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M’teoulin, Or Indian Magic
by [?]

The study of magic as it is believed in or understood by the Indians of America is extremely interesting, for it involves that of all supernaturalism or of all religion whatever. But if we, declining all question as to the origin of monotheism, limit ourselves definitely to what is known of Shamanism alone, we shall still have before us an immense field for investigation. Shamanism is the belief that all the events and accidents of life are caused or influenced by spirits, and as fear of suffering is in all men, but particularly the savage, the strongest moral emotion, the natural consequence is a greater fear of evil invisible beings. The result of it is a faith that everything which is obscure or invisible is supposed to be the work of mysterious agents, generally evil. Thus all disease whatever, all suffering, pain, loss, or disaster, or bad weather, is at once attributed either to a spirit or to some enemy who practices witchcraft. The Shaman is the priest or doctor, who professes to be able, by his counter-charms, to counteract or neutralize this devil’s work.

It will be long ere the scholar definitely determines whether Shamanism as it now exists originated spontaneously in different countries where the same causes were to be found, or whether it is historical; that is, derived from a single source. I believe that while darkness, hunger, fear, and similar causes could not fail to create a rude religion anywhere, as Moncure Conway has shown, yet that the derivation from one beginning, or at least later modifications from it, has been very great indeed. Investigation indicates that it was in Assyria, at a very remote age, that Shamanism had, if not its origin, at least its fullest development. The reader who will consult Lenormant’s work on Chaldean magic will learn from it that the fear of devils and the art of neutralizing their power were never carried to such an extent elsewhere as in the Land of Bel. Now as Shamanism has at the present day its stronghold among the Turanian races of Central Asia, it may greatly strengthen the theory, somewhat doubted of late, of the early Accadian predecessors of the Chaldeans and their Turanian origin, if we can only prove that their magical religion was the same as that of the Tartars. So far as my reading has aided me, I am inclined to believe that they are identical. “Magic” went so far among the former that, while they discovered natural remedies for natural ills, they never doubted that one was as much the result of sorcery as the other. This theory spread everywhere.

Shamanism, or a vague fear of invisible evils and the sorcerer, may indeed have sprung up independently in Tartary, Central Africa, Finland, and North America. But it is almost incredible that the use of a drum inscribed with magical figures, the spirit flight of the angakok or Shaman, and twenty other characteristics of the art should have become, without transmission, common to all these countries. Shamanism has probably been at the root of all religions; there was a great deal of it in all those of the Semitic races, and, admitting this, it is not difficult to see how from Chaldea and Babylon it may have found its way into Africa, where black savages, who would have rejected a higher religion, would grasp greedily at what they sympathized with. The only real difference between the Voodoo and Pow-wow practices is that the former is, so to speak, the blacker and more revolting. This is because a low state of culture has induced the believers in it to retain more of the coarse witchcraft on which Shamanism was based, or out of which it grew.

For wherever Shamanism exists, there is to be found, in company with it, an older sorcery, or witchcraft, which it professes to despise, and against which it does battle. As the Catholic priest, by Bible incantations or scriptural magic, exorcises devils and charms cattle or sore throats, disowning the darker magic of older days, so the Shaman acts against the real wizard. Rink tells us that among the heathen Eskimo the Shaman is sacred, and witchcraft a deadly crime, but that the latter is the secret survival of a more ancient religion. Voodoo, whether practiced, as it is to-day, in Philadelphia, New York, Havana, or Senegambia, deals with alleged devils, poisons, chicken bones, the ivory root, unnatural orgies,–all, in short, that can startle and astonish ignorant natures; it is the combination of the oldest faith with its successor. Far higher forms are those of the magic of the black Takowri whom one meets divining about the streets of Cairo, or of the Arab proper, which brings us fairly to the Cabala and the Jew, Cornelius Agrippa and Eliphas Levi.