Due to the popular misuse and abuse of the word 'shaman', something TOO prevalent in the pagan community, I present a list pertaining to the ideas of which some folks have of which they feel makes them a shaman. While I am no authority on the subject, it has remained a side-study of mine for a good while and I feel I have a good notion of what does not define one as a shaman, and by that, what does define one as such. So, without further ado, the List:

1. Ingesting certain mushrooms, cacti, foliage or vines, and through such ingestion, talked with spirits. My own intensive study and focus on entheogens and ethnobotanicals suggests a difference between hallucination and revelation.

2. Having ancestry, near or far, of any indigenous or First Nations people. Yes, just like they where all medicine men and Cherokee princesses. *evokes Makoons*

3. Because you have shamanistic elements in your path or tradition. My tradition has lots of recipes for medicine, but that does not make me a pharmacologist.

4. Because some book made you one. Do I really need to elaborate? See: IRAB.

5. Because you talk with spirits, go on spirit journies, or otherwise follow a practice that is spirit-centric. Being in communion with the spirit world is part of many practices. Being a shaman is not.

6. Because you practice herbalism. See above.

7. Because you have animal spirits or totems that are not indigenous to North America or Europe. You do not wish to offend First Nations people by affixing that term, since even you know that not all where shamans or even uppe the term, but instead, you offend the root practices of most other people's religion.

8. Because you think you can file a church-state grievance with the government when you are busted for drug possession. I hope you fall face-first into cow dung. Fresh cow dung. Three times.

9. Because exploiting early practices, using a catchword or two, makes you feel special. The whole age = validity thing. No, you are simply exploiting very sacred and ethno-centric practices in order to authenticate your own religous concoction of which is as favorable as McWicca.

10. If you found one of the descriptions on this list offensive (other than the audacity that some would actually think such things would make them a shaman.)

Specifically, a shaman referred to a select group of north Asian (usually Siberian) proto-religous forms of priestcraft and the functions of which made that position. Shamanism, more generally speaking, is often considered an early set of practices whereby a chosen individual is invested with the authority to be a conduit between the spirit world and the people. Not only that, but such a person was often politician, judge and otherwise centric to almost all affairs within the tribe.

I would like to emphasize CHOSEN. Such a person was typically chosen early and usually by the presiding shaman. While such methods may have differed from culture to culture, a common method was through omens concerning the birth of the child or revelation given to the shaman by the spirits. Never was one a shaman because that person said so. It was a lifelong study and an apprenticeship. In many cultures, one was not officially of that position until the current passed on or became otherwise incapable of continuing the role. There were no books. In its earliest roots, writing had yet to even exist.

As per the psychedelic experience within the tribes that did engage in their use (and certainly, not all did), let's remove our own culturally-colored lenses and prejudices to best understand. The various plants and fungi (Central American) were respected and taken pure in form through a variety of methods. By whatever plant or method, the initial experience given by the ingested substance is not the end or desired result. The onset of the hallucination was considered just that- fabrications of the mind and something to overcome whereby the true revelations and communion with the spirit world would commence. It was a method to loosen the consciousness to be receptive of the unseen world. In some South America tribes, the concoction of choice was thought to be so potent that it deceived the spirits into thinking the shaman who consumed it was dead and, therefore, thought nothing of delivering the secrets of the universe to them. Simply ingesting a substance to facilitate a similar experience is not shamanism in and of itself.

Nor does ancestry have a thing to do with it. A shaman was made by his people or own shaman, not by birth or bloodline alone.

And as for shaman-like practices in modern religion- well, yes, of course. Newer religions do tend to take on bits and pieces of a previous faith. Just as Christianity has clear elements of an earlier paganism and modern paganism has touches of Christian practice, shamanic practices has also made their way into other religions. But just as neither Christianity is Paganism (or vice-versa) nor does belonging to a tradition or path that incorporates it make one a shaman. My own, of Shaktism, has a heavy dose of it in one of its arms. However, I have never heard of any Shakta calling him or herself a shaman. It is simply not a title that one can don simply because It feels right, because what you do is shaman-esque, etc. The practices are quite numerous but the qualifiers for such a title are few.

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Great Post Sang. Much of modern witchcraft too has shamanic influence. My practices in particular are somewhat influenced by Shamanism, but I certainly would never call myself such.

It is the same with the African traditions that I take much interest in and have incorporated in my practices. I cannot call myself a Sangoma (a person who communes with spirits, ancestors, tells fortunes and makes various magical and medicinal cures). I have not undergone that initiation or training,It would be offensive to those Sangoma's who have.

I only use the word "shaman" in reference to its original use. That is, the traditions and practices of the Siberian people/s. I don't think it at all appropriate to use the term in reference to traditions unrelated to Siberian animism. I mean... surely everyone has culturally appropriate words they can use for what they do. There's no need to steal a word from someone else's religious tradition.


I don't know jack about those people's practices. I would never refer to any of my practices as influenced by shamanism for that reason. I mean, I think you have to actually go to Siberia for that sort of info.

Must have overlooked this discussion.


I agree with a lot you have stated.  I don't know much about North Asian practices, but do know that the word Shaman is definetly not a First Nations word, for I have seen many who use the word Shaman referencing the indigenous tribes of North America and this is not correct.


I have been told just the same in accordance with the Six Nations:  "Such a person was typically chosen early and usually by the presiding..."   and is known from birth that the particular child "has got the goods" (an exact quote) and thus takes on an apprenticeship.

I've thought about this, and discussed with some others, and I'm not sure anymore, really..


For starters, many of the native americans here call their medicine people shamans.  Perhaps this is because the word has changed in modern usage?  Unlike some other words, its use seems to have changed naturally.


Next, related to the above.. I know two practicioners, that I could only describe as shamanic..  One uses a very eclectic mix of practices, but is deeply in touch with both the local tribes where he goes, and the genius loci of those areas... he even asks for permission to enter their spaces.  I believe he self identifies as a shaman.


Lastly, I know someone who is on a path described as shamanism.  It teaches many practices of north american and central/south american native peoples, from medicine wheels, to smokes, to sweats, to flower essences.  It is a multiple years of study, healing and spiritual practice, and people who have taken it have helped the local native people here to reestablish some of their own traditions, those that have been lost. 


In addition, the second person's path has "Gateways," I believe they are called... it is very similar in approach to a qabalistic or alchemical/elemental series of initiations etc...  the breaking down of the person to rid them of those things that they do not need, and so they may go forward as pure philosophical gold.


Both of the above people are called "Shaman," by those around them, or when describing them, and to be frank the term fits.  I really can't think of any other way to think of them.  The second person is trained by others who also use the term.


So when do people stop clinging to the past and to a word as if it was a life preserver and they will drown without it?  At what point do people adapt, do they evolve, do they stop fearing change?


It is one thing when people intentionally try to change the meaning of a word... but quite another when a word's meaning actually changes naturally. 


More to the point... if the stuff above is what doesn't make a shaman...  What does?



Some other thoughts from http://www.shamanista.com/origins/women__first_shamans.html:
(The "Women as Shamans," link is interesting as well, citing many of its sources.)


In his wonderful book, Dawn Behind the Dawn: A Search for the Earthly Paradise, historian Geoffrey Ashe traces many myths, legends, and beliefs of Europe, Asia, and the Near and Middle East all the way back to shamanic roots in Siberia.


Geoffry Ashe describes how Russian anthropologists "discovered" shamanism when they studied tribal nomadic herders in Siberia in the 19th century. After their detailed descriptions of the unique set of practices of the spiritual practitioners and healers they observed, whom the tribesmen called shamans, were published, the term came to be used by anthropologists worldwide.

The term shaman was a useful sort of shorthand for anthropologists. It described a certain role in society that they observed time after time in gathering-hunting cultures. They coined the term shamanism because it stood for a specific set of beliefs and practices that anthropologists began to recognize in gathering-hunting cultures around the world.

Until the late twentieth centure, most people had never heard the terms shaman and shamanism. Anthropologist Michael Harner popularized the terms with his best-selling book, The Way of the Shaman.

In Dawn Behind the Dawn, Ashe goes on to explain the later findings of Russian linguistic researchers who discovered that those original Siberian tribes had all branched out over thousands of years from one ancient original tribe. The researchers found that the words for a male shaman are actually different in each of the tribes, proving that the words were borrowed or invented long after the tribes branched apart.

The startling news about the later Russian linguistic research on the shamanist tribes they first studied in Siberia is that the words for female shaman are very similar in all the tribes. All the words for female shaman are derived from the same root word in the original tribal language, which also means bear.

The most important thing about their findings is that it proves that originally, before the tribes grew apart and went their separate ways, the only shamans were female. Women were the first shamans!

There's a fascinating article by Max Dashu on the history of women as shamans.at www.suppressedhistories.net. It includes a bibliography for further reading.

Shawn:  Thank you so much for your insightful response.  You've voiced a lot of what I was thinking of, but wasn't quite able to put into words.  I personally do not label myself as a "shaman" because a) I am still learning and am not ready to completely commit to serving my community in that manner and b) in order to avoid offending others who more readily wear the title.  That being said, the path I am on is definitely a shamanic one.  Semantically, I either say I practice core shamanism (ala Michael Horner) as a baseline or am on a shamanic path.  Sangrael, while I agree with you that many people take on titles that they have decidedly not earned, I do think terms used with this particular path tend to have evolved over time to be at least slightly more acceptable.  Perhaps it's because terminology is not meticulous in shamanism as it can be in more "formal" paths.  Or perhaps that is just my personal take on things.  I know when I was first learning about pagan paths, one of the first ones I learned about was basic Wicca.  After having spent time with a variety of Wiccans, I was too nervous to do virtually ANYTHING for fear I'd go widershins when I should've deiosoled.  With shamanism, I feel a deeper link.  A sense of doing what is "right" based on the conversation I am having with the Universe at the time.  Is it "shamanism" as is defined by anthropologists?  Absolutely not.  Would I be recognized as a Shaman in other spiritual circles?  Certainly not.  And yet, when I speak to Spirit, that is what I feel aligned with.  Perhaps the term is more of a touchstone?  Or perhaps I'm just rambling.  While I'm clear on what I feel about my spirituality, it's harder to put it into words.  I hope you'll all bear with me as I continue to learn more.  BTW ... Shawn, I had no idea the female shaman term was similar to bear in so many cultures.  That certainly rings a deep note in my soul.  Thank you for sharing!

I agree that the term "shaman" is used in some circles as a more colloquial term for a Medicine Person. I also agree that it is not meant to be offensive. I do think, however, that like the colloquial term "Indian" (which is also used as short-hand) it does not make it any less incorrect. I think as people with First Nations beliefs that we should be moving towards words that discern, enlighten, and educate. We are not siberian, we are not one spiritual individual for each tribe, we are people who work with Medicines whether they be herbal or spiritual. We should not be afraid to claim whats ours and demand that people identify us as we are and not as they more readily identify. This is the reason I tell people my tribe and not that I am simply "Native American." To say it in that fashion insinuates that there is no difference because the difference is not worth noting. To me, it is.


Generalizations are natural and understandable, but that does not mean they should not be corrected. Eastern and First Nations spirituality are both due equal respect.

Makoons did a way more eloquent job in her comment, in which I have the same sentiments.


IMO I think the word Iroquois (French: Meaning Black Adders/Snakes) is a common example of a word that is has been used to readily identify and describe several tribes of indigenous people of North America who referred to themselves as Haudenosaunee, meaning People Of The Long House.


So for me applying the word shaman to the medicine people of the North American Native Tribes is much like history repeating itself.  


The Haudenosaunee, which is also known as the Six Nations and/or the Iroquois Confederacy, is where I am speaking from, although can not speak for other tribes, in order to avoid generalizations, only to what was relayed to me from the Haundensaunee. That the *tradition* was for the presiding holy person/medicine person to appoint or choose the next in line.


So here is a prime example how traditions have been changed according to how others identify it.  


Why does this sound so very familiar?














Woot woot Haundenesaunee in the house! I'm Oneida as well as Ojibwe :)

So that brings up questions.  If you  a) are NOT a member of an indigenous culture which has medicine people b) have NOT been chosen by your community or an older medicine person and c) have only learned about the shamanic path through books, personal experience and occasional classes ... what are you?  What is the correct term?  How do you explain to someone what you believe without the lable of shamanism?  Or is it just the "I am a shaman/Shaman" that is offensive?

A shaman is chosen, ultimately. You are a shaman *to* people. It's like calling yourself a leader, when you're leading no one. Animism is the religion most commonly fitted with 'Shamanism', so it would be 'I am an Animist'.
I'm still in process of this particular topic.  I did do some general research into the "Animist" concept and while I don't disagree, it seems awfully vague.  Technically, Catholics are "Animist" based on the belief in souls in animals.  I recently saw a really interesting "arguement" between a Catholic church who posted on their marque "All dogs go to heaven" and a Protestant one who argued dogs don't have souls --- but I digress.  Anyway, I did stumble across a blog by Mark Blair regarding Core Shamanism (per Michael Harner) and the term "neo-shamanism" which I thought brought up some interesting concepts.   http://thecryingshaman.com/146/neo-shamanism-and-core-shamanism/

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