Taking the spirits seriously: neo-shamanism and contemporary shamanic healing in New Zealand : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Social Anthropology at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
This thesis is a phenomenological and comparative study of contemporary shamanic
healing and neo-Shamans in New Zealand. It considers neo-Shamanism as a complex
of spiritual practices situated within a broad but identifiable cosmological sensibility,
and as variable systems of healing. The relationships between neo-Shamans and some
other new religious movements in New Zealand, and the similarities or differences
between the practices of other neo- and indigenous shamans within a global context
are examined. The discussion sits within a larger health and healing discourse about
the relationships between neo-Shamanism, complementary and alternative medicine,
and biomedicine amongst the medically pluralistic culture of New Zealand. It
describes contemporary Māori healing as a possible variant of shamanism within local
and global contexts; in particular, it examines the relationships between (some) neo-
Shamans in New Zealand and (some) Māori healers.
I argue that modern Western shamans are synthesising and creating multiple 21st
century forms of neo-Shamanisms, and that neo-Shamans in New Zealand are part of
this emerging (re)construction process. However, neo-Shamans in New Zealand are
also unique in that they live and practise in this land, which has led to them creating
new spiritual identities as neo-Shamanic practitioners in New Zealand. I suggest that
neo-Shamans in New Zealand do many of the things that indigenous shamans have
always done and continue to do (such as entering altered states of consciousness),
albeit within a particular modern Western cultural context. Moreover, I contend that
neo-Shamans are challenging orthodox Western science as they engage in a sacred
science that ‘takes the spirits seriously’ (Blain, 2002:74).
Secondly, I argue that many practitioners of complementary and alternative
medicine consciously or unconsciously incorporate what might be regarded as
shamanistic techniques and tools into their work, creating fusion models of healing.
My observation is that the importation of shamanic healing practices into the West has
contributed to these processes. I suggest that while at least some contemporary healers
might be considered ‘shamans’ in disguise, nomenclature issues around whether or not
they should be defined as shamans are less important than the fact that their healing
practices have widened to include implicitly or explicitly a spiritual dimension.