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DSM-IV Religious and Spiritual Problems

Case Example: Traditional Shamanic Initiation

Strange unknown beings came and spoke to him, and when he awoke, he saw the visions of his dream so distinctly that he could tell his fellows all about them. Soon it became evident to all that he was destined to become an angakoq [a shaman] and an old man named Perqanaoq was appointed his instructor....[After taken to a special site, Igjugarjuk] was not allowed to set foot on the snow, but was lifted from the sledge and carried into the hut, where a piece of skin just large enough for him to sit on served as a carpet. Not food or drink was given him; he was exhorted to think only of the Great Spirit and of the helping spirit that should presently appear — and so he was left to himself and his meditations.

After five days had elapsed, the instructor brought him a drink of lukewarm water, and with similar exhortations, left him as before. He fasted for fifteen days, when he was given another drink of water ad a very small piece of meat, which had to last him a further ten days. At the end of this period, his instructor came for him and fetched him home. Igjugarjuk declared that the strain of those thirty days of cold and fasting was so severe that he 'sometimes died a little.' During all that time he thought only of the Great Spirit, and endeavored to keep his mind free from all memory of human beings and everyday things. Toward the end of the thirty days there came to him a helping spirit in the shape of a woman. She came while he was asleep and seemed to hover in the air above him. After that he dreamed no more of her, but she became his helping spirit. For five months following this period of trial, he was kept on the strictest diet, and required to abstain from all intercourse with women. The fasting was then repeated; for such fasts at frequent intervals are the best means of attaining...knowledge of hidden things. As a matter of fact, there is no limit to the period of study; it depends on how much one is willing to suffer and anxious to learn.

An account of the initiatory ordeal of an SCRCulik (Caribou) Eskimo shaman, Igjugarjuk, recorded by Knud Rasmussen in Across Arctic America. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1927; pp. 82-84.

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