A brilliant, feminine balance to Jung, Campbell and Eliade
"The Woman in the Shaman's Body" is empowering, vastly informative and also great fun to read. It reads swiftly and goes down as easily as cool water with delicious healing herbs thrown in - it flies along as easily as a shaman in a lucid dream. If I were still a college teacher I would use it for a text, for I know young people would find it accessible and intriguing.
As a woman engaged in alternative healing practices, an author and a lifelong student of the world's shamanic traditions, I LOVE this book and will place it in my library's spot of highest honor. Yes, for me it is an elixir. Tedlock is a great synthesizer of the scholarly - with prodigious research and meticulous citation, and a fair sprinkling of up-to-date neuroscience and the biochemistry of healing and altered states - blended with vivid, earthy stories and personal anecdotes from her incredible adventurous life into a marvelous alchemy. As she says herself, to make her point she relies on the skills of both her callings: "argumentative intellectual reasoning" and "intuitive emotional reasoning", the yang and the yin. It should be difficult for any reader to not be persuaded by her writing.
What is Tedlock's case? It is the argument for the "existence, importance and power" of women shamans in ancient cultures over the entire Earth, a legacy that belongs to all of us. (We can all follow the shamanic paths of our ancestresses. You don't have to be Native American or usurp or steal Native American or Mongolian traditions. You don't have to be male). As with other indigenous traditions, the knowledge of ancient women, the feminine connection to the spirit world and with healing, birth and death has not perished and is coming to light again with the help of writers like Tedlock.
Her argument is not earth-shattering news for we who have been following recent work in history, prehistory and anthropology, or consulting female shamans and healers (even, as in Tedlock's case, their own grandmothers). It won't be shocking or controversial to those who know that much of human history, especially in the spiritual and healing realms, has been suppressed and censored for centuries - if not thousands of years - by masculine and European dominance, or that female knowledge, power or talent has been denied or killed off. Once that suppression was brutal; in more recent years, as Tedlock shows, it has been more from ignorance, insidious censorship or use of misleading words.The woman shaman was always seen by Eurocentric male explorers as just an "assistant", for example. Many of us know all about that. Yet there will be readers who are shocked. It will be considered revolutionary by those still of the older patriarchal mindset still prominent in academia and medicine, that the feminine healing/spiritual practices of indigenous cultures were somehow of a lower order than those of men, that women shamans were not SHAMANS but rather, mere "herbalists" old wives, or just evil witches. Such orthodox thinkers may be confounded to learn that many of the skeletons of ancient shamans taken for men by researchers were probably those of robust women (or at least half of them were!) For those people who have already moved beyond that mindset and are part of the growing worldwide renaissance movement of holistic earth-based spirituality and healing, Tedlock's book will be a good, seminal source of information, and all in one place instead of scattered through a thousand books. It is not often a book like that comes along.
Sex, herbs, spirit flight, spirit guides, childbirth, gender-bending, weaving (!) - Tedlock has it. I find of particular interest her focus on the neglected aspect of shamanic dreaming, which she gives its rightful place of immense power. She herself is an accomplished dreamworker.
As I blazed through this book, I found myself growing evermore excited, as if I was myself unearthing those womanly remains of the shaman who lived sixty thousand years ago in that Bohemian forest. Though I had been exposed to such ideas before, I felt an awe, the tingling kind I feel in caves and cathedrals and tall forests, moutain tops...and maybe even a kind of fear. Excited, because vindicated by such a worthy author in what I have long known to be true from my own life experience and research. Fearful, because of the responsibility it gives us women. Knowledge is power and power is scary to wield. Fearful because of the implications, in the way the initiate feels fear when passed the old secrets and now is going forth into the world.
I applaud Barbara Tedlock for tackling the sometimes difficult issues, at least academically speaking, of the roles of hallucinogens, sex, and blood in shamanic practices. She also takes on some of the established "greats" in the academic world related to shamanism, like Mircae Eliade and Michael Harner, and holds them accountable for their misogynistic statements. She reclaims shamanism for women in a way that holds strong academically and experientially, as her credentials are excellent on both counts.