The word shaman is from the Tungus: saman. Meaning a Priest of Shamanism; A Magician. (Webster)

From Occidental Mythology by Joseph Campbell

“The myths and rites of the roving tribesmen of the Great Hunt, for whom the animals, large and small, of the rolling plains manifestation of the powers and mysteries of nature, were based largely on the idea that between mankind and beasts a covenant existed.

The food animals gave their bodies willingly to be slain, provided certain rites were enacted to insure rebirth and return. Animals appeared in vision, to become guardians, initiators, and vehicles of the shamans, bestowing upon them knowledge, power, and spiritual insight.

And the people, in their rites, dressed as and imitated beasts. Some form of Shamanism is/has been practiced in Eastern Siberia – Manchuria (notably among the Tungus), Tibet, China, Japan & Korea to Mongoloid and Turkic tribes. The Finns, Lapps, Estonians & Hungarians form the western frontier of old world Shamanism. On this continent, the Eskimos, on the north pacific coast, the Plateau, California, Great Basin, Plains & Eastern Woodland tribes, and some (not all) of the S.W. tribes.” 

In many communities in Middle America (Mexico to Panama) the traditions have been confused with Catholicism, however many tribes in South America still practice Shamanism.

Mircea Eliade, chairman of the department of history of religions at the University of Chicago, is considered by many to be the ultimate source of information on archaic Shamanism. In his book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy he credits an even wider range of the practice than the above information from the Britannica.

He states that generally Shamanism coexists with other forms of magic and religion. Eliade also says that not all magicians are Shamans, although Shamans practice magic, and not all medicine men are Shamans, although Shamans heal.

“It would be more correct to class shamanism among the mysticisms than with what is commonly called a religion. We shall find shamanism within a considerable number of religions, for shamanism always remains an ecstatic technique. A comparison at once come to mind – that of monks, mystics, and saints within Christian churches. “

“A shaman is not recognized as such until after he has received two kinds of training: (1) ecstatic (dreams, trances, etc.) and (2) traditional (shamanic techniques, names and functions of the spirits, mythology and genealogy of the clan, secret language, etc.). It is only the initiatory death and resurrection that consecrates a shaman”

Jose and Lena Stevens, in their book The Secrets of Shamanism offer this description of the modern Shaman.

“While shamans have no fixed dogma or religion , they all believe in the universal web of power that supports all life. According to shamanism, all elements of the environment are alive and all have their source of power in the spirit world. Rocks, plants, animals, clouds, and wind are charged with life and must be paid due respect for the maintenance of harmony and health.”

“Shamans consider all life-forms to be interconnected, and a mutually supportive balance among them is essential for humankind survival. Our job is to understand this balance and to live in harmony with it, always taking nature into consideration in every endeavor. The web of power in nature is the life giver and the source of all successful activity.”

Many Native Americans resent having the ways of the Red Road taught to non Amerindians. Some, who have some trace of Amerindian blood, have found Native teachers and greatly resent what they often refer to as New Age/Neo/Urban shamans. Ed (Eagleman) McGaa, in his book Mother Earth Spirituality, responds that “if we do not teach other two legs to love the Mother Earth, when they destroy it, ALL two legs will go with them.”

Suggested reading on more modern Shamanic practices,in addition to the books noted above:

  • In The Shadow of the Shaman by Amber Wolfe
  • Urban Shaman by Dr. Serge Kahili King
  • The HuMat Ceremony by Tandika Star