Shamanism – a quick overview

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The word Shaman actually derives from a Persian word for Idolator and has been used over the years to pigeon hole many different beliefs across the whole world. The individual cultures involved have totally different names for these belief systems because to them they have always existed and are natural to their everyday life. Shamanism involves altering your state of mind so that you can converse with and seek guidance from spirits. Depending on the culture that could be the spirit of nature, animals, ancestors or all of the above.

As westerners our primary contact with Shamanism probably stems from the old ‘Cowboy and Indian’ films and is encapsulated in the stereotypical ‘medicine man’. I was surprised to learn that almost every culture has a Shamanic inheritance that existed long before our modern religions forced them into near exstinction.

Shaman are usually initiated by some experience of crossing over, perhaps from illness or near death experience but they can also inherit the skill. The shaman, using chants, trance, potions, signs, omens and talisman can contact spirit with an aim to healing or soothsaying future events. Over the centuries established religion has tried to stamp out these beliefs and impose Christian values. This has led to a lot of nations losing touch with an essential part of their culture. The American Indian, Australian Aborigines, Incans, Inuits, Mongolians, Africans etc. These are nations that we could learn a lot from.

As a spiritualist I can see the obvious parallels between Modern Spiritualism and Shamanism  and would suggest that man knows in his own soul that a communion with nature and spirit is essential to his well being. The further we travel away from nature and spirit the unhappier/unhealthier we become. Certainly if you are involved in a spiritual search in your own life then some of the list below will ring bells with you. Perhaps you are a Shaman and don’t even know it  🙂


Shamanism, in it’s many forms, share certain characteristics as defined by Mircea Eliade (1972):

  • Spirits exist and they play important roles both in individual lives and in human society.
  • The shaman can communicate with the spirit world.
  • Spirits can be benevolent or malevolent.
  • The shaman can treat sickness caused by malevolent spirits.
  • The shaman can employ trance inducing techniques to incite visionary ecstasy and go on vision quests.
  • The shaman’s spirit can leave the body to enter the supernatural world to search for answers.
  • The shaman evokes animal images as spirit guides, omens, and message-bearers.
  • The shaman can tell the future, scry, throw bones/runes, and perform other varied forms of divination