What is Shamanism?

 “Shamanism is the world’s oldest spiritual practice,” according to the Society for Shamanic Practice, a world-wide group dedicated to living and traveling the shamanic path, and understanding how shamanism can be applied in the 21st century.

The practice of shamanism “utilizes a set of practical techniques that have helped human beings to survive in all continents of the world since Paleolithic times, despite having no contact with one another,” the Society maintains.

“Although academics heatedly debate the issue, in our view shamanism cannot really be considered a religion because it has no dogma, no organization, no sacred book, no recognized leader, nor does it have a single founder.

“While people of many religions practice shamanism, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, and Jews, not all shamans are member of an organized religion.”

One could view shamanism as the universal spiritual wisdom inherent to all indigenous tribes. As all ancient spiritual practices are rooted in nature, shamanism is the method by which we as human beings can strengthen that natural connection.

Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.

Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community.

Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment.

It is believed the word “shaman” originates from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia. The term was introduced to the west after Russian forces conquered the shamanistic Khanate of Kazan in 1552. The term “shamanism” was first applied by western anthropologists to the ancient religion of the Turks and Mongols, as well as those of the neighboring Tungusic and Samoyedic-speaking peoples.

Upon learning more about religious traditions across the world, some anthropologists began to also use the term to describe unrelated magico-religious practices found within the ethnic religions of other parts of Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas, as they believed these practices to be similar to one another.

Shamanic beliefs and practices have attracted the interest of scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, including anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, religious studies scholars, and psychologists. Hundreds of books and academic papers on the subject have been produced, with a peer-reviewed academic journal being devoted to the study of shamanism. In the 20th century, many westerners involved in the counter-cultural movement have created modern magico-religious practices influenced by their ideas of indigenous religions from across the world, creating what has been termed neo-shamanism or the neo-shamanic movement. It has affected the development of many neo-pagan practices.

Shamans teach us to develop our minds, our own wills, and our own power and bring them into the world – in short, they teach us how to be medicine men and women in our own right.

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