Shamanism is one of the most ‘primitive’ forms of religious practices, which deals with the emotional components of identity, and is connected to forms of animism, the taking of psychoactive drugs, and an outcome of spiritual wholeness and enhanced perceptual processes through a process of figurative dismembership of the self, suffering and symbolic death. According to C Michael Smith, in Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue,
Shamanistic relations with the sacred rest upon a pre-theological and pre-political spiritual vision and experience. Having probably arisen in the Paleolithic-hunter period of cultural evolution, when small tribal groupings had not given rise to priesthoods and credal dogma, shamanic authority rested upon the sacred power and efficacy which shamans could command for the benefit of the people. That is to say, the shamanic vision of reality and the shamanic authority rest upon levels of experience rather than upon priestly ordination or institutional hierarchy. ( p 38)
There is thus a strong link between autobiographical explorations as a means to self knowledge and the healing of others through the knowledge one has gained of oneself and the psychic realm of things (no doubt knowledge subjectively influenced by the nature of one’s particular history and the particular nature of the societies one has experienced.) Autobiographical and literary signs point to the adoption by Marechera of various shamanistic perspectives and motifs.
The link between African animistic and magical practices and the cultural revolution of the late 60s and the 70s is significant for understanding Marechera. It is not that he adopted precisely his own homegrown nativistic techniques for engaging with the world of magic. Rather, he seems to have derived a very personal intra-subjective approach of his own, in relation to psychic (soul) fragments and sub-identities which exist within a more complete aesthetic a psych-social context of his stories. Whether or not this literary technique came out of his own psychic injuries, we cannot know.
It is common for those who have been deeply injured in some way to learn to see the world in the manner of a shaman, according to Michael Richardson, who wrote as much concerning Georges Bataille. Indeed, it appears that a socially modernistic current of shamanism may be detected to some degree in the work of Georges Bataille, who seems to attempt to approach a condition of self-transformation and achievement of mystical (and simultaneously sexual) source of ecstacy under the auspices of conditions within the modernist state. According to C Michael Smith in Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue,
Shamans and persons suffering from dissociative disorders have much in common. Both know how to dissociate and utilize trance states, and both have exceptionally enhanced imaginative powers. Shamans have been the great masters of psychological dissociation, and they have been able to use it for therapeutic purposes as well as for the benefit of the larger community. […I]t may be useful to briefly review some of the dissociative features of shamanism and compare them to [Multiple Personality Disorder, now known as Dissociative Personality Disorder]. Such phenomena as trance states, meaningful hallucinations, hypnotic amnesia, symbolic dreams, ritual dismembership, possession by spirits, possession by ancestral souls, neurological exhaustion following trance work, use of intoxicants (or hallucinogens) to stimulate dissociation, out of body experiences, and transformation of identity are common to the shaman and the person suffering MPD ( p 179, 180).
The author goes on to relate the involuntary nature of the of these experiences for someone suffering from MPD as compared to the Shaman who “intentionally evokes dissociative states for the purpose of exploration of non-ordinary reality, for the purposes of making diagnosis and contacting healing potentials and for the purpose of healing his or her patient.” ( p 180). In a similar way, the self explorations of the psychic (soul) dimensions subjectively entailed for him in Marechera’s various social environments gives us a subjective ground map of such environments which can be used bfor healing one’s own fractured identities.
The Black Insider, and to a greater extent, Black Sunlight, both rely heavily on literary impulse to convey their ideas, whilst setting themselves in a particular cultural and historical context. This indicates an intentional aspect to the dissociative experiences — making them shamanistic.