Thursday, May 29, 2008

Genealogists are the new shaman

All American Man, Canyonlands National Park pictograph.I think genealogists are the shaman of our day. Mind you, we haven't assumed every duty of the ancient shaman, but we have assumed many of them. Shaman is both singular and plural and masculine and feminine; I don't want anyone to feel left out.

We are charged with remembering our tribe's forefathers along with their stories and traditions stretching back many generations. To maximize how much their memory could store, ancient shaman used chanting, songs, dance-steps and other memory devices. Today we've displaced these with paper and computer memory, which store larger amounts of information but are not nearly as fun.

We walk with the dead. Ancient shaman used hallucinogens, meditation and trances to converge the world of the dead with the world of the living. We modern shaman rely primarily on research and records as our primary transportation devices. Newspapers and diaries, photographs and manuscripts have made our ancestors come to life before our very eyes. Discovering our ancestors gives us joy and satisfaction not easily explained to others. As it was anciently, the superlative wonder of these experiences is still impossible to describe to non-participants!

We have experiences beyond the physical laws of nature. Anciently these experiences were attributed to magic or spiritualism. Today... Well, today, we're still at a loss to explain these experiences. In this column we've adopted the term serendipity, but don't let the nondescript nature of the word fool you.

In remembering and walking with our dead, we modern shaman—as a group—are still having the experiences that led our predecessors to be regarded as possessors of great magic. In our sterile, scientific modern environment we cherish these rare experiences, sharing them primarily within our guild. They are, perhaps, the strongest link we share with our ancient forerunners.

When it comes down to it, I think ancient shaman were the genealogists of their day.

Newspaper Rock and My Modern Family Collage.


  1. Amen - nothing gets weird looks faster or more often than talking about one's "dead people" or penchant for cleaning and photographing headstones.

    I think of myself more as the "keeper" - the archivist of my family stories. I always feel validated when some family member shoots me an email: "Weren't our Proctors in the Salem witch trials?"

  2. Millie,

    I love your word: "keeper". Wish I had thought of it to include in this article. Thanks for sharing.

    -- The Insider


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