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Terpander and the Acoustics of Greek Shamanism

Amir Yeruham

 In the long scholarly debate revolving around the role of shamanism in ancient Greek society, the musical elements of the "trade" were seldom overlooked, even though, cross-culturally, the association of music with ritualistic power is a central feature of shamanistic practitioners. For shamans around the world, sound and rhythm are the basic keys for achieving ritualistic powers and expedite altered state of consciousness. Musical practices are therefore frequently present in manifold instances of shamanistic rituals of healing, purification, divination, communication with the spirit and animal worlds and more. Shamans, in diverse societies and periods, also shares a specific social musical role, in that they are regarded as keepers of their communities religious and cultural heritage, encoded in ritualistic speech and music, a knowledge they, in turn, mediate to their communities in public musical performances, representational or possessive in nature, using musical and poetical symbolism, mimetic dance moves and special attire. In both of those areas, i.e. the ritualistic power of music and the performative configuration of the shaman, the Greek world wasn't exceptional. Greek tradition, as depicted in myths, histories and iconography, had intimate knowledge of, and referred frequently to musico-shamanistic notions and practices, and musicians assumed shamanistic roles, or, at least, demonstrated strong shamanistic attributes. 

In fact, Greek society enclosed several distinct shamanistic Soundscapes, meaning different socially prescribed sets of assumptions and traditions governing the types of acoustic patterns, poetic styles, dances, organology, myth and ritual ideology practiced in a given locality or cult. Beginning in the archaic period we can discern several acoustically and ideologically distinct but sometimes overlapping cultic Soundscapes, shamanistic in nature, each following a unique set of practices, evolution and history. Those Soundscapes, by their historically distinguishable musical elements, can be mapped topographically in order to garner our understanding concerning the praxis and diffusion of Greek shamanism in the ancient Mediterranean. 

In light of this, as a case study, I would like to propose an examination of a single shamanistic Greek Soundscape, that of Lesbian Apollo as was been practiced by Lesbian kitharoidoi in general and by Terpander in particular. Terpander, not traditionally regarded as a shaman, is nevertheless situated in a matrix of shamanistic practices and ideologies. He is connected to rites of healing and musical purifications, to magico-ritualistic manipulations of the lyre and even to divination through his alleged inheritance of the lyre of Orpheus. By focusing on Terpander, the role-model of lesbian kitharoidia, I hope to stress the role played by lesbian lyre players in archaic times in converging and mediating shamanistic traditions and identities connected with Apollo through repeated participation in pan-Hellenic rituals, competitions and festivals.

Session/Panel Title

Greek Shamanism Reconsidered

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