Mircea Eliade suggested that shamanism was the progenitor of all other spiritual systems and religions, although he made it clear that shamanism itself was a methodology, not a religion. Mircea Eliade shamanism. However, even was not immune from the mental-illness view of shamans. As late as 1951, just five years before my first Amazonian fieldwork, he took the position that the majority of shamans are psychopaths.
Thus, from the scholars’ “psychological” perspective, shamans were not liars and charlatans but merely insane!
Mircea Eliade, shamanism, Zuni religion, excerpts from a book about shaman
The shamans had the good fortune, however, to be born into “crazy” cultures, where they could be accepted. They could even employ their craziness by catering to the mass delusions of the people among whom they lived by being shamans.
Such “crazy” cultures, of course, are the primitive tribal ones, in contrast to our own civilized Western culture whose manifestations of presumed sanity include two world wars, the Holocaust, and other wholesale acts of genocide, urban violence, and the accelerating destruction of the planetary life-support system.
Another thing I learned as an anthropology graduate student, but not from Walter Cline, was that fieldworkers were to keep a skeptical “objectivity.” Out of paternalistic good manners or, perhaps more practically, to avoid alienating their native informants, the anthropologists’ skepticism was not expressed directly to the indigenous peoples, but only upon returning home to the academic community, where Western psychological and sociological assumptions were used to explain what “really” was going on in the native cultures.
This somewhat hypocritical approach was considered entirely proper. Implicit in all this was the patronizing assumption of the superiority of modern Western knowledge and that the natives’ function was to be subjects for study, rather than to be possible teachers of us in the West.
I was similarly taught the dangers of “going native” in the field, something that “unstable personalities” might be tempted to do. Examples that I was given of ethnologists or cultural anthropologists who had “gone over the edge” included Frank Cushing of the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution.
About a century ago, Cushing stopped publishing on Zuni religion after becoming formally initiated into their secret societies, thereby depriving the Western world of his discoveries. He also achieved the rank of First War Chief and generally became a scandal for many in the profession by failing to “keep his distance” and thereby not fulfilling his academic obligations.