The medicine man; PDF book: the character and evolution of Shamanism (1923 ) by John Lee Maddox

The medicine man; a sociological study of the character and evolution of Shamanism 


Introduction by the author:

The most satisfying outcome of any scientific study is the conviction that truth has prevailed, and so, presumably, will prevail. And in no other range of observation is this conviction more gratifying than in the field of social phenomena. The beginnings of what we now most prizes have been childish, laughable, grotesque, revolting, or downright horrible.

But this was not because men were wrong-headed and perverse; it was simply because they did not know, as the child does not. They were doing the best they could, under the circumstances. They had wrong premises from which they deduced, logically enough, conclusions that were wrong. With no external or adventitious aids, they sized up the problem of living as it appeared to them and evolved a life-policy which they put into practice. In this practice, the adequacy of the theory was always challenged by and tested on the actual conditions of living. However strongly supported by tradition and by what we call superstition, the theory could not indefinitely stand if it involved maladjustment to these conditions; and even if adjustment had been, for the moment, secured, it presently turned, with the inevitable change of the life- conditions, into maladjustment.

 Of a consequence, it was provided that life-theories should be subject to correction just as it is provided that bodies fall toward the earth's center. But if the correction of error is provided for, then it matters little what you start with, if there is time enough— and there is no lack of that when it comes to cosmic processes. You are sure to work out toward the truth. Wherever you take hold of the social fabric, you find its strands, dependable enough now, running back into a snarl of the fantastic and irrational. Out of this unpromising and often ridiculous beginning has come all that we now value, and without those beliefs which we wonder at as we reject them, but which spurred our fore- _ bears to activity without which there would have been no observation and verification, we could not have been where we now are.

It is no small service to the race to demonstrate that truth comes out of the automatic correction of a natural error, and not otherwise; for it gives a true perspective of human life and a clearer understanding of what we are doing and can do to live better in the future. It is also possible, in the light of such knowledge, to believe that the process will never end while men live on earth. -Social evolution teaches us that the race began in destitution and error and has, by the exercise of its own powers, and not by outside aid, for the most part unconsciously, worked itself up to what we now prize and call culture or civilization. There is no more reason to believe that this process will ever stop than there is to believe that arbitrary intervention ever interrupted its course in the past.

This is the broadest generalization to be derived from studies like the 'one before us, and it represents their widest human interest. Here we have a thorough study of an outstanding- functionary in evolving society — a complex type out of which have developed numerous special types that are well-recognized and highly valued social assets in the present. Any such study, when well ^ done, contributes strongly to our understanding of the evolution and life of human society. So far as I know, there exists no other study of the shaman which compares, at the same time in fullness and breadth of perspective, with that of Dr. Maddox. He has carefully given due credit to other fine monographs that have treated the subject less completely or from a point of view less comprehensive. Doubtless, a number of ethnographers, from their field-experience, know the shamans of this and that tribe or region much more intimately than is possible for the student of their accounts; but there are few field-observers who attain the perspective possible to the worker in the study who reviews a wide literature and applies to it the comparative method. What the latter loses inexactness of detail he more than' balances by the sweep of his survey.

It is this sort of study that is most needed at present for the upbuilding of a science of society. Here is a book that adequately treats a very important chapter in social evolution. It is in line with the best modern work, and I believe that the industry and scientific candor of the author will inspire confidence. Scientific students of society

will now have at their service a treatise that will not have to be substantially altered for a long time to come. And many a general reader will experience much enlightenment while he turns the following pages.

John Lee Maddox
Publication Date: 1923

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