Esoteric Online

Shaman as Healer


The belief that demonic possession caused disease and sickness is well documented in many cultures, including ancient China. The early practitioners of Chinese medicine historically changed from wu 巫 "spirit-mediums; shamans" who used divination, exorcism, and prayer to yi 毉 or 醫 "doctors; physicians" who used herbal medicine, moxibustion, and acupuncture.

As mentioned above, wu 巫 "shaman" was depicted in the ancient 毉 variant character for yi 醫 "healer; doctor". This archaic yi 毉, writes Carr (1992:117), "ideographically depicted a shaman-doctor in the act of exorcistical healing with (矢 'arrows' in) a 医 'quiver', a 殳 'hand holding a lance', and a wu 巫 'shaman'." Unschuld believes this 毉 character depicts the type of wu practitioner described in the Liji.

Several times a year, and also during certain special occasions, such as the funeral of a prince, hordes of exorcists would race shrieking through the city streets, enter the courtyards and homes, thrusting their spears into the air, in an attempt to expel the evil creatures. Prisoners were dismembered outside all gates to the city, to serve both as a deterrent to the demons and as an indication of their fate should they be captured. (1985:37)

Replacing the exorcistical 巫 "shaman" in 毉 with medicinal 酒 "wine" in yi 醫 "healer; doctor" signified, writes Schiffeler (1976:27), "the practice of medicine was not any longer confined to the incantations of the wu, but that it had been taken over (from an official standpoint) by the "priest-physicians," who administered elixirs or wines as treatments for their patients."

Hexagram 32, Heng 恆

Wu and yi are compounded in the word wuyi 巫醫 "shaman-doctor; shamans and doctors", translated "exorcising physician" (De Groot 1910), "sorcerer-physician" (Schiffeler 1976), or "physician-shaman" (Mainfort 2004). Confucius quotes a "Southern Saying" that a good wuyi must have heng  "constancy; ancient tradition; continuation; perseverance; regularity; proper name (e.g., Yijing Hexagram 32)". The (ca. 5th century BCE) Lunyu "Confucian Analects" and the (ca. 1st century BCE) Liji "Record of Rites" give different versions of the Southern Saying.

First, the Lunyu quotes Confucius to mention the saying and refer to the Heng Hexagram:

The Master said, The men of the south have a saying, Without stability a man will not even make a good shaman or witch-doctor. Well said! Of the maxim; if you do not stabilize an act of te 德, you will get evil by it (instead of good), the Master said, They (i.e. soothsayers) do not simply read the omens. (13/22, tr. Waley 1938:77)

Confucius refers to a Yijing line interpretation of the Heng "Duration" Hexagram (tr. Wilhelm 1967:127-9): "Nine in the third place means: He who does not give duration to his character meets with disgrace." In Waley's earlier article about the Yijing, he translated "If you do not stabilize your "virtue," Disgrace will overtake you", and quoted the Lunyu.

"The people of the south have a saying, 'It takes heng to make even a soothsayer or medicine-man.' It's quite true. 'If you do not stabilize your virtue, disgrace will overtake you'." Confucius adds 不占而已矣, which has completely baffled his interpreters. Surely the meaning is 'It is not enough merely to get an omen,' one must also heng 'stabilize it'. And if such a rule applies even to inferior arts like those of the diviner and medicine-man, Confucius asks, how much the more does it apply to the seeker after [de] in the moral sense? Surely he too must 'make constant' his initial striving! (1933:136-137)

Second, the Liji quotes Confucius to elaborate upon the Southern Saying.

The Master said, 'The people of the south have a saying that "A man without constancy cannot be a diviner either with the tortoise-shell or the stalks." This was probably a saying handed down from antiquity. If such a man cannot know the tortoise-shell and stalks, how much less can he know other men? It is said in the Book of Poetry (II, v, ode 1, 3) "Our tortoise-shells are wearied out, And will not tell us anything about the plans." The Charge to [Yue] says ([Shujing], IV, VIII, sect. 2, 5, 11), "Dignities should not be conferred on men of evil practices. (If they be), how can the people set themselves to correct their ways? If this be sought merely by sacrifices, it will be disrespectful (to the spirits). When affairs come to be troublesome, there ensues disorder; when the spirits are served so, difficulties ensue." 'It is said in the [Yijing], "When one does not continuously maintain his virtue, some will impute it to him as a disgrace; (in the position indicated in the Hexagram.) 'When one does maintain his virtue continuously (in the other position indicated), this will be fortunate in a wife, but in a husband evil'." (55, tr. Legge 1885 2:363-364)

This Liji version makes five changes from the Lunyu (Carr 1992:121-122). (1) It writes bushi 卜筮 "diviner" instead of wuyi 巫醫 "shaman-doctor", compounding bu "divine by bone or shell, scapulimancy or plastromancy" and shi (also with "shaman") "divine by milfoil stalks, cleromancy or sortilege". (2) Instead of quoting Confucius to remark "well said!"; he describes the southern proverb as "probably a saying handed down from antiquity" and rhetorically questions the efficacy of divination. (3) The Liji correctly quotes the Shijing (195, tr. Karlgren 1950:142) criticizing royal diviners: "Our tortoises are (satiated =) weary, they do not tell us the (proper) plans." (4) It quotes the "Charge to Yue" 說命 (traditionally attributed to Shang king Wu Ding) differently from the fabricated Guwen "Old TextsShujing "Classic of History" chapter with this name.

Dignities may not be conferred on man of evil practices, but only on men of worth. Anxious thought about what will be good should precede your movements. Your movements also should have respect to the time for them. … Officiousness in sacrifices is called irreverence; ceremonies when burdensome lead to disorder. To serve the spirits in this way is difficult. (17, tr. Legge 1865:256-8)

(5) It cites an additional Yijing Hexagram 32 line (tr. Wilhelm 1967:129) that gender determines the auspiciousness of heng. "Six in the fifth place means: Giving duration to one's character through perseverance. This is good fortune for a woman, misfortune for a man."

The mytho-geography Shanhaijing "Classic of Mountains and Seas" associates wu-shamans with medicinal herbs.

East of the Openbright there are Shaman Robust, Shaman Pushaway, Shaman Sunny, Shaman Shoe, Shaman Every, and Shaman Aide. They are all on each side of the corpse of Notch Flaw and they hold the neverdie drug to ward off decay. (tr. Birrell 2000:141)

There is Mount Divinepower. This is where Shaman Whole, Shaman Reach, Shaman Share, Shaman Robust, Shaman Motherinlaw, Shaman Real, Shaman Rite, Shaman Pushaway, ShamanTakeleave, and Shaman Birdnet ascend to the sky and come down from Mount Divinepower. This is where the hundred drugs are to be found. (tr. Birrell 2000:174)

"Shaman Whole" translates Wu Xian 巫咸 below.

Boileau contrasts Siberian and Chinese shamanic medicines.

Concerning healing, a comparison of the wu and the Siberian shaman shows a big difference: in Siberia, the shaman is also in charge of cures and healing, but he does this by identifying the spirit responsible for the disease and negotiates the proper way to appease him (or her), for example by offering a sacrifice or food on a regular basis. In archaic China, this role is performed through sacrifice: exorcism by the wu does not seem to result in a sacrifice but is aimed purely and simply at expelling the evil spirit. (2002:361)

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fascinating nemo.


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