What is a Shaman?
what is a Shaman not?
If you’re an indigenous
tribes-person from the Siberian Tundra, your Shaman may fill one or
more roles within your community including that of medicine man, a spiritual intermediary
and often sage counsel of his or her people. It is generally suggested that the term, “Shaman”
originated from this region and essentially translates as, “one who
In industrialised society, the term, “Shaman” has come
to [commonly] indicate a person of spiritual and/or healing abilities. I
will use the term, “Shaman” in this industrialised and somewhat
incorrect, generalised term from this point on.
Ed. – I use the term,
“Industrialised” rather than Western, Eastern or similar perceptual
divisions. It is nonsensical and racist to elevate one people's
potential' based on their geographical or ethnic origin.
I group industrialised and commercialised peoples within a
similar societal framework. Similarly, I reject wholeheartedly
the prejudicial, condescending and patronising, “Noble Savage” view espoused or
even edified by some, whether directly or indirectly.
IN THE NEXT SECTION ON THIS...
what is a Shaman?
Shaman is a person, female or male, who has made true,
humble service their life's passion after responding to
their 'Calling'. They are not the 'enlightened'
ideal popularised by industrialised concepts of serene
beings devoid of human desires and drives. Shaman
are flesh and blood. The smart ones understand
their weaknesses and account for them in their
practices. The 'foul'
shaman form selfish power
cliques and sooner or later drive their practice OR
their society into irrelevance and dissolution.
Shaman uses techniques to locate and hold specific
states of mind in which they can mentally journey into
the energetic, physical and spiritual realms of our
universe; the depth to which they journey depends
entirely upon their calling. A Shaman may also be
a gifted as a herbalist, counsellor, bone setter, keeper
of lore, teacher, midwife and more, depending upon the
human inclinations and strengths of the individual in
question. There is actually no requirement for a
Shaman to use the Journey as part of their practice,
although it is a pretty universal feature of shamanic
work as I know it.
Shaman is "One who understands" and "One who serves".
Shaman is first and foremost an observer. The
role of Shaman is, in evolutionary terms, a [societal]
'luxury' role, not linked directly to personal gathering
and survival. The Shaman - in many societies - was
and is one who is essentially supported by his or her
community; their time freed to observe and think, to
track the seasons and husband the game, crops and
society in which they live. To be the repository
of knowledge and lore for their people, and the teacher
anthropological advantage to a society lies in this
observation,.. most beneficially applied as sage counsel
to the society's leadership and people. For
example, a developing feud between two powerful families
within a hunter/gatherer community has the potential to
divide and weaken that community. When even a
leader is busy with the day to day demands of survival,
these rifts may gather momentum before being
acknowledged in time by that community. The role of
observer and counsel allows a Shaman to gather
information and find solutions for the benefit
[hopefully] of their whole community before those tensions
The Shaman as a healer. Whilst not all Shaman
followed the path of herbal and botanical knowledge, in
many societies it is a synonymous role. The
development of this role is a direct result of the
people releasing their shaman from their [previously]
required survival based activities through supply of
food, shelter etc. The freedom to observe and
think, to specialise, gave rise to advanced concepts and linkages of
concept and action which resulted in a medicinal
pharmacopeia of knowledge and practice.
The Shaman as a seer. In many hunting
societies, a Shaman journeyed through the middle world
(think 'astral projection' as a convenient
misconception for now) to seek (remote view) and call
prey and to observe potential troubles at a physical and
A community's investment in
time and energy, directing a large scale hunting party
towards a particular route was a critical and dangerous
one. Days of otherwise productive time could be
lost in a futile hunt, dearly costing the community its
ability to prepare for the next seasonal shift.
The Shaman as a seer was significantly relied upon for their people's
survival through metaphysical journeying.
Naturally, many of their more direct, societal
observations were attributed to mysticism rather than
the more mundane and practical observation and
discussion. In times of tension, the Shaman's
voice [as a spiritual leader] might declare a festival
with a certain theme or purpose designed to heal a
fractious community, bring coherence and reduce discontent.
Whilst this sounds political rather than mystical (and
it is!), it is the freedom to observe, granted by the
benefiting society, that gives the shaman a unique
opportunity of perspective in their survival driven,
The Shaman as a spiritual leader. Many
practices in ancient and modern spiritual practice are
convenient to the conveyance of belief and
understanding, a person's sense of participation and
belonging, be it a pagan festival triggered
by the first full moon on or after the (Northern) spring
equinox (later 'rebadged' as Easter) or the belief that
wine becomes blood in some Christian Communions.
Limits were often imposed upon the leadership role of
the Shaman with many successful societies holding the
Shaman aloof from the Chiefly leadership of a people.
Naturally, the Shaman was a political animal too.
All societal creatures are, be they politicians in a
a troop of chimps in a jungle canopy. A sharp
leader used their Shaman as a counsel and support.
A thing that might be a bit unpopular if coming only
from the chief may be more palatable 'if the spirits
agree'; and if it is truly good for the people, there is every
likelihood that the spirits will both agree and 'agree'!
The Shaman as a counsel. As a confidant of their
people, the Shaman was/is in a unique position to render
advice and assistance. In many societies, the
Shaman was the Psychologist, Doctor and Priest, the
'confidant' and 'confessor' of their people. In
many successful non-industrialised societies, there was
a purposeful and distinct separation of roles between
and spiritual leadership.
Naturally, human power
grabbing also happens, leading to a theocracy of one
version or another,.. and [almost] always leading to
vulnerability & collapse of that society. A Shaman
who is following their calling will always place their
people's requirements and long term survival first and
foremost in their actions and intent. One that is
[over] concerned with money, personal glory and other
selfish motivations is a negatively influenced shaman
who practices away from their calling (foul).
our industrialised world, a Shaman may still act in
many of these traditional roles, albeit to a far
lessened extent - our industrialised leadership has
eschewed wise counsel and measured action in favour of
election cycle proclamations. They've deleted from
our thinking the concept of long term goals and works in
favour of instant gratification and entirely supplanted
the theory of government in the place of wise
[industrialised people] still have herbalists,
botanists, keepers of lore etc., but their voice is
harder to hear over the constant and distracting blur
that deters us from observing even the grossest of
occurrences within our society. We value cop shows
above doing what we know is right. We value cage
fights over personal exploration. We value words
above actions in our leadership, voting for the best
lies and hair whilst never entertaining for a second the idea that
the very same person is fit to babysit your kids!
Those following a
calling, be it to medicine - natural or orthodox, be it
to counselling, healing arts etc are in some ways
practicing shamanically in its ideal.
The Modern Shaman is
now being called upon to perform many of their
metaphysical roles in our modern, 21st century world.
In 2010 and less than a week before writing these words,
I received a ['last ditch'] request for a soul retrieval ritual to be
performed for a person who has a strong science
background. As we recognise the lack of answers in
modern techniques, many are again turning to the less
mundane world occupied by metaphysical practitioners of
all kinds and motivations, including the modern Shaman.