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Observations placeholder

Mircea Eliade - Kahuna symbolic Boat



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Mircea Eliade – Shamanism Archaic techniques of ecstasy

There are in Indonesia and also in part in Melanesia, three important categories of magico-religious practices that involve the use – real or symbolic – of a ritual boat:

  • the boat for the expulsion of demons and sickness
  • the boat in which the Indonesian shaman travels through the air in search of the patient’s soul
  • the boat of the spirits which carries the souls of the dead to the beyond.

In the first two categories of rites shamans play the principal if not the only role; the third category, though it consists in an underworld journey of the shamanic type, nevertheless extends beyond the shaman’s function.  These boats of the dead are evoked rather than manipulated, and their evocation occurs in the course of funerary laments recited by professional women mourners and not by shamans.

Annually, or on the occasion of epidemics, the demons of sickness are expelled in one of the following ways; they are caught and shut up in a box, or directly in a boat and the boat is thrown into the sea……..

In addition, the Indonesian shaman uses a boat in the course of his magical cure.  That sickness is due to a flight of the soul is the predominant conception throughout the Indonesian area. 

Most frequently the soul is believed to have been abducted by demons or spirits, and to seek it the shaman uses a boat.  This is the case, for example, with the balian of the Dusan.  If he thinks that the patient’s soul has been captured by an aerial spirit, he makes a miniature boat with a wooden bird at one end.  In this boat he journeys ecstatically through the air, looking to left and right, until he finds the patient’s soul.  This technique is known to the Dusun of North, South and East Borneo.

The Maanyan shaman also has a boat three to six feet long, which he keeps in his house and which he boards when he wishes to journey to the god Sahor and ask his help.  The idea of travelling through the air in a boat is only an Indonesian application of the shamanic technique of the celestial ascent

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps