Shamanism: Definition, History, and Beliefs
by Patti Wigington (Updated June 25, 2019)
The practice of shamanism is found around the world in a variety of different cultures, and involves spirituality that often exists within an altered state of consciousness. A shaman typically holds a respected position in his or her community, and performs vitally important spiritual leadership roles.
History and Anthropology
The word shaman itself is a multi-faceted one. While many people hear the word shaman and immediately think of Native American medicine men, things are actually more complex than that.
“Shaman” is an umbrella term used by anthropologists to describe a vast collection of practices and beliefs, many of which have to do with divination, spirit communication, and magic. In most indigenous cultures, including but not limited to Native American tribes, the shaman is a highly trained individual, who has spent a lifetime following their calling. One does not simply declare oneself a shaman; instead it is a title granted after many years of study.
Training and Roles in the Community
In some cultures, shamans were often individuals who had some sort of debilitating illness, a physical handicap or deformity, or some other unusual characteristic.