Shamanism and Metempsychosis

Leonid Zhmud

in Pythagoras and the Early Pythagoreans

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199289318
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741371 | DOI:
Shamanism and Metempsychosis

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This chapter begins by exploring notions of Shamanism in ancient Greece. It argues that there are no traces of shamanism or its most important component, ecstatic cult practice, either in Pythagoreanism or among the Scythians who supposedly influenced it, even if we assume that shamanism existed at that time. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the Pythagoreans had any special cult at all. The chapter then considers the historical and religious context of metempsychosis. It addresses the following questions: Was metempsychosis borrowed by the Greeks, and if so from whom? Who in Greece was the first to preach it, the Orphics or Pythagoras, and did any Orphics live in Pythagoras' lifetime? How widespread was it among the Pythagoreans, and how consistent were they in observing the behavioural norms that sprang from it, such as the ban on eating meat? Can Pythagorean metempsychosis be considered an ethical doctrine? Behind each of these questions lies a long history of contradictory interpretations.

Keywords: Pythagoras; shamanism; ancient Greece; ecstatic cult practice; metempsychosis; Orphics

Chapter.  14132 words. 

Subjects: Classical Philosophy

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