The shaman is known by a variety of names — holy man, priest, medicine man, even the pejorative “witch doctor.” Although the spirits are many and varied, the experiences of shamans around the globe share striking similarities. From his vast experience with shamanism, anthropologist Michael Harner wrote, “Continuing cross-cultural research, fieldwork, and personal experimentation led me to the fundamental principles of shamanic practice, which I found to be basically the same among indigenous peoples, whether in Siberia, Australia, southern Africa, or North and South America.”
It is the occupational responsibility of the shaman to find the most beautiful, loving, healing, wise, and powerful spirits. A shaman knows his spirits intimately and by name. He speaks to them daily and even views them as his alter ego. Hallucinogenic drugs are often part of the ritual in which he interacts with his spirits for guidance. Whenever he has a problem his spirits cannot solve, they summon another spirit that can solve it.
The shaman’s role is to utilize the power of the spirit world to provide complete guidance over the lives of the people in his village, with the goal of making all their lives better. He pursues the best spirits he can find — spirits that will lead the village in all respects, especially health and justice. This means healing the sick and exacting retribution for anyone who dies (all deaths must be avenged). It is impossible to overstate the shaman’s commanding role, for only he possesses the knowledge around which the life of his village revolves. The general insight of a shaman was best summarized by ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin, when he stated that “every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down.” – Source: Shamanism: Eden or Evil?
by Mark Andrew Ritchie. Christian Research Journal, volume 25, number 4 (2003).
Shamanism is a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world.
A practitioner of shamanism is known as a shaman, pronounced /ˈʃɑːmən/, /ˈʃeɪmən/, (|ˈshämən; ˈshā-|) noun (pl. -man(s)). There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world and several common beliefs are shared by all forms of shamanism. Shamans are intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds. They can treat illness and are capable of entering supernatural realms to provide answers for humans.
There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world; and several common beliefs are shared by all forms of shamanism. Common beliefs, identified by Eliade (1964) are the following:
- 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 good or evil.
- The shaman can treat sickness caused by evil 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
Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits which affect the lives of the living. In contrast to organized religions like animism or animatism which are led by priests and which all members of a society practice, shamanism requires individualized knowledge and special abilities. Shaman operate outside established religions, and, traditionally, they operate alone, although some take on an apprentice. Shaman can gather into associations, as Indian tantric practitioners have done.
– Source: Shamanism, Wikipedia. Last accessed Jan. 7, 2009