AN unfortunate currency given to the popular term ‘medicine man’ to designate the shaman or priest-magician of the Amerindian tribes has given rise to much misunderstanding as to the true function of this important figure in the Indian social organism. Although the healing art comes within his province, his theory and practice are based on psychology and theology rather than on pathology and pharmacology. In fact, the cure of disease is not his primary function, but an incidental of his relation to the spirit world, in which he acts as the tribal specialist and go-between. Apart from the sweat-house, and a not very extensive acquaintance with simples, magic, which does not differ in essentials from the practices of other parts of the world, is the beginning and end of his diagnosis and treatment. The medicine man, like the shaman of the north-eastern tribes of Asia, to whom indeed he is closely related in many of his functions and attributes, is the spiritual guide of the tribe and its leader in emergency, in many instances holding a position analogous to that of the war chief. Notwithstanding the basic identity of the conception of the medicine man's function throughout the North American tribes, there is no little variation in detail, both in the position they hold and in their methods of action. Dr. Corlett's purpose has been to place before his readers a conspectus of the evidence and to demonstrate the variations to be found in passing from one to any other of the areas of cultural differentiation into which the Indians of North America have been classified by anthropologists.
The Medicine-Man of the American Indian and his Cultural Background
By. Pp. ix + 369 + 14 plates. (Springfield, I11., and Baltimore, Md.: Charles C. Thomas; London: Baillière, Tindall and Cox, 1935.) 22s. 6d.
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The Medicine-Man of the American Indian and his Cultural Background. Nature 138, 268 (1936). https://doi.org/10.1038/138268b0