raised as we are in patriarchal societies maintained with varying levels of violence, it would be easy and less difficult to surrender to the social pressures — to go with the breathtakingly common cultural flow of domination, oppression, fear, and war that surrounds us. Indeed, as a species we currently live in the punitive, oppressive, and injurious results of millennia of patriarchy, and can clearly see the destructive and self-annihilating potential that lies before us if we do not change our path. The authors reviewed in this paper remind us, however, that not only is this not the only possible way to live, but that there are working, proven alternatives and solutions to the issues which face us — and they exist on an individual, community, and international level.
Traditionally women were leaders and healers of their cultures and families; today — as the Nobel Committee stated in the year in which the Peace Prize was awarded to Leymah Gbowee and her two female compatriots — we are fully aware that “[w]e cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” Faced with the patriarchal miasma slowly devouring our world, women are again stepping to the fore, cleaning up the messes along with men, and rightfully demanding a voice in planning for a more just, compassionate, and equitable future. It is my hope that this slow-growing trend continues to spread, and that future scholarship within this field will progressively document patriarchy as becoming more and more an outdated and antiquated social relic.