Definition: shamanism
Refers generally to the religious practices of some northern Asian peoples who believe that good and evil spirits inhabit the world and can be summoned or heard through inspired priests acting as mediums.

Shamanism: Definition, Meaning, and Identity

What is Shamanism?

Shamanism is a spiritual or religious expression, where an individual seeks to interact with the spirit world in a special way, by means of a entering into a conscious-altering trance. Shamanism can take on different forms, like ceremonial ritual, divination, animism, necromancy, or so-called black magic.

What is a Shaman?

A shaman is the name of the person attempting to make contact with the spirit world through a trance. Those who ascribe to this worldview often believe that the shaman has special rights, permissions, and abilities that enable him to directly engage, and enter into, the spirit world. There are seen as go-betweens or intermediaries.

What does the word "shaman" mean?

The name "shaman" came to usage in the West through a Turkish dialect used in North Asia. In that area, the word appears to have basically referred to a spiritual leader, perhaps like the English word "priest," although there is ambiguity. The word may have roots in the Chinese language "sha men," which means "Buddhist monk."

Shamanism: In-depth

What does the shaman do in the spirit world?

It is believed that the shaman engages with both good and bad spirits, which can have a direct effect on life in the physical world. It is also believed that a shaman can assist individual spirits that have encountered hardship or have experienced other obstacles inside the spirit world, and can lead them to a more peaceful and prosperous existence.

How do shamans become shamans?

Shamans often experience a supernatural "calling." This calling can take on a variety of forms from signs (e.g. something that happens in the natural world, such a particular event in the animal kingdom or a particular event in the night sky), to having dreams or visions in which they are ordained as a shaman. Still other times, when a person regains health after being near death, it is believed by some that they have a special ability to overcome hardships and they can help others do so as well, and so are looked at as a shaman.

Why would a person seek the help of a Shaman?

People may look to shamans for a wide variety of reasons. Individual suffering is a significant motivating factor. In looking to experience relief, or total healing, from pain and suffering associated with injury, disease, or other forms of physical hardship, a person would request that a shaman help them by petitioning the spirit world on their behalf.

What kinds of things do shamans use in their practice?

Drums, often made of stretched animal skin, are very important to shamans. The beat of the drum is believed to enable the shaman to alter his consciousness. Although it is unclear on exactly how this occurs (because it is ultimately a supernatural event), the rhythm and deep sound of the drum are thought to contribute to the change in the shaman's conscious states. Animals, or animals parts, are sometimes used in the ceremony, as are other sound-making instruments.

Where in the world is shamanism still practiced in large numbers today?

Parts of Mongolia and Siberia; the Zulu people group in Africa; some Native Americans in North American; and by some Mayans in Central America.

Has Shamanism been found in the West?

Yes. This religious practice is thought to have been common in early Europe, prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries. It was also practiced by Native Americans, and some still practice it today. Elements of shamanism have been preserved through certain neo-pagan religious expressions as well as some occult practices.


Oxford Dictionary