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21st-century anthropologist and archeologist Silvia Tomaskova argues that by the mid-1600s, many Europeans applied the Arabic term shaitan, meaning "devil," to the non-Christian practices and beliefs of indigenous peoples beyond the Ural Mountains.She suggests that shaman may have entered the various Tungus dialects as a corruption of this term, and then been told to Christian missionaries, explorers, soldiers and colonial administrators with whom the people had increasing contact for centuries.Ethnolinguists did not develop as a discipline nor achieve contact with these communities until the late 19th century, and may have mistakenly "read backward" in time for the origin of this word.There is no single agreed-upon definition for the word "shamanism" among anthropologists.The term "shamanism" was first applied by Western anthropologists as outside observers of the ancient religion of the Turks and Mongols, as well as those of the neighbouring Tungusic and Samoyedic-speaking peoples.
The first of these uses the term to refer to "anybody who contacts a spirit world while in an altered state of consciousness." The second definition limits the term to refer to those who contact a spirit world while in an altered state of consciousness at the behest of others.According to ethnolinguist Juha Janhunen, "the word is attested in all of the Tungusic idioms" such as Negidal, Lamut, Udehe/Orochi, Nanai, Ilcha, Orok, Manchu and Ulcha, and "nothing seems to contradict the assumption that the meaning 'shaman' also derives from Proto-Tungusic" and may have roots that extend back in time at least two millennia.The term was introduced to the west after Russian forces conquered the shamanistic Khanate of Kazan in 1552.The fourth definition identified by Hutton uses "shamanism" to refer to the indigenous religions of Siberia and neighboring parts of Asia. Turner and colleagues mention a phenomenon called shamanistic initiatory crisis, a rite of passage for shamans-to-be, commonly involving physical illness and/or psychological crisis.The significant role of initiatory illnesses in the calling of a shaman can be found in the detailed case history of Chuonnasuan, the last master shaman among the Tungus peoples in Northeast China.