What Is Shamanism?

A shaman performing a ceremony in Ecuador.
A shaman performing a ceremony in Ecuador.

Shamanism is the practice in which a person is believed to have the ability to connect with the spiritual world. Societies practicing Shamanism believe that only special people are able to communicate with the spiritual world. In such societies, people who relay and receive messages from spirits, according to popular belief, are known as shamans. Shamans are believed to connect with spirits only when they are in altered states of mind, and require space in which their minds can wander free of the physical state and its surroundings.

Process of Becoming a Shaman

To become a shaman, one must receive the calling through a dream. Alternatively, one must inherit the trait from ancestors. All shamans undergo a rite of passage. One such rite is the wounded healer, in which the young shaman must experience a strong illness to the point of death. As a result, the shaman-to-be crosses over to the spiritual world. The shaman then comes back with vital information for the tribe given to them by spirits. The “near-death” experience also helps the shaman-to-be to understand sickness. People believe that a shaman who has experienced critical illness will themselves understand other people’s sicknesses. Shamans are paid for their services in cash or in kind.

Duties of Shamans

The first role of a shaman is to heal the sick in the society. A shaman does so by connecting with the spiritual world and gaining knowledge about various diseases. The shaman then uses such knowledge to heal the ailing individual. Secondly, a shaman acts as a mediator between the living and the dead. In case of any questions or unresolved issues, both the spirits and people communicate with the shaman, who in turn addresses the relevant party. Thirdly, shamans have fortune telling abilities. They also lead in making sacrifices in order to appease the gods or spirits to forgive or bless people. In addition to these roles, shamans also tell stories and sing for the purpose of passing along cultural traditions to the next generation. Shamans may also perform duties that are specific to a particular group of people. For example, among the Nani people, shamans act as psychopomps.

Shamanism Practices

Shamans are able to connect with the spiritual world through various means and procedures. Some of those ways include dancing, music and songs, fasting, and vigils, among others. During these procedures, shamans use different paraphernalia like feathers, drums, rattles, gongs, pipes, sword, shakes, and roosters.

Shamanism Fading Away

The practice of shamanism is slowly fading away due to increased urbanization in most countries. Another reason why shamanism's popularity is declining is the existence of organized religions, like Christianity, which seek to convert shamans to believers. Shamans are also perceived as wayward, primitive, and outdated. The few remaining shamans exist among indigenous people in forests, rural areas, deserts, and perhaps jungles. They are especially widespread in South America and Africa, where the mestizo shamanism is common.


More in Society