Shamanism is a term used in a variety of anthropological, historical and popular contexts to refer to certain magico-religious practices that involve a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world. A Shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing. The exact definition and use of the term “shamanism” has been highly debated by scholars with no consensus on the issue.
Mircea Eliade, writes “A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: Shamanism= “technique of religious ecstasy”. Shamanism encompasses the belief that shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The Shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems affecting the community. Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The Shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment.
Shamans gain knowledge and power to heal by entering in to the spiritual world or dimension. Most Shamans have dreams or visions that tell them certain things. The Shaman may have or acquire many spirit guides, who often guide and direct the Shaman in his travels in the spirit world. These spirit guides are always present within the Shaman though others only encounter them when the Shaman is in a trance. The spirit guide energizes the Shaman, enabling him to enter the spiritual dimension. The Shaman heals within the spiritual dimension by returning ‘lost’ part of the human soul from whenever they have gone. The Shaman also cleanses excess negative energies which pollute the soul.
There are many variations of Shamanism throughout the world, but several common beliefs are shared by all forms of Shamanism
1. Spirits exist and they play important roles both in individual lives and human society.
2. The Shaman can communicate with the spirit world.
3. Spirits can be benevolent or malevolent.
4. The Shaman can treat sickness caused by malevolent spirits.
5. The Shaman can employ trance inducing techniques to incite visionary ecstasy and go on vision quests. The Shaman spirit can leave the body to enter the supernatural world to search for answers.
6. The shaman evokes animal images as spirit guides, omens, and message-bearers.
The Shaman can tell the future, scry, through bones/runes, and perform other varied forms of divination.