ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Into the space-time of ban jhākri’s wildlands… What neurocognitive science tells us about shamanic initiations in the Himalayas?


Armand Fabio - Catholic University of Lyon (UCLy), Sciences and Humanities Confluences Research Center (EA1598), Lyon, France


23 – Engaging the world through contemporary South Asian tantric and shamanic traditions


 Into deep caves hidden by frozen waterfalls or in the snowy altitudes of the Himalayan highlands, supernatural shamanic initiations are performed along the Himalayan continuum. This contribution will focus on experiential narratives of initiatory rituals, which are based on a common experiential model: a sudden and unexpected abduction of a young candidate realized by a numinous agentivity – the ban jhākri (Nep. forest shaman) or one of its homologues –, that carries him or her, often in a dreamlike state, to a place where the time flows differently. In these altered “space-time” wildlands, the future shaman is trained by the ban jhākri in order to gain mantric and ritual knowledge, allowing him to finally reintegrate his own universe and to become a mediator between humans and the spirits.

How can we understand these narrative data relating such supernatural initiations narrativized in surprisingly the same way by so many shamanic and tantric practitioners along the Himalayan continuum? I will propose a neuro-compatible interpretation of these ethnographic materials that will provide an understanding of the neurocognitive basis that may underlie such experiences of supernatural initiation in the wilderness. In order to bridge fieldwork anthropology and the latest advances in neurocognitive science, I examine the relation between culture and neurocognition in the context of shamanic practices of the Himalayas.