This dissertation explores the idea of enchantment, disenchantment, and re-enchantment, following Weber, at the intersection of traditional healing and modern society in the spiritual practice of neo-shamanism. Neo-shamanism as a healing system in the US is explored ethnographically.
Neo-shamanism is the application and practice of shamanic techniques in contemporary Western society and functions as a system of healing alternative to biomedicine. Following traditions of ancient shamanism from around the world, modern individuals use an altered state of consciousness to get information from extra-material realms (referred to as nonordinary reality) to effect healing for themselves, others, society, and the planet. The neo-shamanic worldview holds that the extra-material world is as real as the material; the physical and spiritual are merged and can be utilized to assist humans. This stands in conflict with what Weber referred to as modernity’s disenchanted worldview—a Cartesian world where only the material is real. Modernity also places high emphasis on the individual. The modern self seeks autonomous selfcultivation, aspires to ground identity within, and desires to exercise independence, authority, choice, and expressivity. This is in contrast to the traditional self, which was embedded in the established order of things.
Some suggest that modernity’s disenchantment is implicated in contemporary ills—of individuals, society, and the environment—and that neo-shamanism, because it allows modern individuals to re-enchant the world, is well suited to address just such problems.
This research addresses the following: (1) The idea of a disenchanted modernity, its relevance for biomedicine, and how neoshamanism may provide a re-enchanted cosmology for those who engage in it. (2) The implications that studying an unseen, extra-material phenomenon has for anthropological methodology. How does one study neo-shamanism: more specifically, how does one study an enchanted cosmology with disenchanted tools? (3) The results of my field work with the practitioners and participants of neo-shamanism, with attention to how neo-shamanism serves as an enchanted mechanism for healing in a disenchanted world.
These questions are explored through participant-observation and experiential participation in neo-shamanic activities and interviews with neo-shamanic practitioners and participants.