What is Shamanism?
Shamanism is the world’s oldest spiritual path, dating back tens of thousands of years, coupled with practical strategies for survival. It is a nature-based path of direct revelation meaning that each person has access to Spirit without need of any hierarchical structure.
Shamanism is a cross-cultural spiritual path practiced in every continent of the world. It is remarkably similar everywhere even though, throughout history, there has been little contact between shamans in widely divergent parts of the world.
Although some people consider shamanism a religion, it has no dogma, pope, sacred book, or any universal set of rules or commandments. In fact, many indigenous shamans around the world are Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, and practicing members of many different religions.(1)
One of the beautiful aspects of the shamanic journey is the principle of direct revelation. The practice of shamanic journeying helps us to part the veils between the seen and the unseen worlds and access information and energies that can help wake us up and restore us to wholeness. (2)
Over the past few years, people throughout the world have become more and more aware of shamanism. What was once a subject of mystery and misconception is now being looked at more seriously. People are waking up to the fact that the shamanic way
of life is actually quite fulfilling. This is especially relevant in today’s world, where many people have lost touch with nature and the natural way of life and have adopted an artificial lifestyle that leads to unsatisfied and unhealthy lives.
The term “shaman” originated from the Tungus tribe in Siberia around 30,000 years ago and it literally means “the one who knows”. Nowadays, terms like shaman and shamanic practitioner are used interchangeably, but are they truly the same? Let’s delve into their meaning.
Who is a Shaman?
According to Christina Pratt, the author of “An Encyclopedia of Shamanism”, a shaman is an individual who has mastery in: accessing altered states of consciousness; being the bridge between the spirit world and the physical plane for the highest good of the community; and meeting the needs of his/her community in ways that other figures – doctors, mental health workers, religious leaders, etc. – can’t.
No one can be a shaman if not supported by spirit since any healing done by a shaman is only possible as a result of the way they interact with the spirit world. In fact, it is believed that a shaman cannot actually call himself or herself a shaman as it is up to the spirits or the other people in the community to use that term. Shaman is not a word that should be used lightly.
Who is a Shamanic Practitioner?
A shamanic practitioner is a person who is actively engaged in shamanism. This is more applicable to people who are adopting a “shamanic” way of life even though they might not have cultural roots in shamanism. These practitioners also play a crucial role in spreading the message of this way of life. The calling to approach the world, nature and all our relations with sacredness and deep reverence is not something that one specific group of people should claim for themselves. Each of us has genetic ties to tribes and cultures that practice these ancient ways. Nonetheless, out of respect for the rituals, beliefs, and titles of individual cultures to which many modern-day practitioners are not a part, it is important not to claim them for one’s own. (3)
Although they have not necessarily grown up in a tribal community and have not apprenticed for long years with a shaman in the traditional ways, many people with great talent are adopting the shamanic nature-based world view and some have learned a vast amount about healing and other aspects of shamanic practice.
These people are called shamanic practitioners. They have not necessarily gone through an old-school shamanic apprenticeship but are skilled healers, ceremonialist, and teachers in their own right. Some few actually have apprenticed with master shamans for years but sensitive to appropriation issues they may choose not to call themselves shamans but rather shamanic practitioners. (4) There are now available schools of training for shamanic practitioners including the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, The Four Winds Society, and others.