By Kristy McCaffrey
Shamanism is a term for a range of beliefs and practices related to communication with the spirit world. Shamans—sometimes referred to as “medicine men” or “witch doctors”—are the keepers of ancient techniques used to achieve and maintain well-being and healing for themselves and members of their communities. They are considered intermediaries between the human world and the spirit worlds, entering a trance-like state during a ritual to practice divination and healing. A shaman moves between an ordinary state of consciousness and a non-ordinary state of consciousness. Shamanic methods are strikingly similar all over the world, and are believed to have been in use for tens of thousands of years.
A rite of passage commonly initiates the training of a shaman. This could include a physical illness or a psychological crisis, pushing them to the brink of death. This prompts a crossing over into the underworld and a deep understanding of sickness, which can then be used to heal others suffering the same maladies. They can also be called by dreams or signs.
Shamans frequently work with spirit guides while in the spirit world. They help the shaman navigate the non-ordinary realms. Shamans glean information through dreams and visions, and through direct dialogue with spirits of all kinds: human, animal, and inanimate (such as rocks, trees, and plants). Spirits help to remove excess negative energies, often from sources beyond the injured person.
|Shamanite (Black Calcite) is a high vibration stone of the ancients.|
Native American tribes considered it a powerful protective talisman.
Shamans engage in soul retrieval, returning lost parts of the human soul from wherever they may have gone. A portion of the soul is free to leave the body, and will often do so when dreaming; soul pieces will also flee during traumatic events as a way of protection. In this instance, the soul piece will not return of its own accord and a shaman must intervene to assist in the recovery.
|Rock carvings would often mark places of power.|
This symbol signified a shamanic portal.
All forms of shamanism share several common beliefs: spirits exist and play important roles in individual lives and human society; shamans can communicate with the spirit world; spirits can be benevolent or malevolent; shamans 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 message-bearers; the shaman can tell the future, scry, throw bones/runes, and perform other varied forms of divination.
|Mongolian Shaman wearing a ritual gown and holding|
a drum with the image of a spirit helper.
Photo courtesy of National Museum of Finland, circa 1909.
A shaman enters a supernatural realm to bring guidance to misguided souls, and to alleviate illnesses frequently caused by foreign elements in a person’s spirit.
|Shaman with spirit helpers.|