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May 23, 1966


JAMA. 1966;196(8):730. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03100210100028

All Indian tribes of the Americas possessed some form of ritual treatment for disease. Indeed, there are few, if any, primitive societies anywhere in the world which lack a system of organized belief designed to assist in overcoming disease. On page 700 of this issue, Gunn describes, and illustrates, some beliefs and totemic paraphernalia of Northwest American Indian shamans.

The word "shaman" originally referred only to medicine men in certain tribes of northeastern Asia. Now, many authorities consider the terms "medicine man" and "shaman" interchangeable. Western medicine and western civilization in general do not yet fully understand the concept of the shaman. Many investigators believe that shamanic possession, or ecstasy, wherein the shaman enters a trance-like state, is genuine; nevertheless, others, including many of the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century observers from whom much of our evidence about early shamans is derived, patently considered the so-called possession state a fraud perpetrated

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