The Ethnographic Record
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Ethnographic Record, Hunting Magic Analogs, and the Subject of the Coso Rock Art
Many anthropologists assume that the oldest religions center on individual shamanic rituals. Shamans are part-time religious practitioners who perform rituals on behalf of individual clients when called on to do so. These ritual adepts are accepted as specialists because of their personal charisma and established reputation as successful practitioners. They often enter trance states during their ritual performances and may alter established rituals, as they feel inspired; to accommodate the particular needs of specific clients.
Communal cults differ from individualistic ones since they are associated with more complex social organization. Such group religious observances are known from North America, Melanesia, Siberia, and Australia. The ethnographic record documents travels to ritual centers where group ceremonies are performed to preserve and enhance the fecundity of culturally important animals or plants. Such ceremonies are known for foraging cultures worldwide including the Arunta, Katish, and Unmatjera tribes of Australia (Elkin, 1964; Layton, 1992), and many California and Northwest Coast tribes in North American (Bean and Vane, 1978; Gifford, 1926; Kroeber and Gifford, 1949), to identify just a few examples. At the sacred community grounds, increase rituals include calling out the game animal name, chanting melodies related to the animal and dramatic presentations of the mythic history of the site and the animal’s association with the area. Acts of magic are included and aimed at enhancing the prevalence of game animals in general. These visits sometimes facilitate group ceremonies including male initiation or coming-of-age rites.
Initiation rites, immediately preceding puberty age for men, were often required as expressions of North American religion. A young boy was required to seek the assistance of a guardian spirit to withstand the trials of existence and have luck in hunting and in life (cf. Guenther, 1988:195). Those involved in these ceremonies were not necessarily ritual adepts (“shamans”) but often commoners. As such, the depiction of visions garnered from dreams is sometimes a culturally prescribed method for coming of age (cf. Hultkrantz, 1987a:32).
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