Female Shamans And Medicine Women

Shamanism has been a spiritual practice that accompanied Mankind throughout history, since pre-history. However, such practices ended in most countries, but there are still a few shamanic tribal societies that kept these traditions going. In some of these societies, there is a preference for the practitioners to be female. There are lots of evidence abiut this fact, including in archaeological findings in Czech Republic, indicating that the earliest Upper palaeolithic shamans were in fact women and not men. Descriptions of female shamans describe these women as invokers of spirits of the gods, earth and ancestors, as well as being healers, herbalists, oracles, ecstatic dancers, diviners, shape-shifters, priestesses and shamanic journeyers. Female shamans or shamankas, are  located among the Tungus people, the Buriats, Yakuts, Ostyaks, and among the Kamchadals.

In the steppers and central regions of Siberia, the female shaman(s) possess greater power than the male shamans, or so it is believed. In general, the feminine element plays a very important and prominent role in terms of magic, sorcery, at least it is so among the Yakuts. Female shamans are dominant in some cultures where they ate to the forefront of the cult practice. Whether in ancient China or Japan, or Korea, South Africa, Okinawa, the Philippines, from northern California to southern Chile, female shamanism  is a widespread tradition.

Archaeological findings show us that all over the world, the female shaman was very important in the old societies. Such findings go all the way from the mediterranean, to scandinavia, far into the east of Siberia and down the southern hemisphere. For instance, the Ekven burial of a female shaman was found at Chukotka on the Russian side of the Bering Strait. A 2000 years old grave of an elderly woman with a wooden mask at her knees as well as other ritualistic and shamanic artefacts. Recurrent artefacts and examples of female shamanic practice are amulets, medicine bags, mirrors, and head-dresses shown by excavated regalia, as well as drums. Examples can be seen in southern Chile where female shamans of the Mapuche Nation use drums called kultran. Korean female shaman drummers use mudangs. Drumming would be accompanied by chants and invocations as is shown by the Mexican Indian shamans. An other example, during the Mesolithic period, it was found an interment at Bad Durrenberg which occurred 8,500 years ago. It was a woman around 25 years of age accompanied by a child of some 6 to 12 months of age. The grave goods and artefacts comprised those assumed to have a ritualistic and shamanic function.

Evidence of the primordial origin of female shamans is shown by the excavated burials during the archaeological works all over the world. Such burials have been found dating from the 5th century before our common era. These include the Priestess of Ukok ( as well as remains from south Kazakhstan, and the basin from the Ukraine to the Tarim. Archaeologists have determined that these ancient female interments in central Asia were shamanic priestesses. The mummified remains of a female shaman was from the 5th century BCE, and a kurgan of the Pazyryk Culture of ancient Altai. A Mummy of the Ukok princess was discovered and excavated in 1993-1997, and she has been dubbed as the Siberian Ice Maiden. This woman is also variously known as the Princess of Ukok and the Altai Princess, or Ochy-bala after the Altai heroine.

The burial of a female Natufian shaman was discovered in a cave site at Hilazon Tachtit ,in Israel, was dated to circa 12,000 B the common era. The Natufians of the southern Levant of 15,000 to 11,500 BCE were a nomadic people who lived along the east Mediterranean. The excavated remains were those of a diminutive, disabled ‘shaman’ woman of advanced years, in a specially constructed grave. The interment represents the ritual burial of one of the oldest human spiritual figures. There are many interments that show rituals and techniques, indicated by shamanic burials with especially placed animal bones, and in same places tortoise shells as well, and some times feathers.

Among north Amerindians, medicine women are as common as medicine men, especially among the Dakotas and the Creeks, with both occurring among the Inuit. As it is with shamans, the medicine woman and their healing practices, are not restricted to members of the male gender.

In ancient Greek mythology, in the temples of Argos, the goddess Hygeia was the daughter of Aesculapius. The fact that the great Mother Goddess Hera, as Lucina, propitiated at or presided over childbirth, and that the original goddesses were probably real medicine women. In remote antiquity women were engaged in the practice of medicine. In central Australia, the medicine is ranked equal to the medicine man just as the female shaman is the equal of the male shaman. Shaman women as medicine women, propitiated the spirit world and practised the healing arts towards their own sex. Medicine women were thus equal to the medicine man. Not only in the way they became, but also in social status, their role and function, but in all other aspects.

As has been shown by both female shamans and medicine women in many times, climes and cultures, it’s not infrequently the idea that the female shamans prevails to such an extent that the most powerful shamans are women. The antiquity of the shamanic role of women is illustrated by the evidence of surviving rock and cave art which can be interpreted in terms of shamanism, fertility ritual, and rites of passage. Rock art in southern Africa can be analysed from two approaches, one that incorporates women issues within a framework of shamanism, and secondly, one that treats it as outside the understanding shamanism. Depictions on cave walls can be interpreted in terms of the shamanistic nature of the puberty rites of girls. A distinction has to be made between the meaning of the terms ‘shamanic’ and ‘shamanistic’. The word ‘shamanic’ refers to the practices and experiences of shamans, whereas ‘shamanistic’ refers to general beliefs and practices. The analysis can be, and have been, extended to an interpretation of cave paintings claiming that the art was the work of women. A recent study produced results, indicating that prehistoric female artists also helped create the famous ‘spotted horses’ cave mural and various others. The hand prints on the mural were dated to 25,000 BCE.  Many of the hand prints were smaller than female hands as established by analysis of digital ratios.The evidence appears to show that a large number of Upper Palaeolithic cave artists were women  confirming that  the women’s role in prehistoric society was much greater than previously thought. It is most likely, considering the role of women in primordial society as shamans, that ancient art was mostly the work of women. Hand prints on cave walls were analysed and show us that there was a gender difference between relative lengths of fingers. Men and women’s finger lengths are different. Even though another theory claims the hand prints may be those of adolescent boys, but some 75% of cave art hands are female.

Examples of hand print art in caves have been found in southern France, in Australia, Argentina, Africa and Borneo. In northern Spain hand prints were believed to date back to 40,800 years old, where of 32 hand stencils, 24 were female. Hand stencils support the theory that, not only were women actively involved in cave art, but that they were in their role of shamans leaders in ritualistic, fertility and magical practices as well, and many of which were also linked to rites of passage for other members of the community.

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3 responses to “Female Shamans And Medicine Women

  1. I just found your blog through The Wild Hunt. I pinned it to my Pinterest and bookmarked it. I will come back often. —Isabel H. Hagar

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