Shamans from ancient times were known as intermediaries between the human world and the spirit world to offer advice from a place beyond normal comprehension. A shaman acts as both a healer and mediator for people still attached to their physical bodies on earth.
The term “shaman” itself is of Siberian origin, meaning “one who sees with eyes closed” or “one who sees in the dark.” The implication is that a shaman sees what normal people cannot. In other words, a shaman can speak to the spirit world. Russians encountered shamans in Siberia and Mongolia and then the term spread through anthropologists to mean any religious leader in a tribal culture such as Native American and African tribes.
Shamans have been around since humans first practiced religion. The Greeks relied heavily on some shamans, known as oracles, in their pantheon of gods and goddess. The Oracle at Delphi was the most famous gathering of shamans in Greece as underground gas caused people to go into a euphoric state. The interpretation of what was said was usually a mystery. The temple at Delphi was dated at 1400 B.C.E. and ended around the Fourth Century C.E. as Christianity came to dominate Europe.
Siberian shamans themselves were classified as one of three different types, according to Tengerism.org. Black shamans were the most powerful, being from a warrior class that fought wars and inspired troops and kept them in shape during peaceful times. White shamans dealt with mostly peaceful relations between man and nature. Yellow shamans blended with Buddhist traditions and made the blending of many religions in Mongolia much more congruent with each other.
Shamans in Africa have existed for millennia in the vast tribal regions. Much of their belief system focuses on animism, or believing that all living things have a soul. Another aspect of African shamanism is that of ancestor worship. Both areas are melded into a living religion where people call on animals and ancestors to intercede on their behalf.
Native American shamans, or medicine men or women, have been important to Native American tribes for as long as their tribe has a history. From aiding in the naming of babies to helping members of their tribe on a spirit quest, those people involved in Native American medicine stressed getting in touch with the Great Spirit and being respectful of all life.
Practices and Beliefs
Shamans are not limited to one particular culture or belief system, even though the term is used a catch-all for any type of holy person who deals with healing the sick and serving a voice for an unknown spirit. Shamans, from an anthropological standpoint, are spiritual leaders in a tribal community who aid in healing, acting as an intermediary to the spirit world, and divine future events.
Shamans can take the form of medicine men or women in Native American and tribal cultures. Shamans help organize rituals such as dances and hunts. Native American shamans also put together what is called a medicine bundle. A bundle is very personal to the person that receives it as it will perform a certain kind of medicine upon them to heal a person spiritually and bring them in closer communion with the spirit world.
Animism is also a term used synonymously with shamans. Animism is a belief that animals and other living things have souls and spirits just as much as humans have. African tribal shamans are also guides for members in dealing with animals such as hunting and invoking the help of animals for protection and healing. Animism can also be a way of interpreting the weather and other natural phenomena.
Spirit guides are another form of shamanism as a shaman may direct a member of their tribe to listen to a spirit guide. Whether the guide is a hawk, cheetah, gazelle, snake, or buffalo a shaman will help you get in touch with certain aspects of the animal kingdom to focus your own life and spiritual lesson.
Going on a “shamanic journey” is when a shaman guides other people to find a place in their minds wherein they have an ecstatic experience. This is commonly done with psychoactive herbs such as peyote or ayahuasca. A sweat lodge in Native American terms is also a way to reach a state of dream like euphoria.