The Figure of the Shaman as a Modern Myth. Some reflections on the attractiveness of shamanism in modern societies


  • Gerhard A. Mayer Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene e.V.



Neo-Shamanism, Cyber-shamanism, Cipher of transcendence, philosophy of Existenz, Karl Jaspers


With an increasing interest in shamanism in western societies during the last decades the character of the shaman was–with an act of identifying–implanted into the cultural perspective of many subcultures. Due to the widespread psychologization of shamanism an overgeneralized and oversimplified view of traditional shamanism gives a matrix which creates the different popular conceptualizations of the figure of the shaman. In this paper, four areas explicitly referring to the figure of the shaman are described, demonstrating the fascination it holds and the manifold possibilities of interpretation. The four areas are: neoshamanism, the ‘urban shaman’ as cultural critic and rebel, technoshamanism/cybershamanism, and the field of performing and visual arts. Looking at these areas one can find ten elements of the shaman myth which form the popular image of shamanism in western societies and which constitute the attractiveness and the fascination of the figure of the shaman. Referring to some philosophical concepts of the German philosopher Karl Jaspers the figure of the shaman can be understood as a powerful cipher of transcendence.

Author Biography

Gerhard A. Mayer, Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene e.V.

Gerhard Mayer studied psychology, sociology, philosophy, and history of art at the University of Freiburg. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Freiburg in 2000 with a dissertation about the reception of "occult" films from the viewpoint of adolescents. Since 1996 he has been working as a scientific collaborator at the IGPP. His research interests are questions of Cultural Studies relating to the frontier areas of psychology, anomalies, media research, (neo-) shamanism, magical practices and beliefs.


Atkinson, Jane Monnig. “Shamanisms today.” In Shamanism., edited by Andrei A. Znamenski, 117-145. Critical Concepts in Sociology. London / New York: Routledge Curzon, 2004.

Baker, John R. “Keepers of Tradition, Agents of Change: Shamanism, Altered States of Consciousness, and Cultural Adaption,” Curare 22 (1999): 115-120.

Bates, Brian. The Way of the Actor: a Path to Knowledge and Power. Boston: Shambala, 1987.

Beck, Ulrich. Risk Society. Towards a New Modernity. London: SAGE Publications, 1992.

Berman, Morris: The Reenchantement of the World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Beyman, Rebecca and Jürgen W. Kremer. “The Spirit of Integration,” ReVision 26, no. 1 (2003): 40-48.

Braem, Harald. Die magische Welt der Schamanen und Höhlenmaler. Köln: Dumont, 1994.

Butler, Beverley. ”The Tree, the Tower and the Shaman. The Material Culture of Resistance of the No M11 Link Roads Protest of Wanstead and Leytonstone, London.,” in Shamanism. A Reader., edited by Graham Harvey, 375-401.London, New York: Routledge, 2003.

Carter, Sandy. “The Second Coming Of Patti Smith,” Z Magazine, 2000.

Cardeña, Etzel. “The Magical Flight: Shamanism and Theatre.” In Proceedings of the third International Conference on the Study of Shamanism and Alternate Modes of Healing, edited by Ruth-Inge Heinze, 291-304. Berkeley: Independent Scholars of Asia, 1987.

Clottes, Jean and David Lewis-Williams. The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998.

Cruden, Loren. Coyote’s Council Fire. Contemporary Shamans on Race, Gender, & Community. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1995.

Davis, Erik. Tech Gnosis. Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari . A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Athlone, 1988.

Devereux, Georges. “Shamans As Neurotics,” American Anthropologist 63 (1961): 1088-1090.

Dooley, John A. “Shamans, Actors and Images.” In Shamanism in Performing Arts, edited by Tae gon Kim and Mihály Hoppál, 42-56. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiad¢, 1995, 42-56.

Dossey, Larry. “The Inner Life of the Healer: The Importance of Shamanism for Modern Medicine.” In Shaman’s Path. Healing, Personal Growth, and Empowerment, edited by Gary Doore., 89-99.Boston: Shambhala, 1988.

Drury, Nevill. The Shaman and the Magician. Journeys between the worlds. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

Duerr, Hans Peter “Wir Wollen Staunen.” Der Ethnologe Hans Peter Duerr Über Geister Und Schamanen, Nixen, Nymphen Und Die Sehnsucht Nach Einer Verzauberten Welt,” Der Spiegel, 1996, 222-225.

Ehrenwald, Jan. “Hitler: Shaman, Schizophrenic, Medium?“ Parapsychology Review 6 (1975): 3-9.

Eliade, Mircea. “Shamanism and Cosmology.” In Shamanism. An Expanded View of Reality, ed. Shirley Nicholson, 17-46. Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1987.

———. Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Francfort, Henri Paul and Roberte N. Hamayon. The Concept of Shamanism: Uses and Abuses. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2001.

Frey, Jürgen. “Das Recht auf Sünde. Patti Smith: Hits und Raritäten auf einer DoppelCD,” Badische Zeitung, 18 May 2002.

Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and self-identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press, 199).

——— The consequences of modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990.

Goodman, Felicitas D. Where the Spirits Ride the Wind. Trance Journeys and other Ecstatic Experiences. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Hamayon, Roberte N. “Are ‘Trance’, ‘Ecstasy’ and Similar Concepts Appropriate in the Study of Shamanism?” In Shamanism in Performing Arts, edited by Tae-gon Kim and Mihály Hoppál. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1995, 17-34.

Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman. A Guide to Power and Healing. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990.

Harper, John Jay. Tranceformers: Shamans of the 21st Century. San Jose: Writers Club Press, 2006.

Harvey, Graham. “General Introduction” In Shamanism. A Reader, edited by Graham Harvey, 1-23. London; New York: Routledge, 2003.

———. Listening People, Speaking Earth. Contemporary Paganism. London: Hurst & Company, 1997.

Heinze, Ruth-Inge. Shamans of the 20th Century. New York: Irvington Publishers, 1991.

Houston, Jean. “Foreword: The Mind and Soul of the Shaman.” In Shamanism. An Expanded View of Reality, edited by Shirley Nicholson, vii-xiii. Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1987.

Hutton, Ronald. Shamans. Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination. London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2001.

Jakobsen, Merete Demant. Shamanism. Traditional and Contemporary Approaches to the Mastery of Spirits and Healing. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999.

Jaspers, Karl. Basic Philosophical Writings. Selection. Edited, translated, and with introductions by Edith Ehrlich, Leonard H. Ehrlich, George B. Pepper. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1994.

Jaspers, Karl. Chiffren der Transzendenz. München: Piper, 1970.

Johnson, Paul C. “Shamanism from Ecuador to Chicago. A Case Study in New Age ritual apropriation.” In Shamanism. A Reader., edited by Graham Harvey, 334- 354. London, New York: Routledge, 2003.

Jünger, Bernd and Blöß, Willi. Joseph Beuys—Der lächelnde Schamane, Comic-Biografie. Aachen: Willi Blöß Verlag, 2004.

Kaldera, Raven and Schwartzstein, Tannin. Urban Primitive. Paganism in the Concrete Jungle. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2002.

Kalweit, Holger. Dreamtime and Inner Space. The World of the Shaman. Boston: Shambhala, 1988.

Keupp, Heiner and Höfer, Renate. Identitätsarbeit heute. Klassische und aktuelle Perspektiven der Identitätsforschung. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1997.

King, Serge Kahili. Urban Shaman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Kremer, Jürgen W. “Shamanic Tales as Ways of Personal Empowerment.” In Shaman’s Path. Healing, Personal Growth, and Empowerment, edited by Gary Doore, 189-199. Boston, Mass.: Shambhala, 1988.

Kultermann, Udo. Leben und Kunst. Zur Funktion der Intermedia. Tübingen: Wasmuth, 1970.

Lindquist, Galina. Shamanic Performances on the Urban Scene. Neo-Shamanism in Contemporary Sweden, Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology, 39. Stockholm: Stockholm University Press, 1997.

Lommel, Andreas. The World of the Early Hunters. Medicine-men, Shamans, and Artists. London: Evelyn, Adams & Mackay, 1967.

MacLellan, Gordon. “Dancing on the Edges. Shamanism in modern Britain.,” in Shamanism. A Reader., ed. Graham Harvey. London, New York: Routledge, 2003, 365-374.

Marks, Carolyn. „The Artist as Shaman,“ in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Study of Shamanism, ed. Ruth-Inge Heinze, 31-35. Berkeley: Independent Scholars of Asia, 1985.

Mastromattei, Romano. “Oral Tradition and Shamanic Recitals.“ In Oralità: Cultura, Letteratura, Discorso, edited byB. Gentili and G. Paioni. Urbino: Ateneo, 1981.

Mayer, Gerhard. Schamanismus in Deutschland. Konzepte—Praktiken—Erfahrungen. Würzburg: Ergon, 2003.

McKenna, Terence .“Plan, Plant, Planet,“ Whole Earth Review 64 (Fall 1989). http:// (accessed May 14, 2008).

–––. “Re: Evolution”. terence/mckenna_terence_re_evolution.shtml (accessed May 14, 2008).

Müller, Klaus E. Schamanismus. München: Beck, 1997.

Münzel, Mark. “Lügen die Schamanen? Schauspieler im Amazonasgebiet.” In Schamanen Zwischen Mythos Und Moderne, edited by Alexandra Rosenbohm, 90-103. Leipzig: Militzke, 1999.

Murray, Stephen O.“Die ethnoromantische Versuchung.“ In Der Wissenschaftler Und Das Irrationale. Erster Band: Beiträge Aus Ethnologie Und Anthropologie I, edited by Hans Peter Duerr, 104-112. Frankfurt/ Main: Syndikat, 1985.

Narby, Jeremy. The Cosmic Serpent. DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998).

Narby, Jeremy and Francis Huxley, eds. Shamans Through Time. 500 Years on the Path of Knowledge. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2004.

Nicholson, Shirley. Shamanism. An Expanded View of Reality. Wheaton: Ill., Quest Books, 1987.

Nöske, Thomas and HEL. Pop-Schamanismus, edition Minotaurus. Friedland: Klaus Bielefeld Verlag, 1999.

O’Connor, Bernard F. A Dialogue Between Philosophy and Religion. The Perspective of Karl Jaspers. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1988.

Pinchbeck, Daniel. Breaking Open the Head. A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. New York: Broadway, 2002.

Quekelberghe, Renaud van. “Wiederbelebung archaischer Vernunft und schamanischen Heilungsbewusstseins durch transformatives Lernen.“ In Ethnotherapien—Therapeutische Konzepte im Kulturvergleich, edited by Christine E. Gottschalk-Batschkus and Christian Rätsch, 250-253. Berlin: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 1998.

Rapp, Uri. Handeln und Zuschauen. Darmstadt und Neuwied: Hermann Luchterhand, 1973.

Rätsch, Christian. “Techno-Schamanen,“ Connection special, no. III/00 (2000): 44-47.

Rätsch, Christian. Schamanismus, Techno und Cyberspace. Von “natürlichen“ und “künstlichen“ Paradiesen. Solothurn: Nachtschatten, 2001.

Reschke, Gerd-Lothar. Schamane in Deutschland. I: Wirk-Gilde. Leipzig: Engelsdorfer Verlag, 2004.

Ricoeur, Paul. “The Relation of Jaspers’ Philosophy to Religion.” In The Philosophy of Karl Jaspers, edited by Paul A. Schilpp. Lasalle: Open Court Publishing, 1981.

Rockwell, John. “Patti Smith: Shaman in the Land of Thousand Dances,” Rolling Stone, 1976.

Rogo, D. Scott. “Shamanism, ESP, and the Paranormal.” In Shamanism. An Expanded View of Reality, edited by Shirley Nicholson, 133-144. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 198.

Roth, Gabrielle. Maps to Ecstasy. Teachings of an Urban Shaman. Novata, California: New World Library, 1989.

Rubio, Adriana. Jim Morrison Ceremony: Exploring the Shaman Possession. Evansdale, Iowa: Arts Publications, 2005.

Schechner, Richard and Appel, Willa. By Means of Performance. Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Schechner, Richard. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

Stuckrad, Kocku von. Schamanismus und Esoterik. Kultur- und wissenschaftsgeschichtliche Betrachtungen (Gnostica: Texts & Interpretations). Leuven: Peeters, 2003.

Stuckrad, Kocku von. “Reenchanting Nature: Modern Western Shamanism and Nineteenth-Century Thought.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 70, no. 4 (2002): 771-799.

Stuckrad, Kocku von. Western Esotericism. A Brief History of Secret Knowledge. London: Equinox, 2005.

Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Taussig, Michael. Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man. A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self. Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Throop, C. Jason, and Dornan, Jennifer L. “Psychopathology and Shamanism.” In Shamanism. An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices and Culture, edited by Mariko N. Walter and Eva J. N. Fridman. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2004, 211- 217.

Townsend, Joan B.”Individualist Religious Movements: Core and Neo-Shamanism,” Anthropology of Consciousness 14, no. 1 (2004): 1-9.

Tucker, Michael. Dreaming with Open Eyes. The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture. San Francisco: Aquarian/Harper, 1992.

Vitebsky, Piers. Shamanism. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.

Wallis, Robert J. “Art and Shamanism.” In Shamanism. An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices and Culture. Zwei Bände, edited by Mariko N. Walter and Eva J. N. Fridman. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2004, 21-28.

Wallis, Robert J. Shamans/Neo-Shamans. Ecstasy, Alternative Archaeologies and Contemporary Pagans. London: Routledge, 2003.

Walsh, Roger N. The Spirit of Shamanism. New York: Tarcher, 1990.

Wernitznig, Dagmar. Going Native or Going Naive? White Shamanism and the Neo-Noble Savage. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2003.

Winkelman, Michael. Shamanism : The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing: Westport, Conn.: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, 2000.

Znamenski, Andrei A. The Beauty of the Primitive. Shamanism and the Western Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Znamenski, Andrei A. “General Introduction. Adventures of the Metaphor: Shamanism and Shamanism Studies.” In Shamanism. Critical Concepts in Sociology, edited by Andrei A. Znamenski. London / New York: Routledge Curzon, 2004, xix-lxxxvi.

Zumstein, Carlo. Schamanismus. München: Hugendubel, 2001.



How to Cite

Mayer, G. A. (2008). The Figure of the Shaman as a Modern Myth. Some reflections on the attractiveness of shamanism in modern societies. Pomegranate, 10(1), 70–103.