How to Practice Shamanism
Shamanism is a term used to describe the rituals of many cultures around the world. In the Western world, the term is often used to describe more recent traditions that borrow from many cultures or invent their own practices. Many people have found fulfillment, knowledge, or the ability to help others through all types of shamanism, but be aware that traditional and non-traditional shamans do not always see eye to eye.
Learning About Types of Shamanism
Learn the history of shamanism.The word "shaman" originated in the Evenki language of Siberia, where its exact meaning is unclear.From this murky beginning, anthropologists have spread the term to describe spiritual practitioners of many cultures, and the term "shamanism" has been adopted by many native Americans and other groups. There is still an incredibly wide variety in the types of traditional shamanism practiced across the world.
Understand neoshamanism in Western culture.In the 20th century, the historian Mircea Eliade and the anthropologist Michael Harner separately argued that many varieties of spiritual traditions around the world could all be defined as "shamanism," with core principles at the heart of different practices and beliefs.This directly led to many new traditions, mostly started by white Westerners, such as "core shamanism," and many types of "neoshamanism" or "New Age shamanism."
Understand the controversy.Traditional shamanism, in its hundreds of different forms, is still alive today, and its practitioners (as well as scholars of religion) have a range of reactions to more recent shaman traditions. There are many sides to this discussion, and not all types of shamanism or individual shamans agree with all of these points, but you may wish to be aware of as you begin exploring shamanism:
- Although it is not uncommon for shamans to charge for services, some new "shaman businesses" are often considered cynical.
- Most new-style shamans use traditions from other cultures. This can be done respectfully and knowledgeably, or in an uninformed or incorrect way that many find offensive.
- Western shamanism is often taught as a self-improvement technique, while many older traditions cause harm to the shaman, include "evil" or "grey area" practices, or focus on helping the community.
Study Western neoshamanism.If you decide you would like to learn more about a modern shamanism tradition, you can find many materials online or in mass-published books. Most of these are unique theories and practices developed by a single person, but a few resources listed below are examples of especially influential voices. You can also read more about general trends in these movements in the section below on practicing shamanism.
- promotes "core shamanism," claiming to teach the essential principles at the core of shamanic traditions worldwide.
- practices a 20th century pseudo-Mexican shamanism called "Tensegrity."
- Terence McKenna was an influential supporter of shamanism in the 1990s, tying it to many New Age theories and psychedelic experimentation.
Study traditional shamanism.The method of becoming a traditional shaman varies from culture to culture, but typically involves a sudden supernatural event, inheriting the position, or training as an apprentice.If you do not belong to a culture with shamanic traditions, you may need to visit an indigenous community to study under a shaman or someone in a similar role. You can also learn more about these traditions by reading books by anthropologists and other people who describe shamanistic practices of a specific culture:
- of an Oroqen shaman in northeastern China.
- The book by Tom Lowenstein describes the rituals and myths of the Alaskan Tikigaq whale hunters.
- describes thriving shamanic traditions across Nepal, and discusses how they are different from other ritual practices.
Induce a drumming trance.Entering the spirit world, or discovering another reality next to our own, is one of the most common shamanic practices. One of many ways to do this is to enter a trance. Try blindfolding yourself and beating a drum with a steady beat for several minutes, or until you enter a different state of awareness.
Meditate.Another way to enter a trance, or to become in touch with your inner self, is to practice meditation. Many people consider it a solid foundation for any spiritual path, and a source of health benefits that match well with some shamanic tradition's message of self-improvement. There are many schools of meditation, but it all begins with closing your eyes and sitting in a quiet place.
Listen to your dreams.Dreams are often important to people practicing shamanic rituals. They may be holding great truths, revelations or some other spiritual significance. Keep a dream journal so that when you wake up, you'll be able to write or draw some of the images down.
- The images you draw may hold power. Be wary if you do not know what they represent.
Interact with spirits and other entities.There is no universal way to encounter these entities, but in many traditions, you cannot be a shaman without doing so. During a trance, a meditation, or a sudden, unexpected experience, you may encounter another being. This may be a nature spirit, a spirit in the afterlife, or even entities that some consider gods. There is no single pantheon or worldview that can explain what you encounter, but an experienced shaman can help you identify them and teach you how to make deals with them, serve them, or master them, depending on the traditions you follow.
- Be aware that some of these entities may be malevolent or tricky to deal with. Often, rituals that involve drugs, sacrifice, or other sources of power attract potentially more dangerous entities.
Find a teacher.While you can develop your own shamanic practices, almost everyone finds the guidance of a teacher of a fellow journeyer helpful. This could be a shaman practicing the traditional shamanism of her culture, or a shaman from a "neoshamanism" tradition. This step is recommended before trying any of the steps below, or if you have a dangerous or frightening encounter with spirits.
Be cautious with drugs.Entheogens, or substances that "generate the divine within," can be powerful allies in affecting our consciousness, but they are not always necessary.Learn how to hone your own abilities as a Shamanic Practitioner before integrating these into your practice, and learn how to use them with trusted, human individuals watching over you.
- Plenty of legal substances are used in shamanic traditions, such as tobacco. In the United States, drugs such as peyote and ayahuasca are legal or in a legal grey area when used by people who can prove they are part of a traditional culture.
Conduct healing rituals.Healing is a major duty of many experienced shamans. The exact ritual varies, and is usually passed on by teachers. This can involve many techniques:
- Dancing, singing, or playing instruments to attract spirits.
- Making offering to the spirits of food, drink, tobacco, and other substances. (Sometimes, the spirits are brought inside your body first.)
- Drawing the sickness out of the body and into an animal, object, or symbol.
- Traveling to another reality to intercede with the spirits on the sick person's behalf.
Perform divination.Many New Age shamans use divining rods, séances, crystals, or other divining implements. Some attempt to see the future, while others use these tools to seek guidance for their own life, or to communicate to spirits in the afterlife.
QuestionHow many people practice shamanism?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere is no specific number available, since many traditional shamans practice away from more developed civilizations. Think Native American/Aboriginal type of people, who don't use electronics and the sort. The number is probably quite small compared to the world population.Thanks!
QuestionAre there any well-known Native American shamans that mentor beginners?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere are some, but it must be stressed that this is NOT a typical Native American practice today. In fact, there are many native people who visit the trained Western Shamans for healing which would have historically been conducted by their own people. Shamanism is different for each practitioner, and is NOT cultural appropriation if practiced correctly. Every individual on the planet has ancestors at some point in history who practiced some form of Shamanic spirituality, and it is through calling upon those ancestors that we can find our own unique soul's purpose here in this life.Thanks!
QuestionIsn't this an occult practice?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerOccult is supernatural, mystical, or magical beliefs, practices, or phenomena, so yes it is.Thanks!
QuestionA shaman told me I'm the leader of the vortex in our area. What does this mean?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA vortex leader is a very important role; he/she is responsible for taking a census of local Shamans.Thanks!
QuestionCan I become a Shaman without the use of drugs?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. While drugs can be used to enhance your awareness and sensitivity, you can still become a shaman without any of these.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I know if I am a shaman?MDE75Community AnswerConcentrate on your spirit by looking inside yourself, and treat yourself like you treat others. Start by knowing that we are all positive beings. Knowledge is natural and produces wisdom. The practice is not an occult practice! It can create connections with all things!Thanks!
QuestionDoes it help to be transsexual (when it comes to balancing male and female energies)?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt can. As a trans person, I feel that being trans gives you a duality. The magic of your original gender (biological) can be hindered by any bit of dysphoria you have, and your final gender can be hindered by your physical inadequacy. I suggest making sure you're comfortable with symbolism before attempting any magic related to gender. Shame, or even temporary illusions that are psychologically healing, won't help in front of shamanic truth.Thanks!
- Respect the beliefs and practices of others. Understand that the visionary experiences you have might not be easily understood or appreciated by others either.
- In most societies, shamans are not figures of authority. Do not expect to gain personal status or fame.
Sources and Citations
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