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The Inuit Shaman


The Inuit shaman, or angekkok, has great spiritual powers, which usually were developed when he reached the age of puberty. It was then after wondering in the desert for a few days, becoming hungry and anxiously dissociated from his environment, that tornaq, or spirit, appears to him generally in some near-human form. A dialogue between the two occurs in which the frightened aspirant is promised strength and visions. He returns home to his family and continues living an average life but eventually is overcome by spells of inspiration and is sought to be accepted to be an assistant to an experienced magician. The magician trains the assistant in the shamanistic skills of curing illness, controlling the weather, and forecasting the future.

There seems to be no formal organized religion among the Inuit people. The shaman or people will call an impromptu meeting when problems occur. the shaman enters a dream-like trance, altered consciousness, and visit the spirit world attempting to find a solution. Various actions can be displayed by the shaman when in the trance. The shaman is said to be overcome by spirits and there may be shouting, screaming, struggling as if in a seizure, speaking in strange languages, and illness and nausea. Occasionally his words are intelligible to those in the audience knowing ancient dialects.

After emerging from this trance the shaman makes what are known as prophecies. Sometimes the prophecies are difficult to express in everyday language so the shaman utters them in a strange sing-song recital. These usually are pronouncements of the spirits concerning the communal environment such as the coming of shoals of fish, movements of caribou, future weather conditions, and so on. Although there are no records of accuracy of these prophecies, it is thought the skilled shaman's familiarity of his territory would give him clues as to what probably will occur. An example of a prophecy would be the shaman telling the people whether Sedna
predicted a famine or an abundance of food for the coming season.

Sometimes the familiarity of the skilled shaman is referred to as the small arts of deception of his profession. There is little doubt that the visions he experiences during his ecstatic trances are true because he was a natural shaman, believed to have received his ability, before he took his training. The arts help him express his visions clearer. Some feel the visions are highly dramatized archetypal dreams rising from historical traditions which the shaman is already steeped in. In other words, the skilled shaman has the background with which to interpret his visions. A.G.H.


Source:

Burland, Cottie. North American Indian Mythology. "Library of the World's Myths and Legends." {Revised by Marion Wood) New York. Peter Bedrick Books. 1965. pp. 19-20


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