Shamanism – critical concepts, 35

making of medicine-men, by regions of Australia





south of Murray r.

"the spirit to open the postulant’s side and to insert in it ... quartz crystals"


south-west New South Wales

"totem (or familiar) and ... quartz crystals and mysterious cord, were pressed or rubbed and "sung" into him. He was also taken to the sky – this time on a doctor’s magical cord."


north coast of New South Wales (Kumbaingeri tribe)

"sleeping on a grave, the postulant was visited by the tribal Great-Spirit or Sky Culture-Hero, who put quartz-crystals in his inside."


middle coast of New South Wales : Port Jackson

"The spirit of the deceased person seized the aspirant by the throat, made an incision, took out his intestines, which he "replaced" ..."


north-western New South Wales (Yualai & Weilan tribes)

"a spirit (or ghost) at a burial ground ... drove a yam-stick right through the postulant’s head, and placed in the hole a sacred stone-crystal"


nigh lake Eyre (Dieri tribe)

"a spirit makes an incision in the postulant’s abdomen and inserts a spirit-snake, his future "familiar". He also visits the sky, by means of a hair-cord."


same (Piladapa tribe)

"a spirit drives a "pointing-stick" into the back of the postulant’s head, ... the latter receives power and quartz from the spirit."


western South Australia

"the postulant is put in a waterhole, where a mythical snake swallows him, but later ejects him in the form of a baby ... he is red-ochred and treated as a corpse. Then the head doctor ritually breaks his neck, wrists and other joints by marking them with a magic stone (australite). {cf. Bodish, North American mound-builders, & prae-dynastic Kemetian dismemberments of human corpses.} Into each mark ... the doctor inserts maban life-giving shell"


Warburton ranges in Western Australia (Manjinja tribe)

"two totemic spirits or heroes "kill" the postulant, cut him open from his neck to his groin, take out all his "insides" and insert magical substances (mabain)."


north-central Australia

"Crystals, extracted from their own bodies, are pressed and scored and "jerked" into the postulant’s body. ... In addition, a hole is pierced in his tongue." {tongue-piercing is also in Maya epigraphy, and in the South-Indian cult of Skanda}


north-west Australia (Nyul-Nyul tribe)

"the operator put a small snake and shell into the postulant while asleep."


Northern Kimberley : Forrest r.

"an old doctor takes the postulant, reduced to the size of a baby, to the sky ... on a cord ... Reaching the sky, ... He then inserts in him maban (quartz-crystals) and little rainbow-snakes, which he can obtain in a water-hole at the foot of the rainbow."


north-east Arnhem Land

"The main objective in their "making" is to obtain "familiars", ... with some bird-like characteristics. The aspirant to the profession must experience a vision of such "familiars" coming to and residing with him. Moreover, other doctors, and only doctors, can see these spirit-helpers. They must vouch that the new medicine-man has gained some, usually two, of them. Ordinary people are ... hearing their clicking sounds – a kind of beating of wings against the doctor’s shoulders." {these twain mascot spirit-birds are aequivalent to the twain ravens Hugin & Munin perched on the shoulders of O`dinn}


far-western Queensland

"experience of ... having pointed objects thrust in one’s body, and of being thrown into a water-hole and dragged out when almost drowned ... This is followed by a visit to a cave of ghosts, "familiars" and a totem python."


Arnhem Land (Kakadu tribe)

"sacramental relation with a rainbow-snake by being rubbed with, and drinking, some of the blood of its earthly snake representative." {As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so shall the Son of Man be lifted up ...}


far-western Queensland (Goa tribe)

"the Maitakudi aspirant can be made by doctors ... They "kill" him, throw him into a water-hole for four days and then take him out and dry him in a ring of fires". {cf. Yucatec ordeal of being thrown into cenote for days; cf. Hindu ring of fires as ordeal for yogin within it}

p. 397 "the ritual concerned with an actual corpse, consisted of :

1. the making of an abdominal and other incisions;

2. The removal, cleaning, and replacing of the internal;

3. The addition of magical or life-giving substances;

4. The closing of the incisions; and

5. A ritual "raising" of the body to life.

we would call the process one of mummification."





"An Aboriginal medicine-man, a friend of mine, ... pressed on me what hard work and effort were entailed in putting one’s thoughts into the mind of a person at a distance and causing the latter to act on them."


"I draw him with my power (miwi). You do not see any hand-signs or hear any shouting."


"Our medicine-men ... see or ascertain by invisible means what is happening at a distance, and ... can tell what another person is thinking."


"A usual method ... is that the medicine-man sends his "familiar" (his assistant totem, spirit-dog, or whatever ...) to gather the information. While this is occurring, the [medicine-]man himself is in a state of ... sleep or trance."


"Related to this is the "clever man’s" power (... in north-west New South Wales, Kamilaroi and other tribes) of seeing in quartz crystal and glass-like stones [obsidian?] what people are, or have been, doing". {cf. European skrying in "crystal balls"}


"said ... a Murngin medicine-man, ... ‘I can see inside your mind.’"


"Amongst the Wiradjeri (New South Wales), when the doctor lay down to rest, he would send his familiar (assistant totem) to other camps, irrespective of distance, to gain information ... To do this, he would have to "sing" or "hum", or "think", his own spirit out ... as he was dropping off to sleep."

clairvoyance of the "strong eye" {cf. "dharma-eye"}




"... the power of looking into and through a sick person’s body to see whether the soul is present or not, and also of being able to see ... even the spirits of the dead."


"a "clever-man" ... of ... Murngin ... described his power by saying that he knew what had happened, whereas ordinary men could only think about it."


"... the Lower Murray region, where one of the ... forms of sorcery is fat-taking with the aid of a thumi. {cf. [>arabi^] /TUM/ ‘garlic’ – good for influencing vampires in Europe} This is a long rope of human hair, into which the strength of dying and dead persons has been made to pass, by having been wound around them. Operators, twelve in number, using this rope, wind it round their intended victim’s body while he is asleep." {cf. the 12 disciples of the long-haired Christ}

p. 414 magic cord

"At the display during initiation ..., the doctor lies on his back under a tree, sends his cord up and climbs up on it to a nest on top a tree, then across other trees, and at sunset, down to the ground again." {cf. "rope-trick" in India}

"a Wongaibon clever man, lying on his back at the foot of a tree, sent his cord directly up, and "climbed" up with his head well back, body outstretched, legs apart, and arms to his sides. Arriving at the top, ... he ... then came down in the same manner, and while still on his back the cord re-entered his body. Apparently, ... his body floated up and down in the horizontal position with no movements of his hands or legs ..."

miscellaneous magical feats




"Another form of psychic display was to disappear from one spot suddenly, and appear in another, or to pass into, or out of a tree." {In such a case, the observer must be in a temporary state of oblivion while the performer is walking from one site to another – just as in the hand-movements (instead of walking) with European so-called "leger-de-main".}


"Medicine-men are ... able to travel at a very swift pace ... They apparently run less than a metre above the ground. Indeed, it has been said that the air has been made soft and solid, and that it moves along, carrying them with it. ... "these clever men can make their spirits take them along very quickly." Information regarding this form of progression comes from south-east Australia, especially western new South Wales, and eastern South Australia."


Yaralde tribe of the lower Murray river – "Lying down in the prescribed posture, ... the "clever man" would see visions unconnected with earthly life. he would go to the land of ancestral beings. This power, called miwi ..., ... is said to be located in the pit of the stomach." {solar plexus, [Chinese] "lower Cinnabar Field’}


"amongst the Weilwan ... the "clever man" (wiringin) sent something out of his body (pointing to the stomach) to see things. Moreover, this something ... could be seen by at least some persons ... away where it had been "sent" ..."

pp. 417-418 horrific visions, according to the Yaralde




"When you lie down to see the prescribed visions, and you do see them, ... they will be horrible. They are hard to describe, ... though I could project the experience into you after you had been well trained. However, some of them are ... like snakes, some are like horses with men’s heads {Kid-purus.a-s of Astika mythology}, and some are spirits ... which resemble burning fires.


You see you camp burning and

the flood waters rising, and

thunder, lightning and rain,

the earth rocking, the hills moving,

the waters whirling, and

the trees which stand still, swaying about.

{cf. South American Indian initiatory dreams of thunderstorm} ...


You may see dead persons walking toward you, and you will hear their bones rattle. ... You are now powerful because you have seen these dead people." {cf. Aztec belief of power acquirable by humans from vision of skeletal god.}

Andrei A. Znamenski : Shamanism. RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2004. 3 Vols.

Vol. II, pp. 383-424 = 35. A. P. Elkin: "Extract from Aboriginal Men of High Degree".