How do shamans describe the human condition?


Shamanism involves reaching a higher state of consciousness in order to connect with the spiritual world. A shaman is a person who has access to and effects on the world of well-meaning and malevolent spirits. Typically, he enters a state of trance during a ritual and then exercises healing and clairvoyant skills.

Shamanic nature rituals

Shamanic nature rituals are rituals that you can do in nature to make contact with the power of mother earth, the power of trees and to connect with the sky and the elements, with the light and nature beings. With shamanic nature rituals you can also establish a connection to a special place of power.

Shamanic nature rituals can have a healing effect on the body, healing on the psyche; Shamanic nature rituals can give you contact with intuition, with guidance. They can be helpful when you want to know what the next step in your life is.

You can find shamanic nature rituals in the seminars; Especially at Yoga Vidya Bad Meinberg, there are many seminars that include Shamanism and nature spirituality.


The word "shamanism" was first applied to the ancient peoples or religions of the Turks, Mongols and Samoyed as well as Tungusian-speaking people. The word "shaman" comes from Tungus (North Asia) and first appeared in the West after Russian forces defeated Khanate Kazan (a Tatar state) in 1552. After Western scholars learned more about religious traditions around the world, the word shamanism was also used for similar magical-religious customs within the indogenous religions in other parts of the world (e.g. Asia, Africa, America and Australasia). Many historians have also mentioned an important role for shamanism in pre-Christian religions within Europe. Many of these shamanic elements have survived until early modern times. Archaeologists and religious historians have also suggested that shamanism was a predominant pre-religious practice during the Paleolithic.

Mircea Eliade (Romanian religious scholar) wrote: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon and perhaps the most daring: Shamanism is a technique of religious ecstasy". In shamanism, the shaman serves as a mediator or messenger between the human and the spirit world. It is said that shamans can alleviate illnesses and ailments through their treatment and restore the balance and wholeness between psyche and body. The shaman also enters supernatural realms and dimensions to find solutions to problems that affect the community. They visit other dimensions to provide assistance and guidance to misguided souls and to heal the diseases of the soul caused by outside influences. The shaman works mainly within the spiritual world, which, however, affects the everyday. By restoring the balance, the discomfort is eliminated.

Shamanism and the associated customs and beliefs aroused the interest of scientists from various fields, such as ethnologists, archaeologists, historians and religious scholars very early on. Hundreds of books and papers have been written on the subject. Western society adopted magical-religious practices influenced by indogenous shamanism from around the world. This gave rise to the neo-shamanic movement in the 20th century.



The word "shaman" probably comes from the Tungus word "šamán". The Tungus term was adopted by the Russians when they came into contact with the indigenous peoples of Siberia. It can be found, for example, in the memoirs of the Russian clergyman Avvakum. In Western Europe got the word through the Dutch traveler Nicolaes Witsne, who reported on his experiences during his stays with the indigenous people of Siberia in his book "Noord en Oost Tataryen." Adam Brand, a trader from Lübeck, later published this book in English .


To this day, no uniform definition of the word shamanism can be found. The English historian Ronald Hutton, who made a major contribution through his studies on the subject of shamanism, named four predominant definitions at the beginning of the 21st century. From these four there was no new definition for him, but a critically illuminated view of it. The first of these definitions describes "anyone who can come into contact with the spiritual world while in an altered state of consciousness". The second definition limits this by saying that the shaman can only enter this state at the behest of others. The third definition assumes that the shaman has a certain technique that is not used by any other magical-religious specialist. The fourth and final definition of shamanism simply refers to it as the religion of the indigenous people of Siberia and the adjacent parts of Asia.


It is said that shamans are “called” by dreams or signs, a shamanic training requires a long period of training. Shamanic powers can, however, also be inherited. Turner and his colleagues name a phenomenon of the shamanic initiation crisis, which usually results in physical or mental illness. The significant role of this "crisis" can be found in the detailed historical writings of Chuonnasuan, one of the last Tungus shamans in North East Asia. The wounded healer is an archetype of the shaman's path. This process is very important for a young shaman. The crisis brings him to the brink of death. This happens for two reasons:

  1. The shaman enters the underworld so that he can penetrate into the depths to obtain important information for the sick and the community.
  2. The shaman has to get sick in order to understand sickness. By overcoming his own illness, the shaman is now also able to heal other people. This is the hallmark of the "wounded healer".

Roles of a shaman

The social role of a shaman is usually defined by the great responsibilities and obligations imposed on him by his community. Shamans learn the healing abilities by entering the spiritual world or other dimensions. Most shamans have visions or dreams in which certain things are conveyed to them. The shaman has spiritual guides who lead him through the other dimension. The spiritual guide energizes the shaman and gives him the opportunity to heal in the other dimensions. The shaman brings back lost or lost parts of the soul and cleanses the soul of negative energies that cause confusion.

A shaman serves as a mediator between this world and the other. He communicates with the spirits on community matters. The shaman communicates with both dead and living souls to resolve unrest and unresolved problems. He makes offerings to the spirits.

Shamans assist in soul repatriation. Shamanism assumes that part of the human soul is free and therefore able to leave the body. The soul is the axis mundi, the center of the shamanic healing art. Shamans change the state of their consciousness by allowing their free soul to wander and regain ancient wisdom and lost powers.

Since part of the soul is able to leave the body, it will do so while dreaming, or it will leave the body to protect itself from potentially damaging situations, be they emotionally or physically damaging. In traumatic situations it can happen that the soul part cannot return to the body by itself and a shaman has to intervene to bring the soul essence back.

Shamans perform a variety of functions, depending on their respective culture: healing, making offerings, preserving tradition through storytelling and songs, fortune telling and serving as soul companions. A single shaman can fulfill several of these roles. The function of a shaman can either include accompanying the souls of the deceased to the abode (which are either accompanied individually or in a group, depending on the culture) and / or the healing of ailments. These ailments may either be just physical ailments, such as illnesses that can be cured by gifts, flattery, threats, or wrestling with the sick mind (sometimes through all of these things, sequentially) and those that may be cured by showing a presumably extracted gift of the Illness mind can be ended (showing this gift, even if it seems deceptive, is intended to impress the sick mind and convince it that it has been defeated or at least is about to be defeated, so that it shrinks back and stays away from the patient's body) , or also mental (including psychosomatic) complaints such as constant anxiety states (due to a frightening experience), which could just as well be cured with similar methods.

A term other than “shaman” is usually used in most languages ​​to describe a religious envoy who performs sacred rituals (priest) or who is a narrator of traditional lore (sage), but there is definitely one an overlap of functions (with those of a shaman) in the case of an omen or dream interpreter.

There are certain types of shamans who have more specific functions. Among the nano peoples, for example, a certain type of shaman acts as a soul companion. Other specialized shamans may be distinguished by the nature of the spirits or by the areas of the spiritual worlds with which the respective shaman interacts most frequently. These roles vary among the Nenets, the Enets, and the Selkup shamans. There are two categories of shamans among the Huichol. This shows the differences between shamans within a single ethnic group.

Among the Hmong tribes, the Ntxiv-Neej act as healers. The Ntxiv-Neej also perform rituals / ceremonies to recall the soul from its various journeys into the physical human body. An Ntxiv-Neej can use various shamanic tools such as swords, horns of the deities, a gong (drum) or finger bells / bells. All tools serve to protect the spirits from the eyes of the unknown and thereby empower the Ntxiv-Neej to return the souls to their original owners. The Ntxiv-Neej wear a white, red or black veil to hide the soul from their attackers in the spiritual dimensions.

The boundaries between shamans and laypeople are not always clear. Among the Barasana in Brazil there is no absolute difference between those who are recognized as shamans and the rest of the people. At the lowest level, most of the adult males have shamanic abilities and will perform the same functions as those males who have a widespread reputation for strength and knowledge. The Barasana shaman knows more myths and understands their meaning better, nevertheless the majority of adult men also know many myths.

Among the Inuit, the laypeople have experiences that are normally assigned to the shamans of the Inuit groups: daydreams, rapture and trance are not reserved for shamans. Control over the help of spirits is the primary characteristic assigned to the shamans. Lay people usually use amulets, spells, formulas, recipes, and songs. Among the Greenland Inuit, lay people have a greater capacity to connect with spiritual beings. These people are often shaman trainees who have not completed the initiation rites.

An orogen shaman's assistant (called jardalanin, or “second spirit”) knows many things about the interrelationships of the belief system. He or she accompanies the rituals and interprets the shaman's behavior. Despite these functions, the jardalanin is not a shaman. It would be inappropriate for this interpretive assistant to fall into a trance. Recent archaeological evidence from gender studies suggests that the earliest known shamans of the Early Stone Age were women.

Ecological aspects

The resources for human consumption can easily be mined in tropical rainforests. There is a sophisticated system for managing natural resources and a system for avoiding the exploitation of resources through too much hunting among the Tucano peoples. This system has a mythological concept and is symbolically supported by the belief that breaking hunting rules can cause disease. As the primary teacher of tribal symbolism, the shaman can take a leading role in ecological management by actively limiting hunting and fishing. The shaman is able to "free" wild animals, or their souls, from their hidden abodes. The Piaroa tribes have environmental concerns similar to shamanism. Among the Inuit, the shamans catch the souls of the game in distant areas or go on a soul journey to ask mythical beings such as "the old woman of the sea" for game.

economic aspects

The way in which shamans earn their living and participate in everyday life varies across cultures. In many Inuit groups, they perform a certain service for the community and receive a “fixed salary”. There are cultures that believe that payment is made to help the spirits, but these gifts are only "welcome gifts." They are not enough to enable the shaman to be a full-time shaman. Shamans, like all other members of the group, live as hunters or housewives.


There are many variations of shamanism around the world, but some of the common beliefs are shared by all forms of shamanism. General beliefs according to Eliade (1972) are the following:

  • Ghosts exist and they play an important role, both in the life of the individual and in human society
  • The shaman can communicate with the spiritual world.
  • Spirits can be both benevolent and malevolent.
  • The shaman can cure diseases caused by malevolent spirits.
  • The shaman can use trance to initiate techniques that stimulate visionary ecstasy, and he can go on visionary expeditions.
  • The shaman's mind can leave the body to enter the supernatural world and search for answers.
  • The shaman conjures up animal images such as spirit guides, omens and ambassadors.
  • The shaman can predict the future, throw pendulums, bones and runes, and use various other forms of divination.

Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that influence the lives of the living. Although the causes of illness are in the spiritual realm, breathed in by malevolent spirits or witchcraft, spiritual and physical methods are used to heal. Usually the shaman “enters” the patient's body to identify the spiritual weakness and heal him by driving away the infectious spirit.

Many shamans have expert knowledge of medicinal plants that are native to their areas - herbal treatments are often prescribed. In many areas the shamans learn directly from the plants by making use of their effects and healing powers after having obtained the permission of the resident guardian spirits. In the Peruvian Amazon basin, shamans and curanderos use medicinal chants called "icaros" to conjure up spirits. Before a spirit can be called, it must teach the shamans its song. It is common to use totem items such as stones with special powers and a living spirit.

Such practices are probably very old. Plato wrote in his "Phaedrus" that the "first prophecies were the words of an oak tree" and those who lived at that time found it worthwhile enough to "listen to an oak tree or a stone while they were telling the truth" .

The belief in witchcraft and sorcery, known as "Brujeria" in Latin America, exists in many societies. This highlights those shamans who free from harmful sorcerers. Other communities declare that all shamans have the power to heal and also to kill.Shamanic knowledge usually enjoys great power and prestige in society, but it is also often viewed suspiciously or fearfully as potentially harmful to others.

While engrossed in his work, the shaman is exposed to considerable personal risk, either from the spirit world, from hostile shamans, or from the mind altering substances the shaman ingests. These herbal shamanic remedies can be toxic or deadly if used incorrectly. Failure to return from an out-of-body journey can result in death. Spells are commonly used to protect against such dangers. The use of highly dangerous plants is often heavily ritualized.

Concepts of the soul and the spirit

The number of functions as described above may sound like different tasks, but can be linked based on the underlying soul and spirit concepts.

  • soul This concept can generally explain several seemingly unrelated phenomena of shamanism.
  • cure This concept is closely related to the soul concept of the belief system of the people whom the shaman serves. It includes the soul retrieval of a sick person. Also note the concept of the dual soul.
  • Shortage of game that can be hunted This problem can be solved if the souls of the animals are "released" from their hidden abodes. In addition, many taboos dictate how people behave towards game so that the souls of the animals are not upset or hurt. Or the satisfied soul of the hunted prey that has already been killed can tell the other, still living animals that they can allow themselves to be caught and killed. The ecological aspects of shamanic practice and related beliefs are discussed below.
  • Infertility in women This problem can be cured if the soul of the expected child can be reached.
  • Ghosts Beliefs related to ghosts can explain many different phenomena. For example, the importance of storytelling or being a singer can be better understood by examining the whole belief system. A person who can keep long texts or songs while playing an instrument may be considered a beneficiary of the spirits. (Khanty peoples)


In general, the shaman crosses the Axis Mundi and enters the spiritual world by bringing about a change in consciousness. He achieves this through an ecstatic trance state, induced either through self-hypnosis or through the use of entheogens. The methods are varied and are often used together. Methods that cause such trance states are:

plants (often psychoactive):

  • 1. Mushrooms containing psilocybin ("magic mushrooms")
  • 2. Cannabis (hemp)
  • 3. Tobacco
  • 4. San Pedro cactus
  • 5. Peyote
  • 6. Ayahuaska
  • 7. Juniper
  • 8. Datura (thorn apple)
  • 9. Belladonna (deadly nightshade)
  • 10. Toadstool
  • 11. Iboga (dog poison plant)
  • 12. Winch
  • 13. Real sage
  • 14. Magic sage
  • 15. Hawaiian Baby Woodrose


  • 1. Dancing
  • 2. Sing
  • 3. Music
  • 4. Icaros (medicine chants)
  • 5. Night watch
  • 6. Fasting
  • 7. Sweat lodge
  • 8. Vision Quest
  • 9.Marir (a kind of ghost)
  • 10. Sword fighting / forging blades

Shamans often adhere to food restrictions or habitual restrictions derived from their tradition. These restrictions are more than just cultural. For example, the diet followed by shamans and trainees prior to attending an ayahuaska ceremony includes foods rich in tryptophan (a biosynthetic source of serotonin) and avoiding foods rich in tyramines, such as they are found in ayahuasca brews, which can induce hypertensive crisis and abstinence from alcohol and sex.

Music, singing, songs: Just like shamanism itself, the music and chants associated with shamanism are very different in different cultures. In several cases, the songs associated with shamanism imitate natural sounds, through sound painting (word formation from natural sounds). Sound imitations can have a different function in the various cultures that are not necessarily attributed to shamanism: practical goals, such as attracting game when hunting or simply for entertainment (Inuit throat singing).

Ritual objects (paraphernalia)

  • drum The drum is used by shamans of some Siberian peoples, the Inuit and many other cultures around the world, although its use in shamanic seances among the Inuit in Canada is absent. The beating of the drum allows the shaman to reach an altered state of consciousness or to embark on a journey between the physical and spiritual world. Much fascination surrounds the role that the acoustics of the drum play for the shamans. Shaman's drums usually consist of an animal skin that is stretched over a curved wooden hoop and has a handle over the hoop.
  • feathers - In numerous North and South American cultures as well as in Europe and Asia, birds are seen as messengers of the spirits. Feathers are often used in ceremonies and in individual healing rituals.
  • rattle is more likely to be found among South American and African peoples. They are also used in ceremonies among the Navajo Indians and in traditional ways in blessings and ceremonies.
  • gong is often found in peoples from Southeast Asia and the Far East.
  • Pipe - Used for smoking various types of tobacco and psychoactive herbs (e.g. tobacco in North and South America, cannabis in India).
  • sword In Hmong shamanism, a holy sword is always used in practice to protect the shaman from wandering "evil" spirits when he travels into the spiritual world.
  • shake - mostly found in Hmong shamanism. The shaman begins his practice with rattling, which then turns into shaking / shaking. This is the process of communicating with his shamanic spirits, which then lead him into the spirit world.
  • Long table - A flexible wooden table, about 9x2 feet long, is used in Hmong shamanism, the table transforms into a "flying horse" in the spirit world.
  • Rooster A rooster is often used in Hmong shamanism. The shaman uses a rooster when traveling into the unknown. It is said that the rooster shields the shaman from wandering "evil" spirits by making him invisible; hence the evil spirits see only the useless spirit of the rooster.

Academic Studies

Cognitive, semiotic and hermeneutic approaches

As mentioned earlier, a much discussed approach explains the etymology of the word "shaman" as meaning "the one who knows". In fact, the shaman is an expert in holding together the various norms of a society. Accordingly, a society's norms are the manifestation of a complex belief system underlying society. Therefore, in order to be effective, shamans cultivate a comprehensive insight into their soul, which gives them the security of knowledge. Shamans express meanings in many ways: verbally, musically, artistically, and in dance. Meanings can be manifested in objects such as amulets. The symbols on the shaman's costume and drum can refer to power animals or to the rank of the shaman.

The shaman knows the culture of his community well and acts accordingly. So the audience knows the symbols and meanings used - and that's why shamanism can also be effective: The people in the audience trust him, trust his knowledge. This explains the above-described etymology of the word "shaman" in the sense of "the one who knows".

There are also examples of "opposing symbols", the distinction between "white" shamans who contact the heavenly spirits for benevolent goals during the day and "black" shamans who contact evil spirits for malevolent goals at night. Series of such opposing symbols refer to an underlying worldview. Analogous to the way grammar arranges words to express meanings and convey a world, this too forms a cognitive map. Shamanic knowledge is rooted in the tradition of a community, which provides a "mythological cognitive map". Juha Pentikäinen uses the concept "grammar of the mind". Referring to a Sami example, Kathleen Osgood Dana writes: “In his introduction to shamanism and the ecology of the north, Juha Pentikäinen explains how the Sami drum embodies Sami world views. He considers shamanism to be a "grammar of the mind" because shamans have to be experts in the tradition of their cultures. "

Armin Geertz coined and introduced hermeneutics, the "ethnohermeneutics", which now offers the approaches for the practice of interpretation. Hoppal expanded the term to include not only the interpretation of the oral and written texts but also the "visual texts - including movements, gestures, complex rituals and ceremonies performed by shamans, for example". They not only show the animistic point of view that is hidden behind shamanism, but also convey their relevance for today's world, where ecological problems confirm paradigms about balance and protection.

Other fieldwork uses systems theoretical concepts and ecological aspects to understand the shaman's knowledge. The Desana and Tucano Indians have sophisticated symbolism and concepts for "energy" that flows in cyclical paths between humans and animals. Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff connects these concepts with developments in modern science (systems theory, ecology, new approaches in anthropology and archeology) which treat causality in a less linear way. He also suggests cooperation between modern science and indigenous knowledge.

Hypotheses about the origin

Shamanic practices could date from the Paleolithic, they are older than all organized religions. They can be dated to the Neolithic period with certainty. Early anthropological studies theorize that shamanism evolved as a magical practice to ensure successful hunting or food gathering. Finds in caves and drawings on the walls supported evidence that shamanism began during the Paleolithic. Such an image shows, for example, a half-animal with the face and legs of a man, with antlers and the tail of a deer.

Archaeological finds are available to prove the shamanism of the Mesolithic. In November 2008, the researchers announced the discovery of a 12,000-year-old site in Israel that is believed to be one of the earliest known sites for shamans' burials. An elderly woman had been arranged to lie on her side with her legs apart and bent inward at the knee. Ten large stones were placed on the head, pelvis and arms. Among their unusual burial objects were 50 complete turtle shells, a human foot and certain parts of the body of animals such as a cow's tail and an eagle's wing. Other animal remains came from a wild boar, a leopard and two martens. "It appears that this woman ... was seen in a close relationship with these animal spirits," noted the researchers. The grave was one of at least 28 on a construction site, located in a cave in the Lower Galilee and is assigned to the Nutufian culture. It is noticeable, however, that it seems to be completely atypical in contrast to all other tombs known among the Natufians or in the Paleolithic.

Clinical study

The Kaiser Permanente Center For Health Research in Portland, Oregon, conducted a study of the effectiveness of shamanic healing practices as a treatment for chronic facial and jaw pain. Twenty-three women diagnosed with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs) participated in the study. At the end of treatment, only four of them were still diagnosed with the present TMD at the start of the study.

Historical-anthropological school of folklore

Folklorists have evaluated the presence of remnants of shamanism and shamanic practice in folk tales from around the world. Michael Berman identifies the genre of shamanic history, of which there are only examples from ethnic groups with shamanic cosmology or a shamanic worldview. Kultkrantz points out that "in areas where shamanism has long been a thing of the past, many stories contain only vague patches or imprecise memories of shamans and their ilk." The presence of peculiarities and characteristics of the shamanic stories help folklorists and ethnologists to reconstruct the practice of a shamanistic culture.

Decline and revitalization / movements that preserve tradition

Shamanism is believed to be in decline around the world, possibly due to other organized religious influences, such as that of Christianity, which people who practice shamanism seek to convert to their own systems and teachings. Another reason is the Western conception of shamanism as "primitive", "superstitious", backwoods and antiquated. Whalers, who occasionally interact with Inuit tribes, are one reason for the decline in the area in question.

Attempts are made to preserve and revitalize Tuvan shamanism. Previous authentic shamans have started to practice again and young assistants are being trained in an organized manner. In many areas, previous shamans refused to perform the usual functions in their community because they felt mocked by their own community, or they viewed their own past as an outdated affair and were unwilling to discuss it with an ethnologist.

In addition, folk texts - in addition to personal communication with former shamans - can tell us directly about a deterioration process. An epic text by the Buryat, for example, describes the wonderful deeds of the old "first shaman" Kara-Gurgan: He could even compete with God, create life, steal the sick person's soul from God again without his consent. A subsequent text complains that the shamans of older times were stronger, they had skills such as seeing everything, fortune-telling even seeing decades into the future and could move as fast as a ball. The lyrics compare them to today's heartless, ignorant, greedy shamans.

In most of the affected areas, the shamanic practices ceased to exist, the authentic shamans died, and their personal experiences died with them. The loss of memory is also not mitigated by the fact that the shaman is not always the only person in a community who knows the beliefs and motives associated with local shamanism (among the Barasana, lay people know the myths almost as well, Among the Inuit of Greenland there are former shaman apprentices who were unable to complete their apprenticeship; laypeople can also have trance-like experiences with the Inuit; with the Dagara, a shaman's assistant can be extremely knowledgeable).

Although the shaman is believed to be credible and trustworthy precisely because he “houses” the "grammar" of the community's belief system, several parts of the knowledge relating to local shamanism consist of the shaman's personal experiences (illness) or are rooted in the life of his family (the interpretation of the symbolism of his drum) who are lost with his death. That being said, in many cultures the entire traditional belief system is at risk (often with a partial or total language change). The people who remembered related beliefs and practices (or the language in general) grew old or died, many folk memories (songs, lyrics) were forgotten. It can even threaten peoples like the Nganansan, who were able to maintain their isolation into the mid-20th century. Some areas could offer longer resistance due to their remoteness.

Variants of shamanism were once a widespread (and very diverse) phenomenon among the Inuit, but they are seldom practiced today and were already in decline among many groups. Already during the first great ethnological research, e.g. under the Polar Inuit, at the end of the 19th century, when Sagloq died, the last shaman who believed he was able to travel to the sky and under the sea. Many other former shamanic skills were lost during this time, such as the art of ventriloquism and sleight of hand.

The isolation of the Ngananasan people enabled shamanism to be a living phenomenon with them, even at the beginning of the 20th century.The last notable shamanic ceremonies of the Nganansan could be captured on film in the 1970s.

After the exemplary presentation of the general decline even in the most remote areas, it should not go unmentioned that, in response to this, there are also efforts to revitalize or preserve tradition. In addition to the collection of stories, there are also traditional and even revitalizing efforts by authentic former shamans (e.g. among the Sakha and Tuwans). But according to Richard L. Allen, Research & Policy Analyst for the Cherokee Nation, they are inundated with deceitful "shamans". "It can be assumed that anyone who claims to be a Cherokee 'shaman, spirit healer or pipe-bearer' is equated with a modern day seller of snake oil in medical sales." Indeed, there is no Cherokee word for shaman or medicine man. The Cherokee word for "medicine", Nvowti, means "power".

In addition to efforts to preserve tradition, there are also neo-shamanistic movements that differ from many traditional shamanic practices and beliefs in several points. Admittedly, some traditional belief systems actually have ecological aspects (for example among many Eskimo peoples) and among the Tukano the shaman does indeed have a direct resource-protecting role. Details can be found in the section “Ecological Aspects”.

Today shamanism survives mainly among the indigenous peoples. Shamanic practices continue today in the tundras, jungles, deserts, and other rural areas, and are even found in cities, suburbs, and slums around the world. This is especially true in Africa and South America, where "Mestizo Shamanism" is widespread.

Regional variations



The oldest historical records are about Mongolian shamanism. The word "Böö" (shaman, spiritual medium, healer) first appeared on fortune telling bones from the late Shang Dynasty (approx. 1600-1046 B.C.E.). Classical Mongolian sources from the Hunnu dynasty (1045-256 B.C.E.) contain details of male and female shamans who were considered to be Exorcisten, healers, rainmakers, dream interpreters, fortune tellers and official officials served. Shamanic practices are also carried out in today's Mongolian culture.

The spiritual hierarchy in the clan-based Mongolian society was very complex. The senior group consisted of 99 "Tngri" (55 of them benevolent or "white" and 44 terrifying or "black"), 77 "Natigai" (earth mothers), and others. The Tngri were only called by the leaders and great shamans and were common among all clans. After these three groups of ancestral spirits dominated. The highest spirits were the souls of clan leaders to whom any member of a clan could seek physical or spiritual help. Among the "guardian spirits" were the souls of great shamans (Jigari) and female shamans (Abjiya). The guardian spirits consisted of the souls of lesser shamans (bows) and shamans (Idugan) and were associated with a certain locality (such as mountains, rivers, etc.) in the territory of the clan.

In the 1990s, a form of Mongolian neo-shamanism emerged, which was based on a slightly more modern approach. Mongolian shamans are now turning their calling into business and even have offices in the larger cities. In this type of business, a shaman is usually the head of the organization and performs ministries such as healing and divination and helps with all kinds of problems.

Hmong shamanism

The Hmong are an ancient Chinese people with a 5000-year history who have preserved and continue to practice their special shamanism, known as "Ua Neeb", even today. With the end of the Vietnam War, some 300,000 Hmong settled all over the world. They continued to practice UA Neeb in various countries in North and South America, Europe and Australia. In the United States, the Hmong shaman, known as "Txiv Neeb," is part of the medical health team in many California hospitals to treat hospital patients. The revival of the Ua Neeb in the West has brought great success and has been hailed in the media as "a doctor for disease, shaman for the soul".

To be a Hmong shaman means a true calling, chosen by the shamanic god “Sivyis”. The main task of a shaman is to bring about harmony in the community, the family and for the individual in his existing environment. He achieves this by performing various rituals (trance). Animal sacrifices have been part of the Hmong shamanic practice for 5000 years. Contrary to the belief of many Westerners, the practice of animal sacrifice in shamanic rituals is carried out with great respect. After the Vietnam War, over 200,000 Hmong were settled in the US and shamanism is still part of their culture. But the clash of cultures and US law creates problems. Professor Alison Dundes Renteln, a professor of political science at the University of South California and author of The Cultural Defense, a book examining the impact of such cases on US courts, once said: "We say that as a society we are diversity welcoming them, actually hugging them ... In practice, it's not that easy. "

The Hmong believe that all things on earth have a soul and these souls are treated as alike and can be considered interchangeable with one another. If someone has become sick due to soul loss or the capture of his soul by wild spirits, it is necessary to ask permission from the animal intended for the ceremony, be it a pig, a dog, a goat or any other animal. The granted permission is absolutely necessary in order to use the animal's soul for an exchange over a period of 12 months. At the end of the twelve-month period, during the Hmong New Year, the shaman performs a special ritual to release the soul of this animal and send it to the other world.

As part of his service to humanity, the animal's soul is sent to be reborn in a higher form of existence as an animal or even to become a member of a family of God (Ua Fuab Tais Ntuj tus tub, tus ntxhais) to live in luxury, free from suffering of an animal to live. Hence, when an animal is asked to do its duty (what Westerners call "animal sacrifice"), it is a great honor for the animal to serve humanity. The Hmong of southeast Guizhou cover the rooster with a piece of red cloth before the cockfight and hold it high in worship and sacrifice for heaven and earth. In a 2010 trial of a Wisconsin Sheboygan Hmong accused of staging a cockfight, the roosters were found to be "kept for both human consumption and religious purposes," which resulted in an acquittal. In addition to the spiritual dimension, Hmong shamans can treat many physical illnesses using texts of sacred words (khawv koob).


Shamanism is still practiced in South Korea, where the role of shaman is in most cases performed by women, known as "mudangs", while male shamans, (rather rarely), are called "baksoo mudangs". Korean shamans are considered to be of a lesser class. A person becomes a shaman either by heredity or by natural ability. In contemporary society, shamans are consulted on financial and marriage matters.


Shamanism is part of the native Japanese Shinto religion. The difference is that Shinto shamanism is for an agricultural society. Today, Shinto is interspersed with Buddhist elements and other Japanese folk culture. The book "Occult Japan: Shinto, Shamanism and the Way of the Gods" by Percival Lowell examines Japanese shamanism or Shintoism on a deeper level. It is generally accepted that the vast majority of Japanese participate in Shinto rituals. The book "Japan Through the Looking Glass: Shaman to Shinto" reveals the extraordinary aspects of Japanese belief.


Among the Siberian Chukchis people, a shaman is someone who is possessed by a spirit that requires him to act as a shaman for his people. The Buryat have a ritual known as "Shanar" in which a candidate is initiated by another, already established shaman. Siberia is considered to be the locus classicus of shamanism. It is inhabited by many different ethnic groups. Many of these peoples, even in modern times, practice shamanic practices. Many classic sources on "shamanism" come from Siberian peoples.

Shamanism has been alive among some Samoyed peoples to this day, especially in groups that until recently lived very isolated (Nganasans). The last notable shamanic seance of the Nganasan was recorded on film in the 1970s. When the People's Republic of China was established in 1949 and the border with Siberia formally closed, many nomadic groups of the Tungus who practiced shamanism were incarcerated in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. The Evenki were one of them. The last Oroqen shaman, Chuonnasuan (Meng Jin Fu), died in October 2000. In many other cases, shamanism was already in decline at the beginning of the 20th century.

Central Asia

Geographical influences

Geographical factors strongly influence the character and development of the religion, myths, rituals and epics of Central Asia. While in other parts of the world religious rituals were mainly used to ensure rich crops, here they were used to ensure success in hunting and animal husbandry. Animals are one of the most important elements of indigenous religion in Central Asia because of the role they play in the survival of nomadic civilizations, the steppes as well as the sedentary populations living on unsuitable land for agriculture

Shamans wore animal skins and feathers and turned into animals during their spiritual journey. In addition, animals served as human guides, rescuers, ancestors, totems and sacrificial animals. As a nature religion, shamanism throughout Central Asia specifically referred to the relationship between heaven, earth and water and believed in the mystical meaning of trees and mountains. Shamanism in Central Asia places a strong emphasis on the contrast between summer and winter, which is due to the enormous temperature differences that prevail in this area. The harsh conditions and poverty caused by the extreme temperatures drove the nomads of Central Asia throughout history to pursue military objectives against their settled neighbors. This military background can be seen in the worship of horses and warriors in many indigenous religions.

Shamanic Practices and Beliefs

The shamans of Central Asia served as sacred mediators between the human and spirit world. In this role they took on tasks such as healing, divination, contact with the ancestors, influencing the elements, retrieving souls and performing public religious rituals. The shamanic seance served as a public display of the shaman's journey into the spirit world and usually included intense trance states, drumming, dancing, singing, elaborately designed ceremonial clothing, miraculous display of physical strength and the involvement of those present. The goals of these seances ranged from retrieving the lost soul of a sick person and predicting the future to influencing the weather and finding a missing person or thing. The use of sleight of hand, ventriloquism, and hypnosis were common in these rituals, but did not explain the impressive feats and real healings brought about by the shaman.

Shamans work in a "state of ecstasy" deliberately brought about by an act of will. In order to achieve this altered state of consciousness, it takes great mental effort, concentration and strict self-discipline. Mental and physical preparation includes long periods of silent meditation, fasting, and smoking. In this state they develop abilities that the human organism could not achieve in its normal state. Shamans in ecstasy show unusual physical strength, the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, the ability to endure stinging and cutting without pain, and the increased sensitivity of the sensory organs. Shamans use intoxicating substances and hallucinogens, especially mukhomor mushrooms and alcohol, to accelerate the attainment of ecstasy.

The use of purification by fire is an important element of the shamanic tradition that dates back to the 6th century. People and things associated with the dead had to be cleansed by passing them through fire. These purifications were complex exorcisms, while others involved simply walking between fires while the shaman gave blessings. Shamans also used special stones to influence the weather. The rituals performed with these stones were intended to attract rain, repel snow, cold or wind. These "rain stones" were used for many occasions, such as to end a period of drought or to create hailstorms as a means of warfare. Regardless of the differences between different types of shamans and certain traditions, there is uniformity throughout the region in terms of personal beliefs, ritual objects, rituals, symbolism and the appearance of the shamans.

Shamanic rituals as an artistic performance

The shamanic ceremony is both a religious ceremony and an artistic performance. The basic purpose of this dramatic display during shamanic ceremonies is not to attract attention or to stage a spectacle for the audience, as many “Westerners” have believed, but to lead the people into a solemn ritual process.

In general, all performances consist of four elements: dance, music, poetry, and dramatic or imitative actions. The use of these elements serves the purpose of expressing his mystical communion with nature and the spirits for the rest of the people to see. The true shaman can make his journey into the spirit world at any time and place, but shamanic ceremonies provide a way for the rest of the tribe to partake in these religious experiences. The shaman changes his voice to imitate different people, gods and animals, while his music and dance change to demonstrate his progress in the spirit world and his various spiritual interactions. Many shamans practice ventriloquism and make use of their ability to precisely imitate the sounds of animals, nature, people and other noises in order to include the audience in the atmosphere of the shaman's journey. Elaborate dances and intricate recitals of songs and poetry are used to make the spiritual adventure a living reality for the audience.

Ceremonial clothing and accessories

The shaman's costume varies throughout the region, but the main accessories are his coat, hat and tambourine or drum. The transformation into an animal is an important aspect of the journey into the spirit world that is undertaken during a shamanic ritual. That is why the coat is often decorated with bird feathers and depictions of animals, colored handkerchiefs, bells and metal jewelry. The hat is usually made of the skin of a bird with the feathers and sometimes the head still attached to it.

The drum or the tambourine is the most important instrument to communicate with the spirits and enables the shaman to reach altered states of consciousness on his journey. The drum, which is part of the universe, is often divided into two equal halves, representing the earth and the lower realms. Symbols and natural objects representing natural forces and divine creatures complete the drum.

Shamanism in Russia and the Soviet Union

In the Russian part of Central Asia, the Soviet government persecuted and denounced shamans as practitioners of deceptive medicine and upholders of outdated religious beliefs in an age of science and logic. The radical changes that followed the October Revolution led to a sharp decline in shamanic activities.Shamans were an important component in traditional Central Asian culture, and because of their important role in society, shamans became the target of Soviet organizations and campaigns in their attempt to eradicate traditional influences on the lives of indigenous peoples. Along with the persecution under the Tsarist and Soviet regimes, the spread of Christianity and Islam also played a role in the dissolution of the beliefs of the indigenous people of Central Asia. Poverty, political instability, and foreign influence are just as detrimental to a religion that needs publicity and support to flourish. By the early 1980s, most shamans had fallen into disrepute in the eyes of their own people, through officials of the Soviet government and doctors.

Other Asian traditions

There are strong shamanic influences in the Bon religion of Central Asia and in Tibetan Buddhism. Since the 8th century, Buddhism became popular with shamanic peoples such as the Tibetans, Mongols and Manchurin. Shamanic ritual elements flowed into Tibetan Buddhism and were institutionalized, so that a major religion emerged from them during the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty and the Manchurian Qing Dynasty. However, where shamanism is still alive, such as with various ethnic groups in areas such as Nepal and northern India, shamans are not necessarily viewed as enlightened, and often even feared because of their ability to use their power with malicious intent.

“Jhakri” is the common name for shamans in Sikkim, India. They are found in the Limbu, Sunuwar, Rai, Sherpa, Kami, Tamang, Gurung and Lepcha communities. They are influenced by Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Mun and Bon customs.

Shamanism is still widespread in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa, Japan), where shamans are known as "Noro" (all women) and "Yuta". "Noro" mainly perform public and communal ceremonies, while "Yuta" focus on civic and private affairs. Shamanism is also still practiced in some rural areas of Japan. It is widely believed that the Shinto religion was the result of transforming shamanic traditions into a religion. The forms of shamanic practice vary a little in the Ryukyu Islands. For example, there is an independent Miyako shamanism.

Shamanic practices appear to have been preserved in the Catholic religious traditions of the indigenous people of Taiwan. In Vietnam, shamans perform rituals in many of the religious traditions that have intermingled in the main and minority populations. In their rituals, dances, music, special clothing and offerings are part of their performance, which has the content of the spiritual journey.


While shamanism had a strong tradition in Europe before the advent of monotheism, shamanism remains a traditional, organized religion in northern Eurasia, including Mar-El and Udmurtia, two semi-autonomous provinces in Russia with a large minority population. In Scandinavia, shamanism can be viewed on rock art dating to the Neolithic era. Shamanism was practiced here by various Teutonic tribes and Baltic-Finnish peoples through the Iron Age. People who originally lived in Siberia have since migrated to their current location. Many peoples of the Urals now live outside of Siberia, although the origins of the Urals (and its foothills) indigenous people remain unclear. If one combines phytogeographical and linguistic considerations (the distribution of different tree species and the presence of their names in different Ural languages), one can conclude that the area of ​​origin was north of the central Ural Mountains and on the lower and middle reaches of the Ob. The ancestors of the Hungarians or Magyars migrated from their original home in the Urals to the Pannonian (Hungarian) basin. Shamanism played an important role in Turkish-Mongolian mythology. Tengriism, the main belief among the Xiongnu or Mongols and Turkish peoples, the Magyars (Hungarians) and Bulgarians in ancient times, contains shamanic elements. Shamanism is no longer a living practice among Hungarians, but remains have been preserved as fragments in folklore, sagas and noises.

Various scholars also hold the view that shamanism was once widespread across Europe and that before Christianization. Some historians of the late Middle Ages and early modern times believe that traces of shamanic traditions can be found in popular beliefs of this period. The most prominent among these were the Italian Carlo Ginzburg, who uncovered shamanic elements in the Benandanti custom in 16th century Italy, the Hungarian Eva Pocs, who identified them in the Taltos traditions of Hungary, and the French Claude Lecouteux, who argued that medieval Traditions related to the soul are based on previous shamanic ideas. Ginzburg, in particular, believed that some of these shamanic traditions influenced the notion of witchcraft in Christianity, particularly ideas relating to the witch's sabbath, which led to the events that led to the witchcraft trials in the early modern period. The "spellcaster" is an English term used to refer to professional and semi-professional Anglo-Celtic magicians who were active from the 15th century to the early 20th century, specifically throughout rural Britain (and probably even up to into the 21st century in the diaspora). They practiced folk magic - also known as lower magic - although often combined with elements of "higher" or ceremonial magic.

These people were often known as "wizards", "wise men" or "wise women" throughout England. In southern England and Wales they were referred to as “magicians” or “Dyn (es) Hysbys” in the Welsh language. In Cornwall they were sometimes referred to as “pellars”, which, as some etymologists suggest, derives from the term “expellers”, which refers to the practice of driving out evil spirits. Many have argued that this is evidence that shamanism was practiced in the community in Britain well into modern times. Christian sanctioned laws were enacted across England, Scotland and Wales, often condemning the “spellcasters” and their magical practices.

In Scandinavia, the Klok Gumma (Wise Woman) or Klok Gubbe (Wise Man) or De Kloka (“The Wise Men”), as they were called in Swedish, were mostly older members of the community who worked as naturopathic doctors and midwives and the same used folk magic like magical rhymes. In Denmark they were called Klog Mand (“Wise Man”) and Klog Kone (“Wise Woman”) and together the Kloge Folk (“Wise People”).

The names used for magicians in Italy vary from area to area, although such names as "Practicos" (wise people), "Guaritori" (healer), "Fattucchiere" (problem solver), "Donne che Aiutano" (Women who help) and "Mago", "Maga" or "Maghiardzha" (magicians) keep popping up. Sometimes they were also referred to as "stregas" (witches), although most of the time it was just behind their backs or by those who were either skeptical about their supposed abilities or believed they were practicing black magic. Magic related to shamanism survived the 20th century and into the early 21st century. That is why the Italian-American sociologist Sabina Magliocco was able to write a short study about it (2009).

Circumpolar shamanism

Eskimo groups inhabit a vast area stretching from eastern Siberia through Alaska and northern Canada (including the Labrador Peninsula) to Greenland. Shamanic practices and beliefs have been recorded in various parts of this vast region that cuts across continental borders. When we speak of “shamanism” in different Eskimo groups, we have to remember that the term “shamanism” can cover certain characteristics in different different cultures. Mediation is often seen as an important aspect of shamanism in general. In most Eskimo groups, too, the role of mediator is well known. The person who fills it out is believed to be able to really come into contact with the beings who populate the belief system. The term "shaman" is also used in some English-language publications in relation to Eskimos. The "Alignalghi" of the Asian Eskimos is also translated as "Shaman" in Russian and English literature.

The belief system presupposes special relationships between the living, the souls of hunted animals and the souls of the dead. The soul concepts in some groups are special examples of belief in dual souls (differences in details show up in different cultures). In contrast to most types of shamanism, the calling of an Eskimo shaman lacks violent motivation. Becoming a shaman usually requires careful consideration, not a necessity enforced by the spirits.

Diversity with similarities

There is something else to consider: Do the belief systems of different Eskimo groups have any common characteristics that justify a mention? There was no political structure among these groups, their language was related but more or less different, forming language continuities. There are similarities within the great cultural diversity of the Eskimo groups, but far from homogeneity.

The Russian linguist Menovschikov, an expert on Siberian Yupik and Sireniki Eskimo languages ​​(who admits, however, that he is not a specialist in ethnology), mentions that the shamanic seances of the Siberian Yupik and Sireniki groups that he observed have a lot in common with the Inuit groups described by Fridtjof Nansen, although Siberia and Greenland are so far apart. There are also certain similarities between certain Asian and North American groups. The use of a special shamanic language, mainly used to communicate with the spirits, is also documented among some Eskimo groups. The Ungazighmiit (they belong to the Siberian Yupiks) also found certain allegories in some expressions.

The native cultures showed great diversity. The myths concerning the role of the shaman appeared in several variants and the name of their protagonists also changed from culture to culture. The mythological figure commonly referred to in literature as the sea woman has many indigenous names in fact. Nerrivik “meat dish” with the Inuit in the polar region, Nuliayuk “oily” with the Netsilingmiut, Sedna “Die from the deep” with the Inuit in Baffinland. All these terms mean “The old woman from the sea, the sea goddess”. Likewise, the ideas of the soul, e.g. the details of the dual soul, showed great differences. They ranged from guardianship to some kind of rebirth. Ideas about spirits and other beings also showed up in multiple forms (e.g. the Tupilaq concept).


In central Mali, Dogon wizards (male and female) claim to communicate with a main deity named Amma who instructs them in healing and divination practices. In the early 19th century, traditional healers in parts of Africa were often referred to in a derogatory way by early European settlers and explorers as "sorcerers" who practice "juju" (voodoo).

Contemporary ethnology notes that the Bushmen or their ancestors, who were scattered across South Africa before the 20th century, practiced shamanism. In the semi-desert region around the North Cape, the Xam shamans were known by the compound word "! Gi’ten", where "! Gi" stands for "power" and "ten" for "possession". The word is phonetically identical to the Xhosa word for "doctor". In areas of the eastern Orange Free State and in Lesotho, where they coexisted with the first Sotho tribes, native folklore describes them as living in caves where they made rock art in a trance were also known as good rainmakers. The classic meaning of a shaman as a person who has recovered from a mental illness (or madness) and takes up the calling of a socially recognized religious practitioner is exemplified by the Sisala (the northern Gold Coast): "The fairies grabbed him" and drove him insane for a few months. Eventually he learned to control her power, which he now uses for prophecy.