Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered
states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with a
spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this
A shaman (/ˈʃɑːmən/ SHAH-men) is someone who is regarded as
having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and
malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a
ritual, and practices divination and healing. The word "shaman"
probably originates from the Tungusic
Evenki language of North Asia.
According to ethnolinguist Juha Janhunen, "the word is attested in all
of the Tungusic idioms" such as Negidal, Lamut, Udehe/Orochi, Nanai,
Ilcha, Orok, Manchu and Ulcha, and "nothing seems to contradict the
assumption that the meaning 'shaman' also derives from Proto-Tungusic"
and may have roots that extend back in time at least two millennia.
The term was introduced to the west after Russian forces conquered the
Khanate of Kazan
Khanate of Kazan in 1552.
The term "shamanism" was first applied by Western anthropologists as
outside observers of the ancient religion of the Turks and Mongols, as
well as those of the neighbouring Tungusic and Samoyedic-speaking
peoples. Upon observing more religious traditions across the world,
some Western anthropologists began to also use the term in a very
broad sense. The term was used to describe unrelated magico-religious
practices found within the ethnic religions of other parts of Asia,
Africa, Australasia and even completely unrelated parts of the
Americas, as they believed these practices to be similar to one
Mircea Eliade writes, "A first definition of this complex phenomenon,
and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = 'technique of
Shamanism encompasses the premise that shamans
are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the
spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending
the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the
physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The shaman
also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to
problems afflicting the community. Shamans may visit other
worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to
ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The
shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn
affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the
elimination of the ailment.
Beliefs and practices that have been categorised this way as
"shamanic" have attracted the interest of scholars from a wide variety
of disciplines, including anthropologists, archaeologists, historians,
religious studies scholars, philosophers and psychologists. Hundreds
of books and academic papers on the subject have been produced, with a
peer-reviewed academic journal being devoted to the study of
shamanism. In the 20th century, many Westerners involved in the
counter-cultural movement have created modern magico-religious
practices influenced by their ideas of indigenous religions from
across the world, creating what has been termed neoshamanism or the
neoshamanic movement. It has affected the development of many
neopagan practices, as well as faced a backlash and accusations of
cultural appropriation, exploitation and misrepresentation when
outside observers have tried to represent cultures they do not belong
Initiation and learning
4 Ecological aspect
Soul and spirit concepts
7.2 Music and songs
7.3 Other practices
8 Academic study
8.1 Cognitive, semiotic, hermeneutic approaches
8.2 Ecological approaches, systems theory
8.3 Hypotheses on origins
9 Decline and revitalization / tradition-preserving movements
10 Regional variations
10.1.1 Hmong shamanism
Siberia and North Asia
10.1.9 Central Asia
10.1.9.1 Geographic influences on Central Asian shamanism
10.1.9.2 Common shamanic practices and beliefs shared among Central
10.1.9.3 Shamanic rituals as artistic performance
10.1.9.4 Costume and accessories
Shamanism in Tsarist and Soviet Russia
10.1.10 Other Asian traditions
10.3 Circumpolar shamanism
Inuit and Yupik cultures
10.3.2 Diversity, with similarities
10.4.1 North America
10.4.3 South America
10.7 Contemporary Western shamanism
11 Criticism of the term
12 See also
15 Further reading
16 External links
The earliest known depiction of a Siberian shaman, drawn by the Dutch
explorer Nicolaes Witsen, who wrote an account of his travels among
Samoyedic- and Tungusic-speaking peoples in 1692. Witsen labelled the
illustration as a "Priest of the Devil," giving this figure clawed
feet to express what he thought were demonic qualities.
The word "shaman" probably originates from the Evenki word "šamán,"
most likely from the southwestern dialect spoken by the Sym Evenki
peoples. The Tungusic term was subsequently adopted by Russians
interacting with the indigenous peoples in Siberia. It is found in the
memoirs of the exiled Russian churchman Avvakum.
The word was brought to Western Europe in the late 17th century by the
Dutch traveler Nicolaes Witsen, who reported his stay and journeys
among the Tungusic and Samoyedic-speaking indigenous peoples of
Siberia in his book Noord en Oost Tataryen (1692). Adam Brand, a
merchant from Lübeck, published in 1698 his account of a Russian
embassy to China; a translation of his book, published the same year,
introduced the word shaman to English speakers.
The etymology of the Evenki word is sometimes connected to a Tungus
root ša- "to know". This has been questioned on linguistic
grounds: "The possibility cannot be completely rejected, but neither
should it be accepted without reservation since the assumed
derivational relationship is phonologically irregular (note especially
the vowel quantities)." Other scholars assert that the word comes
directly from the Manchu language, and as such would be the only
commonly used English word that is a loan from this language.
Mircea Eliade noted that the
Sanskrit word śramaṇa,
designating a wandering monastic or holy figure, has spread to many
Central Asian languages along with
Buddhism and could be the ultimate
origin of the Tungusic word. This proposal has been thoroughly
critiqued since 1917. Ethnolinguist
Juha Janhunen regards it as an
"anachronism" and an "impossibility" that is nothing more than a
21st-century anthropologist and archeologist Silvia Tomaskova argues
that by the mid-1600s, many Europeans applied the Arabic term shaitan,
meaning "devil," to the non-Christian practices and beliefs of
indigenous peoples beyond the Ural Mountains. She suggests that
shaman may have entered the various Tungus dialects as a corruption of
this term, and then been told to Christian missionaries, explorers,
soldiers and colonial administrators with whom the people had
increasing contact for centuries. Ethnolinguists did not develop as a
discipline nor achieve contact with these communities until the late
19th century, and may have mistakenly "read backward" in time for the
origin of this word.
Russian postcard based on a photo taken in 1908 by S.I. Borisov,
showing a female shaman, of probable Khakas ethnicity.
There is no single agreed-upon definition for the word "shamanism"
among anthropologists. The English historian
Ronald Hutton noted that
by the dawn of the 21st century, there were four separate definitions
of the term which appeared to be in use. The first of these uses the
term to refer to "anybody who contacts a spirit world while in an
altered state of consciousness." The second definition limits the term
to refer to those who contact a spirit world while in an altered state
of consciousness at the behest of others. The third definition
attempts to distinguish shamans from other magico-religious
specialists who are believed to contact spirits, such as "mediums",
"witch doctors", "spiritual healers" or "prophets," by claiming that
shamans undertake some particular technique not used by the others.
Problematically, scholars advocating the third view have failed to
agree on what the defining technique should be. The fourth definition
identified by Hutton uses "shamanism" to refer to the indigenous
Siberia and neighboring parts of Asia. According to
the Golomt Center for Shamanic Studies, a Mongolian organisation of
shamans, the Evenk word shaman would more accurately be translated as
Initiation and learning
Shamans may be called through dreams or signs. However, shamanic
powers may be inherited. In traditional societies shamanic training
varies in length, but generally takes years.
Turner and colleagues mention a phenomenon called shamanistic
initiatory crisis, a rite of passage for shamans-to-be, commonly
involving physical illness and/or psychological crisis. The
significant role of initiatory illnesses in the calling of a shaman
can be found in the detailed case history of Chuonnasuan, the last
master shaman among the Tungus peoples in Northeast China.
The wounded healer is an archetype for a shamanic trial and journey.
This process is important to the young shaman. They undergo a type of
sickness that pushes them to the brink of death. This happens for two
The shaman crosses over to the underworld. This happens so the shaman
can venture to its depths to bring back vital information for the sick
and the tribe.
The shaman must become sick to understand sickness. When the shaman
overcomes their own sickness, they will hold the cure to heal all that
suffer. This is the uncanny mark of the wounded healer.
Part of a series on
Anthropology of religion
Evolutionary origin of religions
Rite of passage
Theories about religions
Veneration of the dead
Coral Gardens and Their Magic
Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants
The Elementary Forms
of the Religious Life
Purity and Danger
Myth and ritual
Archaeology of religion and ritual
Poles in mythology
Akbar S. Ahmed
Arnold van Gennep
E. E. Evans-Pritchard
Edward Burnett Tylor
Daniel Martin Varisco
Anthony F. C. Wallace
Anthropological Perspectives on Religion
The Hibbert Journal
The Journal of Religion
Armenian Apostolic Church
Social and cultural anthropology
South Moluccan Shaman exorcising evil spirits occupying children,
Buru, Indonesia. (1920)
Shamans claim to gain knowledge and the power to heal by entering into
the spiritual world or dimension. Most shamans have dreams or visions
that convey certain messages. The shaman may have or acquire many
spirit guides, who often guide and direct the shaman in their travels
in the spirit world. These spirit guides are always present within the
shaman, although others encounter them only when the shaman is in a
trance. The spirit guide energizes the shaman, enabling them to enter
the spiritual dimension. The shaman heals within the spiritual
dimension by returning 'lost' parts of the human soul from wherever
they have gone. The shaman also cleanses excess negative energies,
which confuse or pollute the soul.
Shamans act as mediators in their culture. The shaman
communicates with the spirits on behalf of the community, including
the spirits of the deceased. The shaman communicates with both living
and dead to alleviate unrest, unsettled issues, and to deliver gifts
to the spirits.
Among the Selkups, the sea duck is a spirit animal. Ducks fly in the
air and dive in the water. Thus ducks are believed to belong to both
the upper world and the world below. Among other Siberian peoples,
these characteristics are attributed to water fowl in general. The
upper world is the afterlife primarily associated with deceased humans
and is believed to be accessed by soul journeying through a portal in
the sky. The lower world or "world below" is the afterlife primarily
associated with animals and is believed to be accessed by soul
journeying through a portal in the earth. In shamanic cultures
many animals are regarded as spirit animals.
Shamans perform a variety of functions depending upon their respective
cultures; healing, leading a sacrifice, preserving the
tradition by storytelling and songs, fortune-telling, and
acting as a psychopomp (literal meaning, "guide of souls"). A
single shaman may fulfill several of these functions.
The functions of a shaman may include either guiding to their proper
abode the souls of the dead (which may be guided either one-at-a-time
or in a cumulative group, depending on culture), and/or curing
(healing) of ailments. The ailments may be either purely physical
afflictions—such as disease, which may be cured by gifting,
flattering, threatening, or wrestling the disease-spirit (sometimes
trying all these, sequentially), and which may be completed by
displaying a supposedly extracted token of the disease-spirit
(displaying this, even if "fraudulent", is supposed to impress the
disease-spirit that it has been, or is in the process of being,
defeated, so that it will retreat and stay out of the patient's body),
or else mental (including psychosomatic) afflictions—such as
persistent terror (on account of a frightening experience), which may
be likewise cured by similar methods. In most languages a different
term other than the one translated "shaman" is usually applied to a
religious official leading sacrificial rites ("priest"), or to a
raconteur ("sage") of traditional lore; there may be more of an
overlap in functions (with that of a shaman), however, in the case of
an interpreter of omens or of dreams.
There are distinct types of shaman who perform more specialized
functions. For example, among the Nani 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. These
roles vary among the Nenets, Enets, and Selkup shaman.
The assistant of an Oroqen shaman (called jardalanin, or "second
spirit") knows many things about the associated beliefs. He or she
accompanies the rituals and interprets the behavior of the shaman.
Despite these functions, the jardalanin is not a shaman. For this
interpretative assistant, it would be unwelcome to fall into
Among the Tucano people, a sophisticated system exists for
environmental resources management and for avoiding resource depletion
through overhunting. This system is conceptualized mythologically and
symbolically by the belief that breaking 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 Piaroa
people have ecological concerns related to shamanism. Among the
Inuit, shamans fetch the souls of game from remote places, or
soul travel to ask for game from mythological beings like the Sea
The way shamans get sustenance and take part in everyday life varies
across cultures. In many
Inuit groups, they provide services for the
community and get a "due payment" (cultures),[who?] believe the
payment is given to the helping spirits but these goods are only
"welcome addenda." They are not enough to enable shamanizing as a
full-time activity. Shamans live like any other member of the group,
as a hunter or housewife. Due to the popularity of ayahuasca tourism
in South America, there are practitioners in areas frequented by
backpackers who make a living from leading ceremonies.
There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world, but
several common beliefs are shared by all forms of shamanism. Common
beliefs identified by Eliade (1972) 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 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
The shaman can perform other varied forms of divination, scry, throw
bones/runes, and sometimes foretell of future events.
Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded
by invisible forces or spirits which affect the lives of the
living. Although the causes of disease lie in the spiritual realm,
inspired by malicious spirits, both spiritual and physical methods are
used to heal. Commonly, a shaman "enters the body" of the patient to
confront the spiritual infirmity and heals by banishing the infectious
Many shamans have expert knowledge of medicinal plants native to their
area, and an herbal treatment is often prescribed. In many places
shamans learn directly from the plants, harnessing their effects and
healing properties, after obtaining permission from the indwelling or
patron spirits. In the
Peruvian Amazon Basin, shamans and curanderos
use medicine songs called icaros to evoke spirits. Before a spirit can
be summoned it must teach the shaman its song. The use of totemic
items such as rocks with special powers and an animating spirit is
Such practices are presumably very ancient.
Plato wrote in his
Phaedrus that the "first prophecies were the words of an oak", and
that those who lived at that time found it rewarding enough to "listen
to an oak or a stone, so long as it was telling the truth".
Belief in witchcraft and sorcery, known as brujería in Latin America,
exists in many societies. Other societies assert all shamans have the
power to both cure and kill. Those with shamanic knowledge usually
enjoy great power and prestige in the community, but they may also be
regarded suspiciously or fearfully as potentially harmful to
By engaging in their work, a shaman is exposed to significant personal
risk, from the spirit world, from enemy shamans, or from the means
employed to alter the shaman's state of consciousness. Shamanic plant
materials can be toxic or fatal if misused. Failure to return from an
out-of-body journey can lead to death. Spells are
commonly used to protect against these dangers, and the use of more
dangerous plants is often very highly ritualized.
Soul and spirit concepts
The variety of functions described above may seem like distinct tasks,
but they may be united by underlying soul and spirit concepts.
This concept can generally explain more, seemingly unassociated
phenomena in shamanism:
This concept may be based closely on the soul concepts of the belief
system of the people served by the shaman. It may consist of
retrieving the lost soul of the ill person. See also the soul
Scarcity of hunted game
This problem can be solved by "releasing" the souls of the animals
from their hidden abodes. Besides that, many taboos may prescribe the
behavior of people towards game, so that the souls of the animals do
not feel angry or hurt, or the pleased soul of the already killed prey
can tell the other, still living animals, that they can allow
themselves to be caught and killed. For the ecological aspects
of shamanistic practice, and related beliefs, see below.
Infertility of women
This problem can be cured by obtaining the soul of the expected child.
Beliefs related to spirits can explain many different phenomena.
For example, the importance of storytelling, or acting as a singer,
can be understood better if we examine the whole belief system. A
person who can memorize long texts or songs, and play an instrument,
may be regarded as the beneficiary of contact with the spirits (e.g.
See also: Religious ecstasy
Generally, the shaman traverses the axis mundi and enters the spirit
world by effecting a transition of consciousness, entering into an
ecstatic trance, either autohypnotically or through the use of
entheogens. The methods employed are diverse, and are often used
Flowering San Pedro, an entheogenic cactus that has been used for over
3,000 years. Today the vast majority of extracted mescaline is
from columnar cacti, not vulnerable peyote.
An entheogen ("generating the divine within") is a psychoactive
substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context.
Entheogens have been used in a ritualized context for thousands of
years; their religious significance is well established in
anthropological and modern evidences. Examples of traditional
entheogens include: peyote, psilocybin and
Amanita muscaria (fly
agaric) mushrooms, uncured tobacco, cannabis,
ayahuasca, Salvia divinorum, iboga, and Mexican morning
Some shamans observe dietary or customary restrictions particular to
their tradition. These restrictions are more than just cultural. For
example, the diet followed by shamans and apprentices prior to
participating in an ayahuasca ceremony includes foods rich in
tryptophan (a biosynthetic precursor to serotonin) as well as avoiding
foods rich in tyramine, which could induce hypertensive crisis if
ingested with MAOIs such as are found in ayahuasca brews as well as
abstinence from alcohol or sex.
Music and songs
Shamanic music and Imitation of sounds in shamanism
Just like shamanism itself, music and songs related to it in
various cultures are diverse, far from being alike. In several
instances, songs related to shamanism are intended to imitate natural
sounds, via onomatopoeia.
Sound mimesis in various cultures may serve other functions not
necessarily related to shamanism: practical goals as luring game in
the hunt; or entertainment (
Inuit throat singing).
Icaros / Medicine Songs
Sword fighting / Bladesmithing
Raven Rattle, 19th century, Brooklyn Museum
Shamans may have various kinds of paraphernalia in different cultures.
Goldes shaman priest in his regalia
Drum – The drum is used by shamans of several peoples in Siberia,
and many other cultures all over the world, The beating of the
drum allows the shaman to achieve an altered state of consciousness or
to travel on a journey between the physical and spiritual worlds. Much
fascination surrounds the role that the acoustics of the drum play to
the shaman. Shaman drums are generally constructed of an animal-skin
stretched over a bent wooden hoop, with a handle across the hoop.
Sami shaman with his drum
Cognitive, semiotic, hermeneutic approaches
A debated etymology of the word "shaman" is "one who knows",
implying, among other things, that the shaman is an expert in keeping
together the multiple codes of the society, and that to be effective,
shamans must maintain a comprehensive view in their mind which gives
them certainty of knowledge. According to this view, the shaman
uses (and the audience understands) multiple codes, expressing
meanings in many ways: verbally, musically, artistically, and in
dance. Meanings may be manifested in objects such as amulets. If
the shaman knows the culture of his or her community well,
and acts accordingly, their audience will know the used symbols and
meanings and therefore trust the shamanic worker.
There are also semiotic, theoretical approaches to
shamanism, and examples of "mutually opposing symbols" in
academic studies of Siberian lore, distinguishing a "white" shaman who
contacts sky spirits for good aims by day, from a "black" shaman who
contacts evil spirits for bad aims by night. (Series of such
opposing symbols referred to a world-view behind them. Analogously to
the way grammar arranges words to express meanings and convey a world,
also this formed a cognitive map). Shaman's lore is rooted in
the folklore of the community, which provides a "mythological mental
Juha Pentikäinen uses the concept "grammar of
Armin Geertz coined and introduced the hermeneutics, or
"ethnohermeneutics", interpretation. Hoppál extended the term to
include not only the interpretation of oral and written texts, but
that of "visual texts as well (including motions, gestures and more
complex ritual, and ceremonies performed for instance by
shamans)". Revealing the animistic views in shamanism, but also
their relevance to the contemporary world, where ecological problems
have validated paradigms of balance and protection.
Ecological approaches, systems theory
Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff relates these concepts to developments in
the ways that modern science (systems theory, ecology, new approaches
in anthropology and archeology) treats causality in a less linear
fashion. He also suggests a cooperation of modern science and
Hypotheses on origins
Shamanic practices may originate as early as the Paleolithic,
predating all organized religions, and certainly as early as
Neolithic period. The earliest known undisputed burial of a
shaman (and by extension the earliest undisputed evidence of shamans
and shamanic practices) dates back to the early Upper
(c. 30,000 BP) in what is now the Czech Republic.
Sanskrit scholar and comparative mythologist
Michael Witzel proposes
that all of the world's mythologies, and also the concepts and
practices of shamans, can be traced to the migrations of two
prehistoric populations: the "Gondwana" type (of circa 65,000 years
ago) and the "Laurasian" type (of circa 40,000 years ago).
Early anthropological studies theorize that shamanism developed as a
magic practice to ensure a successful hunt or gathering of food.
Evidence in caves and drawings on walls support indications that
shamanism started during the
Paleolithic era. One such picture
featured a half-animal, with the face and legs of a man, with antlers
and a tail of a stag.
In November 2008, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
announced the discovery of a 12,000-year-old site in Israel that is
perceived as one of the earliest known shaman burials. The elderly
woman had been arranged on her side, with her legs apart and folded
inward at the knee. Ten large stones were placed on the head, pelvis
and arms. Among her unusual grave goods were 50 complete tortoise
shells, a human foot, and certain body parts from animals such as a
cow tail and eagle wings. Other animal remains came from a boar,
leopard, and two martens. "It seems that the woman … was perceived
as being in a close relationship with these animal spirits",
researchers noted. The grave was one of at least 28 graves at the
site, located in a cave in lower
Galilee and belonging to the Natufian
culture, but is said to be unlike any other among the Epipaleolithic
Natufians or in the
Decline and revitalization / tradition-preserving movements
Shamanism is believed to be declining around the world, possibly due
to other organised religious influences, like Christianity, that want
people who practice shamanism to convert to their own system and
doctrine. Another reason is western views of shamanism as 'primitive',
'superstitious', backward and outdated. Whalers who frequently
Inuit tribes are one source of this decline in that
A recent photograph: shaman doctor of Kyzyl, 2005. (Details missing).
Attempts are being made to preserve and revitalize Tuvan
shamanism: former authentic shamans have begun to practice again,
and young apprentices are being educated in an organized way.
In many areas, former shamans ceased to fulfill the functions in the
community they used to, as they felt mocked by their own
community, or regarded their own past as deprecated and are
unwilling to talk about it to an ethnographer.
Moreover, besides personal communications of former shamans, folklore
texts may narrate directly about a deterioration process. For example,
a Buryat epic text details the wonderful deeds of the ancient "first
shaman" Kara-Gürgän: he could even compete with God, create
life, steal back the soul of the sick from God without his consent. A
subsequent text laments that shamans of older times were stronger,
possessing capabilities like omnividence, fortune-telling even
for decades in the future, moving as fast as a bullet.
In most affected areas, shamanic practices ceased to exist, with
authentic shamans dying and their personal experiences dying with
them. The loss of memories is not always lessened by the fact the
shaman is not always the only person in a community who knows the
beliefs and motives related to the local shaman-hood (laics know myths
as well, among Barasana, even though less; there are former
shaman apprentices unable to complete the learning among Greenlandic
Inuit peoples, moreover, even laics can have trance-like
experiences among the Inuit; the assistant of a shaman can be
extremely knowledgeable among Dagara). Although the shaman is
often believed and trusted precisely because s/he "accommodates" to
the "grammar" of the beliefs of the community, several parts of
the knowledge related to the local shamanhood consist of personal
experiences of the shaman (illness), or root in his/her family life
(the interpretation of the symbolics of his/her drum), thus,
those are lost with his/her death. Besides that, in many cultures, the
entire traditional belief system has become endangered (often together
with a partial or total language shift), the other people of the
community remembering the associated beliefs and practices (or the
language at all) grew old or died, many folklore memories (songs,
texts) were forgotten – which may threaten even such peoples who
could preserve their isolation until the middle of the 20th century,
like the Nganasan.
Some areas could enjoy a prolonged resistance due to their remoteness.
Variants of shamanism among
Inuit peoples were once a widespread (and
very diverse) phenomenon, but today are rarely practiced, as well as
already having been in decline among many groups, even while the first
major ethnological research was being done, e.g. among Polar
Inuit, at the end of the 19th century, Sagloq, the last shaman who was
believed to be able to travel to the sky and under the sea died—and
many other former shamanic capacities were lost during that time as
well, like ventriloquism and sleight-of-hand.
The isolated location of
Nganasan people allowed shamanism to be a
living phenomenon among them even at the beginning of the 20th
century, the last notable Nganasan shaman's ceremonies could be
recorded on film in the 1970s.
After exemplifying the general decline even in the most remote areas,
it should be noted that there are revitalization or
tradition-preserving efforts as a response. Besides collecting the
memories, there are also tradition-preserving and even
revitalization efforts, led by authentic former shamans (for
example among Sakha people and Tuvans). However, according
to Richard L. Allen, Research & Policy Analyst for the Cherokee
Nation, they are overwhelmed with fraudulent shamans, also known as
plastic medicine people. "One may assume that anyone claiming to
be a Cherokee 'shaman, spiritual healer, or pipe-carrier', is
equivalent to a modern day medicine show and snake-oil vendor."
One indicator of a plastic shaman might be someone who discusses
"Native American spirituality" but does not mention any specific
Native American tribe. The "
New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans"
website discusses potentially plastic shamans.
Besides tradition-preserving efforts, there are also neoshamanistic
movements, these may differ from many traditional shamanistic practice
and beliefs in several points. Admittedly,[according to whom?]
several traditional beliefs systems indeed have ecological
considerations (for example, many
Inuit peoples), and among Tukano
people, the shaman indeed has direct resource-protecting roles, see
details in section Ecological aspect.
Today, shamanism survives primarily among indigenous peoples. Shamanic
practices continue today in the tundras, jungles, deserts, and other
rural areas, and even in cities, towns, suburbs, and shantytowns all
over the world. This is especially true for Africa and South America,
where "mestizo shamanism" is widespread.
Main article: Hmong customs and culture § Shamanism
The Hmong people, as an ancient people of
China with a 5,000-year
history, continue to maintain and practice its form of shamanism known
as "Ua Neeb" in mainland Asia. At the end of the
Vietnam War, some
300,000 Hmong have been settled across the globe. They have continued
to practice Ua Neeb in various countries in North and South America,
Europe and Australia. In the U.S., the Hmong shaman practitioner is
known as "Txiv Neeb" has been licensed by many hospitals in California
as being part of the medical health team to treat patients in
hospital. This revival of Ua Neeb in the West has been brought great
success and has been hailed in the media as "Doctor for the disease,
shaman for the soul".
Being a Hmong shaman represents a true vocation, chosen by the shaman
God "Sivyis". The Shaman's main job is to bring harmony to the
individual, their family, and their community within their environment
by performing various rituals (usually through trance).
Animal sacrifice has been part of the Hmong shamanic practice for the
past 5,000 years. Contrary to the belief of many Westerners, the Hmong
practice of using animals in shamanic practice is performed with great
respect. After the
Vietnam War, over 200,000 Hmong were resettled in
the United States and shamanism is still part of the Hmong culture.
Due the colliding of culture and the law, as Professor Alison Dundes
Renteln, a political science professor at the University of Southern
California and author of The Cultural Defense, a book that examines
the influence of such cases on U.S. courts, once said, "We say that as
a society we welcome diversity, and in fact that we embrace
it ... In practice, it's not that easy".
The Hmong believe that all things on Earth have a soul (or multiple
souls) and those souls are treated as equal and can be considered
interchangeable. When a person is sick due to his soul being lost, or
captured by wild spirit, it is necessary to ask for and receive
permission of that animal, whether it is a chicken, pig, dog, goat or
any other animals required, to use its soul for an exchange with the
afflicted person's soul for a period of 12 months. At the end of that
period, during the Hmong New Year, the shaman would perform a special
ritual to release the soul of that animal and send it off to the world
beyond. As part of his service to mankind, the animal soul is sent off
to be reincarnated into a higher form of animal, or even to become a
member of a god's family (ua Fuab Tais Ntuj tus tub, tus ntxhais) to
live a life of luxury, free of the suffering as an animal. Hence,
being asked to perform this duty (what is known in the West as "animal
sacrifice") is one of the greatest honors for that animal, to be able
to serve mankind. The Hmong of Southeast Guizhou will cover the cock
with a piece of red cloth and then hold it up to worship and sacrifice
to the Heaven and the Earth before the Sacred cockfight. In a
2010 trial of a Sheboygan Wisconsin Hmong who was charged with staging
a cockfight, it was stated that the roosters were "kept for both food
and religious purposes", and the case was followed by an
In addition to the spiritual dimension, Hmong shaman attempt to treat
many physical illnesses through use of the text of sacred words (khawv
Main article: Dukun
Throughout the villages and towns of Indonesia, local healers known as
dukun practice diverse activities from massage, bonesetting,
midwivery, herbal medicine, spirit mediumship and divination.
Main article: Miko
Further information: Shinto, Ainu religion, and Ryukyuan religion
Shamanism is part of the indigenous
Ainu religion and Japanese
religion of Shinto, although
Shinto is distinct in that it is
shamanism for an agricultural society. Since the early middle-ages
Shinto has been influenced by and syncretized with
Buddhism and other
elements of continental East Asian culture. The book "
Shamanism and the Way of the Gods" by Percival Lowell delves
further into researching Japanese shamanism or Shintoism. The
Japan Through the Looking Glass: Shaman to
Shinto uncovers the
extraordinary aspects of Japanese beliefs.
Main article: Korean shamanism
Shamanism is still practiced in North and South Korea. In the south,
shaman women are known as mudangs, while male shamans are referred to
as baksoo mudangs.
A person can become a shaman through hereditary title or through
natural ability. Shamans are consulted in contemporary society for
financial and marital decisions.
Main articles: Bobohizan, Bomoh, and Pawang
Bobohizan of North Borneo, circa 1921.
Shamanism were also practiced among the Malay community in Malay
Peninsula and indigenous people in
Sabah and Sarawak. People who
practice shamanism in the country are generally called as bomoh or
pawang in the Peninsula. In Sabah, the
Bobohizan is the main
shaman among the
Kadazan-Dusun indigenous community.
Main article: Mongolian shamanism
Mongolian classics, such as The Secret History of the Mongols, provide
details about male and female shamans serving as exorcists, healers,
rainmakers, oneiromancers, soothsayers, and officials. Shamanic
practices continue in present-day Mongolian
The spiritual hierarchy in clan-based Mongolian society was complex.
The highest group consisted of 99 tngri (55 of them benevolent or
"white" and 44 terrifying or "black"), 77 natigai or "earth-mothers",
besides others. The tngri were called upon only by leaders and great
shamans and were common to all the clans. After these, three groups of
ancestral spirits dominated. The "Lord-Spirits" were the souls of clan
leaders to whom any member of a clan could appeal for physical or
spiritual help. The "Protector-Spirits" included the souls of great
shamans (ĵigari) and shamanesses (abĵiya). The "Guardian-Spirits"
were made up of the souls of smaller shamans (böge) and shamanesses
(idugan) and were associated with a specific locality (including
mountains, rivers, etc.) in the clan's territory.
In the 1990s, a form of Mongolian neo-shamanism was created which has
given a more modern approach to shamanism. Among the Buryat Mongols,
who live in Mongolia and Russia, the proliferation of shamans since
1990 is a core aspect of a larger struggle for the
reestablish their historical and genetic roots, as has been documented
extensively by Ippei Shimamura, an anthropologist at the University of
Shiga Prefecture in Japan. Some Mongolian shamans are now making
a business out of their profession and even have offices in the larger
towns. At these businesses, a shaman generally heads the organization
and performs services such as healing, fortunetelling, and solving all
kinds of problems. Although the initial enthusiasm for the
revival of Mongol shamanism in the post-communist/post-1990 era led to
an openness to all interested visitors, the situation has changed
Mongols seeking to protect the essential ethnic or
national basis of their practices. In recent years many associations
of Mongol shamans have become wary of Western "core" or "neo" or "New
Age" shamans and have restricted access to only to
Mongols and Western
scholars. One such event, organized by Jargalsaichan, the head of the
Corporate Union of Mongolian Shamans, was the 21 June 2017 Ulaan
Tergel (summer solstice) celebration held near midnight on the steppes
about 20 km outside Ulaanbaatar. Although a private event, two
Western psychologist scholars of shamanism,
Richard Noll and Leonard
George were allowed to observe, photograph and post video of the event
The Shaman in the Philippines is considered as a priest- sacrifice,
healer, and intermediary with the spirit world. Shamans are also
considered as prophets and seers. The magician or sorcerer can either
be a white magician or a medicine man whose actions are for the good
of others, while the black magician or witchdoctors can either do well
or harm to people, but mostly harm for a fee. Shamans in the
Philippines deal with various kinds of spirits and learn how to summon
and control them. Once someone is declared a Shaman, he is declared to
be a sick man, but not just any type of sick man. He or she is special
because the shaman is able to learn how to cure himself. An epilepsy
attack is the initiation of the Shaman; it is equivalent to them being
Siberia and North Asia
Siberia and the Qing Dynasty
Ainu bear sacrifice. Japanese scroll painting, circa 1870.
Oroqen shaman of northern China.
Siberia is regarded as the locus classicus of shamanism. The area
is inhabited by many different ethnic groups, and many of its peoples
observe shamanistic practices, even in modern times. Many classical
ethnographic sources of "shamanism" were recorded among Siberian
Shamanism is one of very few Shamanist traditions which held
official status into the modern era, by becoming one of the imperial
cults of the
Qing Dynasty of
China (alongside Buddhism,
traditional Heaven worship). The Palace of Earthly Tranquility, one of
the principal halls of the
Forbidden City in Beijing, was partly
dedicated to Shamanistic rituals. The ritual set-up is still preserved
in situ today.
Among the Siberian
Chukchis peoples, a shaman is interpreted as
someone who is possessed by a spirit, who demands that someone assume
the shamanic role for their people. Among the Buryat, there is a
ritual known as "shanar" whereby a candidate is consecrated as
shaman by another, already-established shaman.
Samoyedic peoples shamanism was a living tradition also
in modern times, especially at groups living in isolation, until
recent times (Nganasans). The last notable Nganasan shaman's
seances could be recorded on film in the 1970s.
When the People's Republic of
China was formed in 1949 and the border
Siberia was formally sealed, many nomadic Tungus groups
(including the Evenki) that practiced shamanism were confined in
Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. The last shaman of the Oroqen,
Chuonnasuan (Meng Jin Fu), died in October 2000.
In many other cases, shamanism was in decline even at the beginning of
the 20th century (Roma).
Geographic influences on Central Asian shamanism
Geographical factors heavily influence the character and development
of the religion, myths, rituals and epics of Central Asia. While in
other parts of the world, religious rituals are primarily used to
promote agricultural prosperity, here they were used to ensure success
in hunting and breeding livestock. Animals are one of the most
important elements of indigenous religion in Central Asia because of
the role they play in the survival of the nomadic civilizations of the
steppes as well as sedentary populations living on land not conducive
to agriculture. Shamans wore animal skins and feathers and underwent
transformations into animals during spiritual journeys. In addition,
animals served as humans' guides, rescuers, ancestors, totems and
sacrificial victims. As a religion of nature, shamanism
throughout Central Asia held particular reverence for the relations
between sky, earth and water and believed in the mystical importance
of trees and mountains.
Shamanism in Central Asia also places a strong
emphasis on the opposition between summer and winter, corresponding to
the huge differences in temperature common in the region. The harsh
conditions and poverty caused by the extreme temperatures drove
Central Asian nomads throughout history to pursue militaristic goals
against their sedentary neighbors. This military background can be
seen in the reverence for horses and warriors within many indigenous
Common shamanic practices and beliefs shared among Central
Central Asian shamans served as sacred intermediaries between the
human and spirit world. In this role they took on tasks such as
healing, divination, appealing to ancestors, manipulating the
elements, leading lost souls and officiating public religious rituals.
The shamanic séance served as a public display of the shaman's
journey to the spirit world and usually involved intense trances,
drumming, dancing, chanting, elaborate costumes, miraculous displays
of physical strength, and audience involvement. The goal of these
séances ranged from recovering the lost soul of a sick patient and
divining the future to controlling the weather and finding a lost
person or thing. The use of sleight-of-hand tricks, ventriloquism, and
hypnosis were common in these rituals but did not explain the more
impressive feats and actual cures accomplished by shamans.
Shamans perform in a "state of ecstasy" deliberately induced by an
effort of will. Reaching this altered state of consciousness required
great mental exertion, concentration and strict self-discipline.
Mental and physical preparation included long periods of silent
meditation, fasting, and smoking. In this state, skilled shamans
employ capabilities that the human organism cannot accomplish in the
ordinary state. Shamans in ecstasy displayed unusual physical
strength, the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, the bearing
of stabbing and cutting without pain, and the heightened receptivity
of the sense organs. Shamans made use of intoxicating substances and
hallucinogens, especially mukhomor mushrooms and alcohol, as a means
of hastening the attainment of ecstasy.
The use of purification by fire is an important element of the
shamanic tradition dating back as early as the 6th century. People and
things connected with the dead had to be purified by passing between
fires. These purifications were complex exorcisms while others simply
involved the act of literally walking between two fires while being
blessed by the Shaman. Shamans in literature and practice were also
responsible for using special stones to manipulate weather. Rituals
are performed with these stones to attract rain or repel snow, cold or
wind. This "rain-stone" was used for many occasions including bringing
an end to drought as well as producing hailstorms as a means of
warfare. Despite distinctions between various types of shamans
and specific traditions, there is a uniformity throughout the region
manifested in the personal beliefs, objectives, rituals, symbols and
the appearance of shamans.
Shamanic rituals as artistic performance
The shamanic ceremony is both a religious ceremony and an artistic
performance. The fundamental purpose of the dramatic displays seen
during shamanic ceremonies is not to draw attention or to create a
spectacle for the audience as many Westerners have come to believe,
but to lead the tribe in a solemn ritualistic process.
In general, all performances consist of four elements: dance, music,
poetry and dramatic or mimetic action. The use of these elements
serves the purpose of outwardly expressing his mystical communion with
nature and the spirits for the rest of the tribe. The true shaman can
make the journey to the spirit world at any time and any place, but
shamanic ceremonies provide a way for the rest of the tribe to share
in this religious experience. The shaman changes his voice mimetically
to represent different persons, gods, and animals while his music and
dance change to show his progress in the spirit world and his
different spiritual interactions. Many shamans practice ventriloquism
and make use of their ability to accurately imitate the sounds of
animals, nature, humans and other noises in order to provide the
audience with the ambiance of the journey. Elaborate dances and
recitations of songs and poetry are used to make the shamans spiritual
adventures into a matter of living reality to his audience.
Costume and accessories
The shaman's attire varies throughout the region but his chief
accessories are his coat, cap, and tambourine or drum. The
transformation into an animal is an important aspect of the journey
into the spirit world undertaken during shamanic rituals so the coat
is often decorated with birds feathers and representations of animals,
coloured handkerchiefs, bells and metal ornaments. The cap is usually
made from the skin of a bird with the feathers and sometimes head,
The drum or tambourine is the essential means of communicating with
spirits and enabling the shaman to reach altred states of
consciousness on his journey. The drum, representing the universe in
epitome, is often divided into equal halves to represent the earth and
lower realms. Symbols and natural objects are added to the drum
representing natural forces and heavenly bodies.
Shamanism in Tsarist and Soviet Russia
In Soviet Central Asia, the Soviet government persecuted and denounced
shamans as practitioners of fraudulent medicine and perpetuators of
outdated religious beliefs in the new age of science and logic. The
radical transformations occurring after the October Socialist
Revolution led to a sharp decrease in the activity of shamans. Shamans
represented an important component in the traditional culture of
Central Asians and because of their important role in society, Soviet
organizations and campaigns targeted shamans in their attempt to
eradicate traditional influences in the lives of the indigenous
peoples. Along with persecution under the tsarist and Soviet regimes,
the spread of
Islam had a role in the disintegration
of native faith throughout central Asia. Poverty, political
instability and foreign influence are also detrimental to a religion
that requires publicity and patronage to flourish. By the 1980s most
shamans were discredited in the eyes of their people by Soviet
officials and physicians.
Other Asian traditions
Further information: Wu (shaman)
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"Jhakri" is the common name used for shamans in Sikkim,
Nepal. They exist in the Limbu, Sunuwar, Rai, Sherpa, Kami, Tamang,
Gurung and Lepcha communities. They are inflluenced by Hinduism,
Tibetan Buddhism, Mun and Bön rites.
Shamanism is still widely practiced in the
Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa,
Japan), where shamans are known as 'Noro' (all women) and 'Yuta'.
'Noro' generally administer public or communal ceremonies while 'Yuta'
focus on civil and private matters.
Shamanism is also practiced in a
few rural areas in
Japan proper. It is commonly believed that the
Shinto religion is the result of the transformation of a shamanistic
tradition into a religion. Forms of practice vary somewhat in the
several Ryukyu islands, so that there is, for example, a distinct
Shamanism practices seem to have been preserved in the Catholic
religious traditions of aborigines in Taiwan.
In Vietnam, shamans conduct rituals in many of the religious
traditions that co-mingle in the majority and minority populations. In
their rituals, music, dance, special garments and offerings are part
of the performance that surround the spirit journey.
Sami shamanic drum in the Arktikum Science Museum, in Rovaniemi,
Shamanism in Europe
Further information: Noaidi, Sami shamanism, and Finnish mythology
Hungarian mythology and Shamanistic remnants in
Magic in the Greco-Roman world
Magic in the Greco-Roman world and European
Astuvansalmi rock paintings
Some of the prehistoric peoples who once lived in
dispersed and migrated into other regions, bringing aspects of their
cultures with them. For example, many Uralic peoples live now outside
Siberia, however the original location of the Proto-Uralic peoples
(and its extent) is debated. Combined phytogeographical and linguistic
considerations (distribution of various tree species and the presence
of their names in various Uralic languages) suggest that this area was
north of Central
Ural Mountains and on lower and middle parts of Ob
River. The ancestors of
Hungarian people or
Magyars have wandered
from their ancestral proto-Uralic area to the Pannonian Basin.
Shamanism has played an important role in Turko-Mongol mythology:
Tengriism - the major ancient belief among Xiongnu, Mongol and Turkic
Bulgars - incorporates elements of
Shamanism is no more a living practice among
Hungarians, but remnants have been reserved as fragments of folklore,
in folktales, customs.
Some historians of the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern period have
argued that traces of shamanistic traditions can be seen in the
popular folk belief of this period. Most prominent among these was the
Italian Carlo Ginzburg, who claimed shamanistic elements in the
benandanti custom of 16th century Italy, the Hungarian Éva
Pócs, who identified them in the táltos tradition of Hungary,
and the Frenchman Claude Lecouteux, who has argued that Medieval
traditions regarding the soul are based on earlier shamanic
ideas. Ginzburg in particular has argued that some of these
traditions influenced the conception of witchcraft in Christendom, in
particular ideas regarding the witches' sabbath, leading to the events
of the witch trials in the Early Modern period. Some of these
Italian traditions survived into the 20th and early 21st centuries,
allowing Italian-American sociologist Sabina Magliocco to make a brief
study of them (2009).
Inuit and Yupik cultures
Yup'ik shaman exorcising evil spirits from a sick boy, Nushagak,
Alaska, 1890s. Nushagak, located on
Nushagak Bay of the Bering
Sea in southwest Alaska, is part of the territory of the Yup'ik,
speakers of the
Central Alaskan Yup'ik
Central Alaskan Yup'ik language
Eskimo groups inhabit a huge area stretching from Eastern Siberia
Alaska and Northern Canada (including Labrador Peninsula) to
Greenland. Shamanistic practice and beliefs have been recorded at
several parts of this vast area crosscutting continental
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering
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When speaking of "shamanism" in various
Eskimo groups, we must
remember that (as mentioned above) the term "shamanism" can cover
certain characteristics of various different cultures. Mediation
is regarded often as an important aspect of shamanism in general.
Also in most
Eskimo groups, the role of mediator is known well:
the person filling it in is actually believed to be able to contact
the beings who populate the belief system. Term "shaman" is used in
several English-language publications also in relation to
Eskimos. Also the alignalghi
(IPA: [aˈliɣnalʁi]) of the Asian Eskimos is translated as
"shaman" in the Russian and English literature.
The belief system assumes specific links between the living people,
the souls of hunted animals, and those of dead people. The soul
concepts of several groups are specific examples of soul dualism
(showing variability in details in the various cultures).
Unlike the majority of shamanisms the careers of most
lack the motivation of force: becoming a shaman is usually a result of
deliberate consideration, not a necessity forced by the spirits.
Diversity, with similarities
Another possible concern: do the belief systems of various Eskimo
groups have such common features at all, that would justify any
mentioning them together? There was no political structure above the
groups, their languages were relative, but differed more or less,
often forming language continuums.
There are similarities in the cultures of the Eskimo
groups together with diversity, far from
The Russian linguist Menovshikov (Меновщиков), an expert of
Siberian Yupik and Sireniki
Eskimo languages (while admitting that he
is not a specialist in ethnology) mentions, that the shamanistic
seances of those
Siberian Yupik and Sireniki groups he has seen have
many similarities to those of
Inuit groups described by
Fridtjof Nansen, although a large distance separates
Greenland. There may be certain similarities also in Asiatic groups
with North American ones. Also the usage of a specific shaman's
language is documented among several
Eskimo groups, used mostly for
talking to spirits. Also the Ungazighmiit (belonging to
Siberian Yupiks) had a special allegoric usage of some
The local cultures showed great diversity. The myths concerning the
role of shaman had several variants, and also the name of their
protagonists varied from culture to culture. For example, a
mythological figure, usually referred to in the literature by the
collective term Sea Woman, has factually many local names: Nerrivik
"meat dish" among Polar Inuit, Nuliayuk "lubricous" among
Netsilingmiut, Sedna "the nether one" among Baffin Land Inuit.
Also the soul conceptions, e.g. the details of the soul dualism showed
great variability, ranging from guardianship to a kind of
reincarnation. Conceptions of spirits or other beings had also many
variants (see e.g. the tupilaq concept).
Medicine man and Native American religion
Native American "conjuror" in a 1590 engraving
Hamatsa ritualist, 1914
Native American and
First Nations cultures have diverse religious
beliefs and there was never one universal
Native American religion
Native American religion or
spiritual system. Although many Native American cultures have
traditional healers, ritualists, singers, mystics, lore-keepers and
Medicine people, none of them ever used, or use, the term "shaman" to
describe these religious leaders. Rather, like other indigenous
cultures the world over, their spiritual functionaries are described
by words in their own languages, and in many cases are not taught to
Many of these indigenous religions have been grossly misrepresented by
outside observers and anthropologists, even to the extent of
superficial or seriously mistaken anthropological accounts being taken
as more authentic than the accounts of actual members of the cultures
and religions in question. Often these accounts suffer from "Noble
Savage"-type romanticism and racism. Some contribute to the fallacy
that Native American cultures and religions are something that only
existed in the past, and which can be mined for data despite the
opinions of Native communities.
Not all Indigenous communities have roles for specific individuals who
mediate with the spirit world on behalf of the community. Among those
that do have this sort of religious structure, spiritual methods and
beliefs may have some commonalities, though many of these
commonalities are due to some nations being closely related, from the
same region, or through post-Colonial governmental policies leading to
the combining of formerly independent nations on reservations. This
can sometimes lead to the impression that there is more unity among
belief systems than there was in antiquity.
With the arrival of European settlers and colonial administration, the
practice of Native American traditional beliefs was discouraged and
Christianity was imposed upon the indigenous people. In most
communities, the traditions were not completely eradicated, but rather
went underground, and were practiced secretly until the prohibitive
laws were repealed.
Up until and during the last hundred years, thousands of Native
First Nations children from many different communities
were sent into the Canadian Indian residential school system, and
Indian boarding schools in an effort to destroy tribal languages,
cultures and beliefs. The Trail of Tears, in the US, forced Native
Americans to relocate from their traditional homes. Canadian laws
enacted in 1982, and henceforth, have attempted to reverse previous
attempts at extinguishing Native culture.
Further information: Maya religion
Maya priest performing a healing ritual at Tikal.
Main article: Maya priesthood
Aztec astrology and Aztec religion
Body of Ndyuka Maroon child brought before medicine man, Suriname
River, Suriname, South America
Urarina of the
Peruvian Amazon have an elaborate cosmological
system predicated on the ritual consumption of ayahuasca, which is a
key feature of their society.
Santo Daime and
União do Vegetal ( abbreviated to UDV) are syncretic
religions with which use an entheogen called ayahuasca in an attempt
to connect with the spirit realm and receive divine guidance.
Shaman from the shuara culture in
Ecuador Amazonian forest, June 2006
Urarina shaman, 1988
Peruvian Amazon basin and north coastal regions of the country,
the healers are known as curanderos. Ayahuasqueros are Peruvians who
specialize in the use of ayahuasca. Ayahuasqueros have become
popular among Western spiritual seekers, who claim that the
ayauasqueros and their ayahuasca brews have cured them of everything
from depression to addiction to cancer.
In addition to curanderos use of ayahuasca and their ritualized
ingestion of mescaline-bearing San Pedro cactuses (Trichocereus
pachanoi) for the divination and diagnosis of sorcery, north-coastal
shamans are famous throughout the region for their intricately complex
and symbolically dense healing altars called mesas (tables).
Sharon (1993) has argued that the mesas symbolize the dualistic
ideology underpinning the practice and experience of north-coastal
shamanism. For Sharon, the mesas are the, "physical embodiment of
the supernatural opposition between benevolent and malevolent
energies" (Dean 1998: 61).
In several tribes living in the Amazon rainforest, the spiritual
leaders also act as managers of scarce ecological
resources The rich symbolism in Tukano culture has been
documented in field works even in the last decades of
the 20th century.
The yaskomo of the Waiwai is believed to be able to perform a soul
flight. The soul flight can serve several functions:
flying to the sky to consult cosmological beings (the moon or the
brother of the moon) to get a name for a newborn baby
flying to the cave of peccaries' mountains to ask the father of
peccaries for abundance of game
flying deep down in a river, to achieve the help of other beings.
Thus, a yaskomo is believed to be able to reach sky, earth, and
Mapuche people of Chile, Machi is usually a woman who serves
the community by performing ceremonies to cure diseases, ward off
evil, influence the weather and harvest, and by practicing other forms
of healing such as herbalism.
Aymara people of South America the
Yatiri is a healer who
heals the body and the soul, they serve the community and do the
rituals for Pachamama.
Part of the healing power attributed to shamanic practices depends of
the use of plant alkaloids taken during the therapeutic sessions
Trance and Shamanic Cure on the South American Continent:
Psychopharmalogical and Neurobiological Interpretations, Anthropology
of Consciousness, Vol.21, Issue 1, pp. 83-105, ISSN 1053-4202, 2010).
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support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead
Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see
Fuegians (the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego) were
all hunter-gatherers, they did not share a common culture. The
material culture was not homogenous, either: the big island and the
archipelago made two different adaptations possible. Some of the
cultures were coast-dwelling, others were land-oriented.
Yámana had persons filling in shaman-like roles.
The Selk'nams believed their /xon/s to have supernatural capabilities,
e.g. to control weather. The figure of /xon/ appeared in
myths, too. The
Yámana /jekamuʃ/ corresponds to the
Umbarra and Tunggal panaluan
On the island of Papua New Guinea, indigenous tribes believe that
illness and calamity are caused by dark spirits, or masalai, which
cling to a person's body and poison them. Shamans are summoned in
order to purge the unwholesome spirits from a person.
Shamans also perform rainmaking ceremonies and can allegedly improve a
hunter's ability to catch animals.
In Australia various aboriginal groups refer to their shamans as
"clever men" and "clever women" also as kadji. These aboriginal
shamans use maban or mabain, the material that is believed to give
them their purported magical powers. Besides healing, contact with
spiritual beings, involvement in initiation and other secret
ceremonies, they are also enforcers of tribal laws, keepers of special
knowledge and may "hex" to death one who breaks a social taboo by
singing a song only known to the "clever men".
See also: African traditional religion, Traditional healers of South
Africa, Witch doctor, and Sangoma
Inyanga performing a traditional baptism on a baby in order to
protect the spirit of the baby, Johannesburg, South Africa
In Mali, Dogon sorcerers (both male and female) communicate with a
spirit named Amma, who advises them on healing and divination
The classical meaning of shaman as a person who, after recovering from
a mental illness (or insanity) takes up the professional calling of
socially recognized religious practitioner, is exemplified among the
Sisala (of northern Gold Coast) : "the fairies "seized" him and
made him insane for several months. Eventually, though, he learned to
control their power, which he now uses to divine."
The term sangoma, as employed in Zulu and congeneric languages, is
effectively equivalent to shaman. Sangomas are highly revered and
respected in their society, where illness is thought to be caused by
witchcraft, pollution (contact with impure objects or
occurrences), bad spirits, or the ancestors themselves, either
malevolently, or through neglect if they are not respected, or to show
an individual her calling to become a sangoma (thwasa). For
harmony between the living and the dead, vital for a trouble-free
life, the ancestors must be shown respect through ritual and animal
The term inyanga also employed by the Nguni cultures is equivalent to
'herbalist' as used by the
Zulu people and a variation used by the
Karanga, among whom remedies (locally known as muti) for ailments
are discovered by the inyanga being informed in a dream, of the herb
able to effect the cure and also of where that herb is to be found.
The majority of the herbal knowledge base is passed down from one
inyanga to the next, often within a particular family circle in any
Shamanism is known among the Nuba of Kordofan in Sudan.
Contemporary Western shamanism
Main article: Neoshamanism
There is an endeavor in some contemporary occult and esoteric circles
to reinvent shamanism in a modern form, often drawing from core
shamanism—a set of beliefs and practices synthesized by Michael
Harner—centered on the use of ritual drumming and dance, and
Harner's interpretations of various indigenous religions. Harner has
faced criticism for taking pieces of diverse religions out of their
cultural contexts and synthesising a set of universal shamanic
techniques. Some neoshamans focus on the ritual use of entheogens,
 and also embrace the philosophies of chaos magic[citation
needed] while others (such as Jan Fries) have created their own
forms of shamanism.
European-based neoshamanic traditions are focused upon the researched
or imagined traditions of ancient Europe, where many mystical
practices and belief systems were suppressed by the Christian church.
Some of these practitioners express a desire to practice a system that
is based upon their own ancestral traditions. Some anthropologists and
practitioners have discussed the impact of such neoshamanism as
"giving extra pay" (Harvey, 1997 and elsewhere) to indigenous American
traditions, particularly as many pagan or heathen shamanic
practitioners do not call themselves shamans, but instead use specific
names derived from the European traditions—they work within such as
völva or seidkona (seid-woman) of the sagas (see Blain 2002, Wallis
Many spiritual seekers travel to Peru to work with ayahuasqueros,
shamans who engage in the ritual use of ayahuasca, a psychedelic tea
which has been documented to cure everything from depression to
addiction. When taking ayahuasca, participants frequently report
meeting spirits, and receiving divine revelations. Shamanistic
techniques have also been used in
New Age therapies which use
enactment and association with other realities as an
Criticism of the term
Further information: medicine man
A tableau presenting figures of various cultures filling in
mediator-like roles, often being termed as "shaman" in the literature.
The tableau presents the diversity of this concept.
Alice Kehoe criticizes the term "shaman" in her
book Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in Critical
Thinking. Part of this criticism involves the notion of cultural
appropriation. This includes criticism of
New Age and modern
Western forms of shamanism, which, according to Kehoe, misrepresent or
dilute indigenous practices.
Alice Kehoe also believes that the term
reinforces racist ideas such as the Noble Savage.
Kehoe is highly critical of Mircea Eliade's work on shamanism as an
invention synthesized from various sources unsupported by more direct
research. To Kehoe, citing that ritualistic practices (most notably
drumming, trance, chanting, entheogens and hallucinogens, spirit
communication and healing) as being definitive of shamanism is poor
practice. Such citations ignore the fact that those practices exist
outside of what is defined as shamanism and play similar roles even in
non-shamanic cultures (such as the role of chanting in Judeo-Christian
and Islamic rituals) and that in their expression are unique to each
culture that uses them. Such practices cannot be generalized easily,
accurately, or usefully into a global religion of shamanism. Because
of this, Kehoe is also highly critical of the hypothesis that
shamanism is an ancient, unchanged, and surviving religion from the
Anthropologist Mihály Hoppál also discusses whether the term
"shamanism" is appropriate. He notes that for many readers, "-ism"
implies a particular dogma, like
Buddhism or Judaism. He recommends
using the term "shamanhood" or "shamanship" (a term used in
old Russian and German ethnographic reports at the beginning of the
20th century) for stressing the diversity and the specific features of
the discussed cultures. He believes that this places more stress on
the local variations and emphasizes that shamanism is not a
religion of sacred dogmas, but linked to the everyday life in a
practical way. Following similar thoughts, he also conjectures a
contemporary paradigm shift.
Piers Vitebsky also mentions that,
despite really astonishing similarities, there is no unity in
shamanism. The various, fragmented shamanistic practices and beliefs
coexist with other beliefs everywhere. There is no record of pure
shamanistic societies (although, as for the past, their existence is
not impossible). Norwegian social anthropologist Hakan Rydving
has likewise argued for the abandonment of the terms "shaman" and
"shamanism" as "scientific illusions."
Dulam Bumochir has affirmed the above critiques of "shamanism" as a
Western construct created for comparative purposes and, in an
extensive article, has documented the role of
particularly "the partnership of scholars and shamans in the
reconstruction of shamanism" in post-1990/post-communist
Mongolia. This process has also been documented by Swiss
anthropologist Judith Hangartner in her landmark study of Darhad
shamans in Mongolia. Historian Karena Kollmar-Polenz argues that
the social construction and reification of shamanism as a religious
"other" actually began with the 18th century writings of Tibetan
Buddhist monks in Mongolia and later "probably influenced the
formation of European discourse on Shamanism".
^ Hoppál 1987. p. 76.
^ "Oxford Dictionaries - Dictionary, Thesaurus, & Grammar".
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finno-ougrienne, 1986, 194: 97–98
^ Alberts, Thomas (2015). Shamanism, Discourse, Modernity. Farnham:
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^ a b c Mircea Eliade, Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy,
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^ Gredig, Florian (2009). Finding New Cosmologies. Berlin: Lit Verlag
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^ a b c Kehoe, Alice Beck (2000). Shamans and religion : an
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^ Wernitznig, Dagmar, Europe's Indians, Indians in Europe: European
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"What happens further in the Plastic Shaman's [fictitious] story is
highly irritating from a perspective of cultural hegemony. The Injun
elder does not only willingly share their spirituality with the white
intruder but, in fact, must come to the conclusion that this intruder
is as good an Indian as they are themselves. Regarding Indian
Plastic Shaman even out-Indians the actual ones. The
messianic element, which Plastic
Shamanism financially draws on, is
installed in the Yoda-like elder themselves. They are the ones –
while melodramatically parting from their spiritual offshoot – who
Plastic Shaman to share their gift with the rest of the
world. Thus Plastic Shamans wipe their hands clean of any megalomaniac
or missionizing undertones. Licensed by the authority of an Indian
elder, they now have every right to spread their wisdom, and if they
make (quite more than) a buck with it, then so be it.—The
neocolonial ideology attached to this scenario leaves less room for
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^ Hutton 2001. p. 32.
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Societe finno-ougrienne 1986, 194:97.
^ Written before 1676, first printed in 1861; see Hutton 2001. p. vii.
^ Hutton 2001, p. 32.
^ Adam Brand, Driejaarige Reize naar China, Amsterdam 1698; transl. A
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shamanism: from primitivism to civilization". Asian Ethnicity. 15 (4):
473–491. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Hangartner, Judith (2011). The Constitution and Contestation of
Darhad Shamans' Power in Contemporary Mongolia. Leiden: Global
Oriental. ISBN 9781906876111.
^ Kollmar-Paulenz, Karenina (2012). "The Invention of "Shamanism" in
18th Century Mongolian Elite Discourse". Rocznik Orientalistyczny. LXV
Barüske, Heinz (1969).
Eskimo Märchen. Die Märchen der
Weltliteratur (in German). Düsseldorf • Köln: Eugen Diederichs
Verlag. The title means: "
Eskimo tales", the series means: "The
tales of world literature".
Boglár, Lajos (2001). A kultúra arcai. Mozaikok a kulturális
antropológia köreiből. TÁRStudomány (in Hungarian). Budapest:
Napvilág Kiadó. ISBN 963-9082-94-5. The title means "The
faces of culture. Mosaics from the area of cultural anthropology".
Bolin, Hans (2000). "Animal Magic: The mythological significance of
elks, boats and humans in north Swedish rock art". Journal of Material
Culture. 5 (2): 153–176.
Czaplicka, M.A. (1914). "Types of shaman".
Shamanism in Siberia.
Aboriginal Siberia. A study in social anthropology. preface by Marett,
R.R. Sommerville College, University of Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Dana, Kathleen Osgood (Summer 2004). "Áillohaš and his image drum:
the native poet as shaman" (PDF). Nordlit. Faculty of Humanities,
University of Tromsø. 15. [permanent dead link]
Deschênes, Bruno (2002). "
Inuit Throat-Singing". Musical Traditions.
The Magazine for Traditional Music Throughout the World.
Diószegi, Vilmos (1968). Tracing shamans in Siberia. The story of an
ethnographical research expedition. Translated from Hungarian by Anita
Rajkay Babó. Oosterhout: Anthropological Publications.
Diószegi, Vilmos (1962). Samanizmus. Élet és Tudomány
Kiskönyvtár (in Hungarian). Budapest: Gondolat. The title
Diószegi, Vilmos (1998) . A sámánhit emlékei a magyar népi
műveltségben (in Hungarian) (first reprint ed.). Budapest:
Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-7542-6. The title means:
"Remnants of shamanistic beliefs in Hungarian folklore".
Fienup-Riordan, Ann (1994). Boundaries and Passages: Rule and Ritual
Eskimo Oral Tradition. Norman, Oklahoma: University of
Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-585-12190-7.
Fock, Niels (1963). Waiwai.
Religion and society of an Amazonian
tribe. Nationalmuseets skrifter, Etnografisk Række (Ethnographical
series), VIII. Copenhagen: The National Museum of Denmark.
Freuchen, Peter (1961). Book of the Eskimos. Cleveland • New York:
The World Publishing Company. ISBN 0-449-30802-2.
Gulia, Kuldip Singh (2005). Human
Sikkim – A Case Study
of Upper Rangit Basin. Delhi, India: Kalpaz Publications.
Hajdú, Péter (1975). "A rokonság nyelvi háttere". In Hajdú,
Péter. Uráli népek. Nyelvrokonaink kultúrája és hagyományai (in
Hungarian). Budapest: Corvina Kiadó. ISBN 963-13-0900-2.
The title means: "Uralic peoples.
Culture and traditions of our
linguistic relatives"; the chapter means "Linguistical background of
Hoppál, Mihály (1994). Sámánok, lelkek és jelképek (in
Hungarian). Budapest: Helikon Kiadó. ISBN 963-208-298-2.
The title means "Shamans, souls and symbols".
Hoppál, Mihály (1998). "A honfoglalók hitvilága és a magyar
samanizmus". Folklór és közösség (in Hungarian). Budapest:
Széphalom Könyvműhely. pp. 40–45.
ISBN 963-9028-14-2. The title means "The belief system of
Hungarians when they entered the Pannonian Basin, and their
Hoppál, Mihály (2005). Sámánok Eurázsiában (in Hungarian).
Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-8295-3. The title
means "Shamans in Eurasia", the book is published also in German,
Estonian and Finnish. Site of publisher with short description on the
book (in Hungarian).
Hoppál, Mihály (2006a). "Sámánok, kultúrák és kutatók az
ezredfordulón". In Hoppál, Mihály; Szathmári, Botond; Takács,
András. Sámánok és kultúrák. Budapest: Gondolat.
pp. 9–25. ISBN 963-9450-28-6. The chapter title
means "Shamans, cultures and researchers in the millenary", the book
title means "Shamans and cultures".
Hoppál, Mihály (2007b). "Is
Shamanism a Folk Religion?". Shamans and
Traditions (Vol 13). Bibliotheca Shamanistica. Budapest: Akadémiai
Kiadó. pp. 11–16. ISBN 978-963-05-8521-7.
Hoppál, Mihály (2007c). "Eco-
Animism of Siberian Shamanhood".
Shamans and Traditions (Vol 13). Bibliotheca Shamanistica. Budapest:
Akadémiai Kiadó. pp. 17–26.
Janhunen, Juha. Siberian shamanistic terminology. Memoires de la
Societe finno-ougrienne, 1986, 194: 97–117.
Hugh-Jones, Christine (1980). From the Milk River: Spatial and
Temporal Processes in Northwest Amazonia. Cambridge Studies in Social
and Cultural Anthropology. Cambridge University Press.
Hugh-Jones, Stephen (1980). The Palm and the Pleiades.
Cosmology in Northwest Amazonia. Cambridge Studies in Social and
Cultural Anthropology. Cambridge University Press.
Kleivan, Inge; B. Sonne (1985). Eskimos:
Greenland and Canada.
Iconography of religions, section VIII, "Arctic Peoples", fascicle 2.
Leiden, The Netherlands: Institute of Religious Iconography • State
University Groningen. E.J. Brill. ISBN 90-04-07160-1.
Lupa. New Paths to Animal Totems. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide,
2012. ISBN 978-0-7387-3337-1.
Menovščikov, G. A. (= Г. А. Меновщиков) (1968). "Popular
Conceptions, Religious Beliefs and Rites of the Asiatic Eskimoes". In
Diószegi, Vilmos. Popular beliefs and folklore tradition in Siberia.
Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.
Nagy, Beáta Boglárka (1998). "Az északi szamojédok". In Csepregi,
Márta. Finnugor kalauz. Panoráma (in Hungarian). Budapest: Medicina
Könyvkiadó. pp. 221–234. ISBN 963-243-813-2. The
chapter means "Northern Samoyedic peoples", the title means
Nattiez, Jean Jacques.
Inuit Games and Songs • Chants et Jeux des
Inuit. Musiques & musiciens du monde • Musics & musicians of
the world. Montreal: Research Group in Musical Semiotics, Faculty of
Music, University of Montreal. . The songs are online
available from the ethnopoetics website curated by Jerome
Noll, Richard; Shi, Kun (2004). "Chuonnasuan (Meng Jin Fu), The Last
Shaman of the Oroqen of Northeast China" (PDF). 韓國宗敎硏究
(Journal of Korean Religions). 6. Seoul KR: 西江大學校.
宗教硏究所 (Sŏgang Taehakkyo. Chonggyo Yŏnʾguso.).
pp. 135–162. Retrieved 2008-07-30. . It describes the life
of Chuonnasuan, the last shaman of the Oroqen of Northeast China.
Reinhard, Johan (1976) "
Spirit Possession: The
Definition Problem." In
Spirit Possession in the
Nepal Himalayas, J.
Hitchcock & R. Jones (eds.), New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House,
Shimamura, Ippei The roots Seekers:
Shamanism and Ethnicity Among the
Mongol Buryats. Yokohama, Japan: Shumpusha, 2014.
Turner, Robert P.; Lukoff, David; Barnhouse, Ruth Tiffany & Lu,
Francis G. (1995) Religious or Spiritual Problem. A Culturally
Category in the DSM-IV. Journal of Nervous and
Mental Disease, Vol.183, No. 7, pp. 435–444
Voigt, Miklós (2000). "Sámán – a szó és értelme". Világnak
kezdetétől fogva. Történeti folklorisztikai tanulmányok (in
Hungarian). Budapest: Universitas Könyvkiadó. pp. 41–45.
ISBN 963-9104-39-6. The chapter discusses the etymology and
meaning of word "shaman".
Witzel, Michael (2011). "
Shamanism in Northern and Southern Eurasia:
their distinctive methods and change of consciousness". Social Science
Information. 50 (1): 39–61. doi:10.1177/0539018410391044.
Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology. 1959; reprint,
New York and London: Penguin Books, 1976. ISBN 0-14-019443-6
Harner, Michael, The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing,
Harper & Row Publishers, NY 1980
Richard de Mille, ed. The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda
Controversies. Santa Barbara, California: Ross-Erikson, 1980.
George Devereux, "Shamans as Neurotics", American Anthropologist, New
Series, Vol. 63, No. 5, Part 1. (Oct. 1961), pp. 1088–1090.
Jay Courtney Fikes, Carlos Castaneda: Academic Opportunism and the
Psychedelic Sixties, Millennia Press, Canada, 1993
Åke Hultkrantz (Honorary Editor in Chief): Shaman. Journal of the
International Society for Shamanistic Research
Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered
Native Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Alice Kehoe, Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in
Critical Thinking. 2000. London: Waveland Press.
David Charles Manners, In the Shadow of Crows. (contains first-hand
accounts of the Nepalese jhankri tradition) Oxford: Signal Books,
2011. ISBN 1-904955-92-4.
Jordan D. Paper, The Spirits are Drunk: Comparative Approaches to
Chinese Religion, Albany, New York: State University of New York
Press, 1995. ISBN 0-7914-2315-8.
Smith, Frederick M. (2006). The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit
Possession in South Asian Literature. Columbia University Press, U.S.
ISBN 0-231-13748-6. pp. 195–202.
Barbara Tedlock, Time and the Highland Maya, U. of New Mexico Press,
1992. ISBN 0-8263-1358-2
Silvia Tomášková, Wayward Shamans: the prehistory of an idea,
University of California Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-520-27532-4
Michel Weber, «
Shamanism and proto-consciousness », in
René Lebrun, Julien De Vos et É. Van Quickelberghe (éds), Deus
Unicus. Actes du colloque « Aux origines du monothéisme et du
scepticisme religieux » organisé à Louvain-la-Neuve les 7 et 8
juin 2013 par le Centre d’histoire des Religions Cardinal Julien
Ries [Cardinalis Julien Ries et Pierre Bordreuil in memoriam],
Turnhout, Brepols, coll. Homo Religiosus série II, 14, 2015,
Shamanism in Siberia: Russian Records of Siberian
Spirituality. Dordrech and Boston: Kluwer/Springer, 2003.
Look up shamanism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shamanism.
AFECT A charitable organization protecting traditional cultures in
Chuonnasuan (Meng Jin Fu), The Last Shaman of the Oroqen of Northeast
Richard Noll and Kun Shi
New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans, an organization devoted to
alerting seekers about fraudulent teachers, and helping them avoid
being exploited or participating in exploitation
Healing Rituals by Tatyana Sem, Russian Museum of Ethnography
Shamanism and the Image of the Teutonic Deity, Óðinn by A. Asbjorn
Siberia – photographs by Standa Krupar
Studies in Siberian
Shamanism and Religions of the Finno-Ugrian
Peoples by Aado Lintrop, Folk Belief and Media Group of the Estonian
A View from the Headwaters[permanent dead link] by Gerardo
Reichel-Dolmatoff Amazonian Indigenous Peoples and ecology
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