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Magicians, Magic, and Shamanism in Ancient China

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image of Journal of East Asian Archaeology

This paper examines shamanism and related religious phenomena in ancient China by exploring myths, legends, and histories described in transmitted texts; relevant archaeological data; and modern ethnographic records. Definitions and terminological issues are addressed, and a three-stage evolutionary sequence is suggested for the development of religion in China (primitive religion, polytheistic religion, and monotheistic religion). The terminological distinctions for religious practitioners are also presented, including magicians, sorcerers, and priests. Archaeological evidence for religious activities before the emergence of complex societies helps to fill in some of the gaps found in the textual records that relate legends ascribed to these early periods. The varying roles of magicians/shamans in the formation of complex societies in North China are examined. Finally, the rich evidence for shamanism in South China is surveyed.


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