Shamanism is a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world. A practitioner of shamanism is known as a shaman. There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world; following are beliefs shared by all forms of shamanism:
Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits which affect the lives of the living. In contrast to organized religions like animism or animatism which are lead by priests and which all members of a society practice, shamanism requires individualized knowledge and special abilities. Shaman operate outside established religions, and, traditionally, they operate alone. Shaman can gather into associations, as Indian tantric practitioners have done.
In contemporary English language usage, shaman has become interchangeable with the older English language pejorative term witch doctor. This is anthropologically inaccurate, and has raised objections among academics and traditional healers, who assert the word comes from a specific place, people, and set of practices.
Shaman perform a plethora of functions depending upon the society wherein they practive their art: healing; leading a sacrifice; preserving the tradition by storytelling and songs; fortune-telling; acting as a psychopomp (literal meaning, “guide of souls”). In some cultures, a shaman may fulfill several functions in one person.
The necromancer in Greek mythology might be considered a shaman as the necromancer could rally spirits and raise the dead to utilize them as slaves, soldiers and tools for divination.
Shaman act as "mediators" in their culture. The shaman is seen as communicating with the spirits on behalf of the community, including the spirits of the dead. In some cultures, this mediator function of the shaman may be illustrated well by some of the shaman's objects and symbols. E.g. among the Selkups, a report mentions sea duck as a spirit-animal: ducks are capable of both flying, and diving underwater, thus they are regarded as belonging to both the upper world and the world underneath. Similarly, the shaman and the jaguar are identified in some Amazonian cultures: the jaguar is capable of moving freely on the ground, in the water, and climbing trees (like the shaman's soul). In some Siberian cultures, it is some water fowl species that are associated to the shaman in a similar way, and the shaman is believed to take on its form.
“The Shaman's Tree” is an image found in several cultures (Yakuts, Dolgans, Evenks), Celts, as a symbol for mediation. The tree is seen as a being whose roots belong to the world underneath; its trunk belongs to the middle, human-inhabited word; and its top is related to the upper world.
The plethora of functions described in the above section may seem to be rather distinct tasks, but some important underlying concepts join them.
Also the beliefs related to spirits can explain many different phenomena too, 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 is able to memorize long texts or songs (and play an instrument) may be regarded as having achieved this ability through contact with the spirits (for example among Khanty people).
As mentioned, a (debated) approach explains the etymology of word “shaman” as meaning “one who knows”. Really, the shaman is a person who is an expert in keeping together the multiple codes through which this complex belief system appears, and has a comprehensive view on it in their mind with certainty of knowledge. The shaman uses (and the audience understands) multiple codes. Shaman express meanings in many ways: verbally, musically, artistically, and in dance. Meanings may be manifested in objects, such as amulets.
The shaman knows the culture of their community well, and acts accordingly. Thus, their audience knows the used symbols and meanings — that's why shamanism can be efficient: people in the audience trust it. Such belief system can appear to its members with certainty of knowledge — this explains the above described etymology for the word “shaman”.
There are semiotic theoretical approaches to shamanism, (“ethnosemiotics”). The symbols on the shaman's costume and drum can refer to animals (as helping spirits), or the rank of the shaman. There were also examples of “mutually opposing symbols”, distinguishing “white” shaman practicing at day contacting sky spirits, and “black” shaman practicing at night contacting evil spirits for bad aims.
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 map”. Juha Pentikäinen uses the concept “grammar of mind”. Linking to a Sami example, Kathleen Osgood Dana writes:
Juha Pentikäinen, in his introduction to Shamanism and Northern Ecology, explains how the Sámi drum embodies Sámi worldviews. He considers shamanism to be a ‘grammar of mind’ (10), because shaman need to be experts in the folklore of their cultures (11). Some approaches refer to hermeneutics, “ethnohermeneutics”, as coined and introduced by Armin Geertz. The term can be extended: Hoppál includes not only the interpretation of oral or written texts, but also that of “visual texts as well (including motions, gestures and more complex ritual, and ceremonies performed for instance by shamans)”. It can not only reveal the animistic views hiding behind shamanism, but also convey their relevance for the recent world, where ecological problems made paradigms about balance and protection valid.
Other fieldworks use systems theory concepts and ecological considerations to understand the shaman's lore. Desana and Tucano Indians have developed a sophisticated symbolism and concepts of “energy” flowing between people and animals in cyclic paths. Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff relates these concepts to the changes how modern science (systems theory, ecology, some new approaches in anthropology and archeology) treats causality in a less linear way. He suggests also a cooperation of modern science and indigenous lore (online).
According to Vladimir Basilov and his work Chosen By the Spirits, a shaman is to be in the utmost healthy conditions to perform their duties to the fullest. The belief of the shaman is most popular through the people located in Central Asia and Kazakhstan. The traditions of the shamanism is also imbedded in the Tadzhiks and Uzbeks regions. The shaman’s bodies are to be formed in a strong manner, someone having a small build would be turned away at once. Age is a requirement as well, definitely being over the age of fifty would disqualify those that want to be involved in serving the spirits. The shaman are always of the higher intellect and are looked at in a different perspective, they have a way that makes them quick on their feet and at ill will curing those in need.
One of the most significant and relevant qualities that separate a shaman from other spiritual leaders is their communications with the supernatural world. As early as the beginning of the century self-hypnosis was very highly thought of by those who worship. Another characteristic of the shaman is the talent to locate objects and discover thieves, shocking those of their tribe and those others also around to witness. The belief in the spirits or the supernatural is what attracts those to believe in the shaman. Those who have ill children or are in failing health of their own is what draws them to the shaman spiritual healings. Although the shaman are still in existence, the population is surely declining.
A shaman may be initiated via a serious illness, by being struck by lightning and dreaming of thunder to become a Heyoka, or by a near-death experience (e.g., the shaman Black Elk), or one might follow a "calling" to become a shaman. There is usually a set of cultural imagery expected to be experienced during shamanic initiation regardless of the method of induction. According to Mircea Eliade, such imagery often includes being transported to the spirit world and interacting with beings inhabiting the distant world of spirits, meeting a spiritual guide, being devoured by some being and emerging transformed, and/or being "dismantled" and "reassembled" again, often with implanted amulets such as magical crystals. The imagery of initiation generally speaks of transformation and the granting powers to transcend death and rebirth.
In some societies shamanic powers are considered to be inherited, whereas in other places of the world shaman are considered to have been "called" and require lengthy training. Among the Siberian Chukchis one may behave in ways that "Western" bio-medical clinicians would perhaps characterize as psychotic, but which Siberian peoples may interpret as possession by a spirit who demands that one assume the shamanic vocation. Among the South American Tapirape shaman are called in their dreams. In other societies shaman choose their career. In North America, First Nations peoples would seek communion with spirits through a "vision quest"; whereas South American Shuar, seeking the power to defend their family against enemies, apprentice themselves to accomplished shaman. Similarly the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia have an elaborate cosmological system predicated on the ritual consumption of ayahuasca. Coupled with millenarian impulses, Urarina ayahuasca shamanism is a key feature of this poorly documented society.
Putatively customary shamanic "traditions" can also be noted among indigenous Kuna peoples of Panama, who rely on shamanic powers and sacred talismans to heal. As such, they enjoy a popular position among local peoples.
Note: Some feel that the Lakota tradition (which includes the Heyoka and Black Elk, mentioned above) are not really shamanic. There is a big difference between the Lakota culture and shamanic cultures. In many South American shamanic cultures there is the use of psycho-active substances (peyote, fly agaric, psilocybin, etc.) In the Lakota culture pain is often used instead of psychoactive plants. While a Siberian shaman would use fly agaric, a Lakota medicine man would do a sun dance. The Lakota medicine people have some bias against the use of psychoactive plants. The majority of shamanic cultures use repetitive sound to enter the shamanic state versus the use of psycho-active plants or pain.
The shaman plays the role of healer in shamanic societies; shamans gain knowledge and power by traversing the axis mundi and bringing back knowledge from the heavens. Even in western society, this ancient practice of healing is referenced by the use of the caduceus as the symbol of medicine. Often the shaman has, or acquires, one or more familiar helping entities in the spirit world; these are often spirits in animal form, spirits of healing plants, or (sometimes) those of departed shamans. In many shamanic societies, magic, magical force, and knowledge are all denoted by one word, such as the Quechua term "yachay".
While the causes of disease are considered to lie in the spiritual realm, being effected by malicious spirits or witchcraft, both spiritual and physical methods are used to heal. Commonly, a shaman will "enter the body" of the patient to confront the spirit making the patient sick, and heal the patient by banishing the infectious spirit. Many shamans have expert knowledge of the plant life in their area, and an herbal regimen is often prescribed as treatment. In many places shamans claim to learn directly from the plants, and to be capable of harnessing their effects and healing properties only after obtaining permission from its abiding or patron spirit. In South America, individual spirits are summoned by the singing of songs called icaros; before a spirit can be summoned the spirit must teach the shaman its song. The use of totem items such as rocks is common; these items are believed to have special powers and an animating spirit. Such practices are presumably very ancient; in about 368 BCE, Plato wrote in the Phaedrus that the "first prophecies were the words of an oak", and that everyone 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".
The belief in witchcraft and sorcery, known as brujeria in South America, is prevalent in many shamanic societies. Some societies distinguish shamans who cure from sorcerers who harm; others believe that all shamans have the power to both cure and kill; that is, shamans are in some societies also thought of as being capable of harm. The shaman usually enjoys great power and prestige in the community, and is renowned for their powers and knowledge; but they may also be suspected of harming others and thus feared.
By engaging in this work, the shaman exposes himself to significant personal risk, from the spirit world, from any enemy shamans, as well as from the means employed to alter his state of consciousness. Certain of the plant materials used can be fatal, and the failure to return from an out-of-body journey can lead to physical death. Spells are commonly used to protect against these dangers, and the use of more dangerous plants is usually very highly ritualized.
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 together. Some of the methods for effecting such trances:
Shamans will often observe dietary or customary restrictions particular to their tradition. Sometimes 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.
Of course, in several cultures, imitation of natural sounds may serve other functions, not necessarily related to shamanism: practical goals as luring game in the hunt; or entertainment (katajjaqs of Inuit).
As mentioned above, cultures termed as shaministic can be very different. Thus, shamans may have various kinds of paraphernalia.
Drum is used by shamans of several peoples in Siberia; same holds for many Eskimo groups, although its usage for shamanistic seances may be lacking among the Inuit of Canada.
The beating of the drum allows the shaman to achieve an altered state of consciousness or to travel on a journey. The drum is for example referred to as, “‘horse’ or ‘rainbow-bridge’ between the physical and spiritual worlds”. The journey mentioned is one in which the shaman establishes a connection with one or two of the spirit worlds. With the beating of the drum come neurophysiological effects. Much fascination surround the role that the acoustics of the drum play to the shaman. Siberian shamans' drums are generally constructed of an animal-skin stretched over a bent wooden hoop, with a handle across the hoop.
There are two different worlds, the upper and the lower. In the upper world, images such as “climbing a mountain, tree, cliff, rainbow, or ladder; ascending into the sky on smoke; flying on an animal, carpet, or broom and meeting a teacher or guide”, are typically seen. The lower world consists of images including, “entering into the earth through a cave, hollow tree stump, a water hole, a tunnel, or a tube”. By being able to interact with a different world at an altered and aware state, the Shaman can then exchange information between the world in which he lives and that in which he has traveled to.
While some cultures have had higher numbers of male shamans, others such as native Korean cultures have had a preference for females. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest known shamans—dating to the Upper Paleolithic era in what is now the Czech Republic—were women.
In some societies, shamans exhibit a two-spirit identity, assuming the dress, attributes, role or function of the opposite sex, gender fluidity and/or same-sex sexual orientation. This practice is common, and found among the Chukchi, Sea Dayak, Patagonians, Araucanians, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Navajo, Pawnee, Lakota, and Ute, as well as many other Native American tribes. Indeed, these two spirited shamans were so widespread as to suggest a very ancient origin of the practice. See, for example, Joseph Campbell's map in his The Historical Atlas of World Mythology [Vol I: The Way of the Animal Powers: Part 2: pg 174] Such two-spirit shamans are thought to be especially powerful, and Shamanism so important to ancestral populations that it may have contributed to the maintenance of genes for transgendered individuals in breeding populations over evolutionary time through the mechanism of "kin selection." [see final chapter of E.O. Wilson's "Sociobiology: The New Synthesis] They are highly respected and sought out in their tribes, as they will bring high status to their mates.
Duality and bisexuality are also found in the shamans of the Dogon people of Mali (Africa). References to this can be found in several works of Malidoma Somé, a writer who was born and initiated there.
In some cultures, the border between the shaman and the lay person is not sharp:
Among the Barasana, there is no absolute difference between those men recognized as shamans and those who are not. At the lowest level, most adult men have some abilities as shamans and will carry out some of the same functions as those men who have a widespread reputation for their powers and knowledge.The difference is that the shaman knows more myths and understands their meaning better, but the majority of adult men knows many myths, too.
Similar can be observed among some Eskimo peoples. Many laic people have felt experiences that are usually attributed to the shamans of those Eskimo groups: experiencing daydreaming, reverie, trance is not restricted to shamans. It is the control over helping spirits that is characteristic mainly to shamans, the laic people use amulets, spells, formulae, songs. In Greenland among some Inuit, there are laic people who may have the capability to have closer relationships with beings of the belief system than others. These people are apprentice shamans who failed to accomplish their learning process.
The assistant of an Oroqen shaman (called jardalanin, i.e. "second spirit") knows many things about the associated beliefs: he/she accompanies the rituals, interprets the behavior of the shaman. Despite of this, the jardalanin is not a shaman. For his/her interpretative, accompanying role, it would be even unwelcome to fall into trance.
The way shamans get sustenance and take part in everyday life varies among cultures. In many Eskimo groups, they provide services for the community and get a “due payment” (some cultures 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 hunter or housewife.
Shamanistic practices are sometimes claimed to predate all organized religions, dating back to the Paleolithic, and certainly to the Neolithic period.
Aspects of shamanism are encountered in later, organized religions, generally in their mystic and symbolic practices. Greek paganism was influenced by shamanism, as reflected in the stories of Tantalus, Prometheus, Medea, and Calypso among others, as well as in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and other mysteries. Some of the shamanic practices of the Greek religion later merged into the Roman religion.
The shamanic practices of many cultures were marginalized with the spread of monotheism in Europe and the Middle East. In Europe, starting around 400, institutional Christianity was instrumental in the collapse of the Greek and Roman religions. Temples were systematically destroyed and key ceremonies were outlawed or appropriated. The Early Modern witch trials may have further eliminated lingering remnants of European shamanism (if in fact "shamanism" can even be used to accurately describe the beliefs and practices of those cultures).
The repression of shamanism continued as Catholic influence spread with Spanish colonization. In the Caribbean, and Central and South America, Catholic priests followed in the footsteps of the Conquistadors and were instrumental in the destruction of the local traditions, denouncing practitioners as "devil worshippers" and having them executed. In North America, the English Puritans conducted periodic campaigns against individuals perceived as witches. As recently as the nineteen seventies, historic petroglyphs were being defaced by missionaries in the Amazon. A similarly destructive story can be told of the encounter between Buddhists and shamans, e.g., in Mongolia (See Caroline Humphrey with Urgunge Onon, 1996).
In many areas, former shamans ceased to fill the functions in the community they used to, as they felt mocked by their own community, or regarded their own past as a deprecated thing, sometimes even unwilling to talk about it to an ethnographer.
Moreover, besides personal communications of former shamans, even some folklore texts 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 bullet; the texts contrast them to the recent heartless, unknowing, greedy shamans.
As for reality, in most affected areas, shamanistic practices ceased to exist, with authentic shamans died and their personal experiences following. 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 motifs related to the local shamanhood (laics know myths as well, among Barasana, even though less; there are former shaman apprentices unable to complete the learning among some Greenlandic Inuit peoples, moreover, even laics can have trance-like experiences among Eskimos; the assistant of a shaman can be extremely knowledgable among Oroqen). Although the shaman is often believed and trusted exactly because he/she "accommodates" to the "grammar" of the beliefs of the community, but 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, these are lost with his/her death. Besides of this, 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) became old or died, many folklore memories (songs, texts) went forgotten — this may threaten even such peoples which could preserve their isolation until the middle of the 20th centrury, like the Nganasan.
Some areas could enjoy a prolonged resistance due to their remoteness.
After exemplifying the general decline even in the most remote areas, let us mention that there are some revitalization or tradition-preserving efforts as a response. Besides collecting the memories, there are also some tradition-preserving and even revitalization efforts, sometimes lead 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 Shaman. "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." In fact, there is no Cherokee word for Shaman or Medicine Man. The Cherokee word for "medicine" or is Nvowti which means "power".
Besides tradition-preserving efforts, there are also neoshamansistic movements, these may differ from many tradtitional shamanistic practice and beliefs in several points. Admittedly, several traditional beliefs systems indeed have ecological considerations (for example, many Eskimo peoples), and among Tukano people, the shaman indeed has directly 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.
Among several 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 with Russian Siberia was formally sealed, many nomadic Tungus groups that practiced shamanism were confined in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. These include the Ewenki and the Oroqen. 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 20th century (Selkups).
A person can become a shaman through hereditary title or through natural ability. Shamans are consulted in contemporary society for financial and marital decisions.
The Korean shamans' use of the Amanita Muscaria .. in traditional practice is thought to have been suppressed as early as the Choseon dynasty. Another mushroom of the Russula genus was renamed as the Shaman's mushroom, "Mu-dang-beo-seot무당버섯". Korean shamans are also reputed to use spiders over the subject's skin. Colorful robes, dancing, drums and ritual weapons are also features.
There is a strong shamanistic influence in the Bön religion of some Central Asians, and in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism became popular with shamanic peoples such as the Tibetans, Mongols, and Manchu beginning in the eighth century. Forms of shamanistic ritual combined with Tibetan Buddhism became institutionalized as the state religion under the Mongolian Yuan dynasty and the Manchurian Qing dynasty. However, in the shamanic cultures still practiced by various ethnic groups in areas such as Nepal and northern India, shamans are not necessarily considered enlightened, and often are even feared for their ability to use their power to carry out malicious intent.
In Tibet, the Nyingma schools in particular, had a Tantric tradition that had married "priests" known as Ngakpas or Ngakmas/mos (fem.). The Ngakpas were often employed or commissioned to rid the villages of demons or disease, creations of protective amulets, the carrying out of religious rites etc. The Ngakpas should however, been grounded in Buddhist philosophy and not simply another form of shaman, but sadly, this was most often not the case. There have always been, however, highly realised and accomplished ngakpas. They were in their own right great lamas who were of equal status as lamas with monastic backgrounds. The monasteries, as in many conventional religious institutions, wished to preserve their own traditions, sometimes at the expense of others. The monasteries depended upon the excesses of patrons for support. This situation often led to a clash between the more grassroots and shamanic character of the travelling Chödpa and Ngakpa culture and the more conservative religious monastic system.
Shamanism is still widely practiced in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa), where shamans are known as 'Nuru' (all women) and 'Yuta'. 'Nuru' generally administrates public or communal ceremonies while 'Yuta' focuses on the civil or 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, e.g., a distinct Miyako shamanism
Shamanistic practices also seem to have been preserved in the Catholic religious traditions of aborigenes 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.
Eskimo groups comprise a huge area stretching from Eastern Siberia through 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 borders.
As for terminology used in the article: the term Eskimo has fallen out of favour in Canada and Greenland, where it is considered pejorative and the term Inuit has become more common. However, Eskimo is still considered acceptable among Alaska Natives of Yupik and Inupiaq (Inuit) heritage, and is preferred over Inuit as a collective reference. To date, no replacement term for Eskimo inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people has achieved acceptance across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples. The Inuit and Yupik languages together constitute one branch within the Eskimo-Aleut language family alongside the Aleut branch. (The Sireniki Eskimo language is sometimes proposed to form a third branch of the Eskimo, but sometimes it is regarded as belonging to the Yupik languages.) The languages of the Eskimo branch have certain common characteristics (compared to Aleut) which justifies "splitting off" the Eskimo branch inside the Eskimo-Aleut family.
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 /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).
Like most cultures labelled as “shamanistic”, the Eskimo groups have several special features, or at least ones that are not present in all shamanistic cultures. Unlike in many Siberian cultures, the careers of most Eskimo shamans lack the motivation of force: becoming a shaman is usually a result of deliberate consideration, not a necessity forced by the spirits.
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 (online).
There are some similarities in the cultures of the Eskimo groups together with diversity, far from homogeneity.
The Russian linguist 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 Greenland Inuit groups described by Fridtjof Nansen, although a large distance separates Siberia and Greenland. There may be certain similarities also in Asiatic groups with some 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 Ungazigmit (belonging to Siberian Yupiks) had a special allegoric usage of some expressions.
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).
In the early 19th century traditional healers in parts of Africa were often referred to in a derogatory manner as "witch doctors" practising Juju by early European settlers and explorers.The San or Bushmen ancestors who were primarily scattered in Southern Africa before the 19th century, are reported to have practiced a practice similar to shamanism. In areas in Eastern Free State and Lesotho, where they co-existed with the early Sotho tribes, local folklore describes them to have lived in caves where they drew pictures on cave walls during a trance and were also reputed to be good rain makers.
Native American and First Nations cultures have diverse religious beliefs. There was never one universal Native American religion or spiritual system. Though 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 outsiders.
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.
Navajo medicine men, known as "Hatałii", use several methods to diagnose the patient's ailments. These may include using special tools such as crystal rocks, and abilities such as hand-trembling and trances, sometimes accompanied by chanting. The Hatałii will select a specific healing chant for that type of ailment. Navajo healers must be able to correctly perform a healing ceremony from beginning to end. If they don't, the ceremony will not work. Training a Hatałii to perform ceremonies is extensive, arduous, and takes many years, and is not unlike priesthood. The apprentice learns everything by watching his teacher, and memorizes the words to all the chants. Many times, a medicine man cannot learn all sixty of the traditional ceremonies, so he will opt to specialize in a select few.
Santo Daime is a syncretic religion with elements of shamanism.
The Maya people of Guatemala, Belize, and Southern Mexico practice a highly sophisticated form of shamanism based upon astrology and a form of divination known as "the blood speaking", in which the shaman is guided in divination and healing by pulses in the veins of his arms and legs.
In contemporary Nahuatl, shamanism is known as cualli ohtli ('the good path') leading (during dreaming by 'friends of the night') to Tlalocán.
Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland
Shamanic practices are also present in tribes in northern Canada, such the animism and shamanism of the Chipewyan and of the Cree
In the Peruvian Amazon Basin and north coastal regions of the country, the healer shamans are known as curanderos. In addition to Peruvian shaman’s (curanderos) use of rattles, and their ritualized ingestion of mescaline-bearing San Pedro cactuses (Trichocereus pachanoi) for the divinization 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 the Amazon Rainforest, at several Indian groups the shaman acts also as a manager of scare ecological resources (paper; online). The rich symbolism behind Tukano shamanism has been documented in some in-depth field works even in the last decades of the 20th century. For variations in shamanism among the several Tukano tribes, see : "Shamans, Prophets, Priests, and Pastors." For individual tribes of the Tukano, separate reports have been published, such as "Desana Shamanism"
Thus, a yaskomo is believed to be able to reach sky, erth, water, in short, every element.
There is Asuriní shamanism of Pará, Brazil.
Harakmbut shamanism (of Peru) involves curing by dream-interpretion.
Among other literature on South American tropical forest shamanism are:-
Although 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.
Both Selk'nam and 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 Selknam /xon/.
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".
Kehoe is highly critical of Mircea Eliade's work. Eliade, being a philosopher and historian of religions rather than an anthropologist, had never done any field work or made any direct contact with 'shamans' or cultures practicing 'shamanism', though he did spend four years studying at the University of Calcutta in India where he received his doctorate based on his Yoga thesis and was acquainted with Mahatma Gandhi. According to Kehoe, Eliade's 'shamanism' is an invention synthesized from various sources unsupported by more direct research. To Kehoe, what some scholars of shamanism treat as being definitive of shamanism, most notably drumming, trance, chanting, entheogens and hallucinogenics, spirit communication and healing, are practices that
Because of this, Kehoe is also highly critical of the notion that shamanism is an ancient, unchanged, and surviving religion from the Paleolithic period.
Mihály Hoppál also discusses whether the term “shamanism” is appropriate. He recommends using the term “shamanhood” or “shamanship” for stressing the diversity and the specific features of the discussed cultures. This is a term used in old Russian and German ethnographic reports at the beginning of the 20th century. He believes that this term is less general and places more stress on the local variations, and it emphasizes also 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. Also Piers Vitebsky 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).
See books and small online materials on this topic.
The New Age movement has appropriated some ideas from shamanism as well as beliefs and practices from Eastern religions and Native American cultures. As with other such appropriations, the original practitioners of these traditions frequently condemn New Age use as misunderstood, sensationalized, or superficially understood and/or applied. Some Nanai shamans experienced performances on the stage as dangerous: inappropriate (untimely, superfluous) invocation of the helping spirits can raise their anger.
There is an endeavor in some occult and esoteric circles to reinvent shamanism in a modern form, drawing from core shamanism - a set of beliefs and practices synthesized by the controversial Michael Harner - often revolving around the use of ritual drumming and dance, and Harner's interpretations of various indigenous religions. Harner has faced much criticism for implying that pieces of diverse religions can be taken out of context to form some sort of "universal" shamanic tradition. Some of these neoshamans also focus on the ritual use of entheogens, as well as chaos magic. Allegedly, European-based Neoshamanic traditions are focused upon the researched or imagined traditions of ancient Europe, where they believe 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' of legitimate cultural traditions do not call themselves shamans, but instead use specific names derived from the older European traditions - the völva or seidkona (seid-woman) of the sagas being an example (see Blain 2002, Wallis 2003). Shamanism has also been used in New Age therapies which use enactment and association with other realities as an intervention
(see also Plastic shaman)