Contemporary Shamanism: girl with drums

The Contradictory Worlds of Scientism and Post-Truth in Contemporary Shamanism

In Personal development by Chris A. Parker

This article delves into the world of Neo-shamanism, a contemporary spiritual movement that blends ancient practices with modern perspectives. It explores the core principles of Neo-shamanism, contrasting it with traditional shamanism. The article then dives into two significant influences shaping Neo-shamanism: scientism and the post-truth paradigm.

On one hand, scientism emphasizes the authority of science and seeks scientific validation for Neo-shamanic practices. This approach aims to bridge the gap between ancient wisdom and contemporary understanding. On the other hand, the post-truth paradigm prioritizes personal beliefs and subjective experiences over objective facts. This resonates with the individualistic approach of Neo-shamanism, where personal journeys and emotional truths take center stage.

The article acknowledges the inherent contradictions between these two paradigms within Neo-shamanism. It then explores potential paths for navigating these contradictions, including fostering dialogue and embracing an integrative approach that respects both scientific rigor and personal experience.

By examining the evolution of Neo-shamanic practices and its openness to incorporating modern insights, the article highlights its potential for continued growth and adaptation. The future of Neo-shamanism lies in finding a balance between scientism and the post-truth paradigm, offering a holistic and inclusive approach to spiritual exploration and personal development.

Understanding Contemporary Shamanism (Neo-Shamanism)

Contemporary shamanism, often called Neo-shamanism, blends ancient spiritual practices with modern beliefs and methods. It draws inspiration from traditional shamanic practices found in indigenous cultures worldwide. However, Neo-shamanism adapts these practices to fit the context of modern society. It emphasizes personal growth, healing, and spiritual exploration, catering to individuals seeking alternative paths to wellness and enlightenment.

Neo-shamanism is accessible to a broader audience compared to traditional shamanism. Workshops, online courses, and books allow people from various backgrounds to engage with shamanic practices. This accessibility has led to a diverse community of practitioners who bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the movement.

Key Differences Between Traditional and Neo-Shamanism

While both traditional and Neo-shamanism share core elements such as the use of rituals, drumming, and trance states, several key differences set them apart. Traditional shamanism is deeply rooted in specific cultural and tribal contexts. It often involves a shaman who has undergone extensive training and initiation within their community. These shamans serve as healers, spiritual guides, and intermediaries between the physical and spiritual worlds.

In contrast, Neo-shamanism is more eclectic and less tied to a single cultural tradition. Practitioners may draw from various indigenous practices, blending them with New Age philosophies and personal spiritual experiences. This flexibility allows for a more individualized approach to shamanism, where each practitioner can tailor their practices to suit their personal journey.

Another significant difference is the role of science and scholarly validation in Neo-shamanism. Unlike traditional shamanism, which relies on oral traditions and communal knowledge, Neo-shamanism often seeks legitimacy through scientific research and academic studies. This quest for validation reflects a broader trend in modern spiritual movements to align with contemporary understandings of psychology and wellness.

By embracing both ancient wisdom and modern insights, Neo-shamanism offers a dynamic and evolving path for spiritual seekers. It bridges the gap between the mystical traditions of the past and the contemporary quest for personal and collective transformation.

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The Rise of Scientism

Historical Background of Scientism

The roots of scientism can be traced back to the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period, thinkers emphasized reason, scientific inquiry, and empirical evidence as the primary means of understanding the world.

This shift marked a departure from relying on religious and superstitious explanations for natural phenomena. The Enlightenment laid the groundwork for the development of modern science, which revolutionized various fields, including medicine, physics, and astronomy.

As scientific knowledge expanded, so did the belief in its ability to explain and control every aspect of reality. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the rise of positivism, a philosophical stance asserting that only scientific knowledge is true and valuable. This period also witnessed significant technological advancements and industrialization, further cementing the authority of science in society.

Defining Scientism: The Authority of Science

Scientism is the belief that science is the ultimate authority on all matters of knowledge and truth. It extends beyond appreciating scientific methods and achievements to asserting that science alone can answer all questions about life, existence, and human experience. Proponents of scientism often dismiss other forms of knowledge, such as philosophical, ethical, or spiritual insights, as inferior or irrelevant.

This worldview places a high value on empirical evidence, repeatability, and objective measurement. It promotes the idea that phenomena not currently explainable by science are either illusory or will eventually be understood through scientific means. Scientism also tends to reduce complex human experiences, such as consciousness and emotions, to mere biochemical processes.

Impact of Scientism on Modern Beliefs

The influence of scientism on contemporary society is profound. It shapes how people perceive the world, make decisions, and prioritize values. One significant impact is the prioritization of technological and medical advancements in addressing human problems. This has led to remarkable progress in health, communication, and overall quality of life.

However, it also fosters a reliance on technological solutions at the expense of exploring holistic and alternative approaches to well-being.

In the realm of spirituality, scientism challenges traditional and mystical beliefs. It promotes skepticism towards practices that lack empirical validation, such as alternative medicine, astrology, and various forms of spiritual healing. This skepticism can create tension between scientific and spiritual communities, with each side questioning the legitimacy of the other’s methods and conclusions.

Despite these tensions, there is a growing movement towards integrating scientific and spiritual perspectives. Many individuals seek to bridge the gap, recognizing the value of both empirical evidence and personal, subjective experiences.

This integrative approach is particularly evident in fields like psychology and holistic health, where practitioners combine scientific research with spiritual practices to support overall well-being.

Scientism’s Influence on Neo-Shamanism

In Neo-shamanism, there is a notable trend towards seeking academic validation. This is a departure from traditional shamanic practices, which are typically passed down through generations via oral traditions and direct apprenticeships.

Neo-shamanic practitioners often seek to ground their practices in scientific research and academic studies, aiming to enhance credibility and appeal to a modern audience. This approach helps bridge the gap between ancient spiritual practices and contemporary understanding, making shamanism more accessible and acceptable to those who prioritize scientific evidence.

Academic validation often involves integrating psychological and anthropological insights into shamanic practices. For example, the therapeutic effects of shamanic rituals are explored through the lens of psychology, demonstrating their benefits in terms of mental health and personal growth.

Such validation not only legitimizes these practices but also expands their reach, attracting individuals who might otherwise be skeptical of purely spiritual or mystical traditions.

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The Role of Scholars in Shamanic Movements

Scholars play a crucial role in the development and propagation of Neo-shamanism. Anthropologists, psychologists, and other academics who study shamanic cultures and practices contribute significantly to the movement.

Their research provides a framework for understanding the efficacy and significance of shamanic rituals, enabling practitioners to articulate the benefits of their practices in terms that resonate with a scientifically-minded audience.

Scholars often participate in shamanic workshops and conferences, sharing their findings and engaging in dialogues with practitioners. This collaboration fosters a mutually beneficial relationship where scholarly research informs shamanic practices, and firsthand shamanic experiences enrich academic studies. By providing a theoretical foundation and empirical evidence, scholars help Neo-shamanic practitioners refine their methods and communicate their value more effectively.

Case Studies: Shamanic Workshops and Scholarly Influence

One notable example of academic influence in Neo-shamanism is the integration of psychotherapeutic principles into shamanic workshops. Workshops led by trained psychotherapists who also practice shamanism often blend traditional rituals with modern therapeutic techniques. This combination offers participants a holistic approach to healing, addressing both spiritual and psychological dimensions.

Another case study involves the work of anthropologists who document and analyze shamanic practices in indigenous cultures. Their research highlights the universal aspects of shamanism and demonstrates its relevance across different contexts. This scholarly work is then used by Neo-shamanic practitioners to adapt traditional practices in ways that are culturally sensitive and scientifically informed.

The influence of scholars is also evident in the growing body of literature on Neo-shamanism. Books and articles written by academics provide a rich source of information and guidance for practitioners.

These publications often include case studies, theoretical discussions, and practical advice, serving as valuable resources for those looking to deepen their understanding of shamanic practices.

The collaboration between scholars and Neo-shamanic practitioners exemplifies the intersection of scientism and spirituality. It underscores the potential for scientific inquiry and ancient wisdom to coexist and enrich each other, offering a more comprehensive approach to personal and collective transformation.

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The Emergence of the Post-Truth Paradigm

The term “post-truth” gained prominence in recent years, particularly in 2016 when it was named the word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary. Post-truth refers to a cultural and political context where objective facts and empirical evidence are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. In a post-truth society, truth becomes subjective, and narratives that resonate emotionally hold more sway than those grounded in verifiable data.

The Postmodern Roots of Post-Truth

The roots of the post-truth paradigm can be traced back to postmodernism, a philosophical movement that emerged in the mid-20th century. Postmodernism challenges the notion of absolute truth, arguing that all knowledge is socially constructed and influenced by power dynamics. It posits that what we consider to be “truth” is often a reflection of societal consensus rather than an objective reality.

Postmodern thinkers like Michel Foucault and Jean-François Lyotard critiqued grand narratives and universal truths, advocating for a more pluralistic and relativistic understanding of knowledge. This perspective paved the way for a more flexible approach to truth, where multiple, often conflicting, truths can coexist. In this context, the emphasis shifts from objective facts to the interpretations and meanings individuals and groups ascribe to events and phenomena.

The Role of Emotions and Beliefs Over Facts

In a post-truth world, emotions and personal beliefs take precedence over factual accuracy. This shift is evident in various spheres, including politics, media, and social movements. Emotional appeals are powerful because they connect with individuals on a personal level, evoking feelings that can override logical reasoning. Politicians and influencers often exploit this by crafting messages that resonate emotionally, even if they lack factual basis.

The rise of social media has amplified the impact of emotions and beliefs. Platforms like Facebook and X (ex. Twitter) facilitate the rapid spread of information, often without rigorous fact-checking.

Content that elicits strong emotional reactions is more likely to be shared, creating echo chambers where beliefs are reinforced rather than challenged. This environment fosters a culture where subjective truths flourish and objective facts become secondary.

In Neo-shamanism, the post-truth paradigm is reflected in the emphasis on personal spiritual experiences and subjective interpretations of shamanic practices. Practitioners prioritize their own emotional and spiritual journeys over external validation. This approach allows for a deeply personal connection to shamanism, where individual beliefs and experiences shape one’s understanding and practice.

The post-truth paradigm, with its focus on emotions and personal beliefs, thus complements the eclectic and individualized nature of Neo-shamanism. It allows practitioners to explore and validate their spiritual experiences without the constraints of empirical evidence, embracing a more fluid and inclusive approach to truth.

shaman drums
Image by ha11ok from Pixabay

Post-Truth in Neo-Shamanism

Emotional and Personal Beliefs in Shamanic Practices

In the realm of Neo-shamanism, personal beliefs and emotions play a pivotal role. Unlike traditional shamanism, which is often bound by cultural norms and communal rituals, Neo-shamanism allows for a more individualistic approach.

Practitioners are encouraged to explore their own spiritual paths, drawing on personal experiences and emotions to shape their practices. This emphasis on the personal makes shamanic rituals and experiences deeply meaningful on an individual level, fostering a strong sense of connection and authenticity.

Emotional experiences, such as feelings of transcendence, healing, and connection with the spirit world, are highly valued in Neo-shamanic practices. These experiences often validate the efficacy of shamanic rituals for practitioners, serving as proof of their spiritual insights and abilities.

The subjective nature of these experiences means that they cannot be easily measured or verified by external standards, aligning with the post-truth emphasis on personal belief over objective fact.

The Shift from Objective to Subjective Truth

The post-truth paradigm within Neo-shamanism is characterized by a shift from objective to subjective truth. Traditional scientific approaches prioritize objective, verifiable facts, but in Neo-shamanism, the focus is on subjective experiences and personal narratives.

This shift allows practitioners to honor their own spiritual journeys without needing to conform to external validations or empirical scrutiny.

This subjective approach to truth is reflected in the way Neo-shamanic practitioners interpret their experiences. Instead of seeking out scientific explanations or empirical proof, they rely on their intuitive understanding and personal insights.

This method fosters a flexible and adaptive practice, where individual experiences are seen as valid and meaningful, regardless of their alignment with scientific perspectives.

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Contradictions and Coexistence

Scientism vs. Post-Truth: A Philosophical Clash

The worlds of scientism and post-truth represent a significant philosophical clash, especially within Neo-shamanism. Scientism insists on empirical evidence and objective truth as the sole pillars of knowledge. It values scientific methods and verifiable data, often dismissing anything that cannot be empirically proven.

On the other hand, the post-truth paradigm elevates personal beliefs and emotions above objective facts. It embraces the idea that multiple, subjective truths can coexist, even if they contradict each other.

In the context of Neo-shamanism, this clash manifests in the tension between practitioners who seek scientific validation for their practices and those who prioritize personal spiritual experiences. The scientific community may view shamanic rituals with skepticism, demanding rigorous proof of their efficacy.

Conversely, post-truth proponents within Neo-shamanism argue that personal experiences and emotional truths are equally, if not more, important than empirical evidence.

shaman bowls
Image by magicbowls from Pixabay
Practitioners Seeking Scientific Validation

Despite the inherent contradictions, many Neo-shamanic practitioners seek scientific validation for their practices. This quest is driven by a desire to legitimize shamanism in the eyes of the broader public and to integrate shamanic practices with contemporary understandings of psychology and medicine.

Practitioners often collaborate with scientists and scholars, participating in studies that explore the psychological and physiological effects of shamanic rituals. For instance, the therapeutic benefits of shamanic practices, such as drumming and journeying, are sometimes studied in clinical settings.

These studies aim to demonstrate how shamanic techniques can complement conventional therapies, particularly in areas like mental health and stress reduction. By aligning with scientific research, practitioners hope to gain broader acceptance and support for their methods.

Harmonizing Two Opposing Paradigms

The challenge for Neo-shamanic practitioners lies in harmonizing the opposing paradigms of scientism and post-truth. This process involves recognizing the value in both approaches and finding ways to integrate them without compromising the essence of either.

One way to achieve this balance is through an integrative approach that respects the empirical rigor of science while honoring the subjective, emotional experiences central to shamanic practice.

Practitioners can draw on scientific research to support and enhance their practices, using evidence-based methods to improve outcomes and reach a wider audience. At the same time, they can maintain a focus on personal and emotional truths, ensuring that the spiritual and experiential aspects of shamanism are not diminished.

This dual approach allows for a more holistic understanding of health and wellness, one that embraces both the measurable and the immeasurable.

Workshops and retreats that combine scientific insights with shamanic rituals exemplify this harmonization. Participants can experience the tangible benefits of shamanic practices while also learning about the scientific principles that underpin them.

This blend of knowledge creates a more robust framework for understanding and practicing Neo-shamanism, one that accommodates both scientific validation and personal belief.

By navigating the contradictions and fostering coexistence between scientism and post-truth, Neo-shamanism continues to evolve. It offers a path that honors both ancient wisdom and modern science, providing a comprehensive approach to spiritual and personal development.

Conclusion: The Future of Neo-Shamanism

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Potential Resolutions to the Contradiction

The contradiction between scientism and the post-truth paradigm within Neo-shamanism presents a unique challenge but also an opportunity for growth. One potential resolution lies in fostering a dialogue between the two perspectives. By acknowledging the strengths and limitations of both scientism and personal belief, practitioners can develop a more nuanced approach to shamanism.

This involves being open to scientific scrutiny while also valuing the profound personal experiences that define shamanic practices. Encouraging interdisciplinary research that includes both empirical studies and qualitative research on personal experiences can bridge the gap, providing a more holistic understanding of Neo-shamanism.

The Evolution of Shamanic Practices

Shamanic practices are continually evolving to adapt to the needs and contexts of modern society. This evolution is characterized by a greater openness to integrating scientific insights and therapeutic techniques. For example, the incorporation of psychological principles into shamanic healing rituals reflects a merging of ancient practices with contemporary knowledge.

Additionally, the increasing use of technology, such as virtual reality for guided shamanic journeys, showcases the innovative ways in which shamanism is adapting. This evolution ensures that shamanic practices remain relevant and accessible to a diverse and growing audience, while also respecting their deep-rooted traditions.

Embracing Both Paradigms for a Balanced Approach

The future of Neo-shamanism lies in embracing both scientism and the post-truth paradigm for a balanced approach. This means valuing scientific research and empirical evidence while also recognizing the importance of subjective experiences and personal truths. Practitioners can benefit from the credibility and rigor that scientific validation brings, while also maintaining the rich, experiential nature of shamanic practices.

By doing so, Neo-shamanism can offer a comprehensive path that addresses both the measurable and the mystical aspects of human experience. This balanced approach not only enhances the credibility of Neo-shamanism but also enriches the spiritual journeys of its practitioners.

The integration of these paradigms creates a dynamic and inclusive practice that honors the complexity of human existence. It acknowledges that truth can be both objective and subjective, empirical and experiential. As Neo-shamanism continues to grow and adapt, it has the potential to become a leading example of how ancient wisdom and modern science can coexist, providing a holistic approach to health, wellness, and spiritual fulfillment.

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Source: “Scientism and Post-Truth: two contradictory Paradigms underlying Contemporary Shamanism” by Angela Puca, Leeds Trinity University, Theology and Religious Studies, GTA Teacher and PhD Researcher

Featured Image by petr sidorov on Unsplash

Cris Parker

Chris A. Parker

Since 1998, researcher and blogger in practical occultism and Mind-science, who believes that the best way to predict the future is to create it…twitter-logofacebook-logoreddit-logomedium-logo