The Catholic priest unironically says of Inuit Shamans: "But certainly most of them are frauds as palpable as any gypsy fortuneteller, and their "magic" is the result of hypotism, autosuggestion, and a whole climate of fear and awe that surrounds them as a result of tradition."
January 1, 1951
It would be presumptuous to deny that the shaman may have sometimes accomplished preternatural feats with the help of evil spirits. But certainly most of them are frauds as palpable as any gypsy fortuneteller, and their "magic" is the result of hypotism, autosuggestion, and a whole climate of fear and awe that surrounds them as a result of tradition[sounds like most religions to me - Travis]. A shaman, by virtue of his power, functions as a kind of unofficial chieftain, and thus carries considerable weight in the community, though his real duties are curing the sick, altering the weather, making the caribou more disposed to being killed, and conciliating the variety of impish spirits that harry the unfortunate Inuk in his daily living.
One is not born a shaman, incidently, or made a shaman. One simply discovers that he is a shaman. It may be a dream, a revelation, or some unaccountable, miraculous success that prompts the individual to think, "By golly, I think I've got it!" He believes he is a shaman and now announces the fact to others. His acceptance depends on a certain extent upon his daring and his ability as a salesman. To the gullible Eskimo, a vigorous assertion is usually sufficient. Again the Big Lie, boldly told. The greatest asset the sorcerer has is the fear that lurks in the hearts of his fellows. To most Eskimos, the idea of risking the wrath of the spirits by declaring oneself a shaman when one is not is utterly appalling. So he is apt simply to believe, without question.
Tied up with shamanism is the practice of fetishism. The Eskimos are great people for amulets and charms, and all kinds are carried faithfully, and firmly believed in-bears' teeth, wolves' ears, sections of caribou antler, and so forth. These talismen transmit to tthe wearer the qualities of the animal, and also the ability to conquer it. The claws of a hawk, for instance, will certainly give you a good grip. Caribou ears improve your hearing. "Kahak is really strong," they will tell you, "because he is a bear." Since childhood, you learn, Kahak has worn an amulet that symbolizes Nanuk, the bear. Hence, like Nanuk, he is strong--because he is a bear!
The name given to an Eskimo child, is, in a sense, fetishistic too, for the name is believed to carry with it the spirit and good qualities of the deceased who last bore it. But it also involves an almost certain transfer of the spirit--so we have here a vestige of a past belief in the transmigration of souls.