Shamanism by Mircea Eliade

Among the Apinaye shamans are appointed by the soul of a relative, which puts them in relation with the spirits: but it is the latter that impart shamanic knowledge and techniques to them. Among other tribes one becomes a shaman through a spontaneous ecstatic experience—for example, by having a vision of the planet Mars, and so on. Among the Campa and the Amahuaca candidates are instructed by a living or dead shaman.“The apprentice shaman of the Conibo of the Ucayali receives his medical knowledge from a spirit. To enter into relations with the spirit the shaman drinks a decoction of tobacco and smokes as much as possible in a hermetically closed hut."The Cashinawa candidate is taught in the bush; souls give him the requisite magical substances and also inoculate his body with them. The Yaruro shamans are taught by their gods, although they learn technique properfrom other shamans. But they do not consider themselves able to practice until they have met a spirit in dream.“In the Apapocuva Guarani tribe, the prerequisite for becoming a shaman is learning magical songs, which are taught by a dead relative in dreams.” But whatever the source of their revelation, all these shamans practice in accordance with the traditional norms of their tribe. “In other words, they conform to rules and a technique that they can have acquired only by going to school to men of experience,” Metraux concludes. This is equally true of any other shamamsm. As we see, if the dead shaman's soul plays an important role in the development of shamanic vocation, it only prepares candidate for later revelations. The souls of dead shamans put him in relation with spirits, or carry him to the sky (cf. Siberia, the Altai, Australia, etc.). These first ecstatic experiences are followed by teaching received from the old shamans. Among the Selk’nam spontaneous vocation is manifested by the young man's strange behavior: he sings in his sleep, and so on. But such a state can also be obtained voluntarily; all that is necessary is to see the spirits.

"Seeing spirits," in dream or awake, is the determining sign of the shamanic vocation, whether spontaneous or voluntary. For, in a manner, having contact with the souls of the dead signifies being dead oneself. This is why, throughout South America, the shaman must so die that he may meet the souls of the dead and receive their teaching; for the dead know everything.

As we said, shamanic election or initiation in South America sometimes preserves the perfect schema of a ritual death and resurrection. But the death can also be suggested by other means: extreme fatigue, tortures, fasting, blows, and so on. When a young Jivaro decides to become a shaman, he looks for a master, pays him the proper fee, and then embarks on an extremely severe regime; for days he does not touch food and drinks narcotic beverages, especially tobacco juice (which is well known to play an essential part in the initiations of South American shamans). Finally a spirit, Pasuka, appears to the candidate in the form of a warrior. The master immediately begins to strike the apprentice until he falls to the ground unconscious. When he comes to himself, his whole body is sore. This proves that the spirit has taken possession of him; and in fact, the sufferings, intoxications, and blows that have brought on his loss of consciousness are in a manner assimilated to a ritual death.

It follows that the souls of the dead, whatever the part they have played in precipitating the vocation or initiation of future shamans, do not create the vocation by their mere presence (possession or not), but serve the candidate as a means of entering into contact with divine or semidivine beings (through ecstatic journeys to the sky and the underworld, etc.) or enable the future shaman to share in the mode of being of the dead. This has been very well brought out by Marcel Mauss in connection with magicat powers being conferred on Australian sorcerers by supernatural revelation.  Here too, the role of the dead often overlaps that of "pure spirits.”  And indeed, even when it is the spirit of a dead man that directly grants the revelation, the latter implies either the initiatory rite of the killing of the candidate followed by his rebirth, or ecstatic journeys to the sky, a peculiarly shamanic theme in which the ancestral spirit plays the role of psychopomp and which, by its very structure, excludes “possession.” It certainly seems that the chief function of the dead in the granting of shamanic powers is less a matter of taking "possession" of the subject than of helping him to become a "dead man"—in short, of helping him to become a "spirit" too.