Ninety percent of Nepalis today practice Hinduism or Buddhism and there are 10 different religions practiced by communities in the country. It seemed reasonable to think that this book might follow the specific traditions of a particular culture or area in the Himalayas. With dozens of ethnic groups, multiple languages, and a variety of religions, the term Nepalese shamanism is too wide a brush to describe each and every shamanic practice. I was disappointed that there wasn't more specificity with references and footnotes. I was surprised that most of the practice is based on Hinduism with some Buddhist influence and occasional nods to smaller local religions.
The authors indicate that the reader needs to already know how to journey. They also encourage the reader to find a Nepalese teacher as shamanism cannot be learned solely through reading. The first guided journey is intended to introduce the reader to Banjhankri and his cosort Banjhankrini. Tradition says that they kidnap children who they will train to become future dhami/jhankri. Most are returned to their families but there is an element of danger in that not all return and not all pass the tests of these spirits. In the following chapter, the authors stress the importance of calling on one's protective spirits/power animals before doing the journeys. This is one case where I feel that perhaps that emphasis should have preceded the journey. How you feel about this will largely depend on whether you view beings you see on journeys as entities existing outside of yourself or birthed within your own imagination. I would posit that in traditional shamanic cultures, the entities are considered to be real and in core shamanism some practioners may only expect to touch on the archetypal.
Eveylyn Rysdyk writes the bulk of the text with smaller personal accounts by Bhola Nath Banstola. There are hand drawings by Rysdyk and her photographs. She describes in detail shamanic tools and ritual objects with the names in Nepali. Guided journeys show the reader how to consecrate these objects. Every ritual or journey utilizes one's tools. I found that the repetition of mostly the same needed items for each journey to be unnecessary. I would have suggested a list of items at the beginning and then just instruct on any variation thereafter. The dress of a dhami/jhankri is more individual and the reader is advised to journey to discover their own ceremonial attire. This takes us about a third of the way into the book. Hereafter, the focus is on learning more about the Nepalese practices of chanting and drumming and different ceremonies for renewal and healing. The use of mandalas figures prominently.
Half way through the book we are introduced to various Himalayan deities. Some are Hindu including Durga and her nine aspects, Kali and the Devis,Gannyap (Ganesha), Lord Shiva and Hanuman. Some are Buddhist such as the Taras and the Tibetan Vajrakilaya. The sacred serpents known as the Nagas are honored not only by Hindis and Buddhists but also by Jains and Bön. Masto God is honored in the west of Nepal by the Khas Bahun and Khas Chhetri people. The short section on Masto God was unusually specific about the origin. Mostly the book describes Hindu practices.The vast number of deities can be bewildering as well as the intermingling of different religions.
With a foreward written by Sandra Ingerman, it comes as little surprise that the techniques in this book are familiar to core shamanism. Evylyn Rysdyk is an author and shamanic practitioner who lives in Maine. Bhola Nath Banstola appears to be a shamanic practioner who also learned primarily Hindu based practices in his childhood in Nepal. He describes himself as a 26th generation shaman who both inherited the practice from his grandfather and also was called to be a dhami/jhankri by the primordial forest shaman Banjhankri and his cosort Banjhankrini. My skeptical side wonders if anyone other than royalty can trace 26 generations and my more forgiving side wonders whether this is the kind of expression used when it is as far back as anyone can trace. As a reader, I have no way to confirm or deny this.
I went to a local Nepali New year celebration and asked two questions. Is it true that shamanic practices are as widely practiced in Nepal as this book says? Do you know of this Nepalese author? I was told that shamanic practices are far less common today and more often found in remote areas. These days most people go to doctors rather than shamans. I was told that Bhola Nath Banstola has visited my city and is known to the local Nepalese community but the elder I was directed to speak with had not met him. The elder noted that practices differ from place to place so he could not say for sure if these practices are authentic unless they were the same as those from his region. Mr. Banstola presented at a workshop in my city several years back. My friend, who is a shamanic healer confirmed that the local promoter of this workshop was a person who studied under Echo Bodine. From this I can confirm that Mr. Banstola has made connections with Americans involved in the spiritual, shamanic and New Age communities.
If you're wondering why I went to the trouble of asking about his background, it comes down to several factors that nagged me as I read: the lack of specificity about locations where these practices are performed, the blurring of several religious traditions, the clear use of core shamanism practices and the fact that the country has been in some social and political disarray since the earthquake and the end of the monarchy. In its favor, the book provides Nepali names written in the Roman alphabet so if you want to research for yourself based on what is here, it will be possible. I kept researching and one thing I did find is that Nepal has more blurring between Hindu and Buddhist practice than most other places. So the inclusion of both Hindu deities and Buddhist Tara may not seem strange to a Nepali. Another thing I discovered is that questioning a dhami/jhankri on their credentials can be interpreted in Nepal as insinuating that someone is practicing what we in the west would see as black magic. Culturally the Nepali are very tolerant of religious differences. In the end, my impression is that Mr. Banstola, who emigrated from Nepal, likely grew up with these practices and within the context of Europe was later introduced to core shamanism. Recognizing that there is a market for shamanism, he embarked with Evelyn Ryskyk to write a book that combined Western shamanic practice with Eastern traditions.
For many readers, this may be the level of introduction that they want. The pictures are nice. There is a glossary of Nepalese terms. The journey format is familiar to core shamanic students. Those readers intent on finding a traditional practice unadulterated by Western shamanic practice and cross-referenced will find this book frustrating but may still learn something new.
~review by Larissa Carlson Viana
Authors: Evelyn C. Rysdyk with Bhola Nath Banstola
330 pages, $19.99