The Urantia Book
SHAMANISM -- MEDICINE MEN AND
Presented by a Melchizedek of Nebadon.
90:0.1 THE evolution of religious observances
progressed from placation, avoidance, exorcism, coercion,
conciliation, and propitiation to sacrifice, atonement, and
redemption. The technique of religious ritual passed from the
forms of the primitive cult through fetishes to magic and
miracles; and as ritual became more complex in response to man's
increasingly complex concept of the supermaterial realms, it was
inevitably dominated by medicine men, shamans, and priests.
90:0.2 In the advancing concepts of primitive
man the spirit world was eventually regarded as being
unresponsive to the ordinary mortal. Only the exceptional among
humans could catch the ear of the gods; only the extraordinary
man or woman would be heard by the spirits. Religion thus enters
upon a new phase, a stage wherein it gradually becomes
secondhanded; always does a medicine man, a shaman, or a priest
intervene between the religionist and the object of worship. And
today most Urantia systems of organized religious belief are
passing through this level of evolutionary development.
90:0.3 Evolutionary religion is born of a
simple and all-powerful fear, the fear which surges through the
human mind when confronted with the unknown, the inexplicable,
and the incomprehensible. Religion eventually achieves the
profoundly simple realization of an all-powerful love, the love
which sweeps irresistibly through the human soul when awakened
to the conception of the limitless affection of the Universal
Father for the sons of the universe. But in between the
beginning and the consummation of religious evolution, there
intervene the long ages of the shamans, who presume to stand
between man and God as intermediaries, interpreters, and
1. THE FIRST SHAMANS -- THE MEDICINE MEN
90:1.1 The shaman was the ranking medicine
man, the ceremonial fetishman, and the focus personality for all
the practices of evolutionary religion. In many groups the
shaman outranked the war chief, marking the beginning of the
church domination of the state. The shaman sometimes functioned
as a priest and even as a priest-king. Some of the later tribes
had both the earlier shaman-medicine men (seers) and the later
appearing shaman-priests. And in many cases the office of shaman
90:1.2 Since in olden times anything abnormal
was ascribed to spirit possession, any striking mental or
physical abnormality constituted qualification for being a
medicine man. Many of these men were epileptic, many of the
women hysteric, and these two types accounted for a good deal of
ancient inspiration as well as spirit and devil possession.
Quite a few of these earliest of priests were of a class which
has since been denominated paranoiac.
90:1.3 While they may have practiced deception
in minor matters, the great majority of the shamans believed in
the fact of their spirit possession. Women who were able to
throw themselves into a trance or a cataleptic fit became
powerful shamanesses; later, such women became prophets and
spirit mediums. Their cataleptic trances usually involved
alleged communications with the ghosts of the dead. Many female
shamans were also professional dancers.
90:1.4 But not all shamans were self-deceived;
many were shrewd and able tricksters. As the profession
developed, a novice was required to serve an apprenticeship of
ten years of hardship and self-denial to qualify as a medicine
man. The shamans developed a professional mode of dress and
affected a mysterious conduct. They frequently employed drugs to
induce certain physical states which would impress and mystify
the tribesmen. Sleight-of-hand feats were regarded as
supernatural by the common folk, and ventriloquism was first
used by shrewd priests. Many of the olden shamans unwittingly
stumbled onto hypnotism; others induced autohypnosis by
prolonged staring at their navels.
90:1.5 While many resorted to these tricks and
deceptions, their reputation as a class, after all, stood on
apparent achievement. When a shaman failed in his undertakings,
if he could not advance a plausible alibi, he was either demoted
or killed. Thus the honest shamans early perished; only the
shrewd actors survived.
90:1.6 It was shamanism that took the
exclusive direction of tribal affairs out of the hands of the
old and the strong and lodged it in the hands of the shrewd, the
clever, and the farsighted.
2. SHAMANISTIC PRACTICES
90:2.1 Spirit conjuring was a very precise and
highly complicated procedure, comparable to present-day church
rituals conducted in an ancient tongue. The human race very
early sought for superhuman help, for revelation; and men
believed that the shaman actually received such revelations.
While the shamans utilized the great power of suggestion in
their work, it was almost invariably negative suggestion; only
in very recent times has the technique of positive suggestion
been employed. In the early development of their profession the
shamans began to specialize in such vocations as rain making,
disease healing, and crime detecting. To heal diseases was not,
however, the chief function of a shamanic medicine man; it was,
rather, to know and to control the hazards of living.
90:2.2 Ancient black art, both religious and
secular, was called white art when practiced by either priests,
seers, shamans, or medicine men. The practitioners of the black
art were called sorcerers, magicians, wizards, witches,
enchanters, necromancers, conjurers, and soothsayers. As time
passed, all such purported contact with the supernatural was
classified either as witchcraft or shamancraft.
90:2.3 Witchcraft embraced the magic performed
by earlier, irregular, and unrecognized spirits; shamancraft had
to do with miracles performed by regular spirits and
recognized gods of the tribe. In later times the witch became
associated with the devil, and thus was the stage set for the
many comparatively recent exhibitions of religious intolerance.
Witchcraft was a religion with many primitive tribes.
90:2.4 The shamans were great believers in the
mission of chance as revelatory of the will of the spirits; they
frequently cast lots to arrive at decisions. Modern survivals of
this proclivity for casting lots are illustrated, not only in
the many games of chance, but also in the well-known
"counting-out" rhymes. Once, the person counted out must die;
now, he is only it in some childish game. That which was
serious business to primitive man has survived as a diversion of
the modern child.
90:2.5 The medicine men put great trust in
signs and omens, such as, "When you hear the sound of a rustling
in the tops of the mulberry trees, then shall you bestir
yourself." Very early in the history of the race the shamans
turned their attention to the stars. Primitive astrology was a
world-wide belief and practice; dream interpreting also became
widespread. All this was soon followed by the appearance of
those temperamental shamanesses who professed to be able to
communicate with the spirits of the dead.
90:2.6 Though of ancient origin, the rain
makers, or weather shamans, have persisted right on down through
the ages. A severe drought meant death to the early
agriculturists; weather control was the object of much ancient
magic. Civilized man still makes the weather the common topic of
conversation. The olden peoples all believed in the power of the
shaman as a rain maker, but it was customary to kill him when he
failed, unless he could offer a plausible excuse to account for
90:2.7 Again and again did the Caesars banish
the astrologers, but they invariably returned because of the
popular belief in their powers. They could not be driven out,
and even in the sixteenth century after Christ the directors of
Occidental church and state were the patrons of astrology.
Thousands of supposedly intelligent people still believe that
one may be born under the domination of a lucky or an unlucky
star; that the juxtaposition of the heavenly bodies determines
the outcome of various terrestrial adventures. Fortunetellers
are still patronized by the credulous.
90:2.8 The Greeks believed in the efficacy of
oracular advice, the Chinese used magic as protection against
demons, shamanism flourished in India, and it still openly
persists in central Asia. It is an only recently abandoned
practice throughout much of the world.
90:2.9 Ever and anon, true prophets and
teachers arose to denounce and expose shamanism. Even the
vanishing red man had such a prophet within the past hundred
years, the Shawnee Teuskwatowa, who predicted the eclipse of the
sun in 1808 and denounced the vices of the white man. Many true
teachers have appeared among the various tribes and races all
through the long ages of evolutionary history. And they will
ever continue to appear to challenge the shamans or priests of
any age who oppose general education and attempt to thwart
90:2.10 In many ways and by devious methods
the olden shamans established their reputations as voices of God
and custodians of providence. They sprinkled the newborn with
water and conferred names upon them; they circumcised the males.
They presided over all burial ceremonies and made due
announcement of the safe arrival of the dead in spiritland.
90:2.11 The shamanic priests and medicine men
often became very wealthy through the accretion of their various
fees which were ostensibly offerings to the spirits. Not
infrequently a shaman would accumulate practically all the
material wealth of his tribe. Upon the death of a wealthy man it
was customary to divide his property equally with the shaman and
some public enterprise or charity. This practice still obtains
in some parts of Tibet, where one half the male population
belongs to this class of nonproducers.
90:2.12 The shamans dressed well and usually
had a number of wives; they were the original aristocracy, being
exempt from all tribal restrictions. They were very often of
low-grade mind and morals. They suppressed their rivals by
denominating them witches or sorcerers and very frequently rose
to such positions of influence and power that they were able to
dominate the chiefs or kings.
90:2.13 Primitive man regarded the shaman as a
necessary evil; he feared him but did not love him. Early man
respected knowledge; he honored and rewarded wisdom. The shaman
was mostly fraud, but the veneration for shamanism well
illustrates the premium put upon wisdom in the evolution of the
3. THE SHAMANIC THEORY OF DISEASE AND DEATH
90:3.1 Since ancient man regarded himself and
his material environment as being directly responsive to the
whims of the ghosts and the fancies of the spirits, it is not
strange that his religion should have been so exclusively
concerned with material affairs. Modern man attacks his material
problems directly; he recognizes that matter is responsive to
the intelligent manipulation of mind. Primitive man likewise
desired to modify and even to control the life and energies of
the physical domains; and since his limited comprehension of the
cosmos led him to the belief that ghosts, spirits, and gods were
personally and immediately concerned with the detailed control
of life and matter, he logically directed his efforts to winning
the favor and support of these superhuman agencies.
90:3.2 Viewed in this light, much of the
inexplicable and irrational in the ancient cults is
understandable. The ceremonies of the cult were primitive man's
attempt to control the material world in which he found himself.
And many of his efforts were directed to the end of prolonging
life and insuring health. Since all diseases and death itself
were originally regarded as spirit phenomena, it was inevitable
that the shamans, while functioning as medicine men and priests,
should also have labored as doctors and surgeons.
90:3.3 The primitive mind may be handicapped
by lack of facts, but it is for all that logical. When
thoughtful men observe disease and death, they set about to
determine the causes of these visitations, and in accordance
with their understanding, the shamans and the scientists have
propounded the following theories of affliction:
90:3.4 1. Ghosts -- direct spirit
influences. The earliest hypothesis advanced in explanation
of disease and death was that spirits caused disease by enticing
the soul out of the body; if it failed to return, death ensued.
The ancients so feared the malevolent action of
disease-producing ghosts that ailing individuals would often be
deserted without even food or water. Regardless of the erroneous
basis for these beliefs, they did effectively isolate afflicted
individuals and prevent the spread of contagious disease.
90:3.5 2. Violence -- obvious causes.
The causes for some accidents and deaths were so easy to
identify that they were early removed from the category of ghost
action. Fatalities and wounds attendant upon war, animal combat,
and other readily identifiable agencies were considered as
natural occurrences. But it was long believed that the spirits
were still responsible for delayed healing or for the infection
of wounds of even "natural" causation. If no observable natural
agent could be discovered, the spirit ghosts were still held
responsible for disease and death.
90:3.6 Today, in Africa and elsewhere may be
found primitive peoples who kill someone every time a nonviolent
death occurs. Their medicine men indicate the guilty parties. If
a mother dies in childbirth, the child is immediately strangled
-- a life for a life.
90:3.7 3. Magic -- the influence of
enemies. Much sickness was thought to be caused by
bewitchment, the action of the evil eye and the magic pointing
bow. At one time it was really dangerous to point a finger at
anyone; it is still regarded as ill-mannered to point. In cases
of obscure disease and death the ancients would hold a formal
inquest, dissect the body, and settle upon some finding as the
cause of death; otherwise the death would be laid to witchcraft,
thus necessitating the execution of the witch responsible
therefor. These ancient coroner's inquests saved many a supposed
witch's life. Among some it was believed that a tribesman could
die as a result of his own witchcraft, in which event no one was
90:3.8 4. Sin -- punishment for taboo
violation. In comparatively recent times it has been
believed that sickness is a punishment for sin, personal or
racial. Among peoples traversing this level of evolution the
prevailing theory is that one cannot be afflicted unless one has
violated a taboo. To regard sickness and suffering as "arrows of
the Almighty within them" is typical of such beliefs. The
Chinese and Mesopotamians long regarded disease as the result of
the action of evil demons, although the Chaldeans also looked
upon the stars as the cause of suffering. This theory of disease
as a consequence of divine wrath is still prevalent among many
reputedly civilized groups of Urantians.
90:3.9 5. Natural causation. Mankind
has been very slow to learn the material secrets of the
interrelationship of cause and effect in the physical domains of
energy, matter, and life. The ancient Greeks, having preserved
the traditions of Adamson's teachings, were among the first to
recognize that all disease is the result of natural causes.
Slowly and certainly the unfolding of a scientific era is
destroying man's age-old theories of sickness and death. Fever
was one of the first human ailments to be removed from the
category of supernatural disorders, and progressively the era of
science has broken the fetters of ignorance which so long
imprisoned the human mind. An understanding of old age and
contagion is gradually obliterating man's fear of ghosts,
spirits, and gods as the personal perpetrators of human misery
and mortal suffering.
90:3.10 Evolution unerringly achieves its end:
It imbues man with that superstitious fear of the unknown and
dread of the unseen which is the scaffolding for the God
concept. And having witnessed the birth of an advanced
comprehension of Deity, through the co-ordinate action of
revelation, this same technique of evolution then unerringly
sets in motion those forces of thought which will inexorably
obliterate the scaffolding, which has served its purpose.
4. MEDICINE UNDER THE SHAMANS
90:4.1 The entire life of ancient men was
prophylactic; their religion was in no small measure a technique
for disease prevention. And regardless of the error in their
theories, they were wholehearted in putting them into effect;
they had unbounded faith in their methods of treatment, and
that, in itself, is a powerful remedy.
90:4.2 The faith required to get well under
the foolish ministrations of one of these ancient shamans was,
after all, not materially different from that which is required
to experience healing at the hands of some of his later-day
successors who engage in the nonscientific treatment of disease.
90:4.3 The more primitive tribes greatly
feared the sick, and for long ages they were carefully avoided,
shamefully neglected. It was a great advance in humanitarianism
when the evolution of shamancraft produced priests and medicine
men who consented to treat disease. Then it became customary for
the entire clan to crowd into the sickroom to assist the shaman
in howling the disease ghosts away. It was not uncommon for a
woman to be the diagnosing shaman, while a man would administer
treatment. The usual method of diagnosing disease was to examine
the entrails of an animal.
90:4.4 Disease was treated by chanting,
howling, laying on of hands, breathing on the patient, and many
other techniques. In later times the resort to temple sleep,
during which healing supposedly took place, became widespread.
The medicine men eventually essayed actual surgery in connection
with temple slumber; among the first operations was that of
trephining the skull to allow a headache spirit to escape. The
shamans learned to treat fractures and dislocations, to open
boils and abscesses; the shamanesses became adept at midwifery.
90:4.5 It was a common method of treatment to
rub something magical on an infected or blemished spot on the
body, throw the charm away, and supposedly experience a cure. If
anyone should chance to pick up the discarded charm, it was
believed he would immediately acquire the infection or blemish.
It was a long time before herbs and other real medicines were
introduced. Massage was developed in connection with
incantation, rubbing the spirit out of the body, and was
preceded by efforts to rub medicine in, even as moderns attempt
to rub liniments in. Cupping and sucking the affected parts,
together with bloodletting, were thought to be of value in
getting rid of a disease-producing spirit.
90:4.6 Since water was a potent fetish, it was
utilized in the treatment of many ailments. For long it was
believed that the spirit causing the sickness could be
eliminated by sweating. Vapor baths were highly regarded;
natural hot springs soon blossomed as primitive health resorts.
Early man discovered that heat would relieve pain; he used
sunlight, fresh animal organs, hot clay, and hot stones, and
many of these methods are still employed. Rhythm was practiced
in an effort to influence the spirits; the tom-toms were
90:4.7 Among some people disease was thought
to be caused by a wicked conspiracy between spirits and animals.
This gave rise to the belief that there existed a beneficent
plant remedy for every animal-caused disease. The red men were
especially devoted to the plant theory of universal remedies;
they always put a drop of blood in the root hole left when the
plant was pulled up.
90:4.8 Fasting, dieting, and counterirritants
were often used as remedial measures. Human secretions, being
definitely magical, were highly regarded; blood and urine were
thus among the earliest medicines and were soon augmented by
roots and various salts. The shamans believed that disease
spirits could be driven out of the body by foul-smelling and
bad-tasting medicines. Purging very early became a routine
treatment, and the values of raw cocoa and quinine were among
the earliest pharmaceutical discoveries.
90:4.9 The Greeks were the first to evolve
truly rational methods of treating the sick. Both the Greeks and
the Egyptians received their medical knowledge from the
Euphrates valley. Oil and wine was a very early medicine for
treating wounds; castor oil and opium were used by the
Sumerians. Many of these ancient and effective secret remedies
lost their power when they became known; secrecy has always been
essential to the successful practice of fraud and superstition.
Only facts and truth court the full light of comprehension and
rejoice in the illumination and enlightenment of scientific
5. PRIESTS AND RITUALS
90:5.1 The essence of the ritual is the
perfection of its performance; among savages it must be
practiced with exact precision. It is only when the ritual has
been correctly carried out that the ceremony possesses
compelling power over the spirits. If the ritual is faulty, it
only arouses the anger and resentment of the gods. Therefore,
since man's slowly evolving mind conceived that the technique
of ritual was the decisive factor in its efficacy, it was
inevitable that the early shamans should sooner or later evolve
into a priesthood trained to direct the meticulous practice of
the ritual. And so for tens of thousands of years endless
rituals have hampered society and cursed civilization, have been
an intolerable burden to every act of life, every racial
90:5.2 Ritual is the technique of sanctifying
custom; ritual creates and perpetuates myths as well as
contributing to the preservation of social and religious
customs. Again, ritual itself has been fathered by myths.
Rituals are often at first social, later becoming economic and
finally acquiring the sanctity and dignity of religious
ceremonial. Ritual may be personal or group in practice -- or
both -- as illustrated by prayer, dancing, and drama.
90:5.3 Words become a part of ritual, such as
the use of terms like amen and selah. The habit of swearing,
profanity, represents a prostitution of former ritualistic
repetition of holy names. The making of pilgrimages to sacred
shrines is a very ancient ritual. The ritual next grew into
elaborate ceremonies of purification, cleansing, and
sanctification. The initiation ceremonies of the primitive
tribal secret societies were in reality a crude religious rite.
The worship technique of the olden mystery cults was just one
long performance of accumulated religious ritual. Ritual finally
developed into the modern types of social ceremonials and
religious worship, services embracing prayer, song, responsive
reading, and other individual and group spiritual devotions.
90:5.4 The priests evolved from shamans up
through oracles, diviners, singers, dancers, weathermakers,
guardians of religious relics, temple custodians, and
foretellers of events, to the status of actual directors of
religious worship. Eventually the office became hereditary; a
continuous priestly caste arose.
90:5.5 As religion evolved, priests began to
specialize according to their innate talents or special
predilections. Some became singers, others prayers, and still
others sacrificers; later came the orators -- preachers. And
when religion became institutionalized, these priests claimed to
"hold the keys of heaven."
90:5.6 The priests have always sought to
impress and awe the common people by conducting the religious
ritual in an ancient tongue and by sundry magical passes so to
mystify the worshipers as to enhance their own piety and
authority. The great danger in all this is that the ritual tends
to become a substitute for religion.
90:5.7 The priesthoods have done much to delay
scientific development and to hinder spiritual progress, but
they have contributed to the stabilization of civilization and
to the enhancement of certain kinds of culture. But many modern
priests have ceased to function as directors of the ritual of
the worship of God, having turned their attention to theology --
the attempt to define God.
90:5.8 It is not denied that the priests have
been a millstone about the neck of the races, but the true
religious leaders have been invaluable in pointing the way to
higher and better realities.
Presented by a Melchizedek of Nebadon.