To help answer this question I searched the web for websites that answered “What is a Shaman?”. Their cyber-answers are listed below along with their URL for your own further explorations on these excellent websites.
My contribution to this storehouse of knowledge is the answer:
The shaman lives in the unity of the world
The shaman serves the unity of the world
All quotes are used with loving appreciation and full credit is given to their sources. Please contact me if there is a desire from the page owner to remove their link and quotation from this page.
Culture: Native American
A shaman is a ‘medicine man’ who possesses a great deal of knowledge, possesses a wide range of healing abilities and acts as: the tribe physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, family counselor, spiritual advisor
A shaman is a healer who changes world views in order to become more effective.
A practitioner who can will his or her spirit to leave the body and journey to upper or lower worlds. A combination of priest, doctor, social worker, and mystic. Since he or she must often deal with illness, malevolence, and death, the shaman is often concerned with matters that are dark and dangerous. Shamans have extraordinary insight into the cosmic processes governing health, food supply, and fertility. After painful initiations, a shaman is entrusted with looking over the edge of the abyss without falling in, and returning with help for the people of this world.
“The shaman and his community share a set of beliefs that form a collective world view that dominates the psychological and physical experience of each person. One difference between their view and ours is that we separate the physical and the spiritual world. They do not. In their minds there is no barrier between dream and reality, and they move easily between one and the other.”
Culture: Native American
The shaman, female or male, is the community specialist in direct dealings with the Beyond —underworld, upperworld, or inner world; a wielder of numinous power; a master of ecstasy (Mircea Eliade) who whether healing, warring, predicting, weather-making, cooking herbs, arranging hunts, making masks, accompanying dead souls, or locating lost ones, performs as master of the operations of the unconscious.
Culture: Native American? – ‘Path of the Feather’
The shaman in tribal cultures is the person who sees into the sacred world and shares the visions with the people. The shaman brings their sacred visions out as art, music, dance, and storytelling. By this ritual art process, the shaman heals themselves, others, and the earth. By having visions of healing and doing sacred ritual the shaman makes the visions come true. This is ancient magic, ancient healing. The shaman manifests reality in the outer world, from the visionary world. That is the same way the world was created from God’s vision. We are all her vision on earth, we are.
Culture: The Institute for Shamanic Synthesis
Webster defines “Shaman” as simply a religious man. The word Shaman comes from eastern Siberia (the Tungus Tribe) an area where shamanism was the most prominent and where its origins may be found. Translated, shaman means “to heat up; to burn; to work with heat and fire.”
The essential characteristics of Shamans are mastery of energy and fire as a medium of transformation. Tribal peoples believed that the Shaman was a healer and keeper of tribal history (handed down through the oral tradition) and a “Walker Between Winds.” The latter term refers to the Shaman’s ability to send his spirit to walk with the ancestors between the winds. To walk between the winds one has to look around the edge of reality to the paths between space. There is where the spirits of the ancestors walk the trails of time.
Culture: Modern Shaman
Although “shaman” is a word typically ascribed to Native American and other native belief systems, I feel that anyone who has begun that great seeking deep within, to find their place in the great circle of life, is a “modern shaman”. Being a shaman does not confer great powers or great respect. Rather, it is a responsibility to ourselves and our world to heal and to teach ourselves and others to live in peace with all things.
Culture: African (Mufasa from ‘The Lion King’)
“What is a shaman?
He dreams like all men do
But he remembers” (19/5)
A shaman is a man or a woman that in a state of trance has the capacity to reach the supernatural world and bring the prayers, requests, needs of his people to the Spirits. The shaman is mainly an intermediary between our world and the spiritual world, the dimension of subtle energies. A shaman is a spiritual leader, a priest and a healer, but also a storyteller and a fortuneteller.
The description that comes to most people’s minds before any other is that of a medicine man. Others may call the shaman a sorcerer, a seer, a witch, or any of the countless other terms used. Yes, the shaman can be all this. Cultures all over the world have their own version of the shaman.
A shaman could look like this, though not necessarily. It all depends on with culture he or she is from. When I think of a visual image of a shaman, what comes to mind usually is someone like don Juan, a Yaqui indian shaman who is the focus of Carlos Castaneda’s books. Castaneda has written a series of what he calls autobigraphical pieces of work. They tell tales of his encounters with don Juan and the world of sorcery, his term for shamanism. Castaneda’s books have had a considerable postive impact on my life.
A shaman strives to find harmony with the earth. Everything is connected and must be appreciated equally. He learns the medicinal uses for all things found in nature to heal when needed. That’s his medicine man part. However, what most people tend to ignore, or don’t even know about, is the countless shamanic practices that go with seeking to experience another reality. Michael Harner, author of “The Way of the Shaman”, calls it non-ordinary reality. Castaneda calls it a “separate reality”.
Shamans are women and men who are spiritually alive, and who experience different levels of existence from everyday reality. Shamans learn to work with cosmic forces, and the forces of nature which are in us and around us. A true definition of a ‘shaman’ is elusive, for the shaman exists in her actions, and it is more helpful to think of shamanism as something one does, rather than ‘being’ a shaman – it is much more a dynamic, function than a precisely defined role.
A shaman could be said to be one who talks with nature, with the spirits of everything – the earth mother herself, the trees, the animals, mountains, stars, clouds, storms. A shaman also heals, and is in service of the greater good. Shamans are those who walk two worlds: the one we all live in and see, the one available to the five senses, and the world that is at the core, under the surface of what we can all see.
Culture: International Practice
Shamanic practices provide but one avenue to the direct spiritual experience we need so much. There is a progression to the purposeful use of shamanic technique. First, the shaman journeys in his spirit body to approach the experience of one-ness. Having established that experience, the shaman obtains information which is of benefit to the persons of his tribe, or to his world. The shaman’s next task is to bring that information back into the world, give it birth, and put it to use. Particularly, put it to use. That’s what I do. While in a spirit state, I ask for information helpful to a friend, deliver that information in such a way as to be sure it’s understood, and then follow up with whatever is necessary to restore balance to the friend’s system. Then, as much as possible I teach the friend how to maintain that balance. It’s very satisfying work.
Shamanism is really about is a journey of the soul. A shaman is primarily a “person of knowledge” and a “man or woman of vision”, they are sought for answers and guide their charges with this knowledge. Shamans are the storytellers of their communities. They use these stories to impart wisdom or healing to others. Shamans are teachers. A primary function is to gather knowledge and thereby power. In many books of modern shamanism, people who have undergone the shamanistic ritual teachings can be found as professors in Universities around the world — especially in the fields of philosphy, religion, psychology and anthropology.
A Shaman is a person who can enter an altered state of consciousness, induced usually by monotonous drumming. Shamans enter this state to make journeys to the Upper and Lower Worlds for a variety of purposes. Some of the purposes are: to help people die or help ease them into the afterlife once they have died, Shamans can also replace something that was missing from the body, such as the soul, or they can remove things that don’t belong in the body such as illnesses.
There are two paths of Shamanism. The first is known as the Way of the Warrior. The Way of the Warrior is based on danger, harsh self-discipline, the destruction of enemies, the practice of survivalskills, and an ethic of conquer or be conquered. The Warrior way is done mostly by the American Indian shamans. The second is the Way of the Adventurer. The Adventurer is adventurous, a goal-oriented self-disciplined shaman, who practices exploring skills, with an ethic of love and be loved. Both of these paths have healing as a social purpose. But along with the similarity their differences have social and personal effects.
Humbleness and humility are general characteristics of the true shaman.
A Shaman lives within a community where he or she is in service to that community, and normally the title of Shaman (or whatever its cultural equivalent is) is bestowed upon the person, by the community.
Much shamanistic work emphasises the interconectedness of all beings – animals, humans, birds, plants, rocks, fish, etc. – and therefore you will become drawn to aiding others around you. Shamanism is all about responsibility, both for yourself and for others. There are rich rewards to be gleaned from this path, and for every frightending experience, the shamanic practicioner will also encounter one full of wonder and insight.
The struggle for those of us practising within a modern, often urban, environment, is to find and establish our own communities, to honour the elements and Spirit as best we can, and to re-connect with the Earth and all the creatures living upon it. If this is your goal, than Shamanism is the perfect instrument by which to attain it. As Loren Cruden says in Coyote’s Council Fire:
Community is the teacher. It stands in the North on the medicine wheel, the realm of wisdom. It is the mirror, the feedback, the context of realization. To eat, to cut firewood, to own a car, to overturn a stone is to participate in community, consciously or not. We are rearranging the universe. There is no standing apart even in death. Interconnection is the condition of this universe. Nothing is exempt.
A very highly respected profession wherein one serves his or her community as a spiritual leader. Providing guidance through psychic skills, healing abilities and communications with Divine spirit. Believed to be learned from a past incarnation and initiations, along with study and practice in the current embodiment. Shamanism is most often associated with Native American practices. But it has a long history in Anglo-European countries as well. Although given different labels in each culture, the practices of a Shaman or Shamanka are magikal. As such, in most pagan traditions, a person can not claim the title of Shaman (spiritual leader) without an initiation of some sort. You might associate this initiation with an Ordination of a minister or priest.
Culture: Native American
A Shaman will Change consciousness to do work in “Other realities or spirit worlds,” and does it with self discipline and under will. He doesn’t just let his mind wander off any old time it will. He also doesn’t use it as a convenient excuse to: Not do something – get attention or be the center thereof – get rich – gain power over others.
He uses the following ways to achieve a change of consciousness in himself and others – Drums, rattles, music, chanting or movement usually dancing, along with herbal teas, powders, and incense (I repeat HERBAL! not illegal drugs). A shaman does not support illegal activities.
He will takes journeys of the spirit, moving outside of time, sometimes called “mythic reality”, “dreamtime” or “astral” and he maps these areas he explores.
He will act as a conductor of souls, working hand in hand with the powers of the universe. Working with totems, elementals, guardian spirits, etc.
Believes in the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Silly) unlike a priest, He will make offerings of self but does NOT offer sacrifices or do elaborate mysterious rituals–shamanism is NOT priestcraft. It is more personal.
A Shaman is primarily interested in serving others, and is not seeking “enlightenment” as a religious or spiritual goal the way Buddhists and Hindus do, as his focus is on serving others. He knows if he focuses on himself he will lose his power, which he needs to help others. This doesn not mean he doesn’t work on improving self, But it is more of the attitude of the more spiritually base/advanced the shaman is, the better he can help others. “Use the Force, Luke!”
It is interesting to note that shamans from assorted parts of the globe came up with similar or even identical techniques and beliefs, independent of each other. Shamanism is at the roots of such diverse practices as witchcraft, voodoo, Tibetan Buddhism and others, but pure shamanism is NOT a priestcraft as are some of the practices originally derived from shamanism.
Shamanism is a view of the human condition which views all of life, and all of consciousness, as much more holistic than it seems to those encapsulated in physicality, and it views communication and interaction between the quick and the dead, between non-physical and physical consciousness as a highly desirable reality.
A Shaman~Shamanka is a person, representative of a class of people, who in and of themselves, consciously and willingly enters the perceived abyss between life and death, and between physicality and immateriality, and in so doing, completely destroys the duality based mis-conception of the abyss between the physical and spiritual levels of reality.
Shamans are the dispellers of illusion. The definition of what I mean by this phrase is one of the most important facets of this essay. It is probably the most important definition in this work if the reader is to completely grasp the reality of the Shamanic state-of-being.
A Shaman is a Shaman and performs their function as a gateway whether stark naked or in white tie and tails. To drive home the point that an educated and civilized person living in a major urban area can be a Shaman, and a very successful Shaman
A shaman is a human who refuses to deny what his intuition is telling him, and thus communicates with entities he cannot see or hear or capture for exhibition, as in a cage. He communicates with the world of spirits, the dead, higher level entities that no longer need incarnate bodies, and as frequently as possible, he is having Out-Of-Body experiences. He may attempt to incarnate, briefly, into other humans, or animals of various types, but he seldom gets permission to do any of this. Imagination plays a great part in shamanism, but is bolstered by real experiences so the shaman’s stories can be very compelling.
All humans have the capacity to be shamans, but in the main lack the faith. They stop themselves. They feel insecure, not being grounded. They prefer to be a spectator. But the family of man, hearing the shaman weaving his spell, remember their tentative experiences along the same lines, and believe. A shaman’s followers have gone to the edge with the shaman, and when he describes what was beyond, they recall what they caught a glint of.
A shaman is a religious or ritual specialist, man or woman, believed capable of communicating directly with divine powers, often while in altered states of consciousness. Shamans and shamanistic religion continue to be associated with Siberian and American Indian peoples, although closely related phenomena exist in other parts of Asia and in Oceania; the word shaman is derived from a Tungus word meaning “he who knows.” The term medicine man is frequently used as a synonym for shaman with reference to American Indian cultures. Eskimo shamans are called angakok.
A Shaman is a traveler. (DISCLAIMER: Since I am a female, I will use the feminine pronoun, but naturally a Shaman is not restricted by gender.) She travels (or Journeys) to the World of Spirit to gain wisdom and information, and to bring it back to the World of Form. This is the basic definition of a Shaman, but of course there is much more to it than that. A Shaman may travel to the Spirit Worlds for many reasons; all of them for the good. (A Shaman understands that it is very dangerous to ever harm another ,therefore always strives to keep their intentions pure.) Some of these reasons include healings (sometimes called “Soul Retrieval”); to gain information from the past, present and future (reading the Akashic Record); and most importantly, to meet with Spirit Guides (or Totems, or Teachers) to gain greater personal soul-wisdom.
A Shaman~Shamanka is the fully aware vehicle for communication and interaction between the quick and the dead, between physical consciousness and non-physical consciousness.
The shaman is the priest or priestess of the shamanic path. A shaman is:
The supporter of a belief system/value system that legitimizes the cultural social structure and structure of power.
The shaman acts as initiate, mystic, custodian of tribal lore, suffering savior, medium, physician, and psychotherapist.
A three-way intermediary between the tribe, the inhabitants of the spirit world, and nature.
In these roles, the shaman maintains the balance in society and the world. In pursuit of balance, the shaman insures a conduit is maintained between waking consciousness and the mythic underworld, the world of spirit. This empowers the shaman to apply inner spiritual wisdom to the circumstances that arise in daily life.
As the shaman takes the role of psychotherapist, they can see things others can’t. In our culture, this is a symptom regarded as a psychotic episode. Yet, the shaman is not psychotic. The shaman is a fully functional member of his local social order, and is amongst the most intelligent and creative people of the community. Shamans must also be a healthy individual to have the ability to maintain a high degree of concentration and physical stamina.
The shaman lives in the unity of the world
The shaman serves the unity of the world
Shamanism is a practice that has been around since the dawn of time, but is it possible for the modern shaman and science to coexist in a technological world?
Shamanism has a rich history dating back to the emergence of man. As the people moved and adapted to their different lifestyles, the shaman also had to adapt. The cultural diversity of shamanism has provided such insight into the many different ways to honor the divine, that it is only natural that the modern shaman would similarly adapt.
Shamanism has gone by many names and manifested in many forms; medicine men, herbalists, witch doctors, neo-shamanism, and urban shamanism, all of which today’s modern shaman draws strength from. While it might seem eclectic, the modern shaman embraces the knowledge of today while weaving in the relevant lessons from the past.
Shamanism is not a religion, but a shaman can be religious. Like paganism, shamans come from diverse backgrounds, have varying interests, and may choose to follow or not follow any of the numerous religions. Religion in shamanism is completely at the discretion of the practicing shaman.
When broken down to its core elements, shamanism is the quest for enlightenment. In the quest for answers, much of the knowledge gained is attributed to the shaman’s ability to connect with the spirit world. It is a common belief in shamanism that all elements of the earth, including humans and animals, are interconnected spiritually, and it is this bond that the shaman harnesses.
It may seem that a shaman in a city setting might be stifled in his path, but part of shamanism is being where the people are in order to assist them. In this way the shaman can better relate to the trials that a person might be going through, and offer them alternative wisdom that they might not have through mainstream sources. The shaman has a way of cutting through the haze to strike at the heart of the crisis.
The shaman traditionally works as a healer, usually by helping someone who is suffering from illness or disease by targeting the affliction in a spiritual and holistic approach. Another healing technique used in many forms of shamanism is that of soul retrieval. The shaman acts as a guide to the participant’s own journey through the psyche to overcome past trauma and reintegrate the self.
The shaman’s role in modern day society also includes that of teacher and counselor. By showing others how to identify problems and solve them in a positive way, the shaman shares his knowledge. He also reintroduces people to healing techniques such as music, dance, meditation, drumming and other methods of focus and relaxation.
The future of shamanism seems destined for growth. The technological advancements being made each day provides an ever expanding database for the shaman to tap into. In addition, people’s awareness of the benefits of natural stress relief and holistic healing is expanding as they explore what shamanism has always known.
Vitebsky, Piers. The Shaman. London: Duncan Baird Publishers 2001
Madden, Kristin. The Book of Shamanic Healing. US: Llewellyn Publications 2002
Cohen, Kennth. Honoring the Medicine. US: Random House Ballantine Publishing Group, 2003