The REAL oldest profession: Researchers say shamans were the first professional class in human society
- Shaman are also often known as medicine man or witch doctors
- Researchers say their ‘magical abilities’ make them the first ‘specialists’
While prostitution may be widely known as ‘the oldest profession’, in fact, witchdoctors beat them to it.
Researchers say that shaman, also known as medicine man or witch doctors, were humanity’s first ‘professionals’.
They claims their ‘magical abilities’ make them the first ‘specialists’ in society.
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An ethnic Akha shaman performs religious rituals in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Researchers say that shaman, also known as medicine man or witch doctors, were humanity’s first ‘professionals’.
WHAT IS A SHAMAN?
Manvir Singh, who led the study, said ‘It’s a hugely debated and contested idea.
‘But in the most general terms, a shaman is a person in a group who enters a type of trance – a very foreign behavioral and psychological state – to provide services to the community.’
Those services, Singh said, could range from healing disease to exorcising evil spirits to telling fortunes, or even changing the weather.
Researchers say shamanism developed as specialists competed to provide magical services to their community.
‘The theory is that there are important things we really want to have control over — calling rain, summoning animals, healing illness,’ said Manvir Singh, a graduate student in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, whose paper was published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
‘All around the world, people believe that these important, uncertain outcomes are influenced by invisible forces — gods, witches, their ancestors, fairies, and more.
‘But a shaman says, ‘I can control that. I can talk to fairies. I can see signs of witches. I can be possessed by a god or speak to them.’
Singh said the transformation process helps explain how shamans became the first professional class in human societies.
‘To become one of these people who can oversee these uncertain events, you have to undergo this transformation.
‘That creates two classes of individuals – those who have been transformed and those who have not,’ Singh said.
‘This creates a separate class of individuals where there is an entry requirement, and where they have near-exclusive jurisdiction over these services.’
a shaman is a person in a group who enters a type of trance – a very foreign behavioral and psychological state – to provide services to the community
That makes shamans different from members of the community who might have a talent for making canoes or bows, for instance, as there is no social barrier that prevents another person from making his or her own canoe or bow.
‘Meanwhile for shamans, it quickly develops into a system where, to become a shaman, you have to undergo a transformative ritual — there are these entry requirements.’
Going forward, Singh said he hopes to explore the variety of powers shamans claim and how those alleged supernatural abilities translate to power in their communities. He is also working on understanding why other near-universal cultural practices develop, including music and belief in witchcraft.
‘Shamanism is only one of countless cultural practices that emerge nearly everywhere, yet exhibit very particular and odd features,’ he said.
‘These social and cultural universals — punitive justice, dance music, witchcraft, initiation ceremonies, and so on — are among the most fundamental puzzles of anthropology.
‘Given how much we’ve come to know about human psychology and sociality, now is an exciting time to investigate why human societies everywhere look so strikingly similar.’