The Evolution of God by Robert Wright


excerpt from

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Anthropologists have found that shamans in several cultures used ventriloquism to help the spirits speak, sometimes learning the art by apprenticeship to a veteran.… Ojibwa-shamans—known for, among other things, Houdini-like escape tricks—would watch one another’s performances, one anthropologist reports, with a productive combination of motives: “to learn each other’s tricks and perhaps to expose a rival as fraudulent.” An uncovered fake would be ridiculed, even ostracized, but believers didn’t take his dishonesty as tainting spiritual leaders in general, just as today the exposure of sham faith healers doesn’t shake belief in the unexposed. Speaking of modern faith-healing tricks: Kwakiutl shamans used “spies” who would, like the spies employed by some modern faith healers, mingle with people, discern their ailments, and covertly relay them to the healer, infusing his diagnoses with drama.

There are, in short, grounds for suspicion. Yet the very ethnographers who detect these deceptions have often judged the shaman leniently. Edward Horace Man speculated that Andaman shamans “imagine themselves gifted with superior wisdom,” and Rasmussen reported that Copper Inuit shamans “consider their various tricks to be means that bring them in touch with the spirits.”







“One World, Under God”
(The Atlantic article)