Neoshamanism refers to "new"' forms of shamanism, or methods of seeking visions or healing. Neoshamanism comprises an eclectic range of beliefs and practices that involve attempts to attain altered states and communicate with a spirit world.[1] Neoshamanic systems may not resemble traditional forms of shamanism. Some have been invented by individual practitioners, though many borrow or gain inspiration from a variety of different indigenous cultures. In particular, indigenous cultures of the Americas have been influential.[2][3]

The word "shaman" originates from the Evenki word "šamán".[4] The Tungusic term was subsequently adopted by Russians interacting with the indigenous peoples of Siberia,[5] and then applied very broadly by western anthropologists to many, diverse spiritual systems that share some kind of practice of calling upon, and mediating with, spirit beings.

Neoshamanism is not a single, cohesive belief system, but a collective term for many philosophies and activities. However, certain generalities may be drawn between adherents. Most believe in spirits and pursue contact with the "spirit-world" in altered states of consciousness which they achieve through drumming, dance, or the use of entheogens. Most systems might be described as existing somewhere on the animism/pantheism spectrum.[6] Some neoshamans were not trained by any traditional shaman or member of any American indigenous culture, but rather learn independently from books and experimentation. Many attend New Age workshops and retreats, where they study a wide variety of ideas and techniques, both new and old.[2][3]

Some members of traditional, indigenous cultures and religions are critical of neoshamanism, asserting that it represents an illegitimate form of cultural appropriation, or that it is nothing more than a ruse by fraudulent spiritual leaders to disguise or lend legitimacy fabricated, ignorant and/or unsafe elements in their ceremonies.[7][8] According to York (2001) one difference between neoshamanism and traditional shamanism is the role of fear.[9] Neoshamanism and its New Age relations tend to dismiss the existence of evil, fear, and failure. "In traditional shamanism, the shaman’s initiation is an ordeal involving pain, hardship and terror. New Age, by contrast is a religious perspective that denies the ultimately [sic] reality of the negative, and this would devalue the role of fear as well."[10]

The 2011 United Kingdom census made it possible to write in a description of one's own choosing for "Religion". The figures for England and Wales show that from just over 80,000 people self-identifying as Pagan, 650 wrote in the description "Shamanism".[11]

Azteeks sjamaan Jorge Nopaltzin Guaderrama
Jorge Nopaltzin Guaderrama, a modern Aztec shaman. Aztec culture had a complex priesthood, not shamans, and the contemporary Aztec shamanic revival represents a form of neoshamanism.

Core Shamanism

"Core Shamanism", which formed the foundations for most contemporary neoshamanism, is a system of practices synthesized, invented and promoted by Michael Harner in the 1980s, based on his reading of anthropological texts about indigenous peoples in the Americas, primarily the Plains Indians.[1] Harner, who was not himself indigenous to the Americas, asserted that the ways of several North American tribes share "core" elements with those of the Siberian shamans.[1][2][3] Many non-Native American readers believe that Harner's ideas were representative of actual traditional indigenous ceremonies, when they were not actually very accurate according to subsequent critics.[2] Some members of these tribes assert that Harner's ideas or representations were not in any way accurate,[2][3] nor do they call their spiritual leaders "shamans".[2][12]

Harner professes to describe common elements of "shamanic" practice found among indigenous people world-wide, having stripped those elements of specific cultural content so as to render them "accessible" to contemporary Western spiritual seekers.[13] Harner also founded the Foundation for Shamanic Studies which claims to aid indigenous people preserve or even re-discover their own spiritual knowledge.[14]

Core shamanism does not hold a fixed belief system, but instead focuses on the practice of "shamanic journeying" and may also rely on the novels of Carlos Castaneda. Specific practices include the use of rapid drumming in an attempt to attain "the shamanic state of consciousness," ritual dance, and attempted communication with animal tutelary spirits, called "power animals" by Harner."[15]

Power animals

"Power animal" is a concept that was introduced in 1980 by Michael Harner in The Way of the Shaman.[15] While Harner took inspiration from his study of animistic beliefs in many different cultures, his concept of power animals is much like the familiar spirits of European occultism, which aid the occultist in their metaphysical work.[15]

The use of this term has been incorporated into the New Age movement, where it is often mistaken for being the same as a totem in some indigenous cultures.[3] The concept has also entered popular culture in various forms, such as in the 1999 film (and earlier novel) Fight Club, when the narrator attends a cancer support group. During a creative visualization exercise, he is told to see himself entering a cave where he will meet his power animal. When he does, he imagines a penguin is speaking to him.[16]

Controversy with Core Shamanism

Critics Daniel C. Noel and Robert J. Wallis see Harner's teachings as based on cultural appropriation and a misrepresentation of the various cultures by which he claims to have been inspired.[17] Geary Hobson sees the New Age use of the term "shamanism" as a cultural appropriation of Native American culture by white people who have distanced themselves from their own history.[2] Critics such as Noel and Wallis believe Harner's work, in particular, laid the foundations for massive exploitation of indigenous cultures by "plastic shamans" and other cultural appropriators. Note, however, that Noel does believe in "authentic western shamanism" as an alternative to neoshamanism.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Harner, Michael The Way of the Shaman. 1980, new edition, HarperSanFrancisco, 1990, ISBN 0-06-250373-1
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Hobson, G. "The Rise of the White Shaman as a New Version of Cultural Imperialism." in: Hobson, Gary, ed. The Remembered Earth. Albuquerque, NM: Red Earth Press; 1978: 100-108.
  3. ^ a b c d e Aldred, Lisa, "Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality" in: The American Indian Quarterly issn.24.3 (2000) pp.329-352. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  4. ^ Eliade, Mircea (1964, reprint 2004) Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004. p. 4.
  5. ^ Hutton, Ronald (2001). Shamans: Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination. London and New York: Hambledon and London. p. vii.
  6. ^ Karlsson, Thomas (2002). Uthark - Nightside of the Runes. Ouroboros. ISBN 91-974102-1-7.
  7. ^ Hagan, Helene E. (September 1992). "The Plastic Medicine People Circle". Sonoma County Free Press. Archived from the original on 2013-03-05.
  8. ^ Hobson, G. (1978). The Remembered Earth. Red Earth Press.
  9. ^ Shaman on the Stage (Shamanism and Northern Identity) by Tatyana Bulgakova
  10. ^ York, Michael. "The Role of Fear in Traditional and Contemporary Shamanism". Bath Spa University College. Archived from the original on 20 January 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  11. ^ Office for National Statistics, 11 December 2012, 2011 Census, Key Statistics for Local Authorities in England and Wales. Accessed 12 December 2012.
  12. ^ May, James (18 Feb 2002). "Man claiming to be Northern Cheyenne "Shaman" convicted on eight felony counts". Indian Country Today Media Network.: "A letter from the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council obtained by Indian Country Today and signed by three tribal council members, said that Cagle is in no way associated with the tribe...The letter further stated that the Northern Cheyenne do not use the term "shaman" when referring to their religious leaders"
  13. ^ Foundation for Shamanic Studies. "Michael Harner Biography". Foundation for Shamanic Studies. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  14. ^ The Foundation for Shamanic Studies. "About the Foundation for Shamanic Studies". The Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  15. ^ a b c Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman. HarperCollins, New York, 1980, pp. 57-72, 76-103.
  16. ^ Palahniuk, Chuck (1996) Fight Club. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03976-5
  17. ^ a b Noel, Daniel C. (1997) Soul Of Shamanism: Western Fantasies, Imaginal Realities.Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-1081-2

Further reading

  • Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology. 1959; reprint, New York and London: Penguin Books, 1976. ISBN 0-14-019443-6
  • Richard de Mille, ed. The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies. Santa Barbara, CA: Ross-Erikson, 1980.
  • George Devereux, "Shamans as Neurotics", American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 63, No. 5, Part 1. (Oct., 1961), pp. 1088–1090.
  • Jay Courtney Fikes, Carlos Castaneda: Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties, Millennia Press, Canada, 1993. ISBN 0-9696960-0-0
  • Joan Halifax, ed. Shamanic Voices: A Survey of Visionary Narratives. 1979; reprint, New York and London: Penguin, 1991. ISBN 0-14-019348-0
  • Michael Harner: The Way of the Shaman. 1980, new edition, HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. ISBN 0-06-250373-1
  • Graham Harvey, ed. Shamanism: A Reader. New York and London: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-25330-6.
  • Åke Hultkrantz (Honorary Editor in Chief): Shaman. Journal of the International Society for Shamanistic Research
  • Philip Jenkins, Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-516115-7
  • Alice Kehoe, Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in Critical Thinking. 2000. London: Waveland Press. ISBN 1-57766-162-1
  • Jeremy Narby and Francis Huxley, eds. Shamans Through Time: 500 Years- on the Path to Knowledge. 2001; reprint, New York: Tarcher, 2004. ISBN 0-500-28327-3
  • Daniel C. Noel. Soul Of Shamanism: Western Fantasies, Imaginal Realities.Continuum, 1997. ISBN 0-8264-1081-2
  • Åke Ohlmarks 1939: Studien zum Problem des Schamanismus. Gleerup, Lund.
  • Kira Salak, "Hell and Back: Ayahuasca Shamanism" for National Geographic Adventure.
  • Piers Vitebsky, The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul - Trance, Ecstasy and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon, Duncan Baird, 2001. ISBN 1-903296-18-8
  • Michael Winkelman, (2000) Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.
  • Andrei Znamenski, ed. Shamanism: Critical Concepts, 3 vols. London: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-31192-6
  • Andrei Znamenski, Shamanism in Siberia: Russian Records of Siberian Spirituality. Dordrech and Boston: Kluwer/Springer, 2003. ISBN 1-4020-1740-5
  • Andrei Znamenski, The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-19-517231-0

External links

A Separate Reality

A Separate Reality: Further Conversations With Don Juan is a book written by anthropologist/author Carlos Castaneda, published in 1971, concerning the events that took place during his apprenticeship with a Yaqui Indian Sorcerer, Don Juan Matus, between 1960 and 1965.

In the book Castaneda continues his description of his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Don Juan. As in his previous book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Castaneda describes the experiences he has with Don Juan while under the influence of the psychotropic plants that Don Juan offered him, peyote (Lophophora williamsii) and a smokable mixture of what Castaneda believed to be, among other plants, dried mushroom of the genus Psilocybe. The main focus of the book centered on Don Juan's attempts at getting Carlos to See, a practice best described as, in Castaneda's own words, "perceiving energy directly as it flows through the universe".

The book contains an introduction, an epilogue and two separate parts. Part One, "The Preliminaries of 'Seeing'", describes his re-initiation into the apprenticeship from which he withdrew in late 1965, and also describes his introduction to another brujo (sorcerer) named Don Genaro. Part Two, "The Task of 'Seeing'", elaborates on the mental processes involved with Seeing, and begins with Castaneda realizing that the plants are a necessary tool to arrive at Seeing.

Alberto Villoldo

Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D., is a Cuban-born psychologist, medical anthropologist and author, writing primarily in the field of neo-shamanism.

Celtic neopaganism

Celtic neopaganism refers to any type of modern paganism or contemporary pagan movements based on the ancient Celtic religion.

Don Miguel Ruiz

Miguel Ángel Ruiz Macías (born August 27, 1952), better known by his pseudonym as Don Miguel Ruiz, is a Mexican author of Toltec spiritualist and neoshamanistic texts.

His work is best-received among members of the New Thought movement that focuses on ancient teachings as a means to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Ruiz is listed as one of the Watkins 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People in 2018. Some have associated Ruiz's work with Carlos Castaneda, author of The Teachings of Don Juan.

Eliot Cowan

Eliot Cowan is an American-born healer, teacher, author, and founder of the alternative healing technique known as Plant Spirit Medicine.

Born in 1946 in the United States, Cowan was raised in Chicago, Winnipeg and San Francisco. He received a degree in Anthropology from Pomona College and pursued post-graduate study in documentary filmmaking at UCLA.

In 1970, while living on a farm in Vermont, he became distraught because one of his goats was sick. Unwilling to accept a "hopeless" diagnosis from a veterinarian, he began to read about herbalism and treated the goat with a plant. The goat healed, and Cowan's work in Herbalism began. In 1971, he traveled to England to study acupuncture, receiving Licentiate, Bachelor and Master of Acupuncture degrees from J.R. Worsley at the College of Traditional Acupuncture, Leamington Spa, England.After a number of years practicing acupuncture, he came across an article on the Huichol Indians of the Mexican Sierras. The article caused him to travel to Mexico and meet them. A series of dreams, encounters and experiences guided him to apprentice with Don Guadalupe Gonzalez Rios, an eminent Huichol shaman. In the year 2000, Cowan was ritually recognized by Don Guadalupe as a guide to shamanic apprentices in the Huichol tradition. As of 2011, twenty-five of Eliot Cowan's apprentices have gone on to become shamans in the Huichol tradition.In addition to teaching, lecturing, healing and training of shamanic apprentices on the Huichol path, one of Cowan's most significant contributions is his synthesis of shamanism, traditional Chinese Medicine and Herbalism into the healing technique known as Plant Spirit Medicine. Cowan is Founder and Board Chair of the Blue Deer Center in the New York Catskills, and is Elder Emeritus of the Plant Spirit Medicine Seminary. In that capacity he offers healer training courses on Plant Spirit Medicine, healing camps based on traditional Huichol healing, and animal totem courses in the United States and internationally.

Florinda Donner

Florinda Donner (originally Regine Margarita Thal, later Florinda Donner-Grau) is an American writer and anthropologist known as one of Carlos Castaneda's "witches" (the term for three women who were friends of Castaneda).

She studied anthropology at UCLA but did not complete her degree, letting her graduate studies lapse in 1977, after having advanced to doctoral candidacy. While studying she met Castaneda and worked with him on developing his thinking.

In addition to working on Castaneda's books, she has written several books about indigenous healing, sorcery and lucid dreaming.

Jeremy Narby

Jeremy Narby (born 1959 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian anthropologist and author. In his books, Narby examines shamanism and molecular biology, and shamans' knowledge of botanics and biology through the use of entheogens across many cultures.

Joseph Bearwalker Wilson

Joseph Bearwalker Wilson (1942–2004) was a shaman and witch, founder of the 1734 Tradition of witchcraft, the Toteg Tribe, Metista, and a founding member of the Covenant of the Goddess.

Wilson was born December 11, 1942 and raised just inside the city limits of St. Johns in Clinton County, Michigan. He grew up with some Christian influence but developed an early interest in the occult, and in fully utilizing the powers of the mind, which he felt were barely tapped. During his early adult life he studied comparative religion, and encouraged such study in his teaching: "What they all have in common must be close to the truth." He died August 4, 2004 from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and is recognized for his contributions to modern spiritual practice.

Journey to Ixtlan

Journey to Ixtlan is the third book by Carlos Castaneda, published as a work of non-fiction by Simon & Schuster in 1972. It is about an apprenticeship to the Yaqui "shaman," Don Juan.The title of this book is taken from an allegory that is recounted to Castaneda by his "benefactor" who is known to Carlos as Don Genaro ( Genaro Flores ), a close friend of his teacher don Juan Matus. "Ixtlan" turns out to be a metaphorical hometown ( or Place / Position of Being ) to which the "sorcerer" or warrior or man of knowledge is drawn to return, trying to get home. After the work of "stopping", his changed perspective leaves him little in common with ordinary people, who now seem no more substantial to him than "phantoms." The point of the story is that a man of knowledge, or sorcerer, is a changed being, or a Human closer to his true state of Being, and for that reason he can never truly go "home" to his old lifestyle again.

In Journey to Ixtlan Castaneda essentially reevaluates the teachings up to that point. He discusses information that was apparently missing from the first two books regarding stopping the world which previously he had only regarded as a metaphor.

He also finds that psychotropic plants, knowledge of which was a significant part of his apprenticeship to Yaqui shaman don Juan Matus, are not as important in the world view as he had previously thought. In the introduction he writes:

My basic assumption in both books has been that the articulation points in learning to be a sorcerer were the states of nonordinary reality produced by the ingestion of psychotropic plants ...

My perception of the world through the effects of those psychotropics had been so bizarre and impressive that I was forced to assume that such states were the only avenue to communicating and learning what Don Juan was attempting to teach me.

That assumption was erroneous.

In the book don Juan takes Carlos on these various degrees of apprenticeship, in response to what he believes are signals from the phenomenological world, "The decision as to who can be a warrior and who can only be a hunter is not up to us. That decision is in the realm of the powers that guide men."The book shows a progression between different states of learning, from hunter, to warrior, to man of knowledge or sorcerer, the difference said to be one of skill level and the type of thing hunted, "... a warrior is an impeccable hunter that hunts power. If he succeeds in his hunting he becomes a man of knowledge."Throughout the book Castaneda portrays himself as skeptical and reserved in his explanations of the phenomena at hand, but by the end of the book Castaneda's rationalist worldview is seen to be breaking down in the face of an onslaught of experiences that he is unable to explain logically.

Michael Harner

Michael James Harner (April 27, 1929 – February 3, 2018) was an anthropologist, educator and author. He founded the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and the New Age practice of "Core Shamanism." His 1980 book, The Way of the Shaman: a Guide to Power and Healing, has been foundational in the development and popularization of "core shamanism" as a path of personal development for new age adherents of neoshamanism.


The Munay-Ki are a series of nine Empowerment rites based on the initiatory practices of the Q'ero shamans of Peru, as taught by anthropologist Alberto Villoldo. "Munay" in Quechua means "love and will", together with "ki", from the Chinese word for energy, combine to give the meaning: energy of love. The Munay-Ki is a modern form of transmitting the initiation empowerments of the Q'ero, and are based on the traditional initiation ceremonies of Q'ero shamans. Four Q'ero shamans have come to the United States several times to personally transmit the rites in the past six years, and many initiates have gone to Peru to receive the rites there. These shamans are held in high esteem by the members and trainees of The Four Winds Society.

Neopaganism in Latin Europe

Italy, Spain, and Portugal are traditionally Roman Catholic and according to the 2005 Eurobarometer Poll retain an above-average belief in God. France is traditionally Roman Catholic as well and has an above-average fraction of atheists. Romania and Moldova are Eastern Orthodox countries and both are very religious.

The Neopagan movements found in Latin Europe can be divided into New Age spirituality inspired by Celtic, Norse or Megalithic templates on one hand (Neodruidism, Neoshamanism), polytheistic reconstructionism, either focusing on the ancient Roman religion or other native religions of Latin Europe (such as those of pre-Roman Iberia, Italy, and Romania), and political Neopaganism as part of Alain de Benoist's far-right ideology of the Nouvelle Droite on the other.

Plastic shaman

Plastic shaman, or plastic medicine people, is a pejorative colloquialism applied to individuals who are attempting to pass themselves off as shamans, holy people, or other traditional spiritual leaders, but who have no genuine connection to the traditions or cultures they claim to represent. In some cases, the "plastic shaman" may have some genuine cultural connection, but is seen to be exploiting that knowledge for ego, power, or money.Plastic shamans are believed by their critics to use the mystique of these cultural traditions, and the legitimate curiosity of sincere seekers, for their personal gain. In some cases, exploitation of students and traditional culture may involve the selling of fake "traditional" spiritual ceremonies, fake artifacts, fictional accounts in books, illegitimate tours of sacred sites, and often the chance to buy spiritual titles. Often Native American symbols and terms are adopted by plastic shamans, and their adherents are insufficiently familiar with Native American religion to distinguish between imitations and actual Native religion.

The Teachings of Don Juan

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge was published by the University of California Press in 1968 as a work of anthropology, though many critics contend that it is a work of fiction. It was written by Carlos Castaneda and submitted as his Master's thesis in the school of Anthropology. It purports to document the events that took place during an apprenticeship with a self-proclaimed Yaqui Indian Sorcerer, don Juan Matus from Sonora, Mexico between 1960 and 1965.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section, The Teachings, is a first-person narrative that documents Castaneda's initial interactions with don Juan. He speaks of his encounters with Mescalito (a teaching spirit inhabiting all peyote plants), divination with lizards and flying using the "yerba del diablo" (lit. "Devil's Weed"; Jimson weed), and turning into a blackbird using "humito" (lit. "little smoke"; a smoked powder containing Psilocybe mexicana). The second, A Structural Analysis, is an attempt, Castaneda says, at "disclos[ing] the internal cohesion and the cogency of don Juan’s Teachings."The 30th-anniversary edition, published by the University of California Press in 1998, contains commentary by Castaneda not present in the original edition. He writes of a general discouragement from the project by his professors (besides Clement Meighan, a professor who supported the project early in its conception. In the foreword, Castaneda gives "full credit" for the approval of his dissertation to Meighan). He offers a new thesis on a mind-state he calls "total freedom" and claims that he used the teachings of his Yaqui shaman as "springboards into new horizons of cognition". In addition, it contains a foreword by anthropologist Walter Goldschmidt, who was a professor of anthropology at UCLA during the time the books were written, and an introduction by the author. A 40th anniversary edition was published by the University of California Press in 2008.

The Teachings is referenced in the 2013 film A Case of You, in which the protagonist reads the book to impress his dream girl.


Toltecayotl is a Nahuatl word derived from "tōltēcātl" which as used by the Nahuas to refer to the members of the Toltec civilization that preceded them in the basin of Mexico, as well as a generalized meaning of "artisan".

Tonal (mythology)

Tonal is a concept within the study of Mesoamerican religion, myth, folklore and anthropology. It is a belief found in many indigenous Mesoamerican cultures that a person upon being born acquires a close spiritual link to an animal, a link that lasts throughout the lives of both creatures. The person shows signs of whatever the animal's situation to include scratches and bruises if the animals get in fights, or illness if the animal is ill. It is in this way similar to the concept of Totem.

Urban shamanism

Urban shamanism distinguishes traditional shamanism found in indigenous societies from Western adaptations that draw on contemporary and modern roots. Urban shamanism is practiced primarily by people who do not originate in a traditional indigenous society and who create unique methods that do not follow or claim authenticity in any prior tradition. Urban shamanism traces its beginnings to efforts by Westerners to come to terms with psychoactive plant experiences using their own modern frames of cultural reference influenced by, but outside of, the indigenous rites in which plant medicine is traditionally based. The term urban shamanism emphasizes maintaining respect for indigenous traditions by recognizing indigenous societies' thorough embeddedness in immediate contact with the natural world. The related terms digital shamanism and digital psychedelia are schools of thought born out of the convergence of technological changes, art movements, and Eastern philosophies during the late 20th century. They parallel and are often associated with technopaganism. In practice, the digital psychedelic process is the fusion of the biological and technological to seek self-knowledge.

Åke Ohlmarks

Åke Joel Ohlmarks (3 June 1911 – 6 June 1984) was a Swedish author, translator and scholar of religion. He worked as a Lecturer at the University of Greifswald from 1941 to 1945. Together with the Deutsche Christen member Wilhelm Koepp he founded the institute for religious studies there in 1944. His most notable contribution to the field is his 1939 study of Shamanism. As a translator, he is notable for his Swedish version of the Icelandic Edda, of Shakespeare's works and of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the Qur'an and works by Dante, Nostradamus and others.

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