Shamanism in Europe

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See Sami shamanism for shamanism in northern Scandinavia, which is technically in Europe, but culturally part of the Finno-Ugric traditions of Northern Asia.

Shamanism is a wide umbrella term for spiritual or ecstatic practices in pre-modern societies in the absence of organized religion.

In prehistoric Europe, reconstruction of religious practices affords some evidence shamanism in this sense.

In the organized religions of paganism in antiquity and by extension in pagan remnants in the folk beliefs in Christian Europe during the 2nd millennium, there are also some elements which are associated with "shamanism" by some authors.[clarification needed]

The first historian to posit the existence of such shamanic ideas existing within popular beliefs of otherwise Christian Europeans was Carlo Ginzburg, who examined the Benandanti, an agrarian cult found in Friuli, Italy, whose members underwent shamanic trances in which they believed they battled witches in order to save their crops.[1][2]

Historians following Ginzburg identified what they saw as shamanic elements in the accusations of the Witch trials of the Early Modern period. These included Eva Pocs[3] and Emma Wilby.[4][5] This group of authors proposes what is known as the "Witch-cult hypothesis", arguing that there was a religious cult with continuity reaching into the pre-Christian period behind what became identified as "witchcraft" in the Early Modern period.

The idea of shamanism's existence in Ancient Greece was advanced by E. R. Dodds[6] and criticized by Michael J. Puett.


  1. ^ Ginzburg, Carlo (1983). The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  2. ^ Ginzburg, Carlo (1991). Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath. London: Penguin.
  3. ^ Pocs, Eva (1999). Between the Living and the Dead. Budapest: Central European University Press.
  4. ^ Wilby, Emma (2005). Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.
  5. ^ Wilby, Emma (2010). The Visions of Isabel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.
  6. ^ Puett, 83-6.


  • Aldhouse-Green, Miranda and Aldhouse-Green, Stephen (2005). The Quest for the Shaman: Shape-shifters, Sorcerers and Spirit-healers of Ancient Europe. London: Thames and Hudson.  Invalid |name-list-format=scap (help)
  • Williams, Mike (2010). Prehistoric Belief: Shamans, Trance and the Afterlife. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press.  Invalid |name-list-format=scap (help)
  • Puett, Michael J. (2002). To Beocme a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: Harvard-Yenching Institute.  Invalid |name-list-format=scap (help)

See also[edit]