The Shaman's Song and Divination in the Epic Tradition

Anthropology of Consciousness 21 (2):163-187 (2010)

Evidence of the intimate linkage of the shaman's song and divinatory procedures may be viewed in the ancient epics. These narrative poems contain structural and thematic elements recognizable from the shaman's song—in particular his or her voyage to the Otherworld and the guidance of oracular powers. In this paper, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Euripedes' Ion, and The Ozidi Saga (a living epic from West Africa) are examined as recuperations of the orally composed and transmitted song of the shaman. I argue that the epics—the origins of which predate their composition in literary form—bear witness to these most ancient and mysterious forms of linguistic expression. As depictions of Otherwordly journeys, they can be viewed through a metaphysic outside of time, rendering divination not only possible but inevitable, and necessitating a language of abstraction, allusion, and ambiguity. Today's experimental poetries may not all partake of a conscious recuperation of shamanic themes and forms, but they share an imaginary (yet not imagined) repositioning of reality, an open questioning of consensus forms of awareness, and an aesthetic shaping of what Jean Gebser calls “Integral Consciousness” (15), the simultaneous integration-disintegration of archaic, mythic, magic, and mental paradigms in an intensification of awareness which sees time as diaphanous, and Mind as a doorway between possibilities
Keywords shaman's song  ethnopoetics  divination  mythology  epic poetry
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DOI 10.1111/j.1556-3537.2010.01027.x
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