Talk:Alaska Native religion

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Concerns[edit]

I have a number of concerns with this article. Among them:

  • Is the terminology "Eskimo shamanism" actually used by anyone in English for the traditional religious beliefs of 'Eskimo' people? Most Inuits don't like the term 'Eskimo', and many Native people dislike the term "shamanism" to describe their traditional religions. I'd be surprised if anthropologists--let alone Native peoples themselves--used this term today. Maybe in Hungarian, but I don't know Hungarian, and this is the English Wikipedia, not the Hungarian one.
  • Sentences like "As mentioned above, Eskimos have both similarities and differences when compared to other cultures termed as “shamanistic”" are confusing. And also strengthens my concern that "Eskimo shamanism" is not a term that's actually used by anyone; is this actually "shamanism"? In any case, it sounds fairly...inane...or something, to say things like "there are both similarities and differences with other shamanistic cultures". It's like the kind of thing I'd write in an essay for school if I were trying to increase the length without saying anything new. It doesn't really provide any information that the reader couldn't already assume was the case.
  • The article seems to have very little to help orient readers, and allow them to understand the context of the article's subject. For example: "Several Eskimo groups believed in special variations soul dualism. Understanding it can help to see many phenomens of shamanistic practice (e.g. spirit journeys); the shaman's various functions (healing, fertility, success of hunt) and the beliefs that unite them (e.g. soul theft)" How can understanding that several 'Eskimo' groups had concepts of soul dualism help one "see" those phenomena better? What is soul dualism? (I don't think wikilinking the term is enough, especially when the rest of the article has so little context to orient readers).
  • "Special language for contacting alien beings" is a very, very bad section title. The word "alien" makes these beliefs sound like a childish cult, rather than a complex, nuanced religion.

--Miskwito 01:51, 6 April 2007 (UTC)


Dear Miskwito,

Thank You very much for Your time and work to raise the most important questions about the article I initiated a few hours before that.

I put now my answer to subpage /Examples of using term shamanism among Eskimos in recent scientific literature, which contains also the other concerns You asked.

Although I grow more and more astonished by the profundness, depth and amount of culture of Eskimo groups (and parallelly, I get more and more embarassed by my ignorance which I have to face during that), but, thinking on Your concerns and reading the literature I could avail during the holidays, I think I have done no capital mistakes in the article.

Have a very happy Easter,

Physis 01:29, 9 April 2007 (UTC)

Hi Physis, thanks for the reply. I'll take a look at it! --Miskwito 21:42, 9 April 2007 (UTC)

Another response to Miskwito's concerns[edit]

I'm just making a subsection of this to make it easier to answer --

First, just by way of background:

  • I have a B.A. in Religion from a liberal arts (i.e., not a religious) college. Doesn't make me a particular expert in shamanism, which was never discussed in the program I was in, or an expert for that matter in any other religious/spiritual practice, but for what it's worth....
  • I'm of Finnish ancestry & have also done lots of personal study on Finnish language, culture, & pre-Christian religion & mythology. (Note: that Finnish mythology article is pretty inaccurate in a lot of areas; one of the longstanding projects I have is to improve it.) As it happens, one aspect of pre-Christian Finnish belief involved the figure of the tietäja (pl. tietäjät), meaning "knower" -- essentially an agrarian/agriculturalist version of shaman. Thus,
  • I've had a longstanding interest in shamanism -- not in the sense of becoming a New Age version of a shaman myself, but rather in understanding shamanism as practiced & understood in the cultures where it is found, including that of my pre-Christian ancestors.
  • I've lived in Alaska since 1982 & done personal study particularly about Yup'ik history & culture, after having had the opportunity to visit a lot have quite a few books about the Yupiit, including those that cover religious practices.

So....rather as I would answer an email message, I guess. Miskwito's original comments in italics, mine in Roman.

  • Is the terminology "Eskimo shamanism" actually used by anyone in English for the traditional religious beliefs of 'Eskimo' people? Most Inuits don't like the term 'Eskimo', and many Native people dislike the term "shamanism" to describe their traditional religions. I'd be surprised if anthropologists--let alone Native peoples themselves--used this term today. Maybe in Hungarian, but I don't know Hungarian, and this is the English Wikipedia, not the Hungarian one.

I would say that "Eskimo" and "shamanism" are both used in the ethnographic & comparative religion literature, which Physis pretty well documents in the subsidiary talk page Talk:Eskimo shamanism/Examples of using term shamanism among Eskimos in recent scientific literature. But far less frequently the combined term "Eskimo shamanism." In the online bibliography Physis provided on that page, Shamanism in North America — A Comprehensive Bibliography on the Use of the Term by Peter N. Jones, only three publications used the terms "Eskimo shamanism" or "Eskimo shaman." Other articles identify a specific culture as Eskimo & describe practices of that culture as involving shamanism — e.g., "Shamanistic behavior among the Netsilik Eskimos" or "From shamans to healers: the survival of an Inupiaq Eskimo skill." I would bet, though I don't have time to prove it at the moment, that the literature has moved more towards using the identifiers preferred by the cultures they are referring to. (Though a related example springs to mind: the Alaska Native Language Center used to refer to the Ingalik language & people but now uses the preferred name Deg Hit’an — the Deg Hit'an people have pointed out that Ingalik comes from a neighboring people's pejorative for them.)

My problem with the combined term Eskimo shamanism is two-fold:

  1. The well-known problem with the term Eskimo itself, which as has been discussed in both the articles & on the talk pages for Eskimo and Inuit is very objectionable paticularly to Canadian & Greenland Inuit. If the word is to be used in this article, then this article should include a brief discussion on the problem with the word, as those articles do.
  2. Eskimo shamanism is ambiguous. I think it's much more is more likely to be read as "the type of shamanism practiced by Eskimos" rather than "shamanism among different Eskimo cultures," thus giving the false impression that there is a particular style or type of shamanism practiced universally among the various Inuit, Yupik, & Sirenik peoples (the last of whose language may or may not be a subset of the Yupik groups — linguists don't seem to be completely settled on that yet). The way the article itself is (currently) written often supports that false impression. Examples:
  • This forced motivation is generally lacking in Eskimo culture.... — Implication: there is one universal Eskimo culture. At the very least, it should be cultures (plural).
  • The Eskimo shaman may fulfill multiple functions... — Implication: there is only one kind of Eskimo shaman. A better phrasing might be, "Shamans in Eskimo cultures may fulfill mutliple functions" (with the laundry list of functions listed below) — assuming the term "Eskimo" continues to be used at all.
  • In several groups, the shaman used such a distinct language for communicating with spirits at his/her seances. — Which groups? The fact that it's some groups, but not others, supports the conclusion that there is variation in practice between different cultures. Describing which groups follow a particular practice & which groups don't is a valuable tool in a true study of shamanism & its complexities & variations.

Most of the sources currently provided in the article indicate variation in where the authors got their data. Knud Rasmussen visited the people of some Eskimo cultures but not others. Daniel Merkur's book is clearly about shamans among the Inuit, not among the various Yupik peoples — & probably specific groups of Inuit too. Shamans in Eurasia are clearly not practicing in North America. And so on. However, as currently written, the article pretty much throws them all in together. Of course it will be difficult to distinguish variations between cultures if all the cultures are thrown, undifferentiated, into one big mish-mash.

The religious techniques of shamanism are practiced among the peoples long-known as Eskimo, and I support having a general article about that. However, in my opinion the article needs to be moved/renamed — perhaps "Shamanism among Eskimo peoples" (seeing as we still lack any better "universal" term), or even "Shamanism among the Inuit, Yupik, and Sirenik peoples," with this article becoming a redirect. There is no obligation on Wikipedia to have short pithy names for articles, particularly if they are inaccurate. I am not particularly swayed by Physis's argument on the subsidiary talk page about "use the most common name" in order not to contradict Wikipedia naming conventions (precision) — not when it comes to offensiveness of a name. Great example at Talk:Dakota War of 1862 about how that article was moved/renamed from its prior objectionable name of "Sioux Uprising" — one of the arguments of people who wanted to keep the prior name was the old one of "it's most commonly known." But they made the right choice (albeit with documentation of changing practice in naming that conflict in the literature).

I am more swayed by this argument by Physis: "But do we need a common name for Yupiks and Inuits at all? Yes, because linguistical comparisons make it necessary. Until now this is 'Eskimo', and any other term (known by me) would hurt both principles precision and 'use the most common name.'" I agree with that. And so I propose changing the article title to Shamanism among Eskimo peoples with a section added to the page about the terminology problem similar to the one on the Eskimo page. I do object to the page as currently named.

Meanwhile, the article also needs to stop glomming all the various Eskimo cultures into one big undifferentiated group. The so-called Eskimo peoples cover a lot of territory — the practices of the Alutiiq of southcentral Alaska, even in the area of shamanism, are unlikely to be identical to the practices of the Kalaallit of Greenland. If a fact cited from one of Knud Rasmussen's writings is derived from his experience among a particular culture, that specific culture should be named — instead of just simplistically labeling it as "Eskimo." Even the photo included with the article has this problem. Turns out there's a copy of that photo in one of the books I own — this wasn't just some random "Eskimo shaman" from any old where portrayed in the photo, but a particular shaman from a particular culture ( Yup'ik) in a particular village in Alaska. I will look that photo up again tonight & relabel the one on the article accordingly, & add info about it also to the photo page itself.

Where editors are willing & ready to do the work, I would also suggest adding to the articles on specific cultures about the shamanic practices & other religious beliefs native to those cultures. I already plan on doing so for the Yup'ik article when I get a chance, & I can easily be persuaded to do that also for the Inupiat (Alaska Inuit) article.

  • Sentences like "As mentioned above, Eskimos have both similarities and differences when compared to other cultures termed as “shamanistic”" are confusing. And also strengthens my concern that "Eskimo shamanism" is not a term that's actually used by anyone; is this actually "shamanism"? In any case, it sounds fairly...inane...or something, to say things like "there are both similarities and differences with other shamanistic cultures". It's like the kind of thing I'd write in an essay for school if I were trying to increase the length without saying anything new. It doesn't really provide any information that the reader couldn't already assume was the case.

Yes, various Eskimo cultures do practice shamanism, though of course they have their own words for its practitioners. But yes, there are problems with the sentence. My question would be: "What differences?" I also question simply labeling any given culture as being "shamanistic." I would not say, for example, that the Yupiit "followed the religion of shamanism" or therefore that their culture was "shamanistic." Most cultures that include the practice of shamanism also have other religious & spiritual beliefs & practices that are not necessarily dependent on their belief in shamanism. Which explains why so many cultures which used to have, but no longer, have shamans still retain so many of their other pre-Christian or pre-other world religion beliefs. I wouldn't really call shamanism a religion, I'd call it a religious or spiritual practice, or perhaps a collection of practices & techniques.

  • The article seems to have very little to help orient readers, and allow them to understand the context of the article's subject. For example: "Several Eskimo groups believed in special variations soul dualism. Understanding it can help to see many phenomens of shamanistic practice (e.g. spirit journeys); the shaman's various functions (healing, fertility, success of hunt) and the beliefs that unite them (e.g. soul theft)" How can understanding that several 'Eskimo' groups had concepts of soul dualism help one "see" those phenomena better? What is soul dualism? (I don't think wikilinking the term is enough, especially when the rest of the article has so little context to orient readers).

I agree, there should be at least a brief discussion of what soul dualism is within the body of the article. Pre-Christian Finnish belief also included a dualistic concept of the soul.

  • "Special language for contacting alien beings" is a very, very bad section title. The word "alien" makes these beliefs sound like a childish cult, rather than a complex, nuanced religion.

Again, I would not call shamanism a "religion." Otherwise, I agree. A lot of readers will wonder if the article is talking about outer space aliens... or maybe "illegal" immigrants. Physis discusses the phrase in a section of the subsidiary talk page called "Alien" is a terminus technicus, no connotations, which is helpful, but what would be even more helpful would be to use language in the article that doesn't require Wikipedia's mostly generalist readers to dig into the depths of academic discourse with its specialist jargon in order to understand material that could be written & explained in plain language, with references supplied so that those who do want to dive into the academic discussion can do so if they want.

All that said, this article is in its early stages, & I'm glad Physis started & put such effort into it. I'll gladly contribute to its improvement as I have time.

By the way, as a matter of citation style, see Wikipedia:Citing_sources#Footnotes_come_after_punctuation where it is written: "Footnotes come after punctuation: Some words, phrases or facts must be referenced mid-sentence; footnotes at the end of a sentence or phrase are placed immediately after the punctuation." Not before it, & not with extra spaces between it & the material it refers to either. I was going to suggest a copy edit on that, but I see Miskwito has already started. --Yksin 00:07, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

Shamanism among the Inuit and Yupik[edit]

What would be wrong with entitling the article "Shamanism among the Inuit and Yupik"? That would alleviate the need for the exhaustive apology in the lead which we have now (Nov. 2008). --Bejnar (talk) 00:09, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

Copyedit[edit]

Mediator versus medium[edit]

Dear User:Miskwito

Thank You for Your message, and also thank You the work You have just begun on the article Eskimo shamanism.

Only one thing may need discussion: You replaced mediation to mediumship and "mediator" to "medium". The replacement affects two principial thoughts expressed in the literature:

"Medium" is too specific/narrow[edit]

As early authors as Mircea Eliade, stressed the importance not to label all sorceres as shamans. For an important distinction, Mircea Eliade wrote[1]

I do not have the original, I have to translate back from a Hungarian publication, thus my “citing” is not literal. My emphasis added.

I do not want to say that "mediumship" means the same as "obsesession", but as far as i can understand the Mediumship article, it is a very special concept.

Eliade (and maybe other authors) warn us to be cautious with our terminology, and I transfer his warning (maybe in an unfair overgeneralized way) also to the notion of mediumship.

Generality of "mediator" is needed by the notion of shamanism[edit]

The shaman can be regarded as a "mediator" in very many senses [2]

  • mediates between human and beings populating the belief system
  • transfers the traditions from past to the future (he/she has to know a huge amount of memoriter, songs, myths), thus links past with future
  • stands in a boundary role in muliple senses:
    • e.g. despite of being a man, he wears woman cloths,
    • despite of being a "knowing" man, he may stand in a marginal position in some aspects

This may look like a popularizing overgeneralization or like my unfair citing of a book, by [2] relly devotes a standalone chapter to "The shaman as mediator", and really literarily terms these functions “mediation”. (Of corurse I cannot verify the author, because I have never been on fieldworks).

Both #"Medium" is too specific/narrow and #Generality of "mediator" is needed by the notion of shamanism may suggest using the abstract and general word mediation and avoid specific (debatable) notions like mediumship

Again, I thank very much for making the text much smoother.

Best regards,

Physis 23:53, 9 April 2007 (UTC)

Agreed[edit]

I agree with both of Physis' points. It should be "mediation" and "mediator" not "mediumship" or "medium." Medium brings up a completely different connotation, which is inappropriate to what shamans did.

BTW, I have Eliade's book on shamanism in English translation at home, if I can only find it. So I will add it to the references later. --Yksin 00:18, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

However wikilinking to the page Mediator isn't a good choice, since the mediation done by shamans is certainly not in the sense of dispute resolution, which is mainly what that article is about. So I'm going to remove that wikilink. --Yksin 00:23, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

Okay, sorry I got confused about that. Take care, --Miskwito 01:41, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

Beauty of tension between diversity versus unity[edit]

Dear Yksin,

Thank You very much for Your detailed reply (in #Another response to Miskwito's concerns)

I have tried to solved some of the points You proposes. The result can be read in the renamed, extended and somewhat reorganized, partly rewritten version of Shamanism among Eskimo peoples.

My motivations for the tried solutions can be read in /Bidirectional approach to organize the beauty of tension between diversity versus unity of cultures

Sorry for that some of Your points are not fixed yet. I concentrated to solve the main problem, maybe even that is debatable.

Have a nice week-end,

Physis 20:32, 13 April 2007 (UTC)

Major edit[edit]

I just undertook a major cleanup/edit of this article. Mostly I was involved in "englishing" the text, cleaning up redundancies (there were many) and streamlining references. I also requested citation for some facts and removed excessive wikilinking. I also tried to use standard anthropological terms, but more needs to be done in this regard. I have embedded some notes in the article using HTML comments to identify where I left off. Please also note that I commented out the section arguing for the unity of Eskimo culture (but left it in the source). That section really does not belong here, but rather in a general article on Eskimo culture: it does not address the point of the article (shamanism) and is arguing a point halfway through the article that has to be assumed from the beginning.

I certainly hope I haven't run roughshod over anyone's feelings or any of the discussion here, as that is certainly not my intention. However, there was enough work needed at the basic presentational level (not content level) that it made sense to dive right in.

Finally, a minor note, but in the references shouldn't Diószegi be Diósszegi? I may be wrong, but I believe the place name where the name comes from is Diósszeg.

+Fenevad 22:43, 18 April 2007 (UTC)

As I've said on your user page, great job -- much smoother English. I'm not myself concerned about arguing within this article about a unity of Eskimo culture, since I don't particularly believe it. Similarities & relations, certainly, but Inuit/Inupiaq is not the same as Siberian Yupik or Central Alaskan Yup'ik of Alutiiq (Sugpiaq)... etc.
That said, I appreciate the work Physis has taken to address the concerns I brought up above. --Yksin 23:37, 18 April 2007 (UTC)

I have finished the major editorial pass I made. I would appreciate it if someone could look through it and make corrections, especially in the Netsiliks section, where I think I understood things right, but I'm not sure. +Fenevad 15:03, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

Unity of Eskimo culture[edit]

I have a suggestion regarding the section I commented out in the article. I think it would make more sense to start another article on that subject (if there isn't already one) and move the content to that location and then link to it in the lead paragraph for this article. That way it wouldn't seem as a digression, but the information would still be available. What does anyone else think?

+Fenevad 14:10, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

Dear Fenevad,
Thank You for the idea. Yes, "modularizing out" this section seems to me a good idea, even out of logical reasons (modularity, reusability, decomposition[3]) thus the topic can be "reused" better even by other articles.
I have merged it as Eskimo#Certain relatedness of Eskimo cultures, far from homogenity. I intend it to develop into a section on the "tension" between the
  • relatedness
  • and (at the same time) diversity
of Eskimo cultures
Best wishes
Physis 12:11, 26 April 2007 (UTC)

Netsiliks[edit]

There is a commeted out section on Kugaaruk. The majority of people in Kugaaruk are Netsiliks although I have seen evidence that they may have been further east at one point. Also you can't say "Netsilingmiut Inuit" as that translates to "People of the seal people". CambridgeBayWeather (Talk) 06:54, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mircea Eliade, Le chamanisme et les techniques archaiques de'l extase. Paris, 1983, Éditions Payot. Chapter 1 "Generalitie. methods of choice. Shamanism and mystical profession")
  2. ^ a b Hoppál, Mihály: Sámánok Eurázsiában. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 2005. ISBN 963-05-8295-3. (The title means “Shamans in Eurasia”, the book is written in Hungarian, but it is published also in German, Estonian and Finnish.) Site of publisher with short description on the book (in Hungarian)
  3. ^ I took the motivation of the reuse + modularity metaphors from Why Functional Programming Matters written by John Hughes, and partly from Wouter Swierstra: Why Attribute Grammars Matter (published in The Monad.Reader, Issue Four)

Alaskan Native religion?[edit]

Alaskan Native religion (new name) or Shamanism among Eskimo peoples (old name) for only Eskimo shamanism of the Eskimo peoples (Alaska, Siberia, Canada, Greenland; also Aleut people). This page not for Alaskan Eskimos (Inupiat, Alutiiq, Yup'ik ~ Cup'ik ~ Cup'ig, Siberian Yupik) and/or not for all Alaska Natives (Eskimos and Non-Eskimos). Alaska Natives are indigenous peoples of Alaska, United States: Eskimo {Iñupiat, Yupik}, Aleut and Non-Eskimo (Indian) {Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and a number of Alaskan Athabaskan} cultures. --Kmoksy (talk) 21:10, 23 April 2016 (UTC)

This should probably be Alaska Native religions, plural, since not every group follows the same religion. Also now, all the Canadian, Greendlandic, and Siberian info needs to be purged. Yuchitown (talk) 18:10, 24 April 2016 (UTC)Yuchitown
Whatever works best. I thought about making it plural, for exactly those reasons, but sometimes on WP "Religion", though singular, has been used on articles where there's an implied plural. But I think the plural would be better as we're also dealing with the perennial misperception of there being one, homogenous, "Native Religion/Culture" rather than the hundreds there actually are. If you'd prefer it as "religions," I'd certainly support that. - CorbieV
Alaskan Native religion (bad name) for all Alaskan Natives. Alaskan Native religions (semi-bad name) or Alaskan shamanism (best name) for all Alaskan Natives [included: Eskimo shamanism (Yupik shamanism and Inuit shamanism, with Aleut shamanism), Athabascan shamanism, Eyak shamanism, Tlingit shamanism, Haida shamanism, and Tsimshian shamanism]. The Alaskan shamanism is semi-similar to Asiatic Siberian shamanism (Chukotko-Kamchatkan shamanism, Ket shamanism {http://linguistics.uoregon.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Vajda-2010-Ket-Shamanism-Shaman.pdf}) --Kmoksy (talk) 19:24, 24 April 2016 (UTC)
Religion is broader than shamanism and Northwest Coast Indian tribes have different religions than Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut peoples. Yuchitown (talk) 22:35, 24 April 2016 (UTC)Yuchitown

Categories[edit]

I added the category on Category:Alaska Native culture since the new title indicates this article is about them. Should I remove the categories on Category:Eskimos and Category:Inuit shamanism? The term Eskimo covers people in Siberia, Canada, and Greenland which have nothing to do with Alaska. The term Inuit covers groups in Greenland and Canada and is not limited to Alaska either.

The term Alaska Natives covers Alaskan Athabaskans, Eyak people, Tlingit, Haida people, Tsimshian, Eskimo groups (Inupiat, Yupik peoples), and Aleut. Several of them have nothing to do with the Eskimos or the Inuit and do not speak one of the Eskimo–Aleut languages. Dimadick (talk) 21:47, 24 April 2016 (UTC)

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