It is impossible to discuss what shamans are and what they do, contends Gregory G. Maskarinec, without knowing what shamans say. When Maskarinec took an interest in shaman rituals on his first visit to Nepal, he was told by many Nepalis and Westerners that the shamans he had encountered in the Himalayan foothills of western Nepal engaged in "meaningless mumblings." But in the course of several years of fieldwork he learned from the shamans that both their long, publicly chanted rituals and their whispered, secretive incantations are oral texts meticulously memorized through years of training. In The Rulings of the Night, he shows how the shamans, during their dramatic night-long performances, create the worlds of words in which shamans exist.
Maskarinec analyzes several complete repertoires of the texts that the shamans use to diagnose and treat afflictions that trouble their clients. Through these texts, they intervene to manipulate and change the world, replacing its unbalanced, inexpressible chaos with orderly, balanced, grammatical, and eloquently expressible states. They negotiate the relations between language, action, and social realities, providing a well-constructed and thoroughly consistent intentional universe—and only in that universe can all shaman actions and beliefs be fully comprehended.