A Brief Introduction to Shamanism

The term ‘shaman’ has roots in the Tungusk region of Siberian Russia. There are also highly contested roots from ancient Vedic culture which may have with numerous variations or similarities, either verbal or written, found in Indo-european, Germanic, Chinese, Tibetan, Arabic, Persian and Greek.

Shamanism’ is a loanword adopted by anthropologists as an umbrella term to describe the many culturally unique roles played throughout the world’s indigenous cultures including medicine woman/man, healer, priest, diviner, oracle, seer and so called ‘witch-doctor’.

Whenever possible we’ll be using the more culturally specific terms for these roles used by the many different indigenous cultures around the world. ‘Shaman’ will be reserved for describing general characteristics of ancient traditional practitioners and the term ‘shamanic practitioner’ will be reserved for people those working in the modern day.

Shamanic cultures often see the world in animistic terms, with a belief that everything is alive and conscious in some way. We could use the language that everything has a spirit. Some suggest everything physical having a spiritual or energetic origin. Many traditions suggest that matter is an epiphenomenon, by-product or result of consciousness.

Soul Flight and Calling in Allies:
A big part of the shamanic worldview is that our own spiritual body, or soul, may be able to leave our body. We may also be able to call spiritual energies from the other side of the veil to come visit us.
Non-physical Influence:
There is belief in the ability to be influenced by other beings in a positive or negative way. These beings may be living beings, influencing us somehow on an energetic level like prayer for us to heal or causing interference by accidentally or intentionally sending negative intention.

These beings causing healing or interference may also be entities who don’t have a physical body. This model includes the idea of us being able to form alliances with beings who exist outside of consensus reality. There are also models that include us having existing alliances with ancestors, peers and mentors from our life between lives; from before we were born. Soul groups or families, guides etc. Some may remain there and offer guidance from outside of physical reality, some may come into physical form and play roles in our lives as we do in theirs. Before we are born we may decide, in consultation with our guides, that we will experience pain and challenges in order to learn certain lessons. The making of this agreement may happen in advance, before we are born.

Boundary Dissolution:
Shamanism is essentially the mastery of being a person who experiences boundary dissolution. The boundary between the physical world and multidimensional realities that are said to exist outside this reality can be generally thin for some people, or it came dissolve periodically and then return, bringing the person back to consensus reality. For some, the boundaries dissolve to the point where the person is walking in both worlds at all times.

Voluntary and Involuntary Non-ordinary States:
There are those go through these experiences involuntarily and also those who use traditional technologies to voluntarily dissolve these boundaries at will. There are others still who begin with involuntary experiences of non-ordinary awareness but later learn control to open them and close them as they wish, or cope if they remain. According to this model, learning to be able to cope with these experiences is shamanism. Being overwhelmed by these experiences can indeed lead to temporary and even long term madness. The experiences themselves however are not madness.

Common Threads Found In The Shamanic Worldview:

  • Direct experience is primary. Knowledge that requires belief before experience is not as valuable as direct personal experience.
  • Allowance of the possibility that there is more than materialism. There may be aspects of reality that are beyond the what can be measured and considered physically real.
  • Allowance of the possibility that our consciousness may be able to influence these non-physical realities.
  • Allowance of the possibility that our consciousness may be able to influence physical reality.
  • Allowance of possibility that the way we decide to label an experience may influence, or even determine the quality of the experience. Labelling an experience as a sickness may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. While physics asserts that the act of observing something influences what is being observed, a shamanic perspective suggests that the judgments, definitions and the story we tell ourselves about the primary experience is more specifically what influences what is being observed. language we choose influences what is being observed, and the less more we observe without judgment the less we influence and are influenced by what we are encountering. Shamans
  • Allowance of the possibility that there may be life and awareness at all levels of existence, described by animistic cultures throughout human history as spirit.

Further reading:

For more information on the origins of the term ‘shaman’, check out the following resource.

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