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December 2019

Soc Sci Med. 1992 Sep; 35(5): 723-34.

A shamanic etiology of affliction from western Nepal.

Maskarinec GG.

Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu 96822.

As a central feature of every ceremony, Nepali shamans (jhãkris) publicly recite lengthy oral texts, whose meticulous memorization constitutes the core of shamanic training. These texts include passages that explain the origins of diseases and afflictions, and provide elaborate instructions for their alleviation. Through a discursive analysis of key passages, I demonstrate that shamans possess a coherent etiology of affliction. These concepts are articulated as integrated parts of the treatments that shamans perform. Rather than attributing all afflictions to ambiguous other worldly causes, these shamanic etiologies identify precise sources and effects that cover a spectrum ranging from the purely physical to the purely metaphysical, intersecting the natural and supernatural worlds. Patients and the public are repeatedly instructed in this unambiguous system of affliction in every diagnostic and healing session, since these ceremonies always incorporate recitations of the relevant texts. Accessible to non-specialists, the system conveyed by these recitations acts to validate shamanic intervention as a significant and intelligible activity. Using their oral texts, shamans effectively reproduce worlds that require shamanic interventions.

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