The Way of the Shaman

Writer Esther Ng | August 2, 2013

Fitting into many types of belief systems since it is independent of dogmatic and institutionalised religion, shamanism was born from the reverence early humanity had for their surroundings and the spirit world. Sharing a great similarity in the traditions and practices performed across many different cultures, it has been practiced for millennia in continents around the world, including the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia. Shamanism is considered to be the oldest type of healing modality known to man, and is also one of the oldest divinatory practices in the world. By archaeological and anthropological evidence, the practice is between 20,000 to 30,000 years old.


The word ‘shaman’ originates from ancient languages meaning ‘wisdom’. Steven D Farmer, author of Earth Magic: Ancient Shamanic Wisdom for Healing Yourself, Others, and the Planet, explains that the word ‘shaman’ is derived from the word saman in the Evenki language of Siberia, which roughly translates to ‘one who knows or is wise’. It refers to a person who uses altered states of perception and consciousness, someone who makes journeys to non-ordinary reality to perceive and interact with the energetic and spiritual aspects of our world.

In some cultures called a medicine man, the role of the shaman in traditional society was vital since they were in charge of gathering power and information to perform divination and healing for the tribe or community, which included talking to spirits and animals and seeing visions of the future. Some of the roles shamans had taken up in traditional society were healers, doctors, priests, psychotherapists, mystics and storytellers. They were the primary intermediaries between the human community and the physical and spiritual beings in the earth, in which the community resided, and one of their most important roles was to balance the community’s relationship with the natural world and do what was necessary to correct any imbalances. As a middleman for those requesting help since he has the power or energy to be the communicator between the normal world and the spirit world, shamans are defined by their manner, their understanding and by the recognition of their peers and the community. These men and women interact directly with spirits to address aspects of disease or imbalance, perform soul retrievals, receive divine information, help souls when they are born or when they cross over and perform a variety of ceremonies or festivals. They might use a repertoire of different methods, such as energy healing, bodywork, the use of crystals, dance and sounds, as well as shamanic medicines and removing damaging energies.


Rituals and ceremonies are also very important and a core part of shamanic practices, and these include fire and drumming ceremonies, healing rituals and ceremonies that honour Mother Earth. Mircea Eliade, author of Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, concludes that shamanism is the foundation of all spiritual traditions on the planet, and that the most distinctive feature of shamanism was the shamanic journey.

Although there are many varieties of shamanic cultures around the world, they share similarities in what they do. Major aspects of being a shaman include answering ‘the call’, acting as a bridge to the spirit world, and helping to heal the souls of individuals and communities. Usually in traditional societies, a shaman is called, or they follow a calling towards the shamanic path and they work within their calling to remain safe and well-grounded. This leads towards paths of knowledge that are gained through observation and life experience obtained through different rituals, ceremonies, prayer and meditation, trials and tests. A common aspect of shamanism worldwide revolves around the notion that everything; animal, vegetable, mineral or element (wind, fire, water etc.) has a spirit and/or soul, perception and intelligence, and everything is a reflection and manifestation of God or Great Spirit. Whether using herbal medicine, journeying or other forms of shamanic practice, the shaman recognises and works with tangible energy and spiritual aspects of the world as a whole. To them, spiritual sickness means physical sickness, which again means energetic sickness, and each aspect directly and unreservedly affects the other. Shamanism also recognises the three states of reality in one main conceptualisation, for example the Axis Mundi (the World Tree) where the lower world is one of energy and soul, the middle world is our physical world and existence, and the upper world is one of spirit and intelligence. The energetic world, the physical world and the spirit world correspond with soul awareness (energy), leading to physical awareness (corporeal) and to spirit awareness.

A shaman uses his or her natural gifts and trained abilities to work with the spirit world in the past, present or future to heal and enhance the soul
~ Jon Rasmussen