A shaman is a man or woman of any age who can be benevolent or harmful. Because of their supposed contact with supernatural spirits, shamans have gained a reputation mainly for healing and curing (andeven causing) illnesses, including mental illnesses, which are the result of evil spirits. Whether they are medicine men or witch doctors, shamans usually occupy a position of high respect and even power in a village.
It is almost certain that the history of shamanism goes back to prehistory. Even though the practice has strong elements of sorcery and magic, most scholars agree that it also has religious characteristics in that a shaman deals in identification with the supernatural, particularly as it relates to calling up and working with spirits.
The word “shaman” is said to have originated in Siberia. It is a name and sometimes a verb. It is not a religion as such, but is frequently part of or an adjunct to a religion, especially in Eastern religions and developing countries. In fact, shamans can be found virtually anywhere in the world. With the popularity of the New Age movements in the 1960s, shamanism gained considerable attraction and gave birth to a growing number of western shamans.
The Shaman’s Position in the Tribe
Like doctors, shamans tend to specialize. As one would consult a doctor whose specialty treats one’s particular ailment, the same goes for the shaman of choice. In both professions, there are also general practitioners. However, shamans have absolutely no medical qualifications, although they would no doubt proffer their spiritual power as the absolute qualification. Their specialized knowledge or powers are a result of heredity or supernatural calling.
The diagnoses of shamans, too, will be vastly different. For instance, a doctor might prescribe an analgesic for consistent headaches; a shaman would find out what possessed the patient, perhaps an evil spirit that needs to be cast out.
Though shamans are often members of a tribe, they rarely hold a position that could be considered prophetic. The tribal chief could occupy such a position, but the shaman — or medicine man in some regions — does hold a position of authority, and if consistently successful, awe. Historically, shamans may have been itinerant, going from village to village, particularly if they had built up a good reputation.
Shamans use their power to cure illnesses; they do not typically cause harm. The power of a shaman will be directly related to the power of his spirits. Some shamans may also be consulted to influence the weather, getting the rain to start or stop depending on the agricultural needs of the client.
The supernatural is the domain of shamans. While they may inherit the position, they must train to become one. Once the decision or “call” has been made, the supplicant has to embark on a period of intensive training that leads to initiation. Many myths describe the process. One claims that in order to become a great healer, the supplicant has to journey to the underground, suffer, and nearly die. He would often have an out-of-body experience and ascend to the sky. Essentially, this is accomplished by going into a trance. The shaman thus masters the ability to go beyond the physical body. Shamans may enter into the trance state through autohypnosis, the ingestion of hallucinogens, fasting, or self-mortification, during which they are said to be in contact with the spirit world.
The initiated shaman will display the appropriate accouterments, including masks, drums, and rattles, all of which are important elements of his image for the patients. Similarly, a modern-day doctor wears a white coat with a stethoscope hanging out of a pocket.
Shamans are able to move outside their physical bodies and into other spheres. Such journeys, as they are called, may take the shaman to other levels of existence. A shaman is the link between this world and other worlds and between the past and the future. This ability is considered a sacred trust to be used for the benefit of all. Shamans frequently fulfill the role of priest, magician, healer, and guide. A shaman lives on the edge of other realities; it takes a person of exceptional strength and courage, and one willing to undergo personal deprivations, to accomplish these duties.
Shamanism forms a major part of the religious life of Eskimos. Healing is a predominant part of the shaman’s way of life in the Arctic. The shaman is called an angakok in the Arctic, and it is said that their journeys have taken them to the moon in magic flight. Some angakok claim to have flown around the earth.
While believers hold to the power of the shaman, skeptics attribute any healing success to the placebo effect, even though they agree that altered states of consciousness exist. However, the placebo effect accounts for 30 percent of responses to all medication and suggestion. Shamanism has grown considerably in the Western world, particularly in the United States, due in part to the growth of the New Age movements based in California.
Shamanism is a range of traditional and religious beliefs and practices. It is believed that Shamanism predates all organized religions. A shaman is a type of intermediary between the natural and the spiritualworld. In Shamanism, the Shaman will travel from the earthly world to the spiritual world in a trance state using a form of astral projection. Once within the spiritual world, the Shaman communicates with the spirits asking for assistance in regards to healing, hunting or other matters. Within Shamanism it is believed that the visible world is also occupied by invisible spirits that have a direct effect on the living. From about 400 a.d. shamanism was almost wiped out by the catholic church which destroyed all records of the beliefs and arrested and executed those involved in the belief.
Shamanism refers to a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world. There are many variations in shamanism throughout the world, though there are some beliefs that are shared by all forms of shamanism: The spirits can play important roles in human lives. The shaman can control and/or cooperate with the spirits for the community’s benefit. The spirits can be either good or bad. Shamans engage various processes and techniques to incite trance; such as: singing, dancing, taking entheogens, meditating and drumming. Animals play an important role, acting as omens and message-bearers, as well as representations of animal spirit guides. The shaman’s spirit leaves the body and enters into the supernatural world during certain tasks. The shamans can treat illnesses or sickness. Shamans are healers, gurus and magicians. Shamans have the ability to diagnose and cure human suffering and, in some societies, the ability to cause suffering. This is believed to be accomplished by traversing the axis mundi and forming a special relationship with, or gaining control over, spirits. Shamans have been credited with the ability to control the weather, divination, the interpretation of dreams, astral projection, and traveling to upper and lower worlds. Shamanistic traditions have existed throughout the world since prehistoric times. Some anthropologists and religious scholars define a shaman as an intermediary between the natural and spiritual world, who travels between worlds in a state of trance. Once in the spirit world, the shaman would commune with the spirits for assistance in healing, hunting or weather management. Anthropologists critique the term “shamanism”, arguing that it is a culturally specific word and institution and that by expanding it to fit any healer from any traditional society it produces a false unity between these cultures and creates a false idea of an initial human religion predating all others. However, some others say that these anthropologists simply fail to recognize the commonalities between otherwise diverse traditional societies. Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. In contrast to animism and animatism, which any and usually all members of a society practice, shamanism requires specialized knowledge or abilities. It could be said that shamans are the experts employed by animists and animist communities. Shamans are often organized into full-time ritual or spiritual associations, like priests.
History of Shamanism:
Shamanistic practices are sometimes claimed to predate all organized religions, dating back to the Paleolithic, and possibly to the Neolithic period. Aspects of shamanism are encountered in later, organized religions, generally in their mystic and symbolic practices. Greek paganism was influenced by shamanism, as reflected in the stories of Tantalus, Prometheus, Medea, and Calypso among others, as well as in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and other mysteries. Some of the shamanic practices of the Greek religion later merged into the Roman religion. The shamanic practices of many cultures were marginalized with the spread of monotheism in Europe and the Middle East. In Europe, starting around 400, institutional Christianity was instrumental in the collapse of the Greek and Roman religions. Temples were systematically destroyed and key ceremonies were outlawed or appropriated. The Early Modern witch trials may have further eliminated lingering remnants of European shamanism (if in fact “shamanism” can even be used to accurately describe the beliefs and practices of those cultures). The repression of shamanism continued as Catholic influence spread with Spanish colonization. In the Caribbean, and Central and South America, Catholic priests followed in the footsteps of the Conquistadors and were instrumental in the destruction of the local traditions, denouncing practitioners as “devil worshippers” and having them executed. In North America, the Puritans conducted periodic campaigns against individuals perceived as witches. Today, shamanism survives primarily among indigenous peoples. Shamanic practice continues today in the tundras, jungles, deserts, and other rural areas, and also in cities, towns, suburbs, and shantytowns all over the world. This is especially widespread in Africa as well as South America, where “mestizo shamanism” is widespread.
Etymology of Shamanism:
Shaman originally referred to the traditional healers of Turkic-Mongol areas such as Northern Asia (Siberia) and Mongolia, a “shaman” being the Turkic-Tungus word for such a practitioner and literally meaning “he or she who knows.” The words in Turkic languages which refer to shamans are kam, and sometimes baksi. The word may have passed through Russian and German before it was adopted into English. In any case, the proper plural form of the word is “shaman” or “shamans” and not “shamen”, as it is unrelated to the English word “man”. Similarly, the feminine form is not “shamaness” but “shamanka”. In its common usage, it has replaced the older English language term witch doctor, a term which unites the two stereotypical functions of the shaman: knowledge of magical and other lore, and the ability to cure a person and mend a situation. However, this term is generally considered to be pejorative and anthropologically inaccurate. Objections to the use of shaman as a generic term have been raised as well, by both academics and traditional healers themselves, given that the word comes from a specific place, people, and set of practices. The shaman is referred to in Greek mythology as a necromancer and could raise sprits and corpses to use as slaves, soldiers, power chanerlers and as tools for divination.
Function of Shamanism:
If we want to enumerate the functions of the shamans (in all cultures that are recorded as having shamans), then we get a plethora of functions: healing; leading a sacrifice; preserving the tradition by storytelling and songs; fortune-telling; acting as a psychopomp. In some cultures, a shaman may fulfill several functions in one person. As a psychopomp, the shaman may accompany the incarnating soul of a newborn baby, or inversely, the departing soul of the newly-dead. They may also serve the community by maintaining the tradition through memorizing long songs and tales.
Mediator in Shamanism:
Shamans act as “mediators” in their culture. The shaman is seen as communicating with the spirits on behalf of the community, including the spirits of the dead. In some cultures, this mediator function of the shaman may be illustrated well by some of the shaman’s objects and symbols. The shaman’s tree is an image found in several cultures (Yakuts, Dolgans, Evenks) as a symbol for mediation. The tree is seen as a being whose roots belong to the world underneath; its trunk belongs to the middle, human-inhabited word; and its top is related to the upper world.
Distinct types of shamans:
In some cultures there may be additional types of shamans, who perform more specialized functions in Shamanism. For example, among the Nanai people, a distinct kind of shaman acts as a psychopomp. Other specialized shamans may be distinguished according to the type of spirits, or realms of the spirit world, with which the shaman most commonly interacts.
Ecological aspect of Shamanism:
In tropical rainforests, resources for human consumption are easily depletable. In some rainforest cultures, such as the Tucano, a sophisticated system exists for the management of resources, and for avoiding the depletion of these resources through overhunting. This system is conceptualized in a mythological context, involving symbolism and, in some cases, the belief that the breaking of hunting restrictions may cause illness. As the primary teacher of tribal symbolism, the shaman may have a leading role in this ecological management, actively restricting hunting and fishing. The shaman is able to release game animals (or their souls) from their hidden abodes, The Desana shaman has to negotiate with a mythological being for souls of game. Not only Tucanos, but also some other rainforest Indians have such ecological concerns related to their shamanism, for example Piaroa. Besides Tukanos and Piaroa, also many Eskimo groups think that the shaman is able to fetch souls of game from remote places ; or undertake a soul travel in order to promote hunting luck, e.g. by asking for game from mythological beings.
Medicine World in Shamanism
Nature moves in circles. The Medicine World is a symbol of balance, perfection, completeness and wholeness. The wheel is a philosophical system. It is a map to help us find our way. It offers protection through it`s metaphorical power. The Medicine wheel shows separate forces in complete balance. The Medicine Wheel exists in us all. We can use the Wheel to understand life and spirit. The Wheel is a centering device for our consciousness. The Medicine Wheel is very similar to the Circle of Power.